White Rock Lake Fire

Okanagan Lake has been the subject of much media attention over the last few weeks, since the most eastern flank of the White Rock Lake Fire has reached its shores. However, given the lake’s long history (it is, in fact, pre-historic), this is not the first time it has made the news.

A series of Anomolies

In February of 2021, some North Okanagan residents were shocked to see what appeared to be a tornado emerging over the lake near Fintry. This was later identified to be a steam devil, which forms over large bodies of water during cold air outbreaks. Steam devils are common occurrences on Canada’s Great Lakes, but it was only due to the North Okanagan’s unusual cold snap this past winter that one was able to form over Okanagan Lake.   

In 1979, the lake was recognized as an excellent location for underwater treasure hunters. Hundreds of pieces of glass and earthenware were found to be lying on the lake bottom, thrown overboard over the years by passengers on sternwheelers and other water crafts. In 1978, two divers discovered, at the bottom of the lake, an old steamer trunk full of collectible bottles, much to their delight.

On November 4, 1913, a tugboat called the Skookum collided with a CPR tug, the SS Castlegar, and sank almost immediately. The crew survived, with some minor injuries, but the vessel was never recovered. It is believed that the tug remains, to this day, in the silent depths of the lake. 

Sometime in the mid-1880s, the infamous Captain Shorts and a companion were wandering the shores of Okanagan Lake when they made a startling discovery; partly submerged in a few feet of water was the vertebrae of some enormous sea creature. The two men brought the bone to Leonard Norris, a government agent in Vernon, who, many years later, had it sent it to the University of British Columbia for identification. It was determined to be a whale bone, brought into the valley by human means, but how it came to be lying abandoned in a rugged and unfrequented section of Okanagan Lake remains unknown.  

And long before the concept of “news” was even invented, the lake and its environs represented part of the territory of the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation, and stood as a silent witness to all the little anomalies of human life. 

 

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

 

Vernon then & now

April 26, 2021

As part of the GVMA Earth Day, Every Day focus on ecological change in the Okanagan, we’ve developed a short slideshow of photographs comparing archival photos around the Greater Vernon area, with photos from 2021.

ECO: a Virtual program

The slideshow can also be used in conjunction with the ECO: Ecological Change in the Okanagan.

Designed for intermediate students in School District 22, the program will be of interest with anyone curious about how North Okanagan landscapes, wildlife populations, and ecology have changed over time

Learn More About: Okanagan Nation and the Syilx People; Early Explorers and Settlers; Land Use and Agriculture; Transportation and Recreation; the perspective of local Syilx Indigenous Youth Leader.

Included:

  • 30 minute ECO film
  • Now & Then Slideshow of Local Locations and Landscapes
  • An Educator’s Guide
  • Suggestions for Inquiries and Activities
  • Additional Resources 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

to access the ECO Virtual Program

For a limited time, the ECO Virtual Program is available for free to all teachers, educators, parents, and any interested community member!

Please Contact Us Here to order the ECO: Ecological Change in the Okanagan Virtual Program.

We hope you enjoy the journey!

 

big game once abounded

April 26, 2021

In honour of Earth Day last week, 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.

This is the last in a series of articles that explore some of the results of this investigation.

“A Sportsman’s Paradise”

Vernon is described as “A Sportsman’s Paradise” in a promotional booklet from 1891. “Big game abounds in caribou, white and black-tailed deer, and on the higher mountains big horn sheep and goats,” the brochure continues.

“More remote are to be found great black, cinnamon and grizzly bears. There are a few grey wolves, lynx, coyote and the king cat of the Rockies, the American panther.”

A visiting hunting party in Vernon in 1914

 

 

This advertisement was incredible successfully and over the next few years hunters came from far and wide to take advantage of the Okanagan’s bounty.

An Unregulated West

At this point, there was little in the way of game law enforcement, and no game wardens, and the citizens of Vernon wrote many letters of complaint against the hunting parties, most of whom were visiting from the South.

In September 1892, a hunting party from eastern Canadian killed 180 sage grouse at the Head of the Lake, destined for the Vancouver market.

A party of 20 Americans arrived in a private rail car to hunt big game that same year. They took only the heads and left the meat to rot.

In 1904, one family shot 92 blue grouse in a single day.

This was a very different kind of hunting than the Syilx people of Okanagan Nation had practiced as a traditional way of life, livelihood and culture for thousands of years.

Before non-Indigenous contact, the Syilx had been a hunter-gatherer culture who used every part of the animals they hunted as meat for food, but also fur for clothing and warmth, hide for clothing and structures, bones for tools and implements. Sinew was used as thread in sewing. 

No part of the animal was wasted, and animals were hunted sustainably, for thousands of years, without negative impact on their populations.

Sadly Diminished Populations

In a 1912 Vernon News special holiday edition, pioneer Mr. Leckie-Ewing noted that big game in the Okanagan had decreased significantly in number or their haunts had moved further away.

Lake trout populations, once an important food source for the Syilx People, had all but disappeared from Okanagan Lake. Blue grouse and other fowl were still around, but their numbers had “sadly diminished when compared with … some ten or twelve years prior.” In fact, sage grouse became extinct in the Okanagan in 1918.

By the 1950s, excessive hunting also meant that mountain caribou had disappeared from the Okanagan.

The Syilx people still pass on sustainable hunting practices and knowledge within their communities, and some of this traditional knowledge has been used to inform best management practices for wildlife conservation. First Nations groups in BC and in Alberta are consulting on caribou recovery projects across the region. 

The biggest threat to mountain caribou populations in BC and Alberta, and south of the border, is no longer sport hunting, but rather other forms of human impacts, most notably transportation corridors, infrastructure for resource extraction, such as forestry, mining, oil and gas exploration, and recreational vehicle use areas all encroaching on their habitat.

These same things allow caribou predators, such as wolves, easier access to caribou habitat to the detriment of the caribou population.

Preserving Local Okanagan Fauna

Today, we are fortunate to have stricter regulations in place around hunting and fishing, and a better understand of how humans can significantly effect wildlife populations. However, before these measures were put in place, visiting hunters negatively impacted Okanagan wildlife populations.

To help preserve our local fauna populations, trophy hunting and other wasteful practices should be discouraged. Residents should also remove or limit attractants like garbage and fallen fruit to discourage animals like bears from becoming urban visitors. Do not feed or try to tame wild animals, but keep them and yourself safe by maintaining an appropriate distance.

Perhaps most importantly, if there are regulations in place to attempt to keep wild animal habitat preserved, respect these regulations and ride recreational vehicles, hunt, and recreate in other designated areas.

Gwyn Evans

Bringing water from the hills

April 16, 2021

Picture the Okanagan without its expansive fruit orchards. No juicy peaches and sweet cherries in the summer, and no crisp apples and tart grapes in the autumn?

It is almost painful to imagine!

But this was the reality of life in the Okanagan before the advent of irrigation.

an Idea Flowed…

At the turn of the 20th century, the valley was too hot and dry to support much agriculture.

The manager of the Coldstream Ranch, W.C. Ricardo, proposed  Aberdeen Lake on the highlands to the southeast of Vernon as a potential water source to irrigate thirsty crops.

Water flowing out of the lake via Jones (now Duteau) creek, he argued, could be diverted south by canal to supply orchard and fields in White Valley (now Lavington) and the Coldstream Ranch. 

A Coldstream orchard circa 1910

 

 

This water even had the potential to be directed north across the ranch to irrigate the BX and beyond.

bringing water down into the Valley

The White Valley Irrigation and Power Company beginning this momentous task in 1906 with the construction of the Grey Canal.

The introduction of water via the Grey Canal changed the industry of the valley from ranching and the cultivation of cereals to the production of fruits like apples, pears, and cherries. The advent of orchards across the Okanagan helped to greatly stimulate the economy, but these plants also came with higher water demands.

The Grey Canal was completed in 1914. At one time, it supplied water to the largest irrigation district in BC, and delivered more water than the system that supplied to the City of Vancouver. If you’d like to learn more about the Grey Canal, please check out Peter Tassie’s Water from the Hillspublished by the Okanagan Historical Society.

a more water-wise approach

The climate of the Valley hasn’t changed. We still live in a dry belt that, particularly during the summer, receives little water. And we certainly can’t go back to the way things were before the advent of the fruit industry. Our orchards are as much are part of our identity in the Okanagan as our emerald lakes and delicious wine.

Each of us can ensure that water is not being wasted and instead reserved for vital tasks. Indeed, the average Okanagan citizen uses 675 litres of water each day! This is more than twice as much water as the average Canadian.

To reduce water usage, citizens of the Okanagan can try xeriscaping, a style of gardening that utilizes plants with low water needs that thrive naturally in the Valley’s dry environment. Some great tips about how to xeriscape in the Okanagan can be found here.

It is also important to ensure that one’s water consumption is as low as possible, particularly during drought periods. Watering plants in the evening or early morning can help to reduce evaporation. A list of current water restrictions can be found online through Greater Vernon Water.

Visit the website Okanagan WaterWise for more tips, as well as the Okanagan Xeriscape Association’s plan list aunt other helpful lawn and garden care tips in the WaterWise Landscape Irrigation Handbook.

Gwyn Evans

Earth Expo 2021

 

March 5, 2021

Earth Day, Every Day

Earth Day, Every Day

 

BE Part of Earth Expo!

Submit artwork, sculpture, poetry, multi-media projects, posters, displays, photography, videos – anything that celebrates the health and sustainability of our planet.

Teachers in SD22 can submit student work as a class. Independent learners and homeschoolers can also submit work.

Student projects, displays, artwork, multi-media and photography will be exhibited in digital and virtual formats, with some displayed onsite if public health guidelines allow.

 

 

OKIB Dragon Boat Team

 

For more info & to submit

Please contact:

SD 22 Student and Class Submissions:
Vipasha Brar – Educator SD22: VBrar@sd22.bc.ca / socialjustice@vernonta.com 604-499-7150 

 

Independent Learners and Homeschool Submissions:
Laisha Rosnau – Program Coordinator, GVMA: laisha.rosnau@vernonmuseum.ca

Greater Vernon Museum & Archives (GVMA) and School District 22 (SD22) are partnering to present Earth Expo 2021.

Earth Expo will feature student projects, artwork, multi-media work, demonstrations and displays highlighting a variety of Student Environment Stewards’ work.

Earth Expo will take place April 19 to 30 and will be presented online, through virtual galleries and exhibits viewable from wherever on earth you are!

 

Exploring Rose’s Pond on the Commonage (GVMA)

 

Important dates

April 1 – Early Submission Deadline*

April 9 – Extended Submission Deadline

April 19-30 – Earth Expo

*all submissions received by April 1st will be included in the online gallery and virtual exhibit. We will do our best to include all received by the extended April 9 deadline, as well.

 

 

Fishing in Polson Park (GVMA)

Legendary Lake creature from the depths

 

October 23. 2020

With Halloween just around the corner, it is officially the season of the unsettling, the surreal, the supernatural.

From the Scottish Highlands, to the northern forests of Nova Scotia, to the Slavic countryside, nearly every country has its own mythical monster whose tales frighten children and whose existence causes debate among even the most skeptical of adults.

The Okanagan’s resident “monster” is now most widely known as the Ogopogo, and year after year a new story of this slippery serpent emerges.

Legends of a lake creature named N’ha-a-itk had existed for generations among the Okanagan Syilx People. It was settlers who gave it a new name – and its infamy.

In August of 1926, while at a Rotary lunch held on the shores of Okanagan Lake, W. H. Brimblecombe broke out in song with a popular British Music Hall hit. He sang, “I’m looking for the Ogopogo, the bunny-hugging Ogopogo. His mother was an earwig, his father was a whale. I’m going to put a little bit of salt on his tail. I’m looking for the Ogopogo.”

By the time of this club luncheon, stories of a mysterious creature living in the depths of Okanagan Lake were already popular amongst settlers. But after this delightful lunchtime performance in 1926, the Okanagan’s resident monster would come to be known as the Ogopogo.

Along with a new name, settlers also gave the sea creature a new “image”, ranging from cute and comical, to monstrous and terrifying.

The first “modern” sighting of the Ogopogo occurred in 1873, when a woman named Susan Allison reported seeing a snake-like creature moving through the water near her home in West Kelowna. 

 

From a 1946 Christmas card (how festive!)

 

In 1926 Joseph Egbert Montague started his shipping company in Vernon, BC, under the name J.E. Montague Ltd. The company expanded in 1928 and became known as British Columbia Fruit Shippers. By that time, the moniker “Ogopogo” would have been in use.

 

A few years later, during the 1880s, the infamous Captain Shorts discovered a large vertebrae bone in the shallows of Okanagan Lake, which would be determined to be from a whale. How a whale bone came to lie in Okanagan Lake remains a mystery. Could it perhaps be a bone belonging to Ogopogo’s whale father?

While fishing one morning in August of 1925, a man named J. Mitchell Boyd allegedly saw a strange creature with the head of a sheep moving languidly through the water (this is apparently quite the trustworthy account; as reported in the Vernon News a few days after the sighting, “Mr. Boyd stated, for the benefit of those who may have doubted his statement, that he had not partaken of cheese the night before, nor anything else which might have caused an optical delusion”). Nearly thirty years later, in 1959, the Miller and Marten Families also described a close encounter with a large, snake-like creature while out for a day of boating.

In 1978, while driving across the Okanagan Lake Floating Bridge, Bill Steciuk and twenty other onlookers witnessed a dark head and three black humps protruding out of the water. The year 2000 would bring about another sighting, when marathon swimmer Daryl Ellis was accompanied by two large creatures during his swim passed Rattlesnake Point (perhaps Nessie was down for a visit?)

In 2004, John Casorso recorded the first alleged video of Ogopogo; from a vantage point on his family’s house point, Casorso was able to capture grainy footage of a dark creature, about 15 metres long, emerging from the still waters of Okanagan Lake. And less than two weeks ago, a Calgary resident celebrating Thanksgiving in the Okanagan recorded a video of a strange formation of waves that some viewers thought could have been another sighting of the Okanagan’s most elusive resident.

Whether you believe in the sea serpent or not, one thing is for certain; the Ogopogo is a lot of fun to talk about.

Gwyn Evans

woman of distinction

 

July 2, 2020

An online petition asking the government of BC to purchase a property at 9747 Cameron Road and incorporate it into the neighbouring Ellison Park has currently more than 10,000 signatures. While it is the future of the 34-acres of land that are stimulating significant public discussion, the history of one of the women who used to call it home is just as fascinating.

In 1946, the property in question, which included a 1912 historic house, was sold to Mayor and Mrs. Hodgson by the Dalziel family, who were moving to West Vancouver. Although she was often styled E.L. Hodgson, after her husband Eldred, a celebrated captain who served in both World Wars and as a fruit inspector in the Okanagan, Rosalind Hodgson’s name should be known for her own remarkable achievements.

During World War Two, Rosalind, an immigrant from England living in Vernon, enlisted with the Mechanical Transport Corps, and was immediately accepted after excelling in anti-gas, map reading, commissariat, first aid, driving, and mechanical repair training. 

 

 

An undated portrait of Rosalind Hodgson

 

She was accepted to a job as a vehicle driver, one that meant hard work, long hours, and no pay. Indeed, unless they were driving transport lorries or ambulances, female drivers were required to be self-sufficient. They were expected to operate vehicles in England or any other part of the Empire in need, including on active fronts. But this did not dissuade Rosalind; she paid her own way overseas, saying that she wouldn’t even mind being sent to Kenya or the Far East. 

Rosalind drove army vehicles all over the United Kingdom, and was attached to the Air Ministry in this capacity for some time. Her husband Eldred, meanwhile, was stationed in Manitoba as Adjutant of the Artillery Training Camp at Shilo. In 1943, the couple were granted leave together, and spent it pheasant shooting in the Okanagan—or, Eldred did; Rosalind, on the other hand, said that she didn’t much care for shooting and killing things “on this side of the Atlantic.”

After the war, the couple sold their property on Kalamalka Lake and moved to the 9747 Cameron Road property on Okanagan Lake, where they would remain until the 1960s. They later moved back to Cumberland, England. Rosalind passed away in 1973, and Eldred two years later, in 1975. 

Gwyn Evans

an explosive history

April 17, 2020

In the Okanagan we are blessed with so many great trails that are easy to access, but rural enough to allow you to maintain an appropriate social distance. Even so, walking around our valley can come with hazards, and no, we’re not talking about rattle snakes. Almost a century of military training in the Greater Vernon area has left our range land littered with unexploded ordnances (UXOs), despite the best efforts of cleanup crews.

The Okanagan Indian Band has paid a particularly high price for this reality; portions of reserve land were used during the World Wars for live-fire training exercises. Take a jaunt up to Goose Lake, at the top of Blue Jay Subdivision to Vernon’s North, to have the situation made all too real. Signs warning you not to trespass on the OKIB rangeland are dwarfed by those  cautioning you to stay out for you own safety; in 2015,  a three-inch mortar from the First or Second-World War was discovered on the range, which is only one of several found in the area over the years. Because of this danger, band members have to request special access from the Public Works and Housing Department to access this portion of their land. In total, about 2,800 hectares of band land hide powerful explosives amongst the rocks and shrubs.

 

 

 

 

Cleaning up UXOs is long, tedious, and costly work. In 2015, a highly-trained team scanned a 12-hectare section of the Goose Lake Range with powerful metal detectors, which resulted in about 10,000 hits. Each hit had to carefully excavated, although most turned up no more than horseshoes, barbed wire, and the occasional spent shell.

Despite the seemingly small risk of turning up a UXO, Vernon has experienced a number of tragedies from their discovery over the years. Three men died in 1948 while loading top soil into a truck, and two scouts were killed and one injured in 1963 after stumbling across a live mortar.  In April 1973, another two children were killed by a UXO, which launched renewed cleanup efforts. In the above photo, divers from Camp Vernon exit the water at Cosens Bay where they were searching for explosions in the summer of ’73.

In 2014, in the Monashee Mountains outside of Lumby, a Tolko staff member discovered a balloon bomb embedded in the ground of a forest service road. Interestingly, this particular UXO was of Japanese origin; during World War Two, the country attached incendiary bombs to balloons and sent them across the Pacific to start fires in North America. This one had made it all the way to the Okanagan.

Hopefully with time and the concerted efforts of trained professionals, the risk from UXOs will greatly decrease. In the meantime, if you are out exploring the Okanagan’s rangeland, obey any posted warning signs, and if you come across something that you suspect might be a bomb, make a note of the location (with coordinates, photographs, and as much information as your able to provided) before returning the way you came and calling 911.

Gwyn Evans