An Okanagan Hero

 

November 6, 2020

 

In a damp, dark trench crawling with rats, George McLean sat silently alongside his fellow members of the Fifty-Fourth (Kootenay) Battalion. The year was 1917, and in a few hours the silence that had descended over no-man’s land would be broken by the sounds of screams, explosions, and machine gun fire. It was the first morning of the Battle for Vimy Ridge, which many historians consider a defining moment, and one of the greatest victories, for the Canadian Army.

George McLean, from the Nk’maplqs (Head of the Lake) Band, was not new to the world of soldiering by the time of the Battle for Vimy Ridge. During the Boer War, when he was 25-years-old, McLean had served with the Canadian Mounted Rifles. When World War One broke out, McLean, alongside every other male member of the Head of the Lake Band between the ages of 20 and 35, enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Almost immediately, he was sent overseas to France.

It was the start of the third day of the Battle for Vimy Ridge, but for the soldiers who were participating, it undoubtedly felt much longer. One member of the 2nd Divisions’ 6th Brigade described “wounded men sprawled everywhere in the slime, in the shell holes, in the mine craters, some screaming to the skies, some lying silently, some begging for help, some struggling to keep from drowning in craters, the field swarming with stretcher-bearers trying to keep up with the casualties.”

Just after pulling a wounded officer to safety, McLean and another soldier discovered a dugout hiding several German troops. Before either of the men could respond, McLean’s fellow soldier was struck. Alone in a vulnerable position, McLean responded quickly, raining small “pineapple” bombs down on the German troops. This did not result in any German casualties, but certainly startled the cowering men. A German Sergeant called to McLean to stop the onslaught, and asked how many troops he had with him. McLean replied that he stood with 150 men. Immediately, the German officer gave over his weapon and ordered his troops to stand down. McLean then single-handedly captured 19 prisoners and marched them back to his own lines. As they walked, McLean was shot twice in the arm, and five of the prisoners attempted to disarm him, but he did not falter.

Due to his wound, McLean was evacuated from the front lines and sent to London to recover. Later, he was later awarded the Distinguished Conduct Metal for his outstanding bravery. When he died in 1934 of unknown causes, the Royal Canadian Legion offered his family a war hero’s burial, but they declined, preferring instead to bury him near Douglas Lake Ranch. George McLean’s grave was marked with a simple wooden cross, as modest and steadfast as the man himself.

We will remember them.

 

Private George McLean

 

George McLean (standing, far right)

 

Sunday, November 8, 2020 is Indigenous Veterans Day. To see all of the veterans from the Nk’maplqs (Head of the Lake) Band (Okanagan Indian Band), click here.

 

sinking of Llandcovery Castle

 

November 3, 2020

 

“Canadian Hospital Ship Sunk by German Submarine Off the Irish Coast—Many Nurses and Doctors Missing” read the headline of the July 1, 1918, edition of the Vernon News. The event was one of the most controversial during the Great War, since attacking a hospital ship was against international law as well as the orders of the German navy. The sinking also brought the war home to the citizens of Vernon, since among the hundreds who died from the attack were two former nurses of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, Margaret Marjory Fraser and Minnie Katherine Gallaher.

On June 27, 1918, The Llandovery Castle was on its way back to England after bringing about 600 Canadian casualties to recover in Halifax. The crew consisted of one hundred and sixty-four men, eighty officers and men of the Canadian Medical Corps, and fourteen nurses, a total of two hundred and fifty-eight people. Special lighting illuminated the ship’s four Red Crosses as she traveled across blackened waters.

Somewhere off the coast of Ireland, around 9:00 PM, the ship was torpedoed by the German submarine U-86. A first-hand account of the sinking was provided by officer Leslie Chapman, who described the horrors of being trapped on a sinking ship: “I found myself blown out of my bunk and landed on the floor of my cabin. On my rude awakening I did not grasp what had happened until a brother officer came running off the bridge, and said we had been torpedoed. The vessel commenced sinking by the stern quickly and the Captain gave the order to abandon ship, and send an SOS on the wireless. This was not possible, because the apparatus had been smashed by the explosion.”

It only took ten minutes for the Llandovery Castle to sink. Many of the nurses had been asleep at the time the boat was struck, but they managed to get into a lifeboat with Sergeant Arthur Knight; tragically, suction from the sinking ship pulled the lifeboat under and all of the fourteen nurses drowned. Knight struggled through the chilling water and was pulled aboard another lifeboat. Only 24 people survived the attack.

Margaret Marjory Fraser was born on the March 20, 1885, to Duncan Cameron Fraser and Bessie Grant. Margaret worked as head nurse at the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, alongside Matron Minnie Katherine Gallaher. She enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps in September of 1914. Before being appointed Matron of the Llandovery Castle, Margaret served as a nurse on the front lines in France. Many of her patients were wounded German soldiers, and she was often one of the first to offer their parched lips a drink of water. She was known for writing down the dying words of German officers and soldiers, and transmitting them to their families through the channels of the Red Cross. Three months after her brother James was killed in action in FranceMargaret would board the Llandovery Castle in Halifax for the last time.

Both Margaret and Minnie are immortalized in the Halifax Memorial erected in Point Pleasant Park as a reminder of all the men and women who died at sea.

We will remember them.

 

 Postcard of the Llandovery Castle

 

Matron Margaret Marjory “Pearl” Fraser (Credit: FWW Veterans of Guysborough County) 

Minnie Katherine Gallaher

archival fonds – where stories live on…

 

October 23. 2020

What are archival “fonds”?

From the UBC library: The word “fonds” is used to describe most archival collections in Canada and also in many European and Latin American countries.  Fonds simply means the documents in any media or format created or received by a person or an organization in the course of their personal or professional activities.  For example, the “Jane Smith fonds” would refer to the records created and received by Jane Smith.

Read the wikipedia article for  the term “fonds.”

The Greater Vernon Archives has some gems in the archival fonds entrusted to us to store, care for and preserve. 

Secrets that followed people to their graves remain in the pages of diaries tucked into shelves. Family rivalries and reunification play out in letters left for us to interpret.

The early sketches of artists who went on to renown in their own lifetime, or after their death, trace their early development in the notebooks they left behind.

Every archival collection will hold its own surprises. At GVMA it’s  hand signed letter from Einstein, notes on fittings from Coco Chanel, Luis Vuitton himself sending a reminder on an invoice. All in a small but mighty little archive in Vernon, BC.

What can you discover in your hometown archive?

 

Pages from the sketch book of naturalist and artist, Allan Brooks from the Allan Brooks fonds held at GVMA

 

Signed letter from Albert Einstein in response to a letter from Sveva Caetani, held in the Sveva Caetani fonds at GVMA

 

Legendary Lake creature from the depths

 

October 23. 2020

With Halloween just around the corner, it is officially the season of the unsettling, the surreal, the supernatural.

From the Scottish Highlands, to the northern forests of Nova Scotia, to the Slavic countryside, nearly every country has its own mythical monster whose tales frighten children and whose existence causes debate among even the most skeptical of adults.

The Okanagan’s resident “monster” is now most widely known as the Ogopogo, and year after year a new story of this slippery serpent emerges.

Legends of a lake creature named N’ha-a-itk had existed for generations among the Okanagan Syilx People. It was settlers who gave it a new name – and its infamy.

In August of 1926, while at a Rotary lunch held on the shores of Okanagan Lake, W. H. Brimblecombe broke out in song with a popular British Music Hall hit. He sang, “I’m looking for the Ogopogo, the bunny-hugging Ogopogo. His mother was an earwig, his father was a whale. I’m going to put a little bit of salt on his tail. I’m looking for the Ogopogo.”

By the time of this club luncheon, stories of a mysterious creature living in the depths of Okanagan Lake were already popular amongst settlers. But after this delightful lunchtime performance in 1926, the Okanagan’s resident monster would come to be known as the Ogopogo.

Along with a new name, settlers also gave the sea creature a new “image”, ranging from cute and comical, to monstrous and terrifying.

The first “modern” sighting of the Ogopogo occurred in 1873, when a woman named Susan Allison reported seeing a snake-like creature moving through the water near her home in West Kelowna. 

 

From a 1946 Christmas card (how festive!)

 

In 1926 Joseph Egbert Montague started his shipping company in Vernon, BC, under the name J.E. Montague Ltd. The company expanded in 1928 and became known as British Columbia Fruit Shippers. By that time, the moniker “Ogopogo” would have been in use.

 

A few years later, during the 1880s, the infamous Captain Shorts discovered a large vertebrae bone in the shallows of Okanagan Lake, which would be determined to be from a whale. How a whale bone came to lie in Okanagan Lake remains a mystery. Could it perhaps be a bone belonging to Ogopogo’s whale father?

While fishing one morning in August of 1925, a man named J. Mitchell Boyd allegedly saw a strange creature with the head of a sheep moving languidly through the water (this is apparently quite the trustworthy account; as reported in the Vernon News a few days after the sighting, “Mr. Boyd stated, for the benefit of those who may have doubted his statement, that he had not partaken of cheese the night before, nor anything else which might have caused an optical delusion”). Nearly thirty years later, in 1959, the Miller and Marten Families also described a close encounter with a large, snake-like creature while out for a day of boating.

In 1978, while driving across the Okanagan Lake Floating Bridge, Bill Steciuk and twenty other onlookers witnessed a dark head and three black humps protruding out of the water. The year 2000 would bring about another sighting, when marathon swimmer Daryl Ellis was accompanied by two large creatures during his swim passed Rattlesnake Point (perhaps Nessie was down for a visit?)

In 2004, John Casorso recorded the first alleged video of Ogopogo; from a vantage point on his family’s house point, Casorso was able to capture grainy footage of a dark creature, about 15 metres long, emerging from the still waters of Okanagan Lake. And less than two weeks ago, a Calgary resident celebrating Thanksgiving in the Okanagan recorded a video of a strange formation of waves that some viewers thought could have been another sighting of the Okanagan’s most elusive resident.

Whether you believe in the sea serpent or not, one thing is for certain; the Ogopogo is a lot of fun to talk about.

Gwyn Evans

Museum Begins Process of Reconciliation

 

October 13, 2020

The Greater Vernon Museum and Archives (GVMA) is honoured to host the Cultural Safety Program, facilitated by local Indigenous Elders. The program provides training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, and anti-racism for partners in arts, culture, and heritage in the North Okanagan as they share positive information about Syilx People and participate in a process of reconciliation and future collaboration. 

Elders and program leaders, Christina “Chris” Marchand is a Sixties Scoop survivor, and Eric Mitchell the survivor of a residential school. Together, they created the Cultural Safety Program in 2008, initially for nursing students at UBCO. Since then, the training has expanded to students, professors and staff from all faculties – and now to partners from cultural organizations in the Greater Vernon area.

Marchand and Mitchell have dedicated their life’s work to educating non-Indigenous people about the impacts of racism and intergenerational trauma to begin the process of working toward reconciliation in the future. For their work, Marchand and Mitchell were honoured with honourary law degrees from UBCO in August 2020.

 

Chris Marchand

 

Eric Mitchell

Providing this training to staff and leaders of cultural organizations, “is an important – and necessary – step towards answering the Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action 57,” believes GVMA Executive Director, Steve Fleck.

Call to Action 57 calls for federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.

The first group of North Okanagan cultural partners will begin the four day training in the GVMA’s Community Hall on Friday October 16, 2020.  To mark this historical step in cultural connection, diversity and reconciliation, Mayor Victor Cumming will join the GVMA and the Arts Council of the Okanagan in welcoming the Elders at a private ceremony at 10:30 AM. 

As Fleck notes, “As cultural partners, we hope to foster a safe and collaborative environment that results in deeper sharing, learning and understanding with the Syilx People in the Okanagan Territory.”

This program is would not be possible without support from the Regional District of North Okanagan and the BC Arts Council. For more information, please contact the Vernon Museum: mail@vernonmuseum.ca

 

vernon hospital’s founding mother

 

October 9. 2020

October is Women’s History Month, a celebration of the outstanding achievements of women throughout Canada’s history. Since its incorporation in 1892, Vernon has been home to a number of fascinating women, and this is therefore the perfect opportunity to explore how their legacies have shaped our city.

For any of us who have visited the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, we owe this woman our health; she was the driving force behind the establishment of Vernon’s first hospital, fondly known as the Cottage Hospital.

Clara Chipp came to Vernon circa 1888 after marrying the town’s first government official, Walter Dewdney. Walter had recently lost his wife, and Clara stepped up to act as a surrogate mother to his three young children. The young stepmom quickly became active in Vernon’s social scene, hosting picnics for local children and playing the organ at church services.

 

 

Clara & Walter Dewdney, 1889

Unfortunately, Walter was under a significant amount of stress from his job. He had little time for anything other than work, and spent long hours confined his desk. He began to suffer from bouts of depression, on top of chronic pain due to a kidney disorder. Just four years after marrying Clara, he took his own life.

Following Walter’s tragic death, Clara found herself alone with her three stepchildren. She moved in to a new house closer to that of her father, John Chipp, a local doctor, so he could help with their care. From this vantage point, Clara was also afforded a clear view of the handsome young shopkeeper, William Cameron, who worked across the street. In 1894, Clara and William were married.

In 1894, diphtheria broke out in Vernon, and underlined the urgent need for a local health care facility. At this time, Clara was Vice-President of the National Council of Women and used her position to canvas the district for financial support towards the construction of a hospital. In 1897, Vernon’s first Jubilee “Cottage” Hospital was opened in a boarding house on 28th Avenue—a temporary facility until the new building opened on Hospital Hill in 1909.

Tragically, Clara would never live to see this day. In 1898, she was diagnosed with cancer, and instead of suffering through her deteriorating health, she took her own life by drinking carbolic acid in 1900. A tribute to her in the Vernon News stated that “the establishment of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital was due almost entirely to the untiring efforts of the late Mrs. W.F. Cameron … It is eminently fitting that her memory should be honored in this connection.”

So next time you pass by or through the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, spare a thought for the woman who fought tirelessly for the health of Vernon’s citizens.  

Gwyn Evans

the fall & the fire

 

a continuation of Part 1 and Part 2

On the evening of April 24, 1978, a devastating fire broke out on the corner of 27th Avenue and 33rd street, destroying the final vestiges of Vernon’s Chinatown.

By the 1970s, Chinatown had already started to fade; the Chinese community in Vernon certainly hadn’t disappeared, but had instead been assimilated into the larger Vernon population. Some sources claim that this was due to a decrease in racism that had forced Chinese individuals to gather in distinct urban Chinatowns. Whether or not this is the truth, poverty and modernity certainly had a role to play.

Many former Chinese business owners were forced to sell as the years went on due to dwindling finances, while several landmark buildings were demolished to make way for more modern structures. The Kwong’s Hing Lung & Co. grocery store, for example, was sold in 1945 and renamed the P and M store by owners John Pawlyshyn and James Mykiuk. In 1975, it was replaced by a new building that housed the Brandle Realty Offices.

 

 

The final block of Chinatown up in flames on the night of April 24, 1978

 

On the night of April 24, 1978, a fire started at 8 pm and burned until after midnight, destroying five buildings that represented the last remaining block of Vernon’s Chinatown. The first to go up in flames was the former headquarters of the Dart Coon Club. Firefighters were quick to the scene but were unable to prevent the fire from spreading. They evacuated three from the burning buildings, including a 67-year-old woman, Chung Yee Wong, who was taken to hospital for smoke inhalation.

Foul play was suspected to have caused the blaze.

Members of the Chinese Community were quick to acknowledge this loss of history: Dart Coon Club official Water Joe said that although the buildings that burned were in need of serious repairs, “it’s sad in a way that [they’re] gone because that block was the last of old Chinatown.”

Not all traces of Vernon’s Chinatown have disappeared, however. The Gateway Shelter at 2800 33 Street is located in one of the last remaining Chinese buildings, formerly the home of the Freemasons Society. Plaques installed in 2014 tell the community’s story. Moreover, Vernon is still home to a significant Chinese population of more than 500 individuals who speak a variety of languages, from Cantonese, to Mandarin, to Shanghainese. Finally, if one thing is certain, it’s that many Vernonites, both Chinese and not, have clear memories of this colourful community, and their stories allow it to live on.

Gwyn Evans

woman of the century: Vernon’s first tomboy

 

October 2, 2020

October is Women’s History Month, a celebration of the outstanding achievements of women throughout Canada’s history. Since its incorporation in 1892, Vernon has been home to a number of fascinating women, so this is the perfect opportunity to explore how their legacies have shaped the city. 

She is among the most celebrated daughters of Vernon. She was the first female president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, a recipient of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal, and, at least in her opinion, Vernon’s first tomboy.    

Hilda Cryderman was born in Vernon on May 10, 1904. As a young woman, she worked as a teacher, principal, and guidance counsellor. She was also a fantastic athlete, excelling in ice hockey, basketball, and baseball (hence her self-designation as Vernon’s first tomboy). 

 

 

Hilda Cryderman receives the Order of Canada from Governor General Jeanne Sauve in 1985

 

During the Second World War, Cryderman served as an education counsellor to the Women’s Forces in the Pacific Command. She was stationed in Vancouver, and her responsibility was to aid servicewomen who wanted to further their education or training in preparation for the return to civilian life.

This was an important role, since, in Cryderman’s own words, this was “the first step toward post-war rehabilitation.”

After the war, she returned to her teaching position in Vernon.

Throughout her life, she held executive roles in more than 30 organisations, including the Vernon Business and Professional Women’s Club – in fact, the club named her “Woman of the Century” in 1982.  

As chairman of the Okanagan Valley Teachers’ Association Salary Committee, Hilda obtained equal pay for rural and urban teachers, and male and female teachers, a first in Canada. In 1953, while chairman of a special committee of the Business and Professional Women’s Club, Hilda succeeded in persuading Premier W.A.C. Bennett to introduce the Equal Pay Act.

In 1954, she was named the first female president of the B.C. Teachers Federation. In 1972, she was made an honorary member of the Native Women’s Association of Canada for her assistance in their fight for equality, and wore the beaded medallion she received with the greatest honour.

Cryderman was recognized for her many achievements in October 1985, when she received the Order of Canada from Governor General Jeanne Sauvé, awarded to those “with the highest degree of merit, and an outstanding level of talent and service, and an exceptional contribution to Canada and humanity.”

This was truly a well-derserved designation for a woman who had dedicated her life to empowering the disenfranchised.  

Gwyn Evans

celebrating japanese culture

 

September 25, 2020

In 1934, a Japanese Cultural Centre opened at 1895 Bella Vista Road. Although its opening did not draw much interest from the general population of Vernon, this was a major milestone for the local Japanese community. The centre would serve as as stronghold of Japanese culture over the next few years, a period when many Japenese immigrants faced significant social and political opposition.  

Japanese citizens began immigrating to the Okanagan Valley at the turn of the 20th century. The first to arrive was Eijiro Kojama, who settled in Coldstream in 1903 and was naturalized at the Vernon Courthouse in 1908. Kojama served as foreman at the Coldstream Ranch, hiring other Japanese immigrants to work as labourers. By 1911, 314 Japanese were living in the Greater Vernon Area.  

 

 

Members of the Vernon Japanese community gathered for a celebration at the Japanese Community Hall located on Bella Vista Road, circa 1935.

In 1908, the Canadian Government negotiated an agreement with Japan that restricted the number of new male Japanese immigrants to Canada to only 400 a year. A 1916 Vernon News article descripes “orientals” as “undesirable immigrants,” and states that the “proportion of orientals to the white population of British Columbia is far too great to admit any [further immigrants] without grave danger.” Despite these social and institutional barricades, the Okanagan Valley Land Company opened a Japanese work camp, where both men and women were employed in the fields and packing houses. Japanese churches, community centres, and associations began cropping up across the Okanagan Valley.

World War Two was a tumultuous time in Canada for Japanese immigrants. After the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the Okanagan Security Committee began pushing for the use of interned Japanese as involuntary orchard labourers. At the end of August 1942, around 250 Japanese men were accompanied by police from the Greenwood internment camp to orchards in Vernon. Labourers made less than 4$ a day, and were stripped of their civil rights. They were not permitted to shop on Saturdays, nor visit Vernon Cafes at night. In September of 1942, around 70 Japanese workers at the Coldstream Ranch were re-interned after petitioning for higher wages.

In 1967, the Canadian Government introduced a new points-based immigration policy that no longer considered race a factor for exclusion, introducing a new generation of Japanese immigrants to Canada and the Okanagan Valley. Today, the Vernon Japanese Culture Centre still stands, and its society, as well as associated organizations like the Vernon Judo Club and the Vernon Japanese Women’s Auxilary, proudly promote a culture that has withstood generations of suppression.

Gwyn Evans

a young lady’s education

 

September 18, 2020

She was barely over five feet tall, but what Miss Maud Le Gallais lacked in stature, she made up for in determination.

As a young lady, Miss Le Gallais was educated in England at a boarding school for girls and she arrived in Vernon in 1912 bent on starting a similar institution here. By the sounds of it, she didn’t face much opposition. At the time, Vernon was inhabited by many European families, and since boarding schools were an “Old Country” tradition, Miss Le Gallais’ project was welcomed.  

St. Michael’s Boarding School for Girls opened in 1914, in a large house on East Hill (2000 37th Avenue). The four upstairs bedrooms were converted into dormatories, and the downstairs rooms into classrooms.

 

 

St. Michael’s School for Girls with surrounding gardens in 1927

The first “St. Michaelites” were local girls between the ages of 8 and 18, but as the school’s reputation grew, so too did its catchment area. By 1917, it was bursting at the seams, and a second residence on the opposite side of the street was added. At the same time, the school was incorportaed as “The Bishop’s School of the Diocese of Kootenay.”

The education at St. Michael’s had an obvious English flavour; like in boarding schools across the Atlantic, instruction covered the “three R’s,” plus English and Canadian history, geography, botany, French, Latin, scripture, gymnastics, drawing, dancing, music, and needlework. The students were taught to be perfect ladies—at least by the standards of the early 20th century. In the first issue of the school’s magazine, Headmistress Le Gallais recorded her wishes for her pupils, saying “I have visions of reading in future magazines of old St. Michaelites taking high places in all the learned professions … and of their making the most of all the oppurtunities that have at last come to women, to make the world a better place for their use of those oppurtunities.”

By the time the school’s enrollment grew to 55 students, the two residences were so over capacity that a proper school building was well-needed. In 1921, a structure three and a half stories high was built on five acres of land overlooking what is now Polson Mall.

This new building was a significant upgrade. In addition to classrooms and living quarters, the school now also had a library/music room, an impressive kitchen, and a gym which doubled as an auditorium for dramatic presentations and assemblies.

The girl’s enjoyed a number of fun activities during their time at St. Michael’s, from picnics with the local girl guides, to toboganning in the Winter, to weekend hikes in the summer, to cricket games, to visits from the boys at the Vernon Preperatory School. 

Miss Le Gallais retired in 1932, and following a decline in enrollment during the Great Depression, the school closed its doors five years later. In 1978, the school building was torn down and replaced by a townhouse development aptly named St. Michael’s Court.

Gwyn Evans