the more things change…

 

January 11, 2021

Time passed strangely in 2020.

It felt like both the slowest and fastest year, with long periods of time spent following the same routine, in the same environment, day-after-day, while a decade’s worth of monumental historical events were occurring concurrently around the world.

Working in a museum in some ways can cause one to lose a sense of linear time.

Sometimes, after working in the archives all day, for example, one might almost expect to see horses and buggies, instead of car, trundling up and down the streets.

 

Looking East over Vernon in 2921 

With this skewed sense of reality, 100 years ago might not seem like such a long time, but a lot has changed in Vernon since then. Our city in 1921 would be almost unrecognizable today.

In 1921, B.C.’s population has just reached over half a million. Meanwhile, Vernon was home to a mere 3649 people. Washing machines cost between $20 and $30, and Fruitatives-which contained a small amount of strychnine-and Minard’s Liniment were touted as cure-alls.

Bags of oats cost $0.35 and tins of salmon could be purchased for 10 cents. The year’s model of Hupmobile was sold at the Vernon Garage, while the Megaw-Smithers Motor Company competed with Chevrolet’s FB-50.

“The Molly Coddle,” “Lessons in Love,” and “Made in Heaven” played at the Empress Theatre, while hosted speakers presented on important topics such as the League of Nations, Bolshevism, and using alfalfa as a cover crop.

As sternwheelers plied the waters of Okanagan Lake, a nearby neighborhood was finally granted a name. Following a public competition, Mr. W.L. Forrester was awarded $25.00 for proposing the name “Bella Vista” for the new development overlooking the lake. 

In 1921, Vernon hosted its first May Day fete and ball. Organized by the women’s institute, the program at Polson Park was complete with maypole dances, children’s sports, refreshments, balloons, a hayseed band, a parade, and the crowning of May Queen Helen Cochrane.

In October, a new flour mill was opened by the Okanagan Farmer’s Milling Company on 32nd Street, and, in November, poppies were sold and worn for the first time.

Although a lot might have changed in 100 years, some things have remained the same. Vernonites grumbled about a lack of parking and the high-cost of rent, advertisers made outlandish claims, classes were overcrowded, coddling moths plagued farmers, and poppies were pinned on jackets and sweaters in remembrance.

In a year that has been often termed “unprecedented” , it may (or may not) be reassuring to keep in mind that old adage:  “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Gwyn Evans

luxury lake travel- vintage okanagan style

 

November 13. 2020

What would it have been like to take a trip from Penticton to the Okanagan Landing aboard a sternwheeler? Unfortunately, most of will never know, since the Okanagan’s last paddle wheeler, the S.S. Sicamous, was retired nearly 85 years ago. Luckily, records in the Vernon Archives allow us to recreate these epic journeys—on paper, at least.

The S.S. Sicamous, launched in May of 1914, was the third in a line of stately sternwheelers to ply the waters of Okanagan Lake. She had a reinforced steel hull, and four decks. With 37 staterooms, one smoking room, four saloons, and a dining room, the ship could accommodate more than 300 passengers at one time. 

 

 

S.S. Sicamous, 1921

The Sicamous was a craft of grace and beauty, and she rightly earned the name of “The Queen of Okanagan Lake.” She transported passengers and freight up and down the lake, making stops along the way at Ewing’s Landing, Fintry, Carr’s Landing, Okanagan Centre, Gellatly, and Naramata, until 1936.

It’s a crisp spring morning in 1921. You rub sleep from your eyes, before pulling your wool clothing tight against the cold air drifting off the calm waters of Okanagan Lake. You are standing at the Penticton Wharf, the imposing shadow of the luxurious Incola Hotel, where you passed a pleasant night, to your back. It is 5:15 am, and the sky is still dark. You listen to the gentle chatter of early morning birds, and the slow murmur of waves against the shore. The town of Penticton is still asleep.

Just when you are beginning to lose feeling in the tips of your toes, the S.S. Sicamous pulls up to the wharf, breaking the sleepy silence with a cheerful blast of its whistle. As you wait in line for your chance to board, you watch the ship’s Union Jack drifting lazily in the breeze.

You’re making the trip to Vernon. It’s only 65 miles down the lake, but with the crisscrossing path needed to call in at the 15 landings along the way, you will have traveled more than 90 miles by journey’s end. You expect to be in Vernon by about 9:30 am, just in time for a bite of breakfast.

Finally, you are on board. The richness of the ship’s wood fittings—made from British Columbian cedar, Australian mahogany, and Burmese teak—contrast with the pale morning light. You watch as women in wool travel suits pull half-asleep children towards one end of the ship, while the men, chatting and smoking, move to the other.

You, however, decide to take a seat at a comfortable writing desk, and reach over to switch on a nearby reading lamp. The ship is delightfully warm, thanks to the miracle of steam heating. As you flip slowly through that morning’s copy of the Vernon News, you periodically glance up to admire the Sicamous’s beautiful stained-glass skylights.

After a little over 3-and-a-half hours later—most of which you spent in the observation lounge, watching the small, white-capped waves churned up by the ship’s wheel—you arrive at the Okanagan Landing. As you disembark, waving at a group of excited children on the shore, you think to yourself that you have never experienced a more marvelous journey. 

Gwyn Evans

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

nice ride!

 

September 11, 2020

What would it have been like to ride a school bus in 1924? Well, it certainly would not have involved the bright yellow paint and cracking vinyl seats we’re used to today. In fact, Vernon’s first bus was mostly made out of wood.

As more families began to settle in the Okanagan Landing and Greater Vernon areas, a form of transportation was needed to bring children to school. Fred Downer stepped up to the plate, and built the first school bus on a Ford Model T chassis in 1924, perhaps inspired by the design of the Armstrong school bus which had been built by Joe Glaicar a few years earlier (reported to be the first in Canada!).

 

 

The children who rode Vernon’s first school bus circa 1925. The bus’ builder, Fred Downer, is standing on the far right.

 

Like the one in Armstrong, Downer’s bus had wooden walls, but included screen windows, while Glaicar’s had canvas curtains that could be let down or rolled up as needed. Exhaust pipes ran down the centre of the floor to keep the bus warm during the winter. Apparently, the smell of schorched rubber was common in these early school buses, as the students would put their feet on the pipes to warm up, and melt their school shoes in the process, undoutedbly to the great chagrin of their mothers.

The wooden walls and lack of insulation earned these early buses the nick name of “chicken coops.”

Regardless, Vernon’s first bus was well-used from the get go. More than 40 students were driven to school on Downer’s bus by driver Ed Cooke during the 1924/1925 school year. The bus ride offered a chance to visit with friends and sing a song or two.

Gwyn Evans

admiral of the okanagan

 

August 6, 2020

He was one of Vernon’s most colourful personalities.

Captain Dolman Shorts arrived in the Okanagan Valley in the 1870s, by which time he had already gained quite the reputation for his optimistic and persuasive personality. He probably put these charms to good use when, in the 1880s, he saw that there was a need in the valley for lake transportation and convinced people that a ride up Okanagan Lake on his homemade rowboat would be a sound idea.

As it turns out, the rowboat, named “Ruth Shorts” after the captain’s mother, was far more predictable that he was. Captain Shorts did not have a set boating schedule, as he despised routine. Since the trip from Okanagan Landing to Penticton took at least 9 days of hard rowing, the captain and his passengers would put into shore at night, catch some fish for dinner, and sleep under the stars. When prompted about how long the trip might take, Shorts would say “I haven’t the faintest idea, but rest assured we’ll fetch up there sometime.” If the Captain fancied a midday nap, he caught 40 winks on the nearest beach, regardless of what his passengers might think.

John McCulloch’s experience working as a tobacco and soft drink salesman for his father’s business prepared him for ownership, and he also had the support of a remarkable woman.

 

 

Captain Dolman Shorts

 

When prompted about how long the trip might take, Shorts would say “I haven’t the faintest idea, but rest assured we’ll fetch up there sometime.” If the Captain fancied a midday nap, he caught 40 winks on the nearest beach, regardless of what his passengers might think.

Despite his quirks, Shorts had a strong group of supporters, and he soon graduated from a rowboat to one with a small steam engine, christened the “Mary Victoria Greenhow.” The vessel had a voracious appetite for coal oil and what was supposed to be her magnificent inaugural trip ended up with her being rowed anticlimactically back to the dock after she ran out of fuel. Only about a year later, she went up in flame.

However, Shorts’ spirits were certainly not dampened. In fact, these misadventures seemed to bring him great pleasure, perhaps because they provided stories to tell his passengers during their trips up the lake. He was known to have a vivid imagination, and with each retelling, the details grew more and more dramatic.

Shorts would go on to own a number of other vessels over the years, both big and small, including a barge named the “City of Vernon,” launched in August of 1894. Unfortunately, with his irregular schedule, the Okanagan’s first captain was eventually outcompeted by the more routine (but far less colourful) service of the C.P.R. steamships. He ended up broke and disenchanted with modern machinery, saying “I made six thousand dollars rowboating and lost it all in steam.” But his friends refused to let him wallow; a banquet was held at the Kalamalka Hotel in his honour, and he was granted the title of “Admiral of the Okanagan.”

Eventually, the Admiral moved away from the Okanagan, chasing gold in the Klondike, but his optimism and ambition have not been forgotten.

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

R U coming to buy a home b 4 it’s too late?

 

May 21, 2020

Long before texting acronyms were even invented, a postcard from the mid-20th century employed a similar tactic to encourage newcomers to settle in Vernon. The advertisement for H.P. Lee Real Estate boasts the tagline “R U coming to buy a home B 4 it is too late???” A bundled immigrant with a suitcase of cash standing “East of the Rockies” is welcomed into the warmth of the Okanagan by a well-dressed orchardist.

The beginning of the 20th-century marked a boom in immigration in Vernon. Prior to that, parts of the Okanagan Valley were largely inaccessible due to a lack of infrastructure. Forbes George Vernon, our city’s eponym, was responsible for adding some much-needed roads during his tenure as Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works and these additions, alongside the movement of steamships up and down the lake, allowed more people to settle in Vernon.

 

 

 

 

Governor-general Lord Aberdeen, who had emigrated with his family from Scotland, invested in orchards in the BX and Coldstream, and this decision was called in the 1958 Royal Commission on the Tree Fruit Industry of British Columbia “the single event which served most to focus the attention of people on the Okanagan Valley.” Following Lord Aberdeen’s interest in the Valley, the region began to be promoted widely throughout the United Kingdom as a pleasant and abundant place to live.

Indeed, most of the early settlers to Vernon were European, and largely British. In the 1901 Census of Canada for the district of Yale, which encompassed the Okanagan Valley, the British were by far the largest ethnic group at 7,821, followed by First Nations people at 5,247. The other groups included 1,148 Chinese and Japanese, 501 French, 461 Germans, and 284 Scandinavians.

An important by unfortunate truth of Vernon’s immigration story is that not everyone was welcomed with opened arms. The political and social selection process was choosy, and largely favored Europeans. Other minority populations, such as the Chinese and Japanese, faced discrimination, while the arrival of newcomers of all ethnicities largely displaced the local indigenous peoples for whom the Valley had long been home.

And yet, thanks to immigration from around the world, Vernon now boasts a more varied and diverse population than one might think. In 2016, more than 5,000 Vernonites spoke languages other than English or French at home, including nsyilxcən, Hindi, Tagalog, and  Italian.

Gwyn Evans