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

the first winter carnival

 

February 8, 2021

The 61st Vernon Winter Carnival has official kicked off!

Businesses around town are decorated with cowboys, horses, and the Carnival signature colours of blue-and-white.

Beautifully carved ice sculptures line the roadways in Polson Park, and several organizations are preparing to host Wild Western-themed virtual events.

Prior to the 1960s, when the Winter Carnival as we know it began, Vernon already celebrated the winter season with style. Long before Jopo, Jopette, and Queen Silver Star, there was a highland shepherdess, a minstrel, and a Russian nihilist on a frozen Kalamalka Lake.

In February of 1893, Long Lake, as Kalamalka Lake was then known, boasted a most spectacular scene; a fancy dress carnival, allegedly the first affair of its kind in the Province. 

 

Some of the participants in Vernon’s first winter carnival, held on Long Lake in February of 1893

Thanks to exceptionally cold weather that year, the event’s organizers were able to clear out a large skating rink in the middle of the lake, with plenty of room for the costumed skaters who were transported to the venue by horse-drawn sleigh.

As they skated around the rink, a jockey milled with a flower girl and Little Red Riding Hood, while a book agent attempted to sell the Canadian Stock Book to a clown and a gentleman of Henry II’s period. The costumes were judged, and Ida Birnie was recognized as the best-dressed lady for her portrayal of a highland shepherdess, while best-dressed gentleman went to S.A. Shatford in his Uncle Sam costume.

After the judging, the skating continued, complete with a two-mile race between some of the boys and young men. The crowd was loath to leave the frozen lake even as the sun began to set, although the ladies who had been standing behind the refreshment booth all day were probably ready to head home and get their feet warmed up.

The following day, this same group of church ladies hosted a follow-up event at Cameron’s Hall in order to use up some of the plentiful refreshments that had been gathered for the Long Lake festival. That evening, community members arrived once again in their costumes for yet more revelry. The evening passed quite happily, with dancing, music, and recitations, in spite of the stir caused among the church ladies by the appearance of one F.W. Byshe, who was dressed as none other than Satan himself, complete with horns and a tail.

Join us from home on Tuesday, February 9th, at 7 PM for more tales about the Vernon area during the Wild West era at the GVMA’s Winter Carnival Virtual Event Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…

magical Ice Park & Palaces of the past

 

February 1, 2021

The 61st Vernon Winter Carnival – Western Canada’s largest winter carnival – is about to begin…

…in ways different from every Carnival hosted since the first in 1961!

This year’s theme is “Wild West” and it will be a new frontier to explore the Carnival through virtual events and in small, safe groups due to public health and safety guidelines.

This year will be the first for a Drive-Through Ice Park at Vernon’s Polson Park.

The Ice Park will follow a long history of ice structures, palaces, sculptures, and  carving competitions.

 

Vernon Winter Carnival Ice Palace 

The first Ice Palace  debuted on Barnard Avenue (now 30th Avenue) during the Carnival’s inaugural year, 1961. The following year, the Ice Palace moved to Polson Park, where it provided a sparkling venue for the coronation of that year’s royalty and was a major attraction for visitors.

Huge blocks of ice were tinted in shades of blue and green, and framed by two massive ice columns. The columns, with their lights and pennants, reached a height of forty feet! Visitors were invited to fill the seats of Polson Park’s grandstand for an excellent view of the coronation, while a concession provided hot coffee to warm up cold hands.

In 1966, the Palace was built for the first time in the (then-new) Civic Plaza.

The first ice sculpture contest was held in 1971. Students of all ages, under the direction of art teachers from local junior and secondary schools, were provided with a block of ice, chisels, and mallets, and allowed to let their imaginations run wild.

In 1974, the Inland Natural Gas Company upped the ante by offering prize money for the best sculptures, while all participants received a celebratory scoop of NOCA’s blue and white Carnival Ice Cream. 

This well-loved tradition was not always easy to realize. On January 26th of 1977, the Vernon News reported that a pipe had leaked and filled the local Inland Ice Man plant with ammonia. Engineer Gus Joachim was overcome by fumes that could be smelled as far away as half a mile into the city’s downtown core, and sent to the Vernon Jubilee Hospital to recover.

This incident not only caused employees to be sick and out of work for several days, but also put a halt on the Winter Carnival’s ice sculpturing event that year. The plant’s manager John Jones had managed to produce enough ice for the Palace, but not enough for the sculptures.

Warm winters during the ‘70s and ‘80s meant that in some years, ice blocks could not be cut from natural sources like Swan Lake, since the ice was not hard enough to carve. Eager students waited on the weather to see if they could take part in the Ice Sculpture Contest in the Civic Plaza, now known as Spirit Square. 

In 2020, the Ice Palace and sculptures returned for the Vernon Winter Carnival’s momentous sixtieth year. The Winter Carnival committee will carry the spirit forward into this unprecedented year with the first ever Drive-Through Ice Park.

 

 

 

Click here to find out more about the GVMA’s Winter Carnival Virtual Event Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch… on Tuesday, February 9th.

the more things change…

 

January 11, 2021

Time passed strangely in 2020.

It felt like both the slowest and fastest year, with long periods of time spent following the same routine, in the same environment, day-after-day, while a decade’s worth of monumental historical events were occurring concurrently around the world.

Working in a museum in some ways can cause one to lose a sense of linear time.

Sometimes, after working in the archives all day, for example, one might almost expect to see horses and buggies, instead of car, trundling up and down the streets.

 

Looking East over Vernon in 2921 

With this skewed sense of reality, 100 years ago might not seem like such a long time, but a lot has changed in Vernon since then. Our city in 1921 would be almost unrecognizable today.

In 1921, B.C.’s population has just reached over half a million. Meanwhile, Vernon was home to a mere 3649 people. Washing machines cost between $20 and $30, and Fruitatives-which contained a small amount of strychnine-and Minard’s Liniment were touted as cure-alls.

Bags of oats cost $0.35 and tins of salmon could be purchased for 10 cents. The year’s model of Hupmobile was sold at the Vernon Garage, while the Megaw-Smithers Motor Company competed with Chevrolet’s FB-50.

“The Molly Coddle,” “Lessons in Love,” and “Made in Heaven” played at the Empress Theatre, while hosted speakers presented on important topics such as the League of Nations, Bolshevism, and using alfalfa as a cover crop.

As sternwheelers plied the waters of Okanagan Lake, a nearby neighborhood was finally granted a name. Following a public competition, Mr. W.L. Forrester was awarded $25.00 for proposing the name “Bella Vista” for the new development overlooking the lake. 

In 1921, Vernon hosted its first May Day fete and ball. Organized by the women’s institute, the program at Polson Park was complete with maypole dances, children’s sports, refreshments, balloons, a hayseed band, a parade, and the crowning of May Queen Helen Cochrane.

In October, a new flour mill was opened by the Okanagan Farmer’s Milling Company on 32nd Street, and, in November, poppies were sold and worn for the first time.

Although a lot might have changed in 100 years, some things have remained the same. Vernonites grumbled about a lack of parking and the high-cost of rent, advertisers made outlandish claims, classes were overcrowded, coddling moths plagued farmers, and poppies were pinned on jackets and sweaters in remembrance.

In a year that has been often termed “unprecedented” , it may (or may not) be reassuring to keep in mind that old adage:  “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Gwyn Evans

tidings of Comfort & joy

 

December 16, 2020

The Vernon Museum’s artifact collection has a lot of is Christmas cards. But this is certainly not a complaint! They don’t take up much space, are pleasantly festive, and provide firsthand insight into Christmases past.

These paper sentiments of peace and joy actually have quite a complex history that is, paradoxically, heavily intertwined with that of global military conflicts. 

During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/1871, a French stationer, Leon Besnardeaux (1829-1914) provided camped soldiers with stiff pieces of cardboard printed with lithographic designs so they could send messages home without the need for envelopes.

 

An example of a Christmas Greeting preserved in the GVMA’s collection

Some of these cards arrived just in time for Christmas. While Christmas cards themselves had been around since the 1840s, Besnardeaux’s good deed represented the origins of the picture postcard.

Christmas cards were hugely popular with soldiers during the First World War. Many were decorated with romantic images and local landmarks to bring joy to distant loved ones. Some of the most remarkable among these are the silk postcards. The silk embroidery was thought to have been produced by out-of-work civilians in France and Belgium, who then sent their creations to factories to be mounted on cardboard backings. The Vernon Museum has several silk postcards in their collection, and they are spectacular.

During World War Two, sending Christmas cards remained a popular tradition. Although the separation from family must have been keenly felt by the soldiers, most of the cards were cheerful and sometimes even goofy, likely to keep morale high on both ends, while those sent during the First World War tended to be a bit more somber and traditional in their motifs.

In 1917, a young Kitty Fitzmaurice received a Christmas card to her home in Vernon that showed a soldier peering out through a crumbled hole in a brick wall. Inside the card is a Christmas and New Year’s greeting, signed with the simple but emotive words “Love, Daddy.” Kitty’s father was Col. R Fitzmaurice, who went on to return safely home from the war and become Vernon’s mayor in 1920.

While the current global pandemic cannot and should not be compared to the World Wars, there is a certain parallel between the past and present absence of loved ones, and the ability of a simple folded paper to bring sentiments of joy to those from whom we are separated.

Gwyn Evans

festive roadblock – That’s Lit!

 

December 11, 2020

Imagine you are driving down Vernon’s 30th Avenue, when you are confronted by a lit Christmas tree in the middle of the road! It seems hard to fathom by today’s safety standards, but throughout the 1930s and ‘40s, when traffic was much lighter than it is today, this was one of Vernon’s favourite seasonal traditions.

Each December, a large spruce was cut down, installed in the middle of the intersection of 30th Avenue and 32nd Street (this, of course, was before the construction of Highway 97), and strung with twinkling, multicoloured lights.

 

Vernon’s Downtown Christmas Tree in the intersection of 30th Avenue and 32nd Street in the 1930s

Christmas tree decorations have changed a lot over the years. During the Great Depression, trees were typically hung with tinsel, popcorn garlands, and handmade ornaments. By the 1940s, the handmade was beginning to be replaced by the store-bought, with glass baubles made by the Shiny Brite Company being some of the most popular ornaments of the decade. As for Vernon’s downtown tree, it was probably limited to only strings of lights for decorations, as the risk of festive glass grenades falling on passing motorists was likely deemed too high.

The Vernon Museum’s records do not indicate how or when this festive roadblock came to be part of the city’s Christmas season, but it was unfortunately a relatively short-lived tradition; in 1943, the downtown Christmas tree became a casualty of the Second World War.

The reason for the tree’s removal was two-fold. Firstly, the lighting was not switch-operated, which went against Air Raid Precautions. Secondly, because 30th Avenue was used extensively by mechanized military equipment, having a tree in the middle of the street constituted a significant safety concern. Instead, a planted tree was decorated outside of City Hall (which, at that time, was also located on 30th Avenue), with lighting that was controlled from inside the building, and thus could be switched off at a moment’s notice in the case of an air raid.

Like with most things in life, the different ways in which Christmas Trees have been decorated over the years has reflected the priorities of the era. As for this year, I suspect some people will take to using toilet paper as a garland out of pure luxury.

Gwyn Evans