from bunchgrass to grazeland

April 9, 2021

 

With Earth Day fast approaching, the Vernon Museum has taken the opportunity to research how local human activity has effected, and continues to effect, ecosystems and wildlife in the North Okanagan.

Until the end of April, the museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the results of this investigation.

The importance of the introduction of cattle to the Valley cannot be overstated.

ranches as hubs of development

Early cattle drives passed through the Valley in the late 1850s, where the animals would feast on the Okanagan’s abundant bunchgrass, before continuing on their way to the gold fields of the Fraser Canyon. 

By the end of the next decade, upwards of 22,000 head of cattle had crossed the border at the south end of the Okanagan Valley.

Cattle round-up of Chief Clerke’s cattle at Wye Lake (Goose Lake area).
Date unknown.

 

 

Early cattle drives, and, later, the establishment of ranches, allowed the Okanagan to become a hub of economic activity. Despite this benefit, the arrival of large droves of cattle inevitably shaped the natural landscape in lasting ways.

Later, pioneers like Thomas Wood, Thomas Greenhow, and Cornelius O’Keefe arrived to pre-empt land and start permanent ranches. Their small herds grew rapidly in number.

From A Sea of Waving Grasses

The Okanagan of 1850s and ‘60s would have been almost unrecognizable to us today. The Valley bottom was covered not with areas of human development, but with fields of tall grass that, as they swayed in the breeze, resembled a vast, moving sea.

These grasses were especially adapted to our warm, dry climate. In particular, bunchgrass, of which there are several different species in the Okanagan, has a deep root system as well as a specific morphology which allows it to survive long periods of drought.

This bunchgrass was also perfect animal fodder and after a decade or so of constant feeding, the bunchgrass population began to suffer. By the 1890s, much of the bunchgrass had been stripped from the Valley. 

TO A Few Sparse Patches

Since then, the science of range management has progressed greatly, and it’s not the ranches that prove the greatest threat to native bunchgrass, but human encroachment. Areas of bunchgrass can still be found (at Kalamalka Lake Park, for example) but what was once a sea of grass is now only a few sparse patches. Today, only 9% of native bunchgrass is left in the Okanagan.

There are many approaches that we can take to curb the destruction of native bunchgrass populations, including supporting ecological restoration and habitat renewal initiatives, remaining on trails and marked areas when hiking and biking, learning about the growth cycle of plants and making informed decisions when allowing animals to graze, and taking an active role in preventing the spread of invasive weeds.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, an excellent read is “Bunchgrass and Beef: Bunchgrass Ecosystems and the Early Cattle Industry in the Thompson-Okanagan,” by local historian Ken Mather, available online at https://royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/exhibits/living-landscapes/thomp-ok/article-LL/contents-beef.html.

Gwyn Evans

happy easter!

 

April 1, 2021

For kids everywhere, the highlight of this holiday weekend is, of course, the Easter Egg Hunt.

Each family seems to have their own iteration of this well-loved tradition: some parents hide fully-stocked baskets outside, rain or shine, for their children to find, while others create a series of riddles that will lead to chocolates hidden cleverly around the house.

Other kids must hunt around the yard to find the foil-wrapped treats, one or two of which inevitably go missing and end up being discovered as a melted mess sometime during the summer.   

Local easter fun – & competition

Over the years, the City of Vernon has also staged a variety of Easter competitions to excite children and adults alike.

As is the case around the world, many of Vernon’s Easter traditions have featured the humble chicken egg, seen here hatching in 1958-or, at least, its chocolate replica.

 

 

In April of 1901, each customer who purchased one dozen fresh eggs (at only $0.20 each) was entered into a draw by local shopkeeper W.R. Megaw. The Saturday prior to Easter, a blindfolded child was asked to draw a name from the box, and the winner was awarded a “magnificent” hanging library lamp.

In 1925, the Vernon News published an Easter Word Hunt for its readership. A series of ads for local businesses was arranged on a full-page of newsprint. Each ad contained a purposely misplaced word, and readers were asked to create a list of the errors and send it in to “Easter Hunt Editor” at the Vernon News office. Five correct submissions were then randomly drawn, and the winners received a box of chocolates and tickets to the best moving picture show of the month, “The Golden Bed.”

all manner of egg hunts

In 1981, Easter Egg Hunts were held at the Polson Place Mall on the Friday and Saturday prior to Easter Sunday. Pre-registered children had a chance to search in a haystack for ping-pong balls bearing the names of local businesses. When brought to the corresponding merchants, the children were then awarded their chocolate prizes.

In 2012, excited toddlers from the Funfer All Daycare, bundled warmly in bright rain jackets, bounced around Mission Hill Park on the search for Easter treats. They smiled exuberantly and posed for photographs as they pulled eggs out of trees knolls and from beneath benches.

And this year, the Downtown Vernon Association has introduced a window Easter egg scavenger hunt, a family-friendly activity that complies with Covid-19 safety regulations. The people of Vernon are truly resilient and creative, and despite the challenges and changes that each new year presents, we continue to find ways to celebrate the joy of spring’s arrival. 

Gwyn Evans

drive-in delights

 

March 29, 2021

The North Okanagan’s recent mild weather has been accompanied by a secondary treat: it has allowed the Starlight Drive-In near Enderby to open early, with the first showing on March 19.

The Starlight Drive-In is the sole surviving permanent open-air theatre in the Okanagan. But before there was The Starlight, there was The Skyway.

the skyway

The Skyway Drive-In, located at 2204 48 Avenue in Vernon, was operated by Odeon Theatres of Canada (now known as Cineplex Inc.) and opened on May 1, 1950.

The first showing was a grand affair, advertised in The Vernon News with a full two-page spread. The feature presentation was the 1950 comedy A Woman of Distinction, which premiered at 8 pm.

The cost for an adult ticket was 55 cents and a well-stocked concession stand served french fries, soft drinks, hot dogs, and of course, popcorn.

cinema stowaways

It was an instant success and many Vernonites have fond memories of this former landmark.

On the Facebook Page “Vintage Vernon,” a photo shared by the museum of the theatre provoked an outpouring of reminiscences. 

Some commenters remember hiding themselves in the trunks of vehicles to sneak in for free (although at least one of the theatre’s managers, Bob Scott, was quite aware of this little trick and apparently didn’t mind—the stowaways spent good money at the concession).

Aerial view of the Skyway drive-in theatre just outside Vernon, circa 1975

 

 

Photo courtesy of Rhiannan Johnson via Vintage Vernon Facebook  page

 

 

A Simpler Time

Many recalled the movies they watched on the big screen: E.T., Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Back to the Future and the Odessa File were some of the ones shown. For others, the photo provoked a yearning for childhood and a “simpler” time.

The theatre grounds boasted swing sets and other playground equipment, which kept children occupied during pre-shows and intermissions. Teenagers found the drive-in to be a good hangout (and romance) spot. Some older folks who lived nearby could watch the showings from the comfort of their own homes, while parents enjoyed a night-out as their pajama-clad children slept through the second feature in the back seat.

end of an era

The theatre grounds boasted swing sets and other playground equipment, which kept children occupied during pre-shows and intermissions. Teenagers found the drive-in to be a good hangout (and romance) spot. Some older folks who lived nearby could watch the showings from the comfort of their own homes, while parents enjoyed a night-out as their pajama-clad children slept through the second feature in the back seat.

Sadly, these summer night traditions came to an end in 1991, when the theatre was demolished and replaced with the Skyway Village housing development. Now, the Chartwell Carrington Place Retirement Residence stands where the Skyway Drive-In once did. Although the demolition of the Skyway Drive-In was a loss for the City of Vernon, the tradition of open-air movie-watching lives on with the Skylight.

Gwyn Evans

doukhobors & freedomites

 

March 19, 2021

The arrival of Russian Doukhobors in Vernon and the Okanagan Valley is a story flush with tension and resilience.

Thousands of Doukhobors began arriving in Canada between 1899 and 1914, escaping oppression under the regime of Tsar Nicholas II.

The first group of Doukhobors settled four colonies in what would later become the province of Saskatchewan.

The Doukhobor homestead crisis of 1907 caused some of their number to leave Saskatchewan for British Columbia and by the 1930s, they reached the Okanagan Valley.

cultural & spiritual divide

Doukhobors were perceived as a a cheap source of labour during World War Two. Although their wages where higher in the Okanagan Valley than in the Kootenays, they were paid considerably less than English-speaking labourers.

The cultural and spiritual divide between the Doukhbobors and their British neighbors strained relationships between the two groups.

Several articles in the Vernon News from the early 20th-century describe the Doukhobors as “crazy,” “trouble,” and “fanatics.”

sons of Freedom

This reputation for fanaticism among the Doukhobors was due to the actions of a minority sect among them, the “Freedomites,” or “Sons of Freedom.”

The Freedomites espoused a return to the more traditional Russian-style of communal living and self-governance. 

 

Doukhobors in Okanagan fields
(Image credit: Vancouver Public Library. Photo No. 17115)

 

 

The foyer of Vernon’s Professional Building after a terrorist attack by Freedomites in 1958. The actions of this minority group contributed to generalized anti-Doukhobor sentiment.(GVMA)

 

 

During the 1950s, they became known for their public protests; they burned money, refused to send their children to public schools, and paraded nude through busy streets. In response, many Freedomite children were snatched by the Canadian government and placed in an internment camp in New Denver.

Although pacifism and anti-war sentiment is a fundamental component of the Doukhobor belief system, some Freedomites used violent means to advance their message and oppose the imprisonment of their children. In the early hours of August 14, 1958 a bomb went off in Vernon’s Professional Building on 31st Street, causing extensive damage but no injuries. The detonation coincided with attacks on post offices in Oliver and Osoyoos, and five male Freedomites were later arrested and charged.

statement of regret

The relationship between the federal government and the Doukohbors improved gradually over the next few decades, following investigations into the systematic abuse suffered by Doukhobor children, the establishment of the Expanded Kootenay Committee on Intergroup Relations, and a 2004 “statement of regret” by the Government of B.C. Members of the Doukhobor community are still seeking an official apology.

Today, Vernon is home to more than 2,000 people of Russian descent.

Gwyn Evans

historic campbell house

 

March 12, 2021

With its cheery yellow siding, tall central tower, and large bay windows, the Campbell House perched overlooking downtown Vernon at 2203 30th Avenue is certainly a local landmark.

This Queen Anne Revival House, built in 1898, is among the oldest sites on Vernon’s Heritage Register, and has even garnered attention on a national scale, with the property being listed on the Canadian Register of Historic Places.

eyes on Morning Glory

In an ostentatious display of his wealth, rancher and prospector A.E. Morden built the house in order to be able to stand on his balcony and use his spy glass to monitor the goings-on at his operation, the Morning Glory Mine, located on the east side of Okanagan Lake.

Morden’s story didn’t exactly end in glory, and the house became more closely associated with its third owner, J.C. Campbell, who, alongside his brother Angus, operated a popular furniture store in Vernon. J.C. moved his wife Margaret and four children into the castle-like structure prior to 1913. 

heritage designation

One can only imagine the family joys and dramas that took place within the walls of the Campbell House. The building stayed in the family for many years, and was passed down to J.C.’s wife Margaret after his death, and to daughter Lorna after Margaret’s own passing.

Over the years, the Campbell House has changed relatively little, thanks largely to its designation as a heritage property in 1988.

In addition to the normal deterioration one would expect of a more-than century old structure, a lighting-induced fire tore through the building’s attic in 2010.

Two horse drawn carriages sitting in front of the Campbell house circa 1910 (GVMA)

 

Postcard of Vernon from 1912.
The Campbell House is visible on the top left of the card

 

Campbell House 2010 (City of Vernon)

revitalization

Thankfully, the house underwent some much-needed restoration in 2011/2012. Contractor Gavin Parsons and his crew stripped layers of flooring to expose the original fir planks, reinstalled the porches, and added a few modern touches like plumbing and electricity.

Through the efforts of individuals like Parsons and organizations like the Heritage Advisory Committee, the now 123-year-old Campbell House looks much like it did when it was first built, and continues to serve as a monument to our city’s early development.

 

Gwyn Evans

Earth Expo 2021

 

March 5, 2021

Earth Day, Every Day

Earth Day, Every Day

 

BE Part of Earth Expo!

Submit artwork, sculpture, poetry, multi-media projects, posters, displays, photography, videos – anything that celebrates the health and sustainability of our planet.

Teachers in SD22 can submit student work as a class. Independent learners and homeschoolers can also submit work.

Student projects, displays, artwork, multi-media and photography will be exhibited in digital and virtual formats, with some displayed onsite if public health guidelines allow.

 

 

OKIB Dragon Boat Team

 

For more info & to submit

Please contact:

SD 22 Student and Class Submissions:
Vipasha Brar – Educator SD22: VBrar@sd22.bc.ca / socialjustice@vernonta.com 604-499-7150 

 

Independent Learners and Homeschool Submissions:
Laisha Rosnau – Program Coordinator, GVMA: laisha.rosnau@vernonmuseum.ca

Greater Vernon Museum & Archives (GVMA) and School District 22 (SD22) are partnering to present Earth Expo 2021.

Earth Expo will feature student projects, artwork, multi-media work, demonstrations and displays highlighting a variety of Student Environment Stewards’ work.

Earth Expo will take place April 19 to 30 and will be presented online, through virtual galleries and exhibits viewable from wherever on earth you are!

 

Exploring Rose’s Pond on the Commonage (GVMA)

 

Important dates

April 1 – Early Submission Deadline*

April 9 – Extended Submission Deadline

April 19-30 – Earth Expo

*all submissions received by April 1st will be included in the online gallery and virtual exhibit. We will do our best to include all received by the extended April 9 deadline, as well.

 

 

Fishing in Polson Park (GVMA)

Coldstream Kate Kalamalka

 

March 5, 2021

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political successes of women. Even more importantly, perhaps, it is a chance to elevate the voices of those women whose achievements have been silenced, whether intentionally or not, by the passing of time. One such woman is Catherine Kalamalka.

Gaps in the Archives

An important caveat : the GVMA’s limited resources about this remarkable woman are indicative of a larger, national tendency for Indigenous Peoples, and especially Indigenous women, to be underrepresented in archives and settler-based museums.

Katherine’s descendants and wider Indigenous community could likely offer a much warmer, personal, and accurate portrayal of her life than the one that is presented here.

Daughter of Chief Kalamalka

According to “Q’sapi: A History of Okanagan People as Told by Okanagan Families,” Catherine Kalamalka (sometimes spelled Katherine or Katrine in other sources) was born circa 1847 to Chief Cohastimene and Marie Kwentek.

She was the granddaughter of the famous Chief Kalamalka, for whom the Kalamalka Hotel was named. Later, it is believed Long Lake was renamed Kalamalka Lake in his honour.

 

Cosen’s Bay and Kalamalka Lake (GVMA)

 

Unfortunately, the museum does not have a photo of Coldstream Kate in their collection. This photo, however, does show her father, Chief Cohastimene (sometimes spelled Goastamana), in 1902. His daughter Catherine would have been in her fifties when this photo was taken.

“coldstream Kate”

Catherine was known as Coldstream Kate, and, according to a Vernon News article in 1926, was “the best known woman in the Okanagan Valley, if not in the province. She was famous for her beauty and kindly disposition.”

Following his arrival in the area, Catherine began a common-law partnership with Forbes George Vernon, for whom our City is named. Together, they had two children, Mary and Louisa. When Vernon was elected to the Provincial Legislature in 1875, he left Catherine and his daughters, and moved to Victoria. Two years later he married Katie Alma Branks of California.

a tower of strength

After Vernon’s departure, Catherine, then aged thirty-eight, married forty-two-year-old widower Louis Bercier from Washington. The couple farmed on a property at the Head of the Lake, and later settled near Whiteman’s Creek with Catherine’s daughter Louisa.

Catherine Kalamalka, then known as Mrs. Louis Bercier, passed away on February 9, 1926 at the age of about 80. Her obituary in theVernon News states that “with the passing of Mrs. Bercier, many a poor man and woman lost a good friend whose bright disposition was a tower of strength in difficult times.”

Gwyn Evans

An infamous remittance man

 

February 25, 2021

Perhaps he was trying to take some of the attention away from his Marchioness sister, or maybe he just wanted to scandalize the ladies.

Whatever the case, back in Vernon’s Cowtown days, few developed as infamous a reputation as one Coutts Marjoribanks (pronounced Marchbanks).

to the colonies

Coutts was born in 1860 into an aristocratic British family. His father, Dudley Marjoribanks, was a Scottish businessman and politician who was later elevated to the position of Baron Tweedmouth.

Dudley and his wife Isabella had seven children, two of whom died as infants, with Coutts being the second-youngest.

When he came of age, like many other energetic, perhaps considered unruly, younger sons of upper-crust British families, Coutts was sent overseas for a life in the colonies.

These men were often given an allowance, or “remittance” from their well-to-do families. And, this remittance often made it possible for them to try on the parts of farmer, cowboy, or rancher in this new, “wild” world.

 

Portrait of Coutts Marjoribanks in 1895; Portrait of Lady Aberdeen at King Edward’s Coronation in 1902.

 

 

Coutts Marjoribanks (seated) with ranch hand

“not a particularly nice man”

He spent his youth cattle ranching in Texas, which instead of taming his boisterous personality and adventurous spirit, only encouraged it. He quickly became an accomplished roper, rider, and rancher.

Although Coutts was thriving in his new lifestyle, his family did not approve of his antics, and he was pushed to move to Vernon where he could be under the watchful of his older sister, Ishbel, the Lady Aberdeen. A few years earlier, the Aberdeens had purchased the Coldstream Ranch, and Coutts became its first manager.

Yet, even this increased-level of responsibility couldn’t dampen Coutts spirits, and he quickly earned a reputation in Vernon for his brazenness. Of Coutts, local woman Alice Barrett describes “never wanting to know him, for he is not a particularly nice man.”

You Can Lead a Horse to…

Photographer Charles Holliday seems to have been more entertained by Coutt’s peculiarities, and details with barely-veiled amusement his tendency to ride his horse right into the Kalamalka Hotel whenever he wanted a drink, which was apparently often.

Once when Coutts was loading a shipment of cattle into the back of a train, he was chastised by a passing parson for using expletive language in front of his ranch hand. Coutts lashed back with “Hell man! I’m not teaching a Sunday school, I’m loading cattle, and I’ll bet that Noah swore when he was loading his animals into the ark.”

Despite his rough manners, Coutts had an undeniable charisma that left most people begrudgingly fond of him—Alice Parke being an obvious exception. Coutts stepped down from his position as Manager of the Coldstream Ranch in 1895, but remained with his wife Agnes and two children in Vernon until his death in 1924. 

Gwyn Evans

Cultural Mosaic: Early Ukrainian immigrants

 

February 19, 2021

Every four to six weeks, the Vernon Museum will feature an individual or family who immigrated to this area.

Bringing some of their traditions and cultures with them, these early immigrants to the North Okanagan have helped to created the community and culture of the North Okanagan today.

ukrainian Canadians

Vernon has a rich Ukrainian Canadian culture. As of 2016, more than one-tenth of the city’s population was composed of people whose origins can be traced back to this Eastern European country.

WWI Internment

Early immigration to Vernon by those of Ukrainian descent was not always marked by respect. 2020 marked 100 years since the closure of the Vernon Internment Camp, where hundreds of  men, women, and children determined to be of Austrian-Hungarian descent were held prisoner—the majority of these were Ukrainian Canadians.

Ukrainian Canadian Culture

In the last 100 years, Ukrainian culture and traditions have flourished and deepened in this local setting.

This can be seen in the beautiful 74-year-old, gothic-style Ukrainian Orthodox Church that adorns the side of 27th Street, or in the colourful and energetic performances of Vernon’s Sadok Ukrainian Dance Ensemble. 

early immigration

It all began with one family—the Melnichuks.

Starting in 1896, under the aggressive immigration policies of Minister of the Interior, Clifford Sifton, Canada began to experience a significant westward expansion of Ukrainian emigrants, many of whom had left their country of birth to escape poverty and oppression, and seek out land of their own.

 

Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Assumption of St. Mary, located at 4105 27th Street. This photographs shows the church shortly after its construction in 1947

 

Sadok Ukrainian Dance Ensemble performing at O’Keefe Ranch in 2018

 

Cultural Mosaic dance reformed by Ukrainian, Celtic, and Bhangra dancers at 2017 Okanagan Military Tattoo

Roman and Rose Melnichuk, both of whom were born in Ukraine, were the first to arrive in Vernon in 1914. They initially lived in a house on Mission Hill, but later Roman purchased property on both sides of Swan Lake to start a farm and raise a family. The couple would go on to have 12 children.

The second eldest of the children was Nicholas Melnichuk. From a young age, Nick had an adventurous spirit, and at only 12-years-old left Vernon to work as a ranch hand across the border in Washington State. He returned to Canada as a young man, and married Lucy Bordula. 

Nick served for two years in the motorcycle regiment of the Canadian Army during the Second World War, and for the next 35 years after that as a construction worker. In an article for the Vernon Daily News of 1981, he was quoted as saying “sure wish I had a dollar for every mile of road I drove the cats for various construction companies during that time.” Following his well-earned retirement, Nick spent his time trout fishing in the mountain lakes around Vernon. Nick Melnichuk remained in the city until his death in 1992. 

From this first pioneering family, the local Ukrainian community has proliferated and diversified, and their vibrant and symbolic traditions help to enrichen our city’s cultural mosaic.

Gwyn Evans

 

Early carnival Parade & silver star footage

 

February 12, 2021

Take a trip back in time to the 1964 Vernon Winter Carnival!

First stop: Winter Carnival Parade

We’re not sure what those vikings from the Revelstoke float are doing would go over very well today, that spider float is a bit horrifying, and at least one small child is not impressed! Nonetheless, it’s a charming and entertaining journey back to a parade of the past.

Next stop: Silver Star Mountain

This appears to be a slalom competition. We’re fairly certain those were the alpine downhill skis of the day, but it looks like people are competing downhill on nordic cross-country skis — and admirably so! 

Enjoy!