the queen’s visit


January 4, 2021

Happy New Year from the staff, board, and volunteers of the Greater Vernon Museum & Archives!

Did you, perchance, take some time over the holidays to binge watch some programs like, say, The Queen’s Gambit or The Crown?

While we don’t have any local footage of chess tournaments in the North Okanagan to offer (not to say there weren’t riveting local competitions!), we do have wonderful, clear footage of Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Vernon in 1959. 





sinking of Llandcovery Castle


November 3, 2020


“Canadian Hospital Ship Sunk by German Submarine Off the Irish Coast—Many Nurses and Doctors Missing” read the headline of the July 1, 1918, edition of the Vernon News. The event was one of the most controversial during the Great War, since attacking a hospital ship was against international law as well as the orders of the German navy. The sinking also brought the war home to the citizens of Vernon, since among the hundreds who died from the attack were two former nurses of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, Margaret Marjory Fraser and Minnie Katherine Gallaher.

On June 27, 1918, The Llandovery Castle was on its way back to England after bringing about 600 Canadian casualties to recover in Halifax. The crew consisted of one hundred and sixty-four men, eighty officers and men of the Canadian Medical Corps, and fourteen nurses, a total of two hundred and fifty-eight people. Special lighting illuminated the ship’s four Red Crosses as she traveled across blackened waters.

Somewhere off the coast of Ireland, around 9:00 PM, the ship was torpedoed by the German submarine U-86. A first-hand account of the sinking was provided by officer Leslie Chapman, who described the horrors of being trapped on a sinking ship: “I found myself blown out of my bunk and landed on the floor of my cabin. On my rude awakening I did not grasp what had happened until a brother officer came running off the bridge, and said we had been torpedoed. The vessel commenced sinking by the stern quickly and the Captain gave the order to abandon ship, and send an SOS on the wireless. This was not possible, because the apparatus had been smashed by the explosion.”

It only took ten minutes for the Llandovery Castle to sink. Many of the nurses had been asleep at the time the boat was struck, but they managed to get into a lifeboat with Sergeant Arthur Knight; tragically, suction from the sinking ship pulled the lifeboat under and all of the fourteen nurses drowned. Knight struggled through the chilling water and was pulled aboard another lifeboat. Only 24 people survived the attack.

Margaret Marjory Fraser was born on the March 20, 1885, to Duncan Cameron Fraser and Bessie Grant. Margaret worked as head nurse at the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, alongside Matron Minnie Katherine Gallaher. She enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps in September of 1914. Before being appointed Matron of the Llandovery Castle, Margaret served as a nurse on the front lines in France. Many of her patients were wounded German soldiers, and she was often one of the first to offer their parched lips a drink of water. She was known for writing down the dying words of German officers and soldiers, and transmitting them to their families through the channels of the Red Cross. Three months after her brother James was killed in action in FranceMargaret would board the Llandovery Castle in Halifax for the last time.

Both Margaret and Minnie are immortalized in the Halifax Memorial erected in Point Pleasant Park as a reminder of all the men and women who died at sea.

We will remember them.


 Postcard of the Llandovery Castle


Matron Margaret Marjory “Pearl” Fraser (Credit: FWW Veterans of Guysborough County) 

Minnie Katherine Gallaher

a mudslide brought them down


June 18, 2020

One spring day in 1972 was far more eventful than the rest.

On March 23, around 4:45 a.m., a huge mudslide caused by winter runoff tore a gaping hole in a section of Highway 97 just north of Oyama, and covered 200 feet of railway track below in debris.

Unfourtunately, the Okanagan Telephone communication link was broken during the slide, and there was no way of halting the Canadian National freight train that was hurtling south from Vernon towards the scene. 

The nine-car train was running parallel to Kalamalka Lake when it reached the slide area; what should have been track was instead mud, rock, and upended railway ties. The train conductor had also been battling heavy morning fog, and could not see the damage until it was too late. The diesel engine was forced off the rails and into the shallow, icy waters of the lake.





Thankfully, the four-man crew escaped without injury and used their emergency phones to notify the dispatcher’s office of the accident. RCMP from Kelowna and Vernon converged on the area, and a CPR engine was sent to collect the undamaged train cars and freight them back to Vernon.

Meanwhile, the highways department had another issue to deal with: the massive portion of the highway that was now lying all over the tracks. Flagmen directed single-lane traffic through the slide area, with vehicles moving at a crawl over pavement laced with long, spidery cracks. Okanagan Telephone Company crews were sent out to repair the broken telephone lines, while a track crew managed the damaged railway ties. It would take months of work to repair all the destruction caused by this force of nature. 

The 1972 mudslide was just one of several that contributed to the decision to widen and improve Highway 97 over the course of the subsequent years. 

Gwyn Evans

the home town paper

January 30, 2020


In this age of information, it is undeniable that our relationship with local print newspapers has changed. While many of us still enjoy pouring over the local going-ons with a cup of coffee in hand, the explosion of the internet in the 1990s increased the range of media sources available to the average reader. Now most of us get our daily news straight to our smartphones, while the print newspaper industry has experienced a significant decline. 

Before the advent of the internet, the local newspaper held an almost reverential position as the hub of community conversations. This was made obvious in a 1948 mini documentary produced by the National Film Board and directed by Morten Parker, called “The Home Town Paper.” Over the course of twenty-two minutes, narrator John Drainie, speaking with that polished, flourished language one expects from the time period,  introduces viewers to a successful community newspaper—the Vernon News.



Vernon News press room with staff about to print, 1920


Click here to view the NFB documentary on the Vernon News, “Home Town Paper”!

NFB Home Town Paper

While the scenes of the physical printing process of the newspaper is fascinating in and of itself, the true beauty of this documentary is the look it provides into everyday life in mid-century Vernon.  In the bright Vernon News office, beside neatly-stacked piles of paper, editors pour over the next day’s edition, only to be interrupted by a tap at the window. It’s a popular garage owner, all smiles with two large trout he caught earlier that week at Mabel Lake in hand (turns out, they’re actually salmon imported from the Coast for the role, but the illusion still stands). As the narrator notes, this is the stuff that will make the next day’s paper. The footage captures other issues of the day—the loss of the British fruit market, still caught up in post-war austerity, the City Council’s discussions of the need for a new, larger City Hall, and the city band’s upcoming concert.

The Vernon News started in 1891 as a five-column, eight page paper, with articles of mostly agricultural topics. Despite some significant obstacles along the way (including the destruction of the entire office to a fire in 1897), the paper dominated the news industry for years in Vernon. The National Film Board documentary highlights not only the importance of the Vernon News to our community, but the slower, congenial pace of life in Vernon at the time.

Gwyn Evans