WIld nights at the Kal

 

January 15, 2021

The Vernon Winter Carnival is beginning in just over two weeks, and for those of us who have been starved for a change—albeit a safe one—to our repetitive lockdown lives, it couldn’t come too soon.

This year’s Carnival theme of “Wild West” fits in quite well with our mandate here at the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives.

While this area was home to the Indigenous Syilx people for centuries, the place that came to be known as Vernon began as a small, sleepy “cow town”. Many of the stories preserved within our walls tell of life back in its frontier days.

 

The Kal Hotel, the year it opened in 1892

The hub of social activity in Vernon during this time was the Kalamalka, or Kal, Hotel. This impressive piece of architecture was built in 1892 by the Land and Development Company for a cost of $19,000. The new hotel was named in honour of local indigenous chief Kalamalka (this being the anglicized spelling and pronunciation). The hotel’s interior was complete with a billiard room, bar and ladies parlour, while the exterior boasted tennis courts and a vegetable garden.

In his book “Valley of Youth,” colourful local historian and photographer C.W. Holliday describes the Kal Hotel as the local social centre of Vernon, saying that “here one might meet celebrities and interesting people from all over the world.” One of the favourite places for locals and visitors alike to relax was the hotel’s cozy lounge, where they could gather around a large open fireplace and enjoy a favorite drink carried over from the bar on cold winter nights.

Despite the tendency for the hotel to be considered the go-to spot for “festive and convivial gatherings,” the wife of the hotel’s first manager, Mrs. Meaken, ran a tight ship. If she felt the evening’s proceedings were becoming too disorderly, she had the disturbing habit of appearing in the doorway of the billiard room dressed in her nightgown. “Gentlemen,” she would say sternly, “it is time to go to bed.” A gloomy silence would then descend over the room, as the men packed up and shuffled home. No one, it seems, ever refused her orders.

Another story recalls Mr. Meaken, who, unlike his wife, was said to be meek and mild, took full advantage of the Missus being out of town and had a little too much to drink. While under the influence, he had the brilliant idea of bringing a horse in from outside and riding it around the billiard table. One can only imagine what Mrs. Meaken would have thought if she had seen this spectacle.

Holliday is careful to add that although these stand-out moment’s in the hotel’s career naturally stick in his memory, most of the time the gatherings were quiet and composed, and this Wild Western hotel was exactly what it claimed to be—a comfortable family venue.

Gwyn Evans

meanwhile, back at the RancH…

sharing history through community 

vernon winter carnival virtual event

 

MEANWHILE, BACK at the RANCH…   February 9, 2021 at 7 PM

Take a Virtual Trip back in time through the Wild West and ranchlands of the North Okanagan. Interpretive guides and special guests will tell tales of life back on the early ranches of the valley through streaming video, on-location film clips, and multi-media displays.

Learn more about the early relationships between the settlers and the Syilx Indigenous First Nation. Find out about the Syilx and settler women who made this place home, and the fur brigadiers, gold rushers, cowboys, and bank robbers who made this place wild.

Join us and special musical guest, Duane Marchand, for this virtual event!

Visit the Vernon Winter Carnival website for more info and tickets.

 

 

GET TICKETS TODAY!

 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021 – Virtual Doors Open at 6:30 PM.
Register by 6:45 PM. Event begins at 7 PM sharp.  

WE RESPECTFULLY ACKNOWLEDGe

Greater Vernon Museum & Archives is located on the Ancestral, Traditional and Unceded Territory of the Okanagan Nation and the Syilx People.

virtual trip along the trestles

 

January 14, 2021

Well, two weeks in and 2021 has already been quite the year.

From an ongoing global pandemic, to Black Lives Matters protests, to the very recent attack on the US Capitol, we are living through historic times.

While this might be “interesting” in retrospect, living through historic times can also be mentally and emotionally exhausting.

If you’re feeling that way, perhaps you’d like to journey back 40 years to 1980 and travel the trestles of the Kettle Valley Railway high above Myra Canyon.

If so, click on this link & enjoy the trip!

 

 

the more things change…

 

January 11, 2021

Time passed strangely in 2020.

It felt like both the slowest and fastest year, with long periods of time spent following the same routine, in the same environment, day-after-day, while a decade’s worth of monumental historical events were occurring concurrently around the world.

Working in a museum in some ways can cause one to lose a sense of linear time.

Sometimes, after working in the archives all day, for example, one might almost expect to see horses and buggies, instead of car, trundling up and down the streets.

 

Looking East over Vernon in 2921 

With this skewed sense of reality, 100 years ago might not seem like such a long time, but a lot has changed in Vernon since then. Our city in 1921 would be almost unrecognizable today.

In 1921, B.C.’s population has just reached over half a million. Meanwhile, Vernon was home to a mere 3649 people. Washing machines cost between $20 and $30, and Fruitatives-which contained a small amount of strychnine-and Minard’s Liniment were touted as cure-alls.

Bags of oats cost $0.35 and tins of salmon could be purchased for 10 cents. The year’s model of Hupmobile was sold at the Vernon Garage, while the Megaw-Smithers Motor Company competed with Chevrolet’s FB-50.

“The Molly Coddle,” “Lessons in Love,” and “Made in Heaven” played at the Empress Theatre, while hosted speakers presented on important topics such as the League of Nations, Bolshevism, and using alfalfa as a cover crop.

As sternwheelers plied the waters of Okanagan Lake, a nearby neighborhood was finally granted a name. Following a public competition, Mr. W.L. Forrester was awarded $25.00 for proposing the name “Bella Vista” for the new development overlooking the lake. 

In 1921, Vernon hosted its first May Day fete and ball. Organized by the women’s institute, the program at Polson Park was complete with maypole dances, children’s sports, refreshments, balloons, a hayseed band, a parade, and the crowning of May Queen Helen Cochrane.

In October, a new flour mill was opened by the Okanagan Farmer’s Milling Company on 32nd Street, and, in November, poppies were sold and worn for the first time.

Although a lot might have changed in 100 years, some things have remained the same. Vernonites grumbled about a lack of parking and the high-cost of rent, advertisers made outlandish claims, classes were overcrowded, coddling moths plagued farmers, and poppies were pinned on jackets and sweaters in remembrance.

In a year that has been often termed “unprecedented” , it may (or may not) be reassuring to keep in mind that old adage:  “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Gwyn Evans

the queen’s visit

 

January 4, 2021

Happy New Year from the staff, board, and volunteers of the Greater Vernon Museum & Archives!

Did you, perchance, take some time over the holidays to binge watch some programs like, say, The Queen’s Gambit or The Crown?

While we don’t have any local footage of chess tournaments in the North Okanagan to offer (not to say there weren’t riveting local competitions!), we do have wonderful, clear footage of Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Vernon in 1959. 

Enjoy!

 

 

tidings of Comfort & joy

 

December 16, 2020

The Vernon Museum’s artifact collection has a lot of is Christmas cards. But this is certainly not a complaint! They don’t take up much space, are pleasantly festive, and provide firsthand insight into Christmases past.

These paper sentiments of peace and joy actually have quite a complex history that is, paradoxically, heavily intertwined with that of global military conflicts. 

During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/1871, a French stationer, Leon Besnardeaux (1829-1914) provided camped soldiers with stiff pieces of cardboard printed with lithographic designs so they could send messages home without the need for envelopes.

 

An example of a Christmas Greeting preserved in the GVMA’s collection

Some of these cards arrived just in time for Christmas. While Christmas cards themselves had been around since the 1840s, Besnardeaux’s good deed represented the origins of the picture postcard.

Christmas cards were hugely popular with soldiers during the First World War. Many were decorated with romantic images and local landmarks to bring joy to distant loved ones. Some of the most remarkable among these are the silk postcards. The silk embroidery was thought to have been produced by out-of-work civilians in France and Belgium, who then sent their creations to factories to be mounted on cardboard backings. The Vernon Museum has several silk postcards in their collection, and they are spectacular.

During World War Two, sending Christmas cards remained a popular tradition. Although the separation from family must have been keenly felt by the soldiers, most of the cards were cheerful and sometimes even goofy, likely to keep morale high on both ends, while those sent during the First World War tended to be a bit more somber and traditional in their motifs.

In 1917, a young Kitty Fitzmaurice received a Christmas card to her home in Vernon that showed a soldier peering out through a crumbled hole in a brick wall. Inside the card is a Christmas and New Year’s greeting, signed with the simple but emotive words “Love, Daddy.” Kitty’s father was Col. R Fitzmaurice, who went on to return safely home from the war and become Vernon’s mayor in 1920.

While the current global pandemic cannot and should not be compared to the World Wars, there is a certain parallel between the past and present absence of loved ones, and the ability of a simple folded paper to bring sentiments of joy to those from whom we are separated.

Gwyn Evans

festive roadblock – That’s Lit!

 

December 11, 2020

Imagine you are driving down Vernon’s 30th Avenue, when you are confronted by a lit Christmas tree in the middle of the road! It seems hard to fathom by today’s safety standards, but throughout the 1930s and ‘40s, when traffic was much lighter than it is today, this was one of Vernon’s favourite seasonal traditions.

Each December, a large spruce was cut down, installed in the middle of the intersection of 30th Avenue and 32nd Street (this, of course, was before the construction of Highway 97), and strung with twinkling, multicoloured lights.

 

Vernon’s Downtown Christmas Tree in the intersection of 30th Avenue and 32nd Street in the 1930s

Christmas tree decorations have changed a lot over the years. During the Great Depression, trees were typically hung with tinsel, popcorn garlands, and handmade ornaments. By the 1940s, the handmade was beginning to be replaced by the store-bought, with glass baubles made by the Shiny Brite Company being some of the most popular ornaments of the decade. As for Vernon’s downtown tree, it was probably limited to only strings of lights for decorations, as the risk of festive glass grenades falling on passing motorists was likely deemed too high.

The Vernon Museum’s records do not indicate how or when this festive roadblock came to be part of the city’s Christmas season, but it was unfortunately a relatively short-lived tradition; in 1943, the downtown Christmas tree became a casualty of the Second World War.

The reason for the tree’s removal was two-fold. Firstly, the lighting was not switch-operated, which went against Air Raid Precautions. Secondly, because 30th Avenue was used extensively by mechanized military equipment, having a tree in the middle of the street constituted a significant safety concern. Instead, a planted tree was decorated outside of City Hall (which, at that time, was also located on 30th Avenue), with lighting that was controlled from inside the building, and thus could be switched off at a moment’s notice in the case of an air raid.

Like with most things in life, the different ways in which Christmas Trees have been decorated over the years has reflected the priorities of the era. As for this year, I suspect some people will take to using toilet paper as a garland out of pure luxury.

Gwyn Evans

Intrepid early ski club

 

December 5, 2020

After what’s felt like a long, challenging year, several Okanagan locals are looking forward to finding a sense of freedom in the feeling of skiing down the slopes of Silver Star.

However, in its early days, simply getting up Silver Star Mountain was a feat and challenge in and of itself, only attempted by the most adventurous and determined ski enthusiasts.

in the 1930s, North Okanagan citizens realized Silver Star – which was named after a mining claim on the mountain – was a superb destination for skiing. 

 

Two unidentified skiers pose on the Birnie Range Ski Hill, with the city of Vernon in the background, circa 1940s

However, the mountain could only be accessed by trails, and later, a small, unmaintained road which only allowed vehicles to make it halfway up the hill. Hoping to make skiing accessible to a wider public, the Silver Star Ski Club decided to move their winter pursuits to Birnie Range on a hillside overlooking Kalamalka Lake on the west side of Highway 97.

On February 9th, 1939, the Vernon News reported: “the Silver Star Ski Club, which will be host to the second annual Okanagan Valley ski championships, on Sunday, February 19th, has completed an addition to the main jump on Birnie Range that should make leaps of 110 to 120 feet possible.  Jumping for men and junior boys will be one of the features of the meet.”

It was here that the club started their annual four-way championships, consisting of ski jumping, cross-country, downhill, and slalom events. Memberships cost between $0.75 for youth and teens, and $2.50 for adults.

In 1948, the club moved its activities away from Birnie Range after a mild winter produced a lack of snow. They tried a couple different locations around Vernon, before deciding that the lower elevation was not ideal and returned to their goal of conquering Silver Star Mountain as an accessible ski hill for local and visiting enthusiasts. 

Gwyn Evans

leaping into winter

 

November 27, 2020

As we draw on our strength and resiliency as a community to make it through this pandemic in as safe and healthy way as possible, many residents are looking forward to a season of winter sports to help get us through this time, “together, apart”.

Some may be using this opportunity to take up winter sports for the first time. In 1929, it seems Vernon residents were both curious and enthusiastic about discovering more about what for most would be a brand new sport – ski jumping.

 

Vernon residents line up to watch ski jump demonstration  in 1929  exhibition on Turtle Mountain and the site of current day Nel’s Leap hiking trail, part of the Grey Canal trail system.

On February 3, 1929, cars lined the unpaved roads of what are now 43rd Avenue and Alexis Park Drive. Ski jumpers Nels Nelson, E. Engen, Ole Olson and Karl Wallenstein were putting on an exhibition at the ski jump hill above the Kin Race Track, and the event drew hundreds of onlookers. 

On January 31, 1929, the Vernon News reported: “Vernon people are to enjoy their first thrills of ski jumping on Sunday afternoon, February 3rd when on the hill west of the race track some of the best known jumpers in the world will put on an exhibition.  Nels Nelson, of Revelstoke, who holds the world’s record of 240 feet made at Revelstoke in 1925, will be one of the jumpers.” 

Nels Nelson was born in 1894 in Salangen, Norway.  His family immigrated to Canada in 1913 and settled near Revelstoke, British Columbia. There, Nels quickly became involved with the skiing scene, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Revelstoke Ski Club. Nels became a competitive ski-jumper, and earned a number of trophies over the years. By the 1920s, Nels was considered a skiing legend, competing as far away as the United States; in fact, he was the Canadian Champion ski jumper for five years between 1917 and 1922.  In 1925, Nels broke the world amateur ski jumping record at 240 feet, which also broke the professional mark of 229 feet.  He did this all while sick with the flu.    

The Vernon exhibition was a great success; a few days later, on February 7, 1929, the Vernon News reported that “Nels Nelson [had whizzed] through the air and [traveled] 1,600 feet down mountain side in 11 seconds – glorious weather [contributed] to enjoyment of large crowd – Nelson says hill can be made on which to break records.”    

Despite Nels approval of the hill, it was only used for one season before ski jumping activities moved to the slopes above the Vernon Golf Club.

As for Nels, his career was cut short only a few short years after his appearance in Vernon. During the winter of 1932, Nels was injured in a hunting accident that led to the loss of his hand.  He never jumped again.

Nels passed away in 1943, but his many feats have not been forgotten. Nels was inducted into the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1971, the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame in 1983, and the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 1984. The Revelstoke “Big Hill” was renamed Nels Nelson hill in 1948. In 2014, Kalamalka Rotary revealed the culmination of a more than three years of work with the opening of Nels’ Leap Trail, accessed from the top of 43rd Avenue and Alexis Park Drive, near where Nel’s made his historic leap in 1929.

Gwyn Evans

horse drawn magic

 

November 27, 2020

During an unpredictable year, the Caravan Farm Theatre has been a model of adaptability. With strong and responsive COVID-19 safety protocols in place, the theatre has once again sold out their popular Winter Sleigh Ride Show.*

The Caravan Farm Theatre, now located on an eighty-acre property near Armstrong, actually began as a traveling troupe in the 1970s—hence the title of “Caravan.” The horse-drawn touring company put on a variety of productions for rural communities throughout B.C. and Alberta up until 1983. 

In 1985, the troupe split, with half deciding to continue touring internationally as the “Caravan Stage Company” and the other half deciding to settle on the North Okanagan property to form the “Caravan Farm Theatre.” One of their first productions was George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” held outdoors and with audience participation.

 

Horse-drawn Caravan Farm theatre wagon in 1989

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the theatre became known for its large-scale, high-quality productions, with a special emphasis on the works of Shakespeare and Brecht. The Caravan’s focus on Shakespeare was particularly natural. In Shakespeare’s era, plays were expected to be versatile, at times being shown in an outdoor playhouse, at other times an indoor theatre (hence his famous quote, “the whole world is a stage.”) Similarly, the Caravan’s productions were, and are, staged outdoors at different settings, allowing the audience to experience an immersive journey.  

The Caravan Farm Theatre carried forward this momentum and ingenuity into the 21st century. Their infamous Walk of Terror launched in the early 2000s, and at Christmas time the Winter Sleigh Ride is often sold out far in advance of December. Although this year things will be a little different—with tickets sold to “bubbles” instead of individuals, and plexiglass barriers separating one bubble from another within the sleigh—the magic of Christmas, and of attending a production by this innovative local theatre group, is sure to endure. 

As for the Caravan Stage Company, they too are still going strong, but their stage has experienced a bit of an upgrade: while they still use their traditional horse-drawn wagons to stage productions across North America and into Europe, they perform most of their acts aboard a 30-meter sailboat called the Amara Zee, which relaunched just this year after being dry-docked for two years of repairs. 

Gwyn Evans

*please note, as of November 27, it is uncertain if “the show will go on” with recent provincial public health protocols. Please check the Caravan Farm Theatre site for the latest new.