The Okanagan Historical Society (OHS) recently announced the release of its 87th annual report. This year’s report, like those before it, is full of fascinating stories of the Valley’s people and places. Moreover, considering that the first was published all the way back in 1926, the reports also provide an invaluable source of anecdotal evidence.
The history of the Society itself is just as fascinating as the stories its members have so dutifully collected for nearly a century. Although the OHS is now composed of seven branches ranging as far north as Salmon Arm and as far south as Osoyoos, the society actually started in Vernon. On September 4, 1925, a group of citizens held a meeting at the Vernon City Hall to discuss the formation of a society focused on “historical, topographical and natural history research in connection with the whole of the Okanagan Valley.”
Leonard Norris becomes first president
Leonard Norris, the City’s Government Agent since 1893, was selected as the Society’s first president. Norris and his fellow elected officers set to the task of preparing a constitution for the society, based roughly on that in use by the B.C. Historical Society. Overtime, community members from the surrounding districts were also elected to the Society’s Executive Council.
In a public statement following the formation of the OHS, Norris suggested that the history of the B.C. Interior had yet to be properly investigated, and that the Society hoped to rectify this. Its members set to writing a series of articles covering the post-contact history of the Okanagan Valley and by 1935, the first five reports had been published.
The notion of the region’s untapped historical potential must have resonated with many of the Valley’s citizens, as within ten years, the Society’s membership had grown to 205. In later years, this number would reach into the thousands.
The OHS took a hiatus from publishing between 1931 and 1935, while it faced the impact of the Great Depression. The sixth report, when it was finally released in 1935, brought with a new tone and pace for future ones; it was printed on glossy paper, and contained a wealth of information spanning 309 pages. The society weathered the storm of World War Two, and in 1948 begin publishing a report each year.
As the years went on, the Society pursued a number of notable projects aside from the publication of the report, including the mapping of the Fur Brigade Trails in the Okanagan and Similkameen-Hope areas, and the preservation of the original Fairview town-site. Additionally, the Vernon branch has published a number of other historical best-sellers, including Water from the Hills: The Story of Irrigation in the Vernon District, by local author Peter Tassie. The report itself has also seen a natural diversification of its content to include Indigenous history and other multicultural stories.
The 87th Report of the Okanagan Historical Society can be purchased from the Museum & Archives of Vernon for $30.00. The museum and archives encourages those interested in local history to support te Society by becoming a member of the Vernon Branch. To learn more, click here.
To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts!
Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives