The front page of the Vernon News from October 13th, 1921.

100 years ago

What was happening in Vernon 100 years ago, in the autumn of 1921? The Vernon News (and particularly the “Town and District” column) provides some insight.

Group photo of some of the Coldstream Ranch fruit pickers, circa 1915. GVMA #2523.

On October 3 of that year, a masquerade ball was held at the dining hall of the Coldstream Ranch fruit pickers. The venue was decorated with autumn leaves, berries, asparagus ferns, and paper lanterns, and entertainment and refreshments were provided. Attendees dressed as knights, princesses, sailors, soldiers, and clowns milled about the dance floor. Someone even arrived disguised as Palmolive soap.

The Post Office clock circa 1935. GVMA #4767.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For about a week during that October, Vernonites were reported as being very tardy, on account of the Post Office clock being out of commission. When the clock was dismantled for repairs, those who governed their daily actions by the ticking of the clock were “forced to rely on their own more or less accurate timepieces.”

A bizarre was hosted by children of the Presbyterian Church Sunday School on October 15, 1921. Large quantities of farm produce, preserves, pickles, and home cooking were available for purchase. The afternoon concluded with a musical program.

Edna Harwood and Agnes Fletcher dressed as witches for Halloween circa 1918. GVMA #1519.
The Empress Theatre in 1922. GVMA #4597.

The Empress Theatre hosted showings of the 1921 films “Stranger than Fiction,” “The Devil,” and “Nobody,” and a local minister invited those who cuss to a lecture on the Third Commandment.

On the afternoon of October 31, a Halloween party was held at the new South Vernon School; around 400 students attended. Later that evening, the doors of the school were opened so that the citizens of Vernon could inspect the new facility.

Among all of these notable events, the everyday moments of life are also noted in the Vernon News: from births, deaths, and birthdays, to special visitors, meeting notices, and local sales.   

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

The Pioneer Park Cemetery. Photo courtesy of the Vernon and District Family History Society.

Vernon’s First Cemetery

An unassuming plot of land off of Alexis Park Drive is all that remains of Vernon’s first cemetery. The Pioneer Park Cemetery, as it is now known, was established in early 1885 on 52 acres of land donated by Vernon’s first white settler, Luc Girouard. Up until then, the closest cemetery was located at the Okanagan Mission, and with a growing population, Vernon was in need of its own facility. Girouard’s fellow pioneer E.J. Tronson was the main driving force behind the establishment of the Pioneer Park Cemetery.

 

The Pioneer Park Cemetery is accessed from 35th Avenue off of Alexis Park Drive in Vernon. The cemetery is on the right approximately 100 metres along 35th Avenue. Photo and directions courtesy of the Vernon and District Family History Society.

A state of Disrepair

In July of 1885, the first body, that of one-year-old John William Hozier, was laid to rest in the site. But only ten years later, in 1895, the cemetery was in a state of disrepair, with the fence rotting away. Conditions improved somewhat in 1898, when a source of water was located near the cemetery which allowed for the planting of flowers.

 

A New Cemetery is chosen

However, the site was ultimately deemed inadequate, and, in 1901, G. Milligan offered the city five acres of land on Pleasant Valley Road for the establishment of a new cemetery. A year later, the Pleasant Valley Cemetery was ready for use. Starting in 1913, bodies were exhumed from the Pioneer Park Cemetery and moved to the Pleasant Valley Cemetery.

 

Preservation and Commemoration

Details of tombstones at the Pioneer Park Cemetery. Photo courtesy of the Vernon and District Family History Society.

In 1932, some Vernon City Councilors suggested that the old cemetery should be preserved out of respect for the early pioneers who established it. Once the deeds to the land were transferred from the Girouard Family, city crews were sent it to improve the cemetery’s appearance and to restore any remaining tombstones. In 1973, the site was turned into a park, and named the Pioneer Park Cemetery.

Although you might not recognize the park as a former cemetery with just a cursory glance, the lives of those who were buried there have not been forgotten; a memorial plaque at the park’s entrance bears many of their names, and members of the Vernon and District Family History Society are working to compile a complete burial list.

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

Larry Kwong wearing a New York Rangers jersey in 1923.

2021/’22 Hockey Season

With the cooler weather setting in, hockey season is only just around the corner. The 2021/’22 National Hockey League season begins on October 12 between this year’s Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The NHL has a long history, dating back to 1917 when it replaced the National Hockey Association. But it was not until 1948 that the league saw its first non-white player; the player who broke the colour barrier was named Larry Kwong, and he was born right here in Vernon.

 

One of Fifteen

Larry Kwong (1923-2018) was the second youngest of fifteen children. His father, Ng Shu Kwong, had immigrated to Canada from China in 1884, eventually setting up a store in Vernon called the Kwong Hing Lung Grocery.

Like many young boys, Larry grew up listening to hockey games on CBC radio. His passion for the sport was obvious even from the age of five, and two of his older brothers, Jack and Jimmy, encouraged Larry to start playing hockey himself. When the weather was cold enough, Jack and Jimmy would pour water into a vacant lot near the family store, creating a rink for Larry to practice. Larry and some of his friends also liked to frequent a nearby local pond to play their games and sharpen their skills.

 

A first hockey Team

When Larry was 16, he joined his first hockey team, the Vernon Hydrophones. His natural talent gained him instant attention, and his career took off from there. This is not to say that he did not face significant racial barriers along the way; in fact, in 1942, he was invited to the training camp of the Chicago Black Hawks, but the Canadian Government never processed the paperwork that would allow him to leave and return to Canada.

 

Joining the NHL

It wasn’t until after his enfranchisement as a result of serving in the Canadian Army during World War Two that Larry was able to accept an invitation into the NHL. He made his debut with the New York Rangers on March 13, 1948. However, Larry decided to leave the team after only one season; although he was the Rangers’ top scorer, he received very little ice time.

 

A long Career

He went on to have a long and successful career in senior leagues across Canada and the United States, and coached both hockey and tennis in England and Switzerland. He also helped to run his family’s grocery business, which had migrated to Calgary.

In 2011, Larry Kwong was inducted into the Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame, and two years later, in 2013, into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame. This remarkable man passed away in Calgary on March 15, 2018. 

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

Group photo of a family of men, women and children who were internees in the Vernon internment camp during WWI.

The Vernon Internment Camp Opens

On Sept. 18, 1914, the Vernon Internment Camp opened on the site of what is now MacDonald Park. Around 1100 men, women, and children, mostly of Austro-Hungarian and German descent, passed through the Camp’s gates before it closed in February of 1920. They were stripped of their rights and deprived of their freedom, some of them even remaining imprisoned for several months after Armistice.

The Vernon Internee Headstones and Monument Project

In 2015, the Vernon and District Family History Society completed the Vernon Internee Headstones and Monument Project. This project, which was funded by the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund, uncovered information about the 11 men who passed away in the Vernon Internment Camp. Their names were Mile Hećimović, Bernard Heiny, Ivan Jugo, Karl Johann Keck, Timoti Korejczuk, Leo Mueller, Stipan Šapina, Wasyl Shapka, Jure Vukorepa, Samuel Vulović and Wilhelm Heinrich Eduard Wolter.

All 11 were originally buried in the Pleasant Valley Cemetery, but four were of German origin and were later transferred by the German War Graves Commission to the Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener, Ontario. The other seven remain interred in Vernon. Thanks to the efforts of the Family History Society, all of their headstones have been restored or replaced, and their lives commemorated.

Woodland Cemetery (Kitchener, Ontario) marker for L. Mueller and W. Wolter.

Leo Muller

While the stories of all 11 men can be found here, one example is that of Leo Mueller, a German who came to Canada in 1906 and was naturalized in 1909. Leo and his wife Martha settled in Vancouver for some time, where he worked as a hairdresser. They had two children, a daughter and a son, who both sadly died before they were toddlers.

In 1916, Leo and Martha were arrested and interned in Vernon. Leo was injured during an altercation with a fellow prisoner and died in the Vernon Jubilee Hospital on July 12, 1919.

While Leo died from an injury, most of the other 10 men succumbed to illnesses including tuberculosis, pneumonia, heart disease, and meningitis.

We Will Remember them

With this weekend representing the 107th anniversary of the camp’s opening, we remember all who lost their freedom and—in the worst of cases—their lives in the Vernon Internment Camp.

Additional Resources

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

Trigger Warning: This article contains mentions of alcohol and alcohol consumption.

The Vernon Hotel bar room, with patrons, circa 1895. 

September 12, 1916

On this day (Sept. 12) in 1916, a public referendum was held in Vernon and across B.C. to determine whether or not prohibition would be implemented around the province. Three days later, the official results were all in; those in favour of prohibition had won with a 56.5% majority.

Contrary to popular belief, the Prohibition Act did not actually make drinking or manufacturing alcohol illegal, but instead prohibited its sale. Moreover, doctors and pharmacists could still purchase liquor for medical purposes from government-appointed vendors.

Local historian A.J. Hiebert completed an in-depth thesis in 1972 on the social and political impacts of prohibition’s arrival in the Okanagan, and a few of his findings are outlined here. For the full document, please visit https://royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/exhibits/living-landscapes/thomp-ok/prohibition/prohibition.htm.  

Prohibition in Vernon

The results of the referendum in Vernon showed that 365 individuals were in favour of prohibition, while 332 were against is. Most, however, adopted a moderate response to the consumption of liquor.

For example, in an article published on November 21, 1913, the editor of the Vernon News discusses the importance of limiting activities like excessive drinking to uphold the city’s “high moral standards” but also cautions against “extreme and impracticable views.” 

When prohibition officially came into effect in B.C. on October 1, 1917, it didn’t seem to actually cause too much of a stir among Vernon’s citizens, perhaps because the notion was not an entirely unfamiliar one.

Petitions in favour of banning the sale and manufacture of liquor had circulated around the city as early as 1891, although they never came to pass. Vernon’s Mayor from 1908 to 1909, R.W. Timmins, was also an outspoken prohibitionist, but dry laws were never implemented in the city during his time in office. A by-law was even passed by referendum in 1910 that ordered places that sold liquor to be closed between 11 pm and 6 am, and to keep their blinds up during these hours to allow the premises to be inspected.

Prohibition was difficult to enforce and ultimately encouraged crime and corruption (prohibition commissioner Walter Findley was even arrested in 1918 for trying to smuggle in a train-load of rye from Ontario) and the system was rescinded across the province in 1921.

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

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 First Balloon is Released

In the afternoon of October 31, 1971, more than 100 people turned out, including the mayor, a federal deputy minister, and the local MP, to watch Russ Colville, a meteorological technician at the Vernon Upper Air Station, launch the site’s first hydrogen balloon.

The Vernon weather station opened that year on a hill overlooking the commonage for a cost of $200,000. At the time, it was only the fourth of its kind in the province, and the thirty-fifth in Canada, and was part of a world-wide network of stations that provided data for weather-forecasting purposes. 

During the station’s first few years, it operated under a staff of four; two men worked per shift, five hours on, five hours off, with two days in between.

How Weather Balloons Work

Twice a day, at 3:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m., a hydrogen-filled balloon was launched from the Vernon station and sent more than 32 kilometres into the atmosphere. These weren’t your average birthday balloons; they were white and massive, at more than 1.5 metres in diameter. Tied to the bottom of the balloon was a lightweight instrument called a radiosonde. As it ascended into the sky beneath the balloon, the device beamed atmospheric information such as pressure, temperature, and humidity back to the ground station via a small radio transmitter. 

The balloon would rise at about 1,000 feet per minute, expanding until it reached a maximum diameter of around 20 feet. Somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 feet, the balloon would burst, and the radiosonde would hurtle back towards the earth. A little parachute helped to slow its descent, and eventually it would touch down, often great distances from its release point. The device was not recovered, but instead was left to biodegrade.

A final Launch

By 1994, technological changes meant that the manual release of balloons was no longer required. The weather station’s duties were transferred to the Mountain Weather Service office in Kelowna which employed a quicker, more automated system. But for those who had dedicated their lives to measuring weather using balloons, the final launch on January 13, 1994, marked a sad occasion. Russ Colville was called out of retirement to release the last balloon, and a handful of people arrived for the occasion.

The building that once housed the Vernon Upper Air Station still stands, and now contains the Allan Brooks Nature Centre.

 

 

 

Russ Colville releases the last weather balloon from the Vernon Upper Air Station on January 13, 1994. GVMA #14980.

The Vernon Upper Air Station during its decommission in 1994. GVMA #14916.

The Allan Brooks Nature Centre now occupies the building used by the Vernon Upper Air Station at 250 Allan Brooks Way. Image courtesy of the Allan Brooks Nature Centre. 

 

 

 

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

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

 

 

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 

 

 

 

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