Vernon in the summer of 1908.

 

2021 Western Canada Heat Wave

This past June, dozens of records were set in Vernon and across B.C. during an unprecedented heat wave. The highest reported temperature in Vernon during this time was a staggering 44.2 C, recorded on June 28.

Although different weather stations around the City reported different temperatures, and, moreover, historical temperature data for Vernon is not conclusive, it is believed that this high shattered a previous record of 40 C set on July 21, 1908.

Staying cool before A/C

Needless to say, the luxury of air conditioning did not exist 113 years ago (the first in-home unit was installed in a Minneapolis mansion in 1914), but a variety of methods were used to help people stay cool.

An ad for the Cooper and Christien Grocer in the Vernon News of July 23, 1908, encouraged the public to stock up on lemons and limes for lemonade. (Hot! Hot! Hot! And it may be hotter,” reads the headline). Refreshing treats such as ice cream, watermelon, and iced tea were a particularly popular way to cool down, something which to this day hasn’t changed. 

On the same page of the Vernon News, the W.R. Megaw department store announced that they were hosting a hot weather sale, with discounts on kilted sailor suits for children and taffeta silk parasols for their mothers. Light-weight materials like canvas, cotton, and linen were popular choices during the hot summer months.

Another ad recommended the use of Zam-Buk, a medicinal skin balm first sold in 1902, to relieve the symptoms of heat rash. Although there was no over-the-counter cure for heat-related illnesses, strenuous work was avoided when the sun was at its most extreme; instead, afternoon naps were popularized as a way to reduce the threat of heat exhaustion or stroke.

July 21, 1908

However, despite the best efforts of advertisers, the high temperatures of July 1908 actually did not seem to cause much of a stir among the people of Vernon. The record high was relegated to a small note in the newspaper’s “Town and District” section that read “Tuesday was the hottest day experienced here for some years. The thermometer at the Government meteorological station at the Coldstream Ranch registered 104 [40 C] in the shade.”

However, a description of the lacrosse match for the Minto Cup played by the Montreal Shamrocks and the New Westminster club on the same day that Vernon reached its record high temperature earned a full paragraph.

 

Gwyn Evans

 

 

For July and August, the Vernon Museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the many heritage sites around the North Okanagan. To plan a visit to any of the sites featured, please visit https://vernonmuseum.ca/explore/heritage-field-trips/.

 

The Okanagan Landing Stationhouse Museum

One of Vernon’s hidden gems is the Okanagan Landing Stationhouse Museum, located in Paddlewheel Park.

In addition to a variety of other artifacts, the museum boasts an incredible scale model that depicts life in the Okanagan Landing in 1914.

The Era of Sternwheelers

Life was different in Vernon when sternwheelers still plied the waters of Okanagan Lake.

The Landing was a hub of activity, since it was the terminus of the Shuswap and Okanagan spur line of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the most northerly steamboat port on the lake. It wasn’t unusual for the arrival or departure of ships to draw large crowds to the Landing, and perhaps none more so than for the launch of the S.S. Okanagan in 1907. 

A New Ship

On April 16 of that year, the town was all but deserted, for the majority of its population had descended on the Okanagan Landing. Mayor W.R. Megaw had declared a half-holiday, and school, stores, and offices were closed.

The Landing, meanwhile, was festively decorated, with bunting, flags, and streamers waving cheerfully from every building.

But it was the S.S. Okanagan that was drawing the most attention from onlookers, with her gleaming white and gold trim.

Construction had begun on the CPR vessel a year earlier, in 1906. She was built to replace the aging S.S. Aberdeen in transporting passengers and freight between Vernon and Penticton. After a year of construction, she was finally ready to be put to work. 

The Christening

As the crowd waited impatiently, the ship’s gang plank was removed and she started to slowly slide along the greased stringers towards the water.

Meanwhile, a ceremony was taking place on the ship’s main deck; the wife of Captain Gore had been given the honour of naming the ship, and was presented with a flower bouquet and a silver water service. 

As the Okanagan slipped into the lake for the first time, Mrs. Gore showered a bottle of champagne across the ship’s bow. The guests on board toasted to the new vessel’s success, before they were transferred to the S.S. Aberdeen and brought back to shore.

Celebrations continued into the evening, with performances by the Vernon Fire Brigade Band and a dance hosted by Captain and Mrs. Gore at the Landing’s Strand Hotel.

 

YEARS OF SERVICE

The S.S. Okanagan was in service for 27 years before being retired in 1934. While most of her pieces were dismantled and sold as scraps, the Ladies Saloon from the boat’s stern was rescued by the S.S. Sicamous Restoration Society and moved to the heritage park in Penticton.

 

The Okanagan Landing Stationhouse museum is housed in in the original 1892 railroad station house. 

 

The S.S. Okanagan on her day of launch in 1907.

 

Okanagan Landing, showing the Strand Hotel, railroad, and SS Okanagan, sternwheeler circa 1910. GVMA #11232.

 

Gwyn Evans

 

 

 

Grappling with disaster

“No more appalling disaster has ever been recorded in the annals of this province than the catastrophe of Tuesday morning [August 10, 1909], when the Okanagan Hotel was destroyed by fire and eleven helpless victims perished in the flames. A sickening pall of gloom rests over the city.”

Thus read the front page of the Vernon News on August 12, 1909, a few days after the Okanagan Hotel fire that resulted in the death of 11 individuals and left the City of Vernon shocked. 

The Okanagan Hotel

The Okanagan Hotel opened in June of 1891 on the corner of 30th Avenue and 33rd Street. It was built of brick veneer and, when it was destroyed, represented one of Vernon’s oldest buildings. 

A Fire Breaks Out and a hero emerges

Early on the morning of August 10, a fire started in the hotel. 60 people were inside at the time. 

Fire fighters rushed to the scene but little could be done. Efforts instead turned to rescuing those inside and stopping the blaze from spreading. 

It was then that a Vernon man named Archie Hickling sprang into action. He ran into the building to rescue two children who were safely evacuated. Hickling then heard a trapped waitress calling for help.

“I’ll get her or I’ll die,” said Hickling, according to the Vernon News. “Darting into the hellish cauldron of flame, smoke and noxious gases, he reached the girl and got her out through the window, whence she was speedily rescued; but heroic Hickling sank back into the pit of death and was seen no more alive.”

We Will Remember them

Hickling was one of 11 men who perished in the Okanagan Hotel Fire. 

An investigation lasted nearly a month after the fire before it was determined that “the fire was of incendiary origin by a party or parties unknown, and we consider from the evidence produced that the night watchman on the night preceding the Okanagan fire, did not perform his required duties.” The perpetrator of this crime has never been discovered. 

A monument in Hickling’s memory was erected in December of 1909. In 1999, the other 10 victims (save one) were identified, and their names listed on a bronze plaque that was added to the Hickling Monument. The memorial currently stands in Vernon’s Polson Park.

  • Wilbur Smith, carpenter
  • J.J. Funston, labourer
  • Jas. Anderson, baker’s assistant
  • Julius Fuerst, bartender
  • M. Chabtree, labourer
  • George Gannett, cement worker
  • George McKay, cement worker
  • George Seltgast, painter
  • Archibald Hickling, labourer
  • Wm. Cook, prospector
  • An unknown man

Additional Resources

Hero of Okanagan hotel fire remembered 110 years later,” article by Roger Knox. 

When Duty Calls – The Story of The Okanagan Hotel Fire of 1909,” documentary by Bruce Mol.

A headline from the Vernon News of August 12, 1909.

 

 

The Okanagan Hotel, undated. GVMA #17562.

 

 

The ruins of the Okanagan Hotel Fire on August 11, 1909. GVMA #004.

 

 

(Left) Archie Hickling circa 1908. (Right) The Archie Hickling Memorial in Polson Park, “In Memory of a Hero.” GVMA #19341 and GVMA #24630.

 

Gwyn Evans

 

 

For July and August, the Vernon Museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the many heritage sites around the North Okanagan. To plan a visit to any of the sites featured, please visit https://vernonmuseum.ca/explore/heritage-field-trips/.

 

THE Silver Star Mountain Museum

A series of year-round exhibits by the Silver Star Mountain Museum located throughout the resort’s village share the ski-hill’s long history.

After more than 90 years of development, the hill now welcomes thousands of local, national and international visitors each year. Although hundreds of individuals worked to shape Silver Star into what it is today, it took just a few to discover its potential.

A First Ascent

In 1921, Bert Thorburn and Tini Ryan road their bicycles up Silver Star Road, stopping one half mile below the first switchback. Strapped to the frames of their bikes were pairs of skis.

After leaving the bikes behind, Bert and Tini continued to trek by foot and by ski for 17 kilometres up to the mountain’s summit. After many hours, they reached the open slopes of the Star and completed the first ever ascent of the mountain.

Exploring the Possibilities

Then, in the spring of 1930, Bill Osborn, David Ricardo, and Michael Freeman obtained permission to stay overnight in the mountain’s forest fire lookout.

The next day, they retraced their steps, and were among the first to ski down the mountain. 

In 1934, Phil Hoskins, Robin Richmond, and Carl Wylie spent four days at the summit, exploring the open slopes. They returned full of enthusiasm for the possibilities of future skiing at Silver Star.

A Club IS FORMED

Finally, in 1938, the Silver Star Ski Club was formed with Carl as president. Bert, Tini, Phil, and Robin were all instrumental in the club’s formation.

The City of Vernon even donated a log cabin to new club as a weekend home for the more adventuresome skiers.

The Village, courtesy of the SilverStar Mountain Resort.

 

Bert Thorburn, Mike Freeman, Jim Duddle, and George Duddle on Silver Star’s southern slope in 1939.

 

Group of people sitting in the Silver Star Mountain lookout tower circa 1930. GVMA #290.

a reputation is established

In December of 1938, the hill’s first downhill race was held, with competitors coming from Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton, and Summerland. In less than 20 years, Silver Star had gained a reputation as a skiing mecca across the Okanagan Valley, and it hass only been up from there!

 

 

Gwyn Evans

 

Okanagan back in time

August 5, 2021

 

For July and August, the Vernon Museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the many heritage sites around the North Okanagan. To plan a visit to any of the sites featured, please visit https://vernonmuseum.ca/explore/heritage-field-trips/.

The WestSide & WildFire Risks

This week’s Heritage Field Trip was to be to the Fintry Estate & Manor. Located within Fintry Provincial Park on the west side of Okanagan Lake, the estate is a fascinating and beautiful glimpse into the past.

Unfortunately, like so many areas of BC and the Western part of the continent, the Okanagan is being ravaged by wildfires.

At this time, Westside Road leading to Fintry is closed in both directions, and many homes and communities are under evacuation orders or alerts.

Take a Trip back in Time

Because we aren’t able to visit  in person at this time, we’d like to offer a glimpse of both the Fintry Manor and the Fintry Delta.

This vintage footage is courtesy of Reel Time Productions and Francois Arsenault.

Stay Safe

Our thoughts are with the people and communities of the Westside of Okanagan Lake.

Let’s all minimize risk, stay safe, and hope for cooler temperatures and a break in this wildfire season.

 

A glimpse of Fintry Manor House, Fintry BC, 1965, courtesy of Reel Time Productions 

 

The Fintry Delta and development plans, 1965, courtesy of Reel Time Productions 

 

 

 

 

For July and August, the Vernon Museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the many heritage sites around the North Okanagan. To plan a visit to any of the sites featured, please visit https://vernonmuseum.ca/explore/heritage-field-trips/.

 

An Award Winning Product

In March of 2020, Vernon’s Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery received a gold medal for their Laird of Fintry Single-Malt Whisky at the World Spirit Awards in Austria. The celebrated distillery releases this product only once a year through a lottery process.

Although the whisky itself is obviously in high demand, the story behind its unique name is less well-known: who was the Laird of Fintry?

Captain Dun-Waters

He was James Cameron Dun-Waters.

Dun-Waters was raised in Scotland, and at the age of 22, inherited a significant amount of money. This fortune brought him to Canada to pursue his interest in hunting.

In 1909, he was exploring a delta along the west side of Okanagan Lake known as Shorts’ Point when he decided this was where he wanted to settle.

A year later, he had purchased the land and renamed it “Fintry” after his hometown in Scotland. Here he remained for 31 years.

A Renaissance Man

James had a great love of the outdoors, and was an avid hunter and athlete.

His particular passion was for curling, and rinks in all parts of the province came to know the Laird’s gusty voice and buoyant personality. Even up until the day of his passing, Dun-Waters served as the President of the curling club in Fintry, Scotland.

He also had a great interest in Ayrshire cattle, and cultivated his own award-winning herd. 

James Dun-Waters and his second wife Margaret circa 1938.

.

 

The Fintry Manor House circa 1935.

James was also an active community member, and was involved with the CPR, the BC Fruit Growers Association, and the Armstrong Interior Provincial Exhibition organization. He was married twice, first to Alice Orde, who died in 1924, and then to Margaret Menzies. He also served overseas during World War One.

Dun-Waters’ Legacy

When Dun-Waters’ health began to fail, and with no heir to inherit his property, he sold his estate at Fintry to the Fairbridge Farm School system for one dollar. James Cameron Dun-Waters died on October 16, 1939.

But what is his connection to whisky? Dun-Waters was a lover of the drink, and around 1910, had a special batch of scotch sent to him in Canada all the way from his native Scotland. The Okanagan Spirit’s creation uses a replica of the label that adorned these earlier bottles, and Dun-Waters’ story lives on.

To learn more about Dun-Waters, and to explore his unique Manor House, sign up for a Heritage Field Trip to the Fintry Estate on Friday, August 6, 2021.

UPDATE: Heritage Field Trip Cancelled due to WIldfire risk

The Friday, August 6, 2021, Heritage Field Trip to the Fintry Estate & Manor has been cancelled due to wildfire risk and closures. Westside Road to Fintry is closed in both directions and communities and homes on the west side of Okanagan Lake are under evacuation alerts and orders. 

If you’d like to take a trip to Fintry Manor and Fintry Delta in 1965 click here for a virtual tour using vintage footage courtesy of Reel Life Productions.

Our thoughts are with all the people, homes, businesses, and communities affected by the wildfires in the Okanagan and across BC and Western Canada this summer. 

 

 

Gwyn Evans

 

Alapetsa O’Keefe

July 21, 2021

 

For July and August, the Vernon Museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the many heritage sites around the North Okanagan. To plan a visit to any of the sites featured, please visit https://vernonmuseum.ca/explore/heritage-field-trips/.

Beauty & Bounty

Cornelius O’Keefe arrived at the head of Okanagan Lake in 1867, with his partners Thomas Greenhow and Thomas Wood, and a large herd of cattle.

Struck by the beauty and bounty of the region, O’Keefe decided to pre-empt 160 acres of land to start a ranch. With time, the O’Keefe Ranch grew to cover around 12,000 acres.

Long before O’Keefe’s arrival, the area was the traditional land territory of the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation. For them, it was their home and native land, on which their culture can be traced by 10 centuries, and where many Syilx People live to this day.

Alapetsa 

The area was also home to a woman named Alapetsa.

Alapetsa (Rosie) was born to Stalekaya (Francois) and Sararenolay (Marie) circa 1850. Around 1869, she began living with Cornelius O’Keefe in a common-law marriage, and working around the ranch.  

 

A portrait of Christine Catherine O’Keefe, the daughter of Alapetsa and Cornelius O’Keefe (O’Keefe Ranch Archives)

 

A daughter, Christine, was born to the couple about 1871. They had at least one other child, a son, who is believed to have tragically drowned at a young age.   

Indigenous + Settler Unions

Alapetsa and Cornelius O’Keefe’s relationship was not a unique one. Most early European male settlers to the Okanagan Valley had an Indigenous partner, who provided the ranchers with companionship and assistance around the homestead. These partnerships were not legal marriages in a European sense, but they were considered binding.

While many ranchers formed true bonds of love and friendship with their Indigenous partners, societal pressure to remarry a more “proper” (that is, a European) wife, often resulted in the dissolution of these relationships and the disenfranchisement of the their Indigenous wives after only a few years.

societal pressure 

The relationship between Cornelius and Alapetsa was dissolved before he married a white woman in 1875. She remained in the area, raising her daughter Christine, and is believed to have eventually married a man named Michele. Alapetsa passed away in 1905.

To learn more about Alapetsa, as well as other powerful and unique women involved in O’Keefe Ranch, sign up for a Heritage Field Trip to O’Keefe Ranch on Friday, July 30, 2021.

Gwyn Evans

 

 

the K’nmaĺka? Sәnqâĺtәn Garden 

July 16, 2021

 

For July and August, the Vernon Museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the many heritage sites around the North Okanagan. To plan a visit to any of the sites featured, please visit https://vernonmuseum.ca/explore/heritage-field-trips/.

Syilx Okangan land

The K’nmaĺka? Sәnqâĺtәn Garden is situated on the Traditional and Unceded territories of the Syilx Nation, and is located at the Okanagan College.

The garden’s creation was a collaboration between the Okanagan Indian Band, Okanagan College, and the Food Action Society of the North Okanagan.

The showcases traditional Syilx plants, medicine, foods, and captikwł.

captikwł & the land

As per the Okanagan Nation Alliance website: “captikwł are a collection of teachings about Syilx Okanagan laws, customs, values, governance structures and principles that, together, define and inform Syilx Okanagan rights and responsibilities to the land and to Syilx Okanagan culture. These stories provide instruction on how to relate to and live on the land.”

 

Balsam Root, pictured here circa 1960, is one of several plants in the K’nmaĺka? Sәnqâĺtәn Garden that are part of the traditional Syilx diet.

 

The first plants added to the garden in 2017/’18 were harvested with permission from Elder Theresa Dennis, and came from the Similkameen territory, the SilverStar Mountain Area, and the Head of the Lake. Native plants such as bitter root, saskatoon, wild huckleberry, soap berry, and balsamroot came to rest in garden beds made from recycled materials and containing locally transplanted soil.

Food Sovereignty

Historically, the Syilx people subsisted on many of these plants, supplemented by wild fish, game, and fowl. This system of food sovereignty is by no means a past one, as many Indigenous people in the Okanagan and around the world still maintain a traditional diet instead of consuming only store-bought food.

Studies have found that a traditional diet is vitally important to the health of Indigenous individuals. In 2018, the University of Alberta interviewed 265 Syilx adults to reveal that the consumption of traditional foods, even in small amounts, led to significantly higher intakes of vital nutrients like protein, omega-3 fatty acids, dietary fibre, magnesium, potassium, riboflavin, and vitamins B6, B12, D, and E. Moreover, the study also determined that a traditional diet was extremely important for spiritual, cultural, social, psychological, and economic well-being. All of this likely comes as no surprise to those who follow a traditional diet today.

Indigenous Plants & Ecosystem Change

The historic transition by Indigenous Peoples to a Western diet was an act of survival in the face of multiple colonial policies that reduced access to traditional foods and contributed to ecosystem change; the impacts of this forced change continue to be seen today in the health disparities of Indigenous communities across the country. 

Places like the K’nmaĺka? Sәnqâĺtәn Garden provide visitors with an introduction to the roots, fruits, and vegetables that compose a traditional diet, as well as a greater appreciation for the connection Syilx People share with their Ancestral and Unceded Land and Territory.

To learn more, sign up for a Heritage Field Trip to K’nmaĺka? Sәnqâĺtәn Garden on Friday, July 23rd, 2021

 

Gwyn Evans

 

 

Vernon Preparatory School

July 12, 2021

 

For July and August, the Vernon Museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the many heritage sites around the North Okanagan. To plan a visit to any of the sites featured, please visit https://vernonmuseum.ca/explore/heritage-field-trips/.

The Mackie Family

In 1940, Hugh and Grace Mackie purchased a house at 7804 Kidston Road and turned it into a beautiful and serene home for themselves and their five boys.

Hugh and Grace had been in the Vernon area since 1913, when they arrived with Hugh’s brother Augustine, an Anglican cleric, to establish a boarding school for boys.

This institution, the purpose of which was to mold young boys into model English gentlemen, was called the Vernon Preparatory School.

schooled In British Culture

Such a school was in high demand at the time it was established. Around the turn of the 20th Century, the Vernon area was home to a significant number of settlers from the United Kingdom.

 

Group photo of the student body of the Vernon Preparatory School in front of the school building circa 1931. Headmasters Augustine and Hugh Mackie are located in the centre of the third row from the front, with Grace Mackie between them.

 

Although they had traveled great distances to live in Canada, many of them still wished to see their children educated in British custom and culture. The school officially opened in January of 1914 for male boarders and day pupils between the ages of 7 and 14. 

The school had a few different locations over the years. As the class sizes expanded, the Mackie Brothers ended up leasing the Hensman Ranch so that their facilities could accommodate up to 50 pupils. Here Reverend Mackie built the St. Nichola’s Chapel, which the students attended regularly as part of their curriculum.

Discipline and Reputation

Discipline was strict at the Vernon Prep School, and the boys started each day at 6 am with a cold bath in an unheated washroom. But they were also allowed to engage in a variety of sports, from cricket, to soccer, to badminton, to swimming, to hiking, and the food was said to be exceptional.

All of this helped to develop the credibility and reputation of the school. Gerry McGeer, Vancouver’s mayor from 1935 to 1945, even sent his son the Vernon Prep School. McGeer was known for his efforts to stamp out the booze trade in Vancouver’s underworld, and his son became the subject of retaliatory threats during his time at the school. Luckily, the threats never amounted to anything beyond words and the boy was kept safe under the watchful eye of the Mackie brothers.

Mackie Lake House

When the Mackies purchased what would become known as the Mackie Lake House, they retired from the teaching profession. The school remained in operation until 1972. In 1997, the property was purchased and transformed into what is now the Coldstream Meadows Retirement Home.

 

Gwyn Evans

 

 

Canadian Battle Drill School

July 5, 2021

 

For July and August, the Vernon Museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the many heritage sites around the North Okanagan. To plan a visit to any of the sites featured, please visit https://vernonmuseum.ca/explore/heritage-field-trips/.

Training centre on Coldstream Ranch

An exciting temporary exhibit by the Vernon Cadet Camp Museum explores the history of the Canadian Battle Drill School Training Centre located at the Coldstream Ranch from 1942 to 1946.

The pop-up museum exhibit is on display at Vernon’s Sun Valley Mall.at 3334 30th Avenue in Unit 110.

The exhibit displays aspects of the training centre, established by the Department of National Defence on 2,250 acres of land leased from the Coldstream Ranch.

First of its kind in Canada

The first of its kind in Canada, this training centre was a valuable contribution to Canada’s war efforts.

There was a personal motivation for the ranch’s manager, Thomas Hill, and the ranch’s owners. During the course of World War Two, 35 employees of the ranch enlisted for service overseas, with six never returning home.

 

Soldiers crawling through a trench filled with mud and water at the Canadian Battle Drill School at the Coldstream Ranch. In the background, instructors watch over the proceedings. (1944)

 

Devil’s Gulch

Arguably, one of the most interesting components of the Battle Drill School was its intense assault course, used to train soldiers in the maneuvering of hazardous landscapes. At the beginning of the course, a sign with the words “Devil’s Gulch. Abandon hope all ye who enter here,” topped by a bleached cow skull, signaled what was to come.

Upon entering the obstacle course, the school’s students would be faced with fences crudely wrapped in barbed wire. They would next have to scramble over a wooden structure 25 to 30 feet tall, before army crawling beneath entangled wire and through flooded trenches.

Hazed by Live Gunfire and the Occasional Rattlesnake

Soldiers-in-training had to traverse mud pit after mud pit, and then use ropes to scale down a vertical cliff face to reach the end of the course—only to have to turn back around and complete it in reverse. All along the way, they were hazed by live gunfire and the occasional rattlesnake.

As many as 20,000 soldiers trained at the Battle Drill School. Although the training was intense, many of the soldiers who endured it reported that without it, they would not have been able to survive, either physically or mentally, once they arrived overseas. 

Gwyn Evans