Group photo of Lord and Lady Aberdeen (standing in the back) with their children and nanny on the porch of the Coldstream Ranch circa 1895.

One of the most remarkable women to have lived in Canada is Ishbel Marie Hamilton-Gordon (nee Marjoribanks).

Ishbel was born in Scotland on March 14, 1857, to a wealthy Scottish Member of Parliament, Sir Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks and his wife Isabella Weird Hogg. Ishbel was an extremely bright child. She secretly taught herself to read at the age of three by pestering the household servants to each read a line or two from her book of fairytales. Upon this discovery, her parents immediately hired a governess to begin her formal instruction in reading

In her late teens, Ishbel met John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon, the 7th Earl of Aberdeen, and on November 7, 1877, they were married. Although Ishbel’s outspoken nature was in contrast with John’s quiet personality, their complimentary political views and mutual dedication to social reform resulted in a happy marriage and lasting partnership. The couple had four surviving children: George, Marjorie, Dudley, and Archie. One unnamed daughter was lost in infancy.

The family came to B.C. for the first time in 1890, and purchased a ranch in Kelowna. A year later, in 1891, they purchased the Coldstream Ranch in Vernon from Forbes Vernon. The establishment of these two ranches helped shape the Okanagan’s fruit industry into what it is today.  

In 1893, Lord Aberdeen was appointed Governor General of Canada, and Ishbel did not sit idly by as his wife.  She was a leader in social causes for women, and established the National Council of Women and the Victorian Order of Nurses.

Lady Aberdeen personally established the Vernon branch of the National Council for Women in 1895, and their first meeting occurred on October 22 of that year. The records of the Vernon branch, including the minutes from the first meeting, are housed at the Vernon Archives. One of the most prominent accomplishments of the Vernon branch was the petition for a hospital, resulting in the establishment of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital.

The Aberdeens left Canada in 1898. Lady Aberdeen passed over her title of president of the National Council of Women, but maintained her role as president of the International Council of Women for decades. This remarkable woman remained in Europe for the rest of her life, and passed away in March of 1934.

 

Rebecca Sekine, Archival Intern

 

 

(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

 

 

Lonnie Mohr (second from right) standing between her mother and one of brothers, with a family friend on the far left, in 1892.

One of Vernon’s most well-known ghost stories is that of little Lonnie Mohr.

Lonnie was born on August 26, 1886, in Torbolton Township, Ontario, to Charles and Elizabeth Mohr. She was the second youngest of five children.

The Mohr family arrived in Vernon from Ontario in 1893. Prior to their arrival, Charles, a labourer by trade, had a beautiful one-and-one-half-story home built for the family on the corner of Pleasant Valley Road and 32nd Avenue.

Unfortunately, the family’s arrival in Vernon was quickly marred with tragedy. In early 1894, Lonnie started suffering from a toothache, which led to the tooth being extracted. Shortly after the operation, she developed septicemia and passed away on March 31. She was only seven years old.

Lonnie was buried in the old Pioneer Park Cemetery, but her remains where exhumed after the opening of the Pleasant Valley Cemetery so that they could be buried at the new site. At this time, Lonnie’s little body was examined and it was found that her jaw had been badly fractured by the dentist who had extracted her tooth. The fracture led to the blood poisoning that ended up taking the young girl’s life.

Local legend suggests that Lonnie’s ghost continues to inhabit the Mohr home. The residence was eventually occupied by a business—a dental office, in fact. Staff at the Pleasant Valley Dental (now in a new location on 27th Street) reported dental chairs swiveling on their own and other unexplained occurrences.

Regardless of whether or not you believe that she continues to occupy her family home, I think we can all agree that the story of little Lonnie Mohr is both tragic and compelling.

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

Larry Kwong wearing a New York Rangers jersey in 1923.

2021/’22 Hockey Season

With the cooler weather setting in, hockey season is only just around the corner. The 2021/’22 National Hockey League season begins on October 12 between this year’s Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The NHL has a long history, dating back to 1917 when it replaced the National Hockey Association. But it was not until 1948 that the league saw its first non-white player; the player who broke the colour barrier was named Larry Kwong, and he was born right here in Vernon.

 

One of Fifteen

Larry Kwong (1923-2018) was the second youngest of fifteen children. His father, Ng Shu Kwong, had immigrated to Canada from China in 1884, eventually setting up a store in Vernon called the Kwong Hing Lung Grocery.

Like many young boys, Larry grew up listening to hockey games on CBC radio. His passion for the sport was obvious even from the age of five, and two of his older brothers, Jack and Jimmy, encouraged Larry to start playing hockey himself. When the weather was cold enough, Jack and Jimmy would pour water into a vacant lot near the family store, creating a rink for Larry to practice. Larry and some of his friends also liked to frequent a nearby local pond to play their games and sharpen their skills.

 

A first hockey Team

When Larry was 16, he joined his first hockey team, the Vernon Hydrophones. His natural talent gained him instant attention, and his career took off from there. This is not to say that he did not face significant racial barriers along the way; in fact, in 1942, he was invited to the training camp of the Chicago Black Hawks, but the Canadian Government never processed the paperwork that would allow him to leave and return to Canada.

 

Joining the NHL

It wasn’t until after his enfranchisement as a result of serving in the Canadian Army during World War Two that Larry was able to accept an invitation into the NHL. He made his debut with the New York Rangers on March 13, 1948. However, Larry decided to leave the team after only one season; although he was the Rangers’ top scorer, he received very little ice time.

 

A long Career

He went on to have a long and successful career in senior leagues across Canada and the United States, and coached both hockey and tennis in England and Switzerland. He also helped to run his family’s grocery business, which had migrated to Calgary.

In 2011, Larry Kwong was inducted into the Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame, and two years later, in 2013, into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame. This remarkable man passed away in Calgary on March 15, 2018. 

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

Grappling with disaster

“No more appalling disaster has ever been recorded in the annals of this province than the catastrophe of Tuesday morning [August 10, 1909], when the Okanagan Hotel was destroyed by fire and eleven helpless victims perished in the flames. A sickening pall of gloom rests over the city.”

Thus read the front page of the Vernon News on August 12, 1909, a few days after the Okanagan Hotel fire that resulted in the death of 11 individuals and left the City of Vernon shocked. 

The Okanagan Hotel

The Okanagan Hotel opened in June of 1891 on the corner of 30th Avenue and 33rd Street. It was built of brick veneer and, when it was destroyed, represented one of Vernon’s oldest buildings. 

A Fire Breaks Out and a hero emerges

Early on the morning of August 10, a fire started in the hotel. 60 people were inside at the time. 

Fire fighters rushed to the scene but little could be done. Efforts instead turned to rescuing those inside and stopping the blaze from spreading. 

It was then that a Vernon man named Archie Hickling sprang into action. He ran into the building to rescue two children who were safely evacuated. Hickling then heard a trapped waitress calling for help.

“I’ll get her or I’ll die,” said Hickling, according to the Vernon News. “Darting into the hellish cauldron of flame, smoke and noxious gases, he reached the girl and got her out through the window, whence she was speedily rescued; but heroic Hickling sank back into the pit of death and was seen no more alive.”

We Will Remember them

Hickling was one of 11 men who perished in the Okanagan Hotel Fire. 

An investigation lasted nearly a month after the fire before it was determined that “the fire was of incendiary origin by a party or parties unknown, and we consider from the evidence produced that the night watchman on the night preceding the Okanagan fire, did not perform his required duties.” The perpetrator of this crime has never been discovered. 

A monument in Hickling’s memory was erected in December of 1909. In 1999, the other 10 victims (save one) were identified, and their names listed on a bronze plaque that was added to the Hickling Monument. The memorial currently stands in Vernon’s Polson Park.

  • Wilbur Smith, carpenter
  • J.J. Funston, labourer
  • Jas. Anderson, baker’s assistant
  • Julius Fuerst, bartender
  • M. Chabtree, labourer
  • George Gannett, cement worker
  • George McKay, cement worker
  • George Seltgast, painter
  • Archibald Hickling, labourer
  • Wm. Cook, prospector
  • An unknown man

Additional Resources

Hero of Okanagan hotel fire remembered 110 years later,” article by Roger Knox. 

When Duty Calls – The Story of The Okanagan Hotel Fire of 1909,” documentary by Bruce Mol.

A headline from the Vernon News of August 12, 1909.

 

 

The Okanagan Hotel, undated. GVMA #17562.

 

 

The ruins of the Okanagan Hotel Fire on August 11, 1909. GVMA #004.

 

 

(Left) Archie Hickling circa 1908. (Right) The Archie Hickling Memorial in Polson Park, “In Memory of a Hero.” GVMA #19341 and GVMA #24630.

 

Gwyn Evans

 

 

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 Silver Star Mountain Museum

A series of year-round exhibits by the Silver Star Mountain Museum located throughout the resort’s village share the ski-hill’s long history.

After more than 90 years of development, the hill now welcomes thousands of local, national and international visitors each year. Although hundreds of individuals worked to shape Silver Star into what it is today, it took just a few to discover its potential.

A First Ascent

In 1921, Bert Thorburn and Tini Ryan road their bicycles up Silver Star Road, stopping one half mile below the first switchback. Strapped to the frames of their bikes were pairs of skis.

After leaving the bikes behind, Bert and Tini continued to trek by foot and by ski for 17 kilometres up to the mountain’s summit. After many hours, they reached the open slopes of the Star and completed the first ever ascent of the mountain.

Exploring the Possibilities

Then, in the spring of 1930, Bill Osborn, David Ricardo, and Michael Freeman obtained permission to stay overnight in the mountain’s forest fire lookout.

The next day, they retraced their steps, and were among the first to ski down the mountain. 

In 1934, Phil Hoskins, Robin Richmond, and Carl Wylie spent four days at the summit, exploring the open slopes. They returned full of enthusiasm for the possibilities of future skiing at Silver Star.

A Club IS FORMED

Finally, in 1938, the Silver Star Ski Club was formed with Carl as president. Bert, Tini, Phil, and Robin were all instrumental in the club’s formation.

The City of Vernon even donated a log cabin to new club as a weekend home for the more adventuresome skiers.

The Village, courtesy of the SilverStar Mountain Resort.

 

Bert Thorburn, Mike Freeman, Jim Duddle, and George Duddle on Silver Star’s southern slope in 1939.

 

Group of people sitting in the Silver Star Mountain lookout tower circa 1930. GVMA #290.

a reputation is established

In December of 1938, the hill’s first downhill race was held, with competitors coming from Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton, and Summerland. In less than 20 years, Silver Star had gained a reputation as a skiing mecca across the Okanagan Valley, and it hass only been up from there!

 

 

Gwyn Evans

 

Okanagan back in time

August 5, 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/.

The WestSide & WildFire Risks

This week’s Heritage Field Trip was to be to the Fintry Estate & Manor. Located within Fintry Provincial Park on the west side of Okanagan Lake, the estate is a fascinating and beautiful glimpse into the past.

Unfortunately, like so many areas of BC and the Western part of the continent, the Okanagan is being ravaged by wildfires.

At this time, Westside Road leading to Fintry is closed in both directions, and many homes and communities are under evacuation orders or alerts.

Take a Trip back in Time

Because we aren’t able to visit  in person at this time, we’d like to offer a glimpse of both the Fintry Manor and the Fintry Delta.

This vintage footage is courtesy of Reel Time Productions and Francois Arsenault.

Stay Safe

Our thoughts are with the people and communities of the Westside of Okanagan Lake.

Let’s all minimize risk, stay safe, and hope for cooler temperatures and a break in this wildfire season.

 

A glimpse of Fintry Manor House, Fintry BC, 1965, courtesy of Reel Time Productions 

 

The Fintry Delta and development plans, 1965, courtesy of Reel Time Productions 

 

 

 

 

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/.

 

An Award Winning Product

In March of 2020, Vernon’s Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery received a gold medal for their Laird of Fintry Single-Malt Whisky at the World Spirit Awards in Austria. The celebrated distillery releases this product only once a year through a lottery process.

Although the whisky itself is obviously in high demand, the story behind its unique name is less well-known: who was the Laird of Fintry?

Captain Dun-Waters

He was James Cameron Dun-Waters.

Dun-Waters was raised in Scotland, and at the age of 22, inherited a significant amount of money. This fortune brought him to Canada to pursue his interest in hunting.

In 1909, he was exploring a delta along the west side of Okanagan Lake known as Shorts’ Point when he decided this was where he wanted to settle.

A year later, he had purchased the land and renamed it “Fintry” after his hometown in Scotland. Here he remained for 31 years.

A Renaissance Man

James had a great love of the outdoors, and was an avid hunter and athlete.

His particular passion was for curling, and rinks in all parts of the province came to know the Laird’s gusty voice and buoyant personality. Even up until the day of his passing, Dun-Waters served as the President of the curling club in Fintry, Scotland.

He also had a great interest in Ayrshire cattle, and cultivated his own award-winning herd. 

James Dun-Waters and his second wife Margaret circa 1938.

.

 

The Fintry Manor House circa 1935.

James was also an active community member, and was involved with the CPR, the BC Fruit Growers Association, and the Armstrong Interior Provincial Exhibition organization. He was married twice, first to Alice Orde, who died in 1924, and then to Margaret Menzies. He also served overseas during World War One.

Dun-Waters’ Legacy

When Dun-Waters’ health began to fail, and with no heir to inherit his property, he sold his estate at Fintry to the Fairbridge Farm School system for one dollar. James Cameron Dun-Waters died on October 16, 1939.

But what is his connection to whisky? Dun-Waters was a lover of the drink, and around 1910, had a special batch of scotch sent to him in Canada all the way from his native Scotland. The Okanagan Spirit’s creation uses a replica of the label that adorned these earlier bottles, and Dun-Waters’ story lives on.

To learn more about Dun-Waters, and to explore his unique Manor House, sign up for a Heritage Field Trip to the Fintry Estate on Friday, August 6, 2021.

UPDATE: Heritage Field Trip Cancelled due to WIldfire risk

The Friday, August 6, 2021, Heritage Field Trip to the Fintry Estate & Manor has been cancelled due to wildfire risk and closures. Westside Road to Fintry is closed in both directions and communities and homes on the west side of Okanagan Lake are under evacuation alerts and orders. 

If you’d like to take a trip to Fintry Manor and Fintry Delta in 1965 click here for a virtual tour using vintage footage courtesy of Reel Life Productions.

Our thoughts are with all the people, homes, businesses, and communities affected by the wildfires in the Okanagan and across BC and Western Canada this summer. 

 

 

Gwyn Evans

 

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

 

 

major allan Brooks

June 28, 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/.

from India to okanagan landing

The Allan Brooks Nature Centre, perched on a grassy knoll overlooking Vernon, memorializes a conservationist and artist who once called the city home.

For more than 40 years, Major Allan Brooks lived at his Okanagan Landing home, despite the fact that he was born thousands of miles away—in Etawah, India.

A Born Naturalist

Allan Brooks was born on February 15, 1869, to William and Mary Brooks. William Brooks was a bird enthusiast and collected specimens extensively throughout India.

William had three sons, but it was the youngest, Allan, who showed the most interest in his father’s occupation. According to his future wife Marjorie, when Allan was only a baby, he was allowed to handle skins from his father’s collection, which he did with the care of a born naturalist. 

 

(Left) Allan Brooks at the age of two in India, and (right) Allan Brooks, aged eight, in England.

 

The Power of Mentorship

At four years old, Allan was sent to Northumberland, England, where he lived for the next eight years. As a boy, he was mentored by John Hancock, considered the father of modern taxidermy, who taught him skills like egg-blowing, butterfly collecting, and botany. Unlike his fellow school-aged children, Allan did not have much use for games, and instead used his free time to explore the moorland around Northumberland.

In 1881, William Brooks, now a widower, moved his three boys to Milton, Ontario. It is there that the teenaged Allan began to fully explore ornithology. When he was 16, he visited Thomas McIlwraith, a founding member of the American Ornithologist’s Union, in Hamilton, Ontario. The following year, Allan Brooks made the first of several important discoveries in the form of a passenger pigeon colony nesting only a few miles from his home.

Celebrated Artist and Naturalist

When Allan Brooks was 18, the family moved to a farm in Chilliwack, British Columbia, a location rich in bird and mammal life. Allan took the opportunity to expand his skills in sketching and painting, hinting at the artistic career to come. Despite his many youthful adventures, Allan’s happiest memories were of the trips he took with his father to Burlington Bay on Lake Ontario, home to many rare bird species. 

Although Allan Brooks experienced several life-changing events after reaching adulthood—from working as a trapper in B.C.’s interior, to representing Canada at the 1914 National Rifle Matches in England, to serving overseas during World War One—he may be most remembered as the celebrated artist and naturalist who lived out his last years in Vernon.

Gwyn Evans