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

drink up to the end of polio

June 7, 2021

Vernon’s COVID-19 vaccination program is well-underway, with more than half of North Okanagan adults having received their first dose.

Fifty-eight years ago, in 1963, the arrival of the Sabin oral polio vaccine in Vernon caused similar amounts of excitement among the city’s population.

A Vaccine you could drink

A polio vaccine was invented and tested in the 1950s and ‘60s by Albert Sabin, a Polish-American medical researcher. His vaccine replaced one invented by Jonas Salk that was approved for use in 1955. Salk’s vaccine was administered via an injection, while Sabin’s was taken orally.

 

From left to right, Dr. Duncan Black, Vera McCulloch and Bruce Cousins receive the Sabin oral polio vaccine from senior public health Nurse Evalyn Allingham.

 

The Toll of Polio

In the decades prior to the invention of a polio vaccine, thousands of people died around the world from the disease. Vernon experienced polio epidemics in 1927, 1934, and 1937. Although the disease mostly affected children, adults were also vulnerable to infection.

In 1953, Donald Joseph Tompson, a 29-year-old World War Two Veteran and Okanagan Telephone Co. employee, contracted polio and passed away five years later in Vernon. He left behind a wife and two young children.

Health Care Professionals Leading the Way

When Sabin’s oral polio vaccine arrived in Vernon in 1963, citizens of all ages were encouraged to take it. “Drink Up To The End of Polio” read signs plastered around the city.

Doctor Duncan Black, businesswoman Vera McCulloch and Mayor Bruce Cousins led by example, and were among the first to receive the vaccine. Evalyn Allingham, senior public health nurse for the North Okanagan, guided her staff through the process of immunizing Vernon’s population with both the Salk and Sabin vaccines.  

After years of the disease devastating populations around the world, polio vaccines helped to gradually reduce occurrences of the infection by 99%.

Gwyn Evans

 

cultivating Safe Spaces

online Workshop

 

Cultivating Safe Spaces

GVMA is honoured that Elaine Alec is able to run another session of the Cultivating Safe Spaces Online Workshop.

Friday, June 18, 2021, 1-2:30 PM

Cultivating Safe Spaces will be an online workshop led by Elaine Alec, a Syilx and Secwepemc community planner, author, political advisor, women’s advocate and teacher.

The Cultivating Safe Spaces Workshop is recommended to those working in Not for Profit sectors, Community Planning, Public Health, Education, Arts and Culture, Tourism, and anyone interested in learning more about creating and cultivating safe spaces of respect and inclusion in our community.

community, advocacy, & safe spaces

Elaine Alec is a direct descendant of hereditary chiefs, Pelkamulaxw and Soorimpt.

For over two decades, Elaine Alec has been leading expert in Indigenous community planning, health advocacy and creating safe spaces utilizing Indigenous approaches and ceremony.

 

Cultivating Safe Spaces Workshop Facilitator, Public Speaker, and Author, Elaine Alec

 

Bitter Root, or Spitlem in nsyilxcən language, is important to Syilx culture and people 

 

 June 18th workshop NOW FULL!

JOIN WAITLIST

 

We were honoured to have Elaine Alec visit, virtually, the Okanagan Online Book Club to discuss her book, Calling My Spirit back.

Click here learn more about Elaine Alec and her work.

Cultivating Safe Spaces registration information

Cultivating Safe Spaces will take place in an online workshop forum on Friday, June 4th, from 1-2:30 PM.

The workshop is recommended to those working in Not for Profit sectors, Community Planning, Public Health, Education, Arts and Culture, Tourism, and anyone interested in learning more about creating and cultivating safe spaces of respect and inclusion in our community.

Registration is open to all, with a maximum of 25 participants. The Cultivating Safe Spaces Workshop fee is $30.00.

June 18th session is NOW FULL! Please contact us below to join the waitlist. 

 

JOIN WAITLIST!

 

 

french family land

May 28, 2021

Near the entrance to the Vernon Recreation Centre, a humble plaque in the shade of a tall tree memorializes the 1891 residence of S.P. French.

That year, Samuel Phelps French, born in England in 1844, moved his wife Susannah and nine children from Winnipeg to Vernon and purchased between 10 to 20 acres of land to raise cattle.

A warm welcome

The family’s 1891 residence was actually not located where the plaque indicates, but on 32nd Avenue, then known as Schubert Street.

Many important events passed beneath the roof of this residence, and the French family extended a welcome to friends and strangers alike. 

In November of 1902, the Vernon News reported that “the hospitable home of Mr. and Mrs. S.P. French was 

 

DA plaque outside the Vernon Recreation Centre memorializes the first two residences of S.P. French (pictured top right, GVMA #5088). The Vernon Museum does not have a photograph of either of the houses.

 

 

taxed to it utmost capacity to receive the large number of visitors who during the afternoon and evening assembled to extend a welcome to the bride of Mr. S.P. French, Jr.

changing ownership & land use

It was not until 1905 that S.P. purchased 65 acres near where the Rec Centre now stands from the Estate of the late Luc Girouard and built a second house. By 1914, the land had been parceled up, with some of it being sold to the Canadian Northern Pacific Railway. S.P. then purchased a parcel of land east of Vernon and built a third house, on Sarsons Road. This residence still stands, while the plaque serves as a memorial of the two family homes that came before it.

S.P. helped to lay Vernon’s first sidewalk on 30th Avenue in 1893. He also served on the Vernon City Council in 1903 and was a devout member of the local Presbyterian Church.

names & recognition

S.P. passed away in 1926, predeceased by his wife Susannah in 1912. His nine children and twenty-eight grandchildren went on to have remarkable lives of their own. One son, Percy, even followed in his father’s footsteps and was named the Okanagan’s first “Master Farmer” by Winnipeg’s Nor’ West Farmer Magazine in 1932.

While his son was bestowed with the title “Master Farmer”, the residence of the family of S.P. French family is recognized with a plaque. 

Plaques such as this, as well as street names, are often in memory and recognition of the pioneers, agriculturalists and ranchers who first “settled” this area.

In recent years, there has been more of an acknowledgment of Syilx place names, and the nsyilixcen language of the Syilx people of the Okanagan Nation is being incorporated into place names and signs in places such as the UBC Okanagan campus. 

 

Gwyn Evans

ship of brides

May 21, 2021

In September of 1862, the S.S. Tynemouth arrived in Victoria to the great excitement of the city’s mostly-male population; 60 young women between the ages of 14 and 20 were on board, having been brought over from England to a new life in Canada.

The Tynemouth was the largest of the “Bride Ships,” a series of vessels that transported British women overseas to help populate the North American colonies.

Little More Than Cargo

Of the 60 individuals onboard the Tynemouth, most were orphaned or came from impoverished families, and were promised a brighter future in Canada.

The sea voyage was a rough one: the women were treated as little more than cargo, stuffed into the bottom of the ship with inadequate food and poor sanitation. Many became ill during this journey of nearly 100 days.

 

Dr. John Chipp’s house in Vernon circa 1891. Chipp arrived in B.C. via a “Bride Ship” from England in 1862.

 

 

“mostly cleanly, well-built, pretty-looking young women”

Even so, when the ship finally arrived in Victoria, the women were deemed “satisfactory”: the Colonist newspaper reported that they were “mostly cleanly, well-built, pretty-looking young women … Taken altogether, we are highly pleased with the appearance of the ‘invoice,’ and believe that they will give a good account of themselves in whatever station of life they may be called to fill.”

The stories of approximated half the women who traveled overseas in the Tynemouth have been traced. Some married and started families, while others worked as governesses, midwives, and teachers. Sadly, many also faced lives of destitution and depravity in B.C.’s mining towns.

A Local Connection

This interesting story also has a local connection. Alongside the 60 female passengers who traveled on the Tynemouth in 1862 was a man named John Chipp, who served as the vessel’s chief doctor.

When the ship arrived in B.C., Chipp set up a business in Barkerville before moving to Vernon in 1891. Here he became one of the city’s first doctors. Chipp’s daughter, Clara Cameron, was instrumental in the establishment of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital and his son-in-law, W.F. Cameron, served as Vernon’s first mayor.

John Chipp passed away in August of 1893. The contributions of Chipp, as well as W.F. and Clara Cameron are relatively well-documented and honoured.

We can also take a moment to think about those whose names and faces we don’t know, or remember, the young women who were integral to early settler life in Canada.

 

Gwyn Evans

recognition, resilience, resolve

May 17, 2021

May is Asian Heritage Month, and this year’s theme is “Recognition, Resilience, and Resolve.”

Vernon is home to hundreds of individuals of Pilipino, Vietnamese, Japanese, Pakistani, Chinese, and Korean descent. The city also has a large Indo-Canadian population.

First Sikh Immigrants to Okanagan

The first immigrants from India began arriving in the Okanagan Valley at the turn of the 20th century; three Sikh men arrived in Rutland in 1909, and others followed in 1913.

“Little Evidence of Discrimination”

Most took up jobs in the lumber industry, with plans to eventually return to India. It was not until a few years later that some decided to settle their families permanently in the Valley.

By the 1970s and ‘80s, the East Indian population in Vernon had increased significantly. A 1976 report on the ethnic composition of the Okanagan Valley suggests that Vernon had “little evidence of discrimination.”

And yet, the report also states that “East Indians claim that their members have been beaten by white men for no apparent reason. They are afraid to take part in public events because of bad experiences.”  

 

A 2006 photo of the North Okanagan Sikh Temple and Gurdwara. The temple was built in Vernon by the North Okanagan Sikh Cultural Society in 1987

 

Traditional Indian clothing for rent or sale for attendees of Bollywood Bang charity event

“We Mainly Kept to Ourselves”

In 1997, a researcher interviewed several Indo-Canadian families living in Vernon, and found that 17 out of 20 of those interviews lived in one high-density neighbourhood, often in duplexes. Some of the reasons the families cited for living there were the lower cost of housing and the proximity to friends.

However, the researcher concluded that this collective housing was also a reaction to feelings of alienation from the larger community.

One interviewee suggested that “people looked at our turbans and the traditional outfits that our women wear with disgust and suspicion. We kept mainly to ourselves.”

Celebrating Indo Canadian Culture

In 2021, the treatment of Vernon’s Indo Canadian population has certainly improved, largely through efforts to introduce Sikhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Indo Canadian culture to a new generation of people through public events like the Diwali Festival.

The wildly popular Bollywood Bang event, spearheaded by Vernon City Councillor, Dalvir Nahal, attracted hundreds of people and contributed thousands of dollars each year to local North Okanagan charity organizations.

In the 2020 provincial election, NDP candidate Harwinder Sandhu faced horrific racism during her Vernon-Monashee MLA campaign, with her signs defaced by swastikas and misogynistic words. Despite this opposition, Ms. Sandu was elected in a clear statement by the majority of Vernon’s citizens against this kind of discrimination.

The resilience and resolve of MLA Sandu, Councillor Dalvir Nahal, Activist Min Sidhu, and the many other Indo-Canadian men and women who have come before them have contributed to Vernon’s recognition of this diverse cultural group, even if work remains yet to be done.

 

Gwyn Evans

Honorary “Granny” to many

May 10, 2021

She was a mother to seven of her own children, and honorary “Granny” to dozens of others.

Darn Good Citizen

In 1960, Mary Neilson was presented Vernon’s Good Citizen award for her years of mending sweaters and darning socks for young hockey players.

A Love of Music

Mary Neilson was born in Kirkmichel, a village in Southern Scotland. From a young age, she had a love for music, winning first place at a music festival when she was nine years old for her rendition of a Scottish ballad titled “Caller ‘Ou.” 

 

Portrait of Mary Neilson, seated, with her husband Andrew and seven children in 1955

 

She continued this trend as a young woman, singing in church choirs and entertaining veterans, as well as performing Scottish songs on her own radio show on CKY-FM Winnipeg between 1924 and 1928. Her show, “Burns Nicht,” was on the air during radio’s infancy, making Mrs. Neilson a pioneer in this form of entertainment. 

A Love of Children

In 1939, Mary, her husband Andrew, and their seven children moved to Vernon. While here, Mrs. Neilson truly began to cultivate another of her life’s passions: the nurturing of children, regardless of if they were her own or not.

Mary had a close relationship with her six daughters and one son; in a 1956 Vernon News article, she described her children as marvelous people. But she also cared deeply for the well-being of other children. When asked about her commitment to creating and repairing clothing for Vernon’s young hockey players, she simply said “I like darning.”

A “Granny” to Many

Despite her evident modesty, Mary’s efforts did not go unnoticed by the city’s youngsters, who gave her the affectionate nickname of “Granny.” She was also asked, on two occasions, to pitch the opening ball at the start of the local lacrosse season. The young players autographed one of the balls and presented it to Mary, who displayed it proudly on her mantelpiece.

Mary’s Scottish roots had a profound effect on her approach to life. She was very kindhearted, but also had a no-nonsense demeanor. “I had a strict upbringing,” she said. “I gave my own children a strict upbringing. My grandchildren are getting a strict upbringing. We’re all in good health. You can’t get away from the good old Scotch way.”

Mary Neilson passed away on February 4, 1966. During her funeral service, Reverend Pritchard said “we can grieve only at our loss. She blessed the world with her presence and it is a better place for her being here.”

Gwyn Evans

Coldstream Kate Kalamalka

 

March 5, 2021

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political successes of women. Even more importantly, perhaps, it is a chance to elevate the voices of those women whose achievements have been silenced, whether intentionally or not, by the passing of time. One such woman is Catherine Kalamalka.

Gaps in the Archives

An important caveat : the GVMA’s limited resources about this remarkable woman are indicative of a larger, national tendency for Indigenous Peoples, and especially Indigenous women, to be underrepresented in archives and settler-based museums.

Katherine’s descendants and wider Indigenous community could likely offer a much warmer, personal, and accurate portrayal of her life than the one that is presented here.

Daughter of Chief Kalamalka

According to “Q’sapi: A History of Okanagan People as Told by Okanagan Families,” Catherine Kalamalka (sometimes spelled Katherine or Katrine in other sources) was born circa 1847 to Chief Cohastimene and Marie Kwentek.

She was the granddaughter of the famous Chief Kalamalka, for whom the Kalamalka Hotel was named. Later, it is believed Long Lake was renamed Kalamalka Lake in his honour.

 

Cosen’s Bay and Kalamalka Lake (GVMA)

 

Unfortunately, the museum does not have a photo of Coldstream Kate in their collection. This photo, however, does show her father, Chief Cohastimene (sometimes spelled Goastamana), in 1902. His daughter Catherine would have been in her fifties when this photo was taken.

“coldstream Kate”

Catherine was known as Coldstream Kate, and, according to a Vernon News article in 1926, was “the best known woman in the Okanagan Valley, if not in the province. She was famous for her beauty and kindly disposition.”

Following his arrival in the area, Catherine began a common-law partnership with Forbes George Vernon, for whom our City is named. Together, they had two children, Mary and Louisa. When Vernon was elected to the Provincial Legislature in 1875, he left Catherine and his daughters, and moved to Victoria. Two years later he married Katie Alma Branks of California.

a tower of strength

After Vernon’s departure, Catherine, then aged thirty-eight, married forty-two-year-old widower Louis Bercier from Washington. The couple farmed on a property at the Head of the Lake, and later settled near Whiteman’s Creek with Catherine’s daughter Louisa.

Catherine Kalamalka, then known as Mrs. Louis Bercier, passed away on February 9, 1926 at the age of about 80. Her obituary in theVernon News states that “with the passing of Mrs. Bercier, many a poor man and woman lost a good friend whose bright disposition was a tower of strength in difficult times.”

Gwyn Evans

An infamous remittance man

 

February 25, 2021

Perhaps he was trying to take some of the attention away from his Marchioness sister, or maybe he just wanted to scandalize the ladies.

Whatever the case, back in Vernon’s Cowtown days, few developed as infamous a reputation as one Coutts Marjoribanks (pronounced Marchbanks).

to the colonies

Coutts was born in 1860 into an aristocratic British family. His father, Dudley Marjoribanks, was a Scottish businessman and politician who was later elevated to the position of Baron Tweedmouth.

Dudley and his wife Isabella had seven children, two of whom died as infants, with Coutts being the second-youngest.

When he came of age, like many other energetic, perhaps considered unruly, younger sons of upper-crust British families, Coutts was sent overseas for a life in the colonies.

These men were often given an allowance, or “remittance” from their well-to-do families. And, this remittance often made it possible for them to try on the parts of farmer, cowboy, or rancher in this new, “wild” world.

 

Portrait of Coutts Marjoribanks in 1895; Portrait of Lady Aberdeen at King Edward’s Coronation in 1902.

 

 

Coutts Marjoribanks (seated) with ranch hand

“not a particularly nice man”

He spent his youth cattle ranching in Texas, which instead of taming his boisterous personality and adventurous spirit, only encouraged it. He quickly became an accomplished roper, rider, and rancher.

Although Coutts was thriving in his new lifestyle, his family did not approve of his antics, and he was pushed to move to Vernon where he could be under the watchful of his older sister, Ishbel, the Lady Aberdeen. A few years earlier, the Aberdeens had purchased the Coldstream Ranch, and Coutts became its first manager.

Yet, even this increased-level of responsibility couldn’t dampen Coutts spirits, and he quickly earned a reputation in Vernon for his brazenness. Of Coutts, local woman Alice Barrett describes “never wanting to know him, for he is not a particularly nice man.”

You Can Lead a Horse to…

Photographer Charles Holliday seems to have been more entertained by Coutt’s peculiarities, and details with barely-veiled amusement his tendency to ride his horse right into the Kalamalka Hotel whenever he wanted a drink, which was apparently often.

Once when Coutts was loading a shipment of cattle into the back of a train, he was chastised by a passing parson for using expletive language in front of his ranch hand. Coutts lashed back with “Hell man! I’m not teaching a Sunday school, I’m loading cattle, and I’ll bet that Noah swore when he was loading his animals into the ark.”

Despite his rough manners, Coutts had an undeniable charisma that left most people begrudgingly fond of him—Alice Parke being an obvious exception. Coutts stepped down from his position as Manager of the Coldstream Ranch in 1895, but remained with his wife Agnes and two children in Vernon until his death in 1924. 

Gwyn Evans