We love winkie bread

April 30, 2021

It was once the largest independent bakery in the B.C. Interior. During its operation in Vernon, King’s Bakery produced well in excess of 1 million loaves of bread.

King’s Bakery, located at 4401 31st Avenue, was a popular destination for the 1950s “housewife,” drawn in by the business’ commitment to serving only the freshest of bread.

However, it was a different clientele that King’s Bakery directed most of their advertising ventures towards attracting—children.

From Hockey Rink to Bakery 

King’s Bakery was a relatively small operation until it was taken over by Frank King and his business partner Willie Schmidt (both Vernon Canadians hockey players) in 1957. 

 

King’s Bakery at 4401 31st Avenue in the 1950s

 

The business grew from four to seventeen employees, and employed state-of-the-art, locally-sourced equipment to produce a daily 3,300 loaves, assorted pastries, doughnuts, cakes, and cookies. In fact, the bakery’s automatic doughnut machine could churn out 200 dozen doughnuts in just one hour.

Just 14 months after taking over the business, Frank King produced his millionth loaf, which was presented alongside a $50 certificate to one lucky customer.

Vanguard Marketing Strategy

The business’ success was perhaps thanks in part to what was then a unique marketing strategy. Every month, the bakery sponsored a Saturday matinee at the Capitol Theatre. Children were able to get in for free if they brought with them a red-and-blue dotted bread wrapper from the bakery. Similarly, a bread wrapper would allow youngsters to get into local hockey games for just 10 cents.

Even the business’ cheerful trademark “Winkie Bread,” accompanied by a smiling, winking mascot, was designed to appeal to children, who in turn encouraged their parents to frequent the local business. King’s Bakery has discovered for themselves a successful and community-minded marketing technique, even before large corporations like MacDonald’s adopted this approach to more nefarious ends.

Entrepreneur Frank King passed away in September of 2004.

Gwyn Evans

from bunchgrass to grazeland

April 9, 2021

 

With Earth Day fast approaching, the Vernon Museum has taken the opportunity to research how local human activity has effected, and continues to effect, ecosystems and wildlife in the North Okanagan.

Until the end of April, the museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the results of this investigation.

The importance of the introduction of cattle to the Valley cannot be overstated.

ranches as hubs of development

Early cattle drives passed through the Valley in the late 1850s, where the animals would feast on the Okanagan’s abundant bunchgrass, before continuing on their way to the gold fields of the Fraser Canyon. 

By the end of the next decade, upwards of 22,000 head of cattle had crossed the border at the south end of the Okanagan Valley.

Cattle round-up of Chief Clerke’s cattle at Wye Lake (Goose Lake area).
Date unknown.

 

 

Early cattle drives, and, later, the establishment of ranches, allowed the Okanagan to become a hub of economic activity. Despite this benefit, the arrival of large droves of cattle inevitably shaped the natural landscape in lasting ways.

Later, pioneers like Thomas Wood, Thomas Greenhow, and Cornelius O’Keefe arrived to pre-empt land and start permanent ranches. Their small herds grew rapidly in number.

From A Sea of Waving Grasses

The Okanagan of 1850s and ‘60s would have been almost unrecognizable to us today. The Valley bottom was covered not with areas of human development, but with fields of tall grass that, as they swayed in the breeze, resembled a vast, moving sea.

These grasses were especially adapted to our warm, dry climate. In particular, bunchgrass, of which there are several different species in the Okanagan, has a deep root system as well as a specific morphology which allows it to survive long periods of drought.

This bunchgrass was also perfect animal fodder and after a decade or so of constant feeding, the bunchgrass population began to suffer. By the 1890s, much of the bunchgrass had been stripped from the Valley. 

TO A Few Sparse Patches

Since then, the science of range management has progressed greatly, and it’s not the ranches that prove the greatest threat to native bunchgrass, but human encroachment. Areas of bunchgrass can still be found (at Kalamalka Lake Park, for example) but what was once a sea of grass is now only a few sparse patches. Today, only 9% of native bunchgrass is left in the Okanagan.

There are many approaches that we can take to curb the destruction of native bunchgrass populations, including supporting ecological restoration and habitat renewal initiatives, remaining on trails and marked areas when hiking and biking, learning about the growth cycle of plants and making informed decisions when allowing animals to graze, and taking an active role in preventing the spread of invasive weeds.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, an excellent read is “Bunchgrass and Beef: Bunchgrass Ecosystems and the Early Cattle Industry in the Thompson-Okanagan,” by local historian Ken Mather, available online at https://royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/exhibits/living-landscapes/thomp-ok/article-LL/contents-beef.html.

Gwyn Evans

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

drive-in delights

 

March 29, 2021

The North Okanagan’s recent mild weather has been accompanied by a secondary treat: it has allowed the Starlight Drive-In near Enderby to open early, with the first showing on March 19.

The Starlight Drive-In is the sole surviving permanent open-air theatre in the Okanagan. But before there was The Starlight, there was The Skyway.

the skyway

The Skyway Drive-In, located at 2204 48 Avenue in Vernon, was operated by Odeon Theatres of Canada (now known as Cineplex Inc.) and opened on May 1, 1950.

The first showing was a grand affair, advertised in The Vernon News with a full two-page spread. The feature presentation was the 1950 comedy A Woman of Distinction, which premiered at 8 pm.

The cost for an adult ticket was 55 cents and a well-stocked concession stand served french fries, soft drinks, hot dogs, and of course, popcorn.

cinema stowaways

It was an instant success and many Vernonites have fond memories of this former landmark.

On the Facebook Page “Vintage Vernon,” a photo shared by the museum of the theatre provoked an outpouring of reminiscences. 

Some commenters remember hiding themselves in the trunks of vehicles to sneak in for free (although at least one of the theatre’s managers, Bob Scott, was quite aware of this little trick and apparently didn’t mind—the stowaways spent good money at the concession).

Aerial view of the Skyway drive-in theatre just outside Vernon, circa 1975

 

 

Photo courtesy of Rhiannan Johnson via Vintage Vernon Facebook  page

 

 

A Simpler Time

Many recalled the movies they watched on the big screen: E.T., Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Back to the Future and the Odessa File were some of the ones shown. For others, the photo provoked a yearning for childhood and a “simpler” time.

The theatre grounds boasted swing sets and other playground equipment, which kept children occupied during pre-shows and intermissions. Teenagers found the drive-in to be a good hangout (and romance) spot. Some older folks who lived nearby could watch the showings from the comfort of their own homes, while parents enjoyed a night-out as their pajama-clad children slept through the second feature in the back seat.

end of an era

The theatre grounds boasted swing sets and other playground equipment, which kept children occupied during pre-shows and intermissions. Teenagers found the drive-in to be a good hangout (and romance) spot. Some older folks who lived nearby could watch the showings from the comfort of their own homes, while parents enjoyed a night-out as their pajama-clad children slept through the second feature in the back seat.

Sadly, these summer night traditions came to an end in 1991, when the theatre was demolished and replaced with the Skyway Village housing development. Now, the Chartwell Carrington Place Retirement Residence stands where the Skyway Drive-In once did. Although the demolition of the Skyway Drive-In was a loss for the City of Vernon, the tradition of open-air movie-watching lives on with the Skylight.

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

WIld nights at the Kal

 

January 15, 2021

The Vernon Winter Carnival is beginning in just over two weeks, and for those of us who have been starved for a change—albeit a safe one—to our repetitive lockdown lives, it couldn’t come too soon.

This year’s Carnival theme of “Wild West” fits in quite well with our mandate here at the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives.

While this area was home to the Indigenous Syilx people for centuries, the place that came to be known as Vernon began as a small, sleepy “cow town”. 

 

The Kal Hotel, the year it opened in 1892

Many of the stories preserved within our walls tell of life back in its frontier days.

The hub of social activity in Vernon during this time was the Kalamalka, or Kal, Hotel. This impressive piece of architecture was built in 1892 by the Land and Development Company for a cost of $19,000. The new hotel was named in honour of local indigenous chief Kalamalka (this being the anglicized spelling and pronunciation). The hotel’s interior was complete with a billiard room, bar and ladies parlour, while the exterior boasted tennis courts and a vegetable garden.

In his book “Valley of Youth,” colourful local historian and photographer C.W. Holliday describes the Kal Hotel as the local social centre of Vernon, saying that “here one might meet celebrities and interesting people from all over the world.” One of the favourite places for locals and visitors alike to relax was the hotel’s cozy lounge, where they could gather around a large open fireplace and enjoy a favorite drink carried over from the bar on cold winter nights.

Despite the tendency for the hotel to be considered the go-to spot for “festive and convivial gatherings,” the wife of the hotel’s first manager, Mrs. Meaken, ran a tight ship. If she felt the evening’s proceedings were becoming too disorderly, she had the disturbing habit of appearing in the doorway of the billiard room dressed in her nightgown. “Gentlemen,” she would say sternly, “it is time to go to bed.” A gloomy silence would then descend over the room, as the men packed up and shuffled home. No one, it seems, ever refused her orders.

Another story recalls Mr. Meaken, who, unlike his wife, was said to be meek and mild, took full advantage of the Missus being out of town and had a little too much to drink. While under the influence, he had the brilliant idea of bringing a horse in from outside and riding it around the billiard table. One can only imagine what Mrs. Meaken would have thought if she had seen this spectacle.

Holliday is careful to add that although these stand-out moment’s in the hotel’s career naturally stick in his memory, most of the time the gatherings were quiet and composed, and this Wild Western hotel was exactly what it claimed to be—a comfortable family venue.

For more tales of Vernon’s “Wild West”, join us for the GVMA Winter Carnival event, Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…

Gwyn Evans

all that jazz

 

November 20, 2020

Vernon has a healthy, but somewhat underground, jazz scene. Not literally underground, of course. In fact, the Vernon Jazz Club sits proudly overlooking Vernon’s 30th Avenue in the upper floor of a heritage building that also houses Nolan’s Pharmasave.

The building was built in 1906 and used as a sales outlet for farm machinery. In 1910, the Ranchers’ Club, described as a “family social club” with male and female members, took over the second floor. A few years later, the bottom floor was purchased by R.E. Berry and converted to a drugstore. Meanwhile, the Ranchers’ Club was starting to lose their family-friendly reputation. In 1919, the club’s steward was fired for hosting all-night card games with unrestricted stakes. 

 

The first gig hosted by the Vernon Jazz Society and featuring the Larry Crawford Jazz Ensemble, held on September 11, 1999, in the basement of the Sandman Inn

In 1922, the group was reorganized as the Vernon Club for men only, and a peephole was installed in the door to screen those entering. It is even reported that the RCMP set up surveillance in the building across the street to determine what kind of card games were being played. The Vernon Club lasted until 2001.

A few years before the club folded, Tom Collins, a former HVAC technician, Curt Latham, a doctor, and Gerry Sholomenko, a secondary school teacher, and all jazz lovers, meet over coffee to discuss the organization of a venue where the music “wasn’t too loud, couples could have a dance or two, and local jazz musicians would have a stage,” and thus the Vernon Jazz Society was born.

The Society’s first gig, performed by the Larry Crawford Jazz Ensemble, was held on September 11, 1999 in the basement of the Sandman Inn. Drinks and chairs were hauled into the venue, which seated about 60 at tables around a small dance floor. Despite an awkward moment when the owner of Bean Scene, where the tickets for the evening had been sold, was turned away at the door, the performance was a success and inspired a greater public interest in Vernon’s jazz scene.

The club began to rent the current building from the Vernon Club in November of 1999 after the basement of the Sandman Inn was flooded by a burst pipe. They made a few changes to the venue, such as constructing a raised stage with curtains, and adding performance lighting and a sound system. After the folding of the Vernon Club, the Jazz Society began fully paying the modest rental fee to use the building. Since then, the Society has hosted a number of local and traveling jazz musicians, such as Brandi Disterheft, the Tom Collins Quartet, and Sherman “Tank” Doucette, to name but a few, as well as several sessions where young and mature musicians alike are invited to simply come out and “jam.” While the Jazz club has been closed since March this year, with such a passionate group of music lovers at its helm, it’s sure to continue bringing jazz to Vernon for many more years.

Gwyn Evans

glory days

 

August 25, 2020

“They used to have the like of Sing Le Lung, Mr. Lee, Mr. Kwong, Mr. Loo Jim who were the head ‘boss.’ If anybody had any problems they would go to see him and he would say ‘now let’s think this thing out. What seems to be the problem?’ And then he would say ‘well, I think you’re wrong. You should just pour a cup of tea—offer your friend a cup of tea and an apology, and the case will be all settled.” – Walter Joe (born Chow), talking about the resolving of interpersonal conflicts within Vernon’s close-knit Chinese community.

Chinatown was one of the most culturally rich and lively parts of our city’s downtown. Despite the fact that they were immersed in a larger settler community that, throughout the years, regarded them with alternating detached curiosity and out-right intolerance, Vernon’s Chinese population was unabashed in their traditions and lifestyle.

 

 

McCulloch’s Aerated Waters Coca-Cola ‘Cooler’ float, used for a parade in 1934

 

In fact, they were known for their hospitality, and particularly so on Chinese New Year. According to the Vernon News of 1905, “during this special season of rejoicing, the Chinese are peculiar in the open-hearted manner in which they welcome stranger as well as friend and acquaintance to share their best and join with them in the festivities of the occasion.” Shops and dwellings throughout Chinatown were elaborately decorated, and cigars, wine, sweet-meats, and fruit were handed out to visitors to the light of fire crackers. Other cultural practices enrichened life in Vernon over the years, from the Dance of the Dragon, to the flying of kites, to the secretive rituals of the Chinese Freemasons.

A variety of businesses and residences formed the physical bounds of Chinatown, including several restaurants that were frequented by both Chinese and non-Chinese. The smorgasbord at Goon Hong, which opened in 1950, was particularly popular; a heaping plate of fried prawns, egg rolls, roast pork, chop suey, chow mein, and fried rice cost only $4 in 1976. Other businesses included laundromats, cobblers, groceries, stables, a boarding house, and a church. 

One such business was a dry goods and grocery store run by Eng Shu Kwong. Kwong immigrated to Canada from a village near Canton, China. After failing to strike it rich in the Cherry Creek gold rush, he moved himself and his family to Vernon, and opened a business. The two-storey building, which housed the family on the top floor, had a facade with the store name printed in block letters — KWONG HING LUNG & CO. DRY GOODS & GROCERIES. “Hing Lung” translates roughly to “abundant prosperity,” and this is indeed what the Kwong family brought about for themselves. The second youngest of Kwong’s 15 children, Larry, would go on to become the NHL’s first non-white player.

How is that so few traces of Vernon’s one-vibrant Chinatown, which allowed families like the Kwongs to prosper, remain in 2020?

Gwyn Evans

early chinatown

 

August 14, 2020

“We were in Chinatown. On each side of the street were unpainted, boxlike, two-story buildings. They were dimly lit. In the background, the unfamiliar tones of a stringed instrument were heard and there was the drone of sing-song voices in the air. Seated on a porch were a couple of men with lighted punks in hand sucking on their gurgling water pipes. Noise coming from one building told us that a gambling game was under way. Everything was serene” – Vernon’s Chinatown as it was described in a passage of the 1983 Okanagan Historical Society report. 

Since few visual traces of it remain, it comes as a surprise to some Vernonites to learn that their city was once home to a thriving Chinatown, and the largest Chinese population in the B.C. Interior. A community that was once so full of vigor has been silenced by the passing of time.

 

 

Vernon Chinatown, 1907

 

The first group of Chinese immigrants came to B.C. in the mid-19th century in the pursuit of gold. Back home, these men were known as “Gold Mountain Sojourners,” and like most hopeful prospectors, only hoped to stay long enough to make a fortune before returning to their families. Unfortunately, most never did strike it rich and were instead forced to stay in B.C. for longer than expected.

Many Chinese labourers were also employed in the construction of the western portion of the CPR; in fact, over half of the crew that worked on the Shuswap & Okanagan spur line were Chinese. They were lead to believe that they would be paid well for the back-breaking work, and given a ticket back to China once the job was finished. Unfourtunately, the Canadian Government and the CPR did not honour this pledge, and many of the immigrants were left destitute, unable to return to their families.

About 1000 settled in the Okanagan; while some were entrepreneurs who opened cafes and laundries, most worked as low-wage labourers on farms and orchards. Some also worked as kitchen help for pioneering families like the O’Keefes and Ellisons.

Since their early days as hopeful prospectors, Chinese immigrants had faced prejudice and discrimination, and had formed tight community groups, modeled off of traditional Chinese societies and clan associations, to combat to this ostracism. It was for this reason that distinctive Chinese communities would begin to crop up in the middle of interior towns, including in Vernon. One of the first administrative buildings in Vernon’s Chinatown was a hall for the local chapter of the Chinese National League, opened in 1919 on the corner of 28th Avenue and 33rd Street.

Gwyn Evans

admiral of the okanagan

 

August 6, 2020

He was one of Vernon’s most colourful personalities.

Captain Dolman Shorts arrived in the Okanagan Valley in the 1870s, by which time he had already gained quite the reputation for his optimistic and persuasive personality. He probably put these charms to good use when, in the 1880s, he saw that there was a need in the valley for lake transportation and convinced people that a ride up Okanagan Lake on his homemade rowboat would be a sound idea.

As it turns out, the rowboat, named “Ruth Shorts” after the captain’s mother, was far more predictable that he was. Captain Shorts did not have a set boating schedule, as he despised routine. Since the trip from Okanagan Landing to Penticton took at least 9 days of hard rowing, the captain and his passengers would put into shore at night, catch some fish for dinner, and sleep under the stars. When prompted about how long the trip might take, Shorts would say “I haven’t the faintest idea, but rest assured we’ll fetch up there sometime.” If the Captain fancied a midday nap, he caught 40 winks on the nearest beach, regardless of what his passengers might think.

John McCulloch’s experience working as a tobacco and soft drink salesman for his father’s business prepared him for ownership, and he also had the support of a remarkable woman.

 

 

Captain Dolman Shorts

 

When prompted about how long the trip might take, Shorts would say “I haven’t the faintest idea, but rest assured we’ll fetch up there sometime.” If the Captain fancied a midday nap, he caught 40 winks on the nearest beach, regardless of what his passengers might think.

Despite his quirks, Shorts had a strong group of supporters, and he soon graduated from a rowboat to one with a small steam engine, christened the “Mary Victoria Greenhow.” The vessel had a voracious appetite for coal oil and what was supposed to be her magnificent inaugural trip ended up with her being rowed anticlimactically back to the dock after she ran out of fuel. Only about a year later, she went up in flame.

However, Shorts’ spirits were certainly not dampened. In fact, these misadventures seemed to bring him great pleasure, perhaps because they provided stories to tell his passengers during their trips up the lake. He was known to have a vivid imagination, and with each retelling, the details grew more and more dramatic.

Shorts would go on to own a number of other vessels over the years, both big and small, including a barge named the “City of Vernon,” launched in August of 1894. Unfortunately, with his irregular schedule, the Okanagan’s first captain was eventually outcompeted by the more routine (but far less colourful) service of the C.P.R. steamships. He ended up broke and disenchanted with modern machinery, saying “I made six thousand dollars rowboating and lost it all in steam.” But his friends refused to let him wallow; a banquet was held at the Kalamalka Hotel in his honour, and he was granted the title of “Admiral of the Okanagan.”

Eventually, the Admiral moved away from the Okanagan, chasing gold in the Klondike, but his optimism and ambition have not been forgotten.

Gwyn Evans