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

 

 

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.

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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

 

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