Tommy Gregoire is immortalized on the left side of Vernon’s Okanagan Indian Band mural, which was completed by Michelle Loughery and her team in 2001. If you are interested in learning more of the stories behind the murals, take a tour

This weekend marks the 2022 Historic O’Keefe Ranch’s Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival.

Considering that the first non-Indigenous settlements to emerge in the Okanagan Valley were cowtowns—communities that appeared at the junction of railroads and livestock trails—Vernon has long boasted a healthy population of cowboys.

Men like Cornelius O’Keefe are often remembered for participating in the Okanagan Valley cattle drives of the 1860s, but even during their time, it was known that the best ropers and riders belonged to the Okanagan Nation. For instance, the Gregoire Family alone included several generations of talented equestrians.     

As told in the book Q’Sapi: A History of Okanagan People as told by Okanagan Families, Francois Gregoire (1865-1944) was a successful rancher who owned a large herd of horses, some of which were used for racing and others for farming. By 1915, he owned a threshing wheat separator which he rented out to other ranchers.

Francois’ son Tommy (1901-2000) also went on to become a well-known rodeo rider. A celebrated Traditional Knowledge Keeper, Tommy was an adamant advocate for Indigenous rights and freedoms, who, along with his wife Mary, ensured that his children learned nsyilxcən.

Tommy’s son Leonard (1929-2013) was a self-proclaimed cowboy from the start who began exercising his grandfather Francois’ horses at only eight years old. He later worked as a rodeo contractor with his father, and learned to ride broncos and bulls. He even went on to earn six track records in Canada and the U.S. racing quarter horses and thoroughbreds.

Like his father and grandfather, Tommy was proud to be fluent in nsyilxcən, and passed along his teaching to his own grandchildren and other little ones at the Okanagan Language Nest.

 

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

Looking south from Middleton Mountain over what used to be Long Lake Reserve #5 circa 1950.

Ancestral Territory

It comes as a surprise to many that one of Vernon’s most popular summer destinations, Kal Beach, is located on what used to be reserve land.

Kal Beach as it now appears. Photo courtesy of Michael Russell Photography.

Needless to say, the ancestral territory of the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation comprised much of Kalamalka Lake; the lake, which bore the name Long Lake up until 1953, is named after Chief Kalamalka after all. Moreover, members of the OKIB still reside on land around the lake where historical villages once stood.

An image from the Final Report of the Royal Commission’s decision in regards to reserves in the Okanagan region. The full report can be viewed online.

However, little evidence remains to mark the bounds of Long Lake Reserve #5, which once stretched from approximately Kal Beach to what is now the Kalavista subdivision. The reserve was allotted in 1877 by the Joint Indian Reserve Commission, established two years earlier by the Federal and Provincial Governments to set the boundaries of reserve land in B.C.

In 1909, Hlakay (also known as Pierre Nequalla), Chief of the Nk’maplqs (Head of the Lake) Band, opposed a sale of the land, suggesting that grave irregularities had occurred in obtaining proper surrender permissions; this was later confirmed by the Federal Government and the sale was set aside. However, in 1913, the land was “cut-off” under the McKenna McBride Royal Commission.

Mckenna mcbride royal commission

The stated goal of this commission (named after the two men who signed it into effect, federal commissioner Joseph McKenna and BC Premier Richard McBride) was to adjust the acreage of reserves in B.C., based on gathered evidence from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples as to their adequacy. As a result of the commission, an additional 87,000 acres of reserve land were added to most bands, while 47,000 acres of far more valuable land was removed from 54 bands. This included the 128 acres of Long Lake Reserve #5.

This “cut-off” land was later sold to a Mr. John Kennedy, who then released portions of it to the City of Vernon for beachfront access, and to the Canadian National Railway Company.

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

(Left) Pte. Albert Saddleman, Sr., in a colourized photograph from 1943. (Right) Chief Albert Saddleman, Jr., in 1993.

Monday, November 8, marks Indigenous Veterans Day. Many members of the Okanagan Indian Band served in both World Wars, as well as earlier and later conflicts. In fact, when World War One broke out, every male member of the Nk’maplqs (Head of the Lake) Band between the ages of 20 and 35 enlisted for service.

Albert Saddleman Sr., born in 1911, was only a child during World War One. But by the time World War Two had begun, Saddleman was in his thirties, and he enlisted with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. While overseas, Albert wrote regularly to his wife Della, who gave birth to a son, also named Albert Saddleman, on August 12, 1943. In a letter dated September 25 of that year, Albert Sr. asked Della to send him a photo of their newest arrival.

Tragically, Albert Saddleman was killed in action on September 17, 1944. Della learned of her husband’s death ten days later, in a letter from Saddleman’s lieutenant, W.L. Rooch. The letter described Saddleman as “a reliable and trustworthy solider and a real example to all who served with him during any action.” Rooch added that “his presence will be missed by all of us, as he was a real friend.”

Saddleman was buried with full honours in a military cemetery two miles north of Coriano, Italy.

The legacy of this brave man lived on in the life of his son, Albert Saddleman, Jr., who served as OKIB Chief from 1991 to 1992, and 1994 to 1996. He was instrumental in the formation of the North Okanagan Friendship Center Society, as well as a day care and kindergarten at Komasket Park. He fought for fishing, forestry, and water rights, and sat on the boards of several organizations, including that of the All Nations Trust Company. Albert Saddleman, Jr., died on October 8, 1997.

We will remember them.

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

Alapetsa O’Keefe

July 21, 2021

 

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/.

Beauty & Bounty

Cornelius O’Keefe arrived at the head of Okanagan Lake in 1867, with his partners Thomas Greenhow and Thomas Wood, and a large herd of cattle.

Struck by the beauty and bounty of the region, O’Keefe decided to pre-empt 160 acres of land to start a ranch. With time, the O’Keefe Ranch grew to cover around 12,000 acres.

Long before O’Keefe’s arrival, the area was the traditional land territory of the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation. For them, it was their home and native land, on which their culture can be traced by 10 centuries, and where many Syilx People live to this day.

Alapetsa 

The area was also home to a woman named Alapetsa.

Alapetsa (Rosie) was born to Stalekaya (Francois) and Sararenolay (Marie) circa 1850. Around 1869, she began living with Cornelius O’Keefe in a common-law marriage, and working around the ranch.  

 

A portrait of Christine Catherine O’Keefe, the daughter of Alapetsa and Cornelius O’Keefe (O’Keefe Ranch Archives)

 

A daughter, Christine, was born to the couple about 1871. They had at least one other child, a son, who is believed to have tragically drowned at a young age.   

Indigenous + Settler Unions

Alapetsa and Cornelius O’Keefe’s relationship was not a unique one. Most early European male settlers to the Okanagan Valley had an Indigenous partner, who provided the ranchers with companionship and assistance around the homestead. These partnerships were not legal marriages in a European sense, but they were considered binding.

While many ranchers formed true bonds of love and friendship with their Indigenous partners, societal pressure to remarry a more “proper” (that is, a European) wife, often resulted in the dissolution of these relationships and the disenfranchisement of the their Indigenous wives after only a few years.

societal pressure 

The relationship between Cornelius and Alapetsa was dissolved before he married a white woman in 1875. She remained in the area, raising her daughter Christine, and is believed to have eventually married a man named Michele. Alapetsa passed away in 1905.

To learn more about Alapetsa, as well as other powerful and unique women involved in O’Keefe Ranch, sign up for a Heritage Field Trip to O’Keefe Ranch on Friday, July 30, 2021.

Gwyn Evans

 

 

Grand Chief N’Kwala

June 20, 2021

Hwistesmexe’qen, known more commonly as N’Kwala or Nicola, was a 19th-century Indigenous leader who exemplified fatherhood.

Family & Kinship

Chief N’Kwla had 50 of so children of his own, and he was also responsible for the wellbeing of many others through his roles as Grand Chief of the Okanagan Peoples and Chief of the Nicola Valley Peoples.

N’Kwala was born circa 1785 at either the head of Okanagan Lake or near Nicola Lake to Okanagan Chief Pelkamu’lox and an unknown Stuwi’x woman.

Leadership

N’Kwala became Grand Chief of the Okanagan Peoples after his father was killed in 1822. He was later granted the title of Chief of the Nicola Peoples following the death of his uncle Kwali’la.

Over the course of his life, it is believed that N’Kwala had up to 15 wives who came from different tribes across the Interior.

 

Chief N’Kwala was never photographed but his legacy is still felt today. Vernon’s N’Kwala Park at 5440 MacDonald Road was named after him.

 

A Renowned Peacemaker

Among both his People, and the fur traders and gold miners who entered the Valley, N’Kwala developed a reputation for “sagacity, honesty, prudence and fair dealing, and was rather a peacemaker than a fighting man.” Of all of the era’s Southern Interior Chiefs, N’Kwala was said to have the most power and influence.

N’Kwala passed away in the fall of 1859. He was succeeded by his nephew Tsilaxitsa. N’Kwala had raised his nephew since infancy, following the death of his mother during childbirth, and Tsilaxitsa followed many of his uncle’s philosophies during his own chieftaincy. Today, N’Kwala’s legacy lives on: hundreds of his descendants continue to live in B.C.’s Southern Interior and adjoining regions of the United States.

 

Gwyn Evans

strength & resilience through syilx culture

June 11, 2021

Content warning: The following story contains difficult subject matter, including a residential school experience. Please take care.

The first residential school in Canada, the Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Ontario, opened in January of 1831.

After 165 years of operation, the Canadian Residential School System officially ended with the 1996 closure of the last federally-operated facility, located in Punnichy, Saskatchewan.

The effects of this system continue to be felt by its survivors and their descendants to this day.

lasting impacts

Like Indigenous Communities around the country, the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation experienced the devastating impacts of the Residential School System.

Many Syilx Children attended either the Kamloops Residential School or the St. Eugene’s Residential School in Cranbrook.

 

A traditional Syilx stick game at Head of the Lake / Nk’maplqs in 1972

 

Some Syilx Nation children attended day schools in their home communities. These day schools also had the explicit mandate, as was once said by Sir John A. MacDonald, was to “take the Indian out of the child”.

Day schools also left painful and oppressive impacts on Okanagan Nation communities, as well.

“You don’t know how it feels”

Rosie Jack, born at Head of the Lake in 1932, was interviewed by UBC’s LaVonne Kober in 2012. During the interview, Rosie recalled her experiences at the Kamloops Residential School, were she was sent with her siblings as a child of seven: “to be taken away from your family, your mom and papa… sent away in a big, big stock truck. You don’t know how it feels. You are just completely lost and then you got punished because you cried for your mom. It’s hard.”

When the children arrived at the Kamloops Residential School, their hair was cut short and they were assigned uniforms. Rosie painfully recalled the moment she had to give up the beautiful new dress and shoes her mother had bought her for the journey. Rosie was separated from her brothers, and forbidden to speak her native nsyilxcən. The children attended classes in the morning, and worked in the afternoon. Rosie spent one month carrying sad irons between the kitchen and the laundry room. 

resiliency through traditional culture

Rosie later returned to the school as an adult: “When I went in that school when I was a girl it was huge, it was so big. When I went back there a few years ago, it looked so small.” Despite the pain of losing her siblings and watching her mother succumb to grief, Rosie was resilient, and able to rediscover her culture through the raising of her nephew, Terry. She discussed traveling to powwows across Canada and the United States so that Terry could compete in sticking tournaments: “he has always done so well. He’s a real good sticking player.”

“We are still here. In fact, we are thriving”

Former Grand Chief and Chair of the Okanagan Nation Alliance Stewart Philip states that “we can celebrate the fact that the Indian residential school was a complete and dismal failure. We are still here. In fact, we are thriving. Our languages are coming back through our children. Our songs and customs are coming back through our youth. Our traditions are being openly shared by our Elders. Our women are providing the leadership to ensure everything is done in a good way.” Philip adds that if people, like Rosie, did not have the “courage and resilience to resist, we would not be here today.” 

Gwyn Evans

RASPBERRY ON THE RUN

 

February 1, 2021

A fortnight of liberty. A daring chase. A man named Raspberry.

The Vernon News of November 27, 1913, reported to its readers a most thrilling series of events.

On November 6, two members of Vernon’s chain gang had managed to escape, and enjoy two weeks of freedom. One of them was Fred Raspberry, a settler who had been apprehended for violating liquor control laws.

Raspberry and his companion, Harry Antoine, took refuge at the head of Okanagan Lake, on reserve land. News that they had been seen in this locale reached Police Chief R.N. Clerke, who contracted two Indigenous trackers to help him locate the fugitives.

 

In 1913, escaped prisoners Fred Raspberry and Harry Antoine, took refuge at the head of Okanagan Lake on Okanagan Indian Band land (Nk’maplqs)

Although Antoine quickly gave himself up without a struggle, Raspberry took off north on horseback, with his pursurers not far behind, following his tracks through a thin layer of snow.

One mile outside of Falkland, the group discovered a deceased horse, the poor creature having been ridden to the point of exhaustion. The Indigenous trackers were able to discover that Raspberry had then secured a fresh horse, and continued on to Douglas Lake, although the trail was nearly lost in the freshly-fallen snow.

In the early morning hours, a small camp fire was seen in the distance. Clerke and the trackers stepped off the trail, and concealed themselves in the underbrush. Crashing footsteps alerted them that Raspberry was aware of their presence — and taking off on foot in the opposite direction.

Easily seen across the moonlit field, the pursuing group watched as Raspberry, barefoot in the snow, launched himself over the side of a steep ravine. When Clerke arrived at the edge of the precipice, he called to Raspberry to halt, and fired a warning shoot near his foot. The fugitive shouted once and then stopped running, surrendering to his fate after a 48-hour manhunt.

The following day, the intrepid escapee was returned to Vernon, to finish out his six-month sentence. 

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

Gwyn Evans

meanwhile, back at the RancH…

sharing history through community 

vernon winter carnival virtual event

 

MEANWHILE, BACK at the RANCH…   February 9, 2021 at 7 PM

Take a Virtual Trip back in time through the Wild West and ranchlands of the North Okanagan. Interpretive guides and special guests will tell tales of life back on the early ranches of the valley through streaming video, on-location film clips, and multi-media displays.

Learn more about the early relationships between the settlers and the Syilx Indigenous First Nation. Find out about the Syilx and settler women who made this place home, and the fur brigadiers, gold rushers, cowboys, and bank robbers who made this place wild.

Join us and special musical guest, Duane Marchand, for this virtual event!

Visit the Vernon Winter Carnival website for more info and tickets.

 

 

GET TICKETS TODAY!

 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021 – Virtual Doors Open at 6:30 PM.
Register by 6:45 PM. Event begins at 7 PM sharp.  

WE RESPECTFULLY ACKNOWLEDGe

Greater Vernon Museum & Archives is located on the Ancestral, Traditional and Unceded Territory of the Okanagan Nation and the Syilx People.

An Okanagan Hero

 

November 6, 2020

 

In a damp, dark trench crawling with rats, George McLean sat silently alongside his fellow members of the Fifty-Fourth (Kootenay) Battalion. The year was 1917, and in a few hours the silence that had descended over no-man’s land would be broken by the sounds of screams, explosions, and machine gun fire. It was the first morning of the Battle for Vimy Ridge, which many historians consider a defining moment, and one of the greatest victories, for the Canadian Army.

George McLean, from the Nk’maplqs (Head of the Lake) Band, was not new to the world of soldiering by the time of the Battle for Vimy Ridge. During the Boer War, when he was 25-years-old, McLean had served with the Canadian Mounted Rifles. When World War One broke out, McLean, alongside every other male member of the Head of the Lake Band between the ages of 20 and 35, enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Almost immediately, he was sent overseas to France.

It was the start of the third day of the Battle for Vimy Ridge, but for the soldiers who were participating, it undoubtedly felt much longer. One member of the 2nd Divisions’ 6th Brigade described “wounded men sprawled everywhere in the slime, in the shell holes, in the mine craters, some screaming to the skies, some lying silently, some begging for help, some struggling to keep from drowning in craters, the field swarming with stretcher-bearers trying to keep up with the casualties.”

Just after pulling a wounded officer to safety, McLean and another soldier discovered a dugout hiding several German troops. Before either of the men could respond, McLean’s fellow soldier was struck. Alone in a vulnerable position, McLean responded quickly, raining small “pineapple” bombs down on the German troops. This did not result in any German casualties, but certainly startled the cowering men. A German Sergeant called to McLean to stop the onslaught, and asked how many troops he had with him. McLean replied that he stood with 150 men. Immediately, the German officer gave over his weapon and ordered his troops to stand down. McLean then single-handedly captured 19 prisoners and marched them back to his own lines. As they walked, McLean was shot twice in the arm, and five of the prisoners attempted to disarm him, but he did not falter.

Due to his wound, McLean was evacuated from the front lines and sent to London to recover. Later, he was later awarded the Distinguished Conduct Metal for his outstanding bravery. When he died in 1934 of unknown causes, the Royal Canadian Legion offered his family a war hero’s burial, but they declined, preferring instead to bury him near Douglas Lake Ranch. George McLean’s grave was marked with a simple wooden cross, as modest and steadfast as the man himself.

We will remember them.

 

Private George McLean

 

George McLean (standing, far right)

 

Sunday, November 8, 2020 is Indigenous Veterans Day. To see all of the veterans from the Nk’maplqs (Head of the Lake) Band (Okanagan Indian Band), click here.