Bessie and Henry Hitchcock
Did you know that Vernon’s first confectionary shop would be 115 years old if it were still around today?
An article in the 19th report of the Okanagan Historical Society discusses the arrival of Bessie and Henry Ernest Hitchcock in the Okanagan in 1906. The couple emigrated from England and, in addition to boundless enthusiasm and an unfailing sense of humour, brought with them a recipe for a hard candy known as “bullseyes.” This peppermint-flavoured treat was well-loved in England, and the Hitchcocks found it also appealed to folks living in the Okanagan.
Bessie and Henry first opened a shop in Kelowna, specializing not just in bullseyes, but other delicacies such as Genoa cakes, Melton Mowbray pork pies, and pastries. No long after, in 1908, the couple moved to Vernon where they opened a shop in what is now the 3100 block of 30th Avenue. It was called the Hitchcock’s Café.
Vernon’s 1st Confectionary shop
The café quickly built up a steady clientele; according to the OHS report, “many a young man would walk or ride horseback for miles on Saturday nights just to eat a dish of the Hitchcock’s ice cream.” This celebrated ice cream was also enjoyed by crowds who would turn up on Vernon’s main street to hear performances by the city’s first (and then, only) band, aptly named the Vernon City Band.
It wasn’t just ice cream that drew people to the Hitchcock’s Café; another equally popular option was their afternoon tea, served “English-style” with “plenty of water for the pot.” Bessie and Henry also catered several events, including one with over 300 attendees. Even so, the couple actually ended up cooking too much food and the left-over stuffed and roasted chickens were then sold for fifty cents each.
The Hitchcocks turned their business over to Walter Rolston in 1916, when they instead decide to venture into farming. Despite this change in lifestyle, Vernonites were not going to let their culinary talents go to waste, and the couple continued to make their famous bullseyes for appreciative friends.
While the Museum & Archives of Vernon sadly does not have a photo of the Hitchcock Café in their collection, they do have the ornate wood menu plaque picture above. It was carved by Jas Cantelain of Bath, England; Mr. Cantelain went on to earn various carving assignments for cathedrals in England.
To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts!
Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives