International Cherry Pit Spitting Day

Since 1974, the first Saturday of each July has been celebrated as International Cherry Pit Spitting Day, after a pit spitting tournament was held as a joke at a picnic in Eau Claire, Michigan. Now, pit spitting events are held annually around the world, with the Canadian National Pit Spitting Championship being a feature of the Cherryfest in Blenheim, Ontario. The current world record for the greatest distance to spit a cherry stone is a whopping 93’6.5”, set by Brian “Young Gun” Krause in 2004.

Fruit in the Okanagan

Fruit has grown in the Okanagan since time immemorial, with Saskatoon berries, blueberries, strawberries, huckleberries, gooseberries, black berries, black currants, and raspberries making up part of the traditional syilx diet. Chokecherries also grow in abundance, a fact evidenced in the names Cherryville and Cherry Creek. But cherries as we now think of them—the dark, round juicy nuggets that grace the Valley during the summer months—are a cultivated species that was introduced by European settlers.

The first non-native fruit trees were planted by Catholic missionaries of the Oblate Order at their Mission of the Immaculate Conception on Okanagan Lake in 1862. The first seedlings were apples, and one of these trees actually continued to fruit until it was killed by cold weather in 1955. Cherries did not arrive until 1892, when 500 trees were planted by Lord and Lady Aberdeen at Vernon’s Coldstream Ranch.

Little Cherry Disease

The construction of the Grey Canal allowed water-loving plants like cherry trees to thrive in the sunny Okanagan Valley. However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing after the canal’s completion in 1914; in the 1930s, Little Cherry Disease struck cherry trees across BC, first in Nelson and then later spreading to devastate orchards across the Kootenays.

A helicopter flying low over an Oyama orchard to gently blow the water off of ripening cherries in 2012.

Quarantine measures were put in place in the hopes that the disease, which causes small, bitter, insipid fruit, would not make it to the Okanagan. Unfortunately, in 1969, an orchard in Penticton was found to be infected, and by 1977, 1,400 cherry trees throughout the Okanagan had to be removed. Little Cherry Disease continues to be monitored and managed by the provincial government.   

Due in part to a 2014 trade agreement which allowed BC cherries to be exported to China, the fruit has become a boom crop, with new orchards popping up all the time to satisfy an insatiable local and international demand.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

Leone Caetani sitting on the front lawn of his home in Vernon with a dog circa 1927.

“Enriched all aspects of our society”

In recognition of Italian Heritage Month, which is celebrated every June, Minister Hussen stated that “with more than 1.5 million people of Italian heritage, Canada is the proud home of one of the largest Italian diasporas in the world. From business to sports, cuisine, politics, and much more, the community has enriched all aspects of our society, and continues to do so.”

Italian immigrants in Canada and the Okanagan

Leone, Ofelia, and Sveve photographed in 1921, shortly before the family’s departure for Canada. Vernon Museum and Archives #12730.

The immigration of Italians to Canada is closely tied to political and social turmoil in Italy in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. In particular, the rise of fascism under Mussolini changed the fortunes of many Italians, and some decided to immigrate to Canada to seek out new and safer opportunities. Many settled in communities in B.C., including Vancouver, Trail, Rossland, Revelstoke, Kelowna, Powell River, Duncan, and Vernon. The Okanagan’s first Italian immigrant was Giovanni Casorso, who arrived in Kelowna in March of 1883, followed by his wife and children in 1884.

This photo of Leone, taken in 1921, shows him leaning on a chair in Ofelia’s villa in Rome “on the eve of their departure for Canada.” Greater Vernon Museum & Archives #12142.

A duke immigrates to Vernon

Meanwhile, one of Vernon’s most well-known Italian immigrants was Leone Caetani, father of Sveva Caetani, a celebrated local artist. Leone was born on September 12, 1869, to one of the oldest and most distinguished families in Italy. In addition to serving as Duke of Sermoneta and Prince of Teano, Leone was a gifted scholar with a degree in Ancient and Oriental Language and History, and fluent in 11 different languages.

Sveva Caetani at a solo exhibition in 1988 at the Vernon Public Art Gallery.

Leone first visited Canada for a hunting trip in 1891, and was captivated by its natural beauty. This likely contributed to his decision to immigrate to the country in 1921 with Sveva and her mother Ofelia. As an avid socialist, Leone, like many Italians, was also no longer comfortable in post-war, fascist Italy. 

The Caetani Family, with Ofelia’s secretary and personal companion, Miss Jüül, and a small handful of staff, arrived in Vernon in the summer of 1921.

To learn more about the Caetani Family, click here

 

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

Crowds enjoying the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee celebrations in Vernon in June of 1897.

MAY LONG

Although many of us now think of the May Long Weekend as the beginning of camping season in B.C., the history of Victoria Day is a bit more complicated.

In 1845, the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada decided to officially recognize the birthday of Queen Victoria on May 24 with public celebrations. But it wasn’t until 1901, following the Queen’s death, that May 24 became officially known as “Victoria Day” in her memory.

celebrations fit for a queen

At the turn of the 20th century, the settler population in Vernon eagerly celebrated Queen Victoria’s birthday, as well as her reign in general.

On June 22, 1897, Vernon celebrated the Diamond Jubilee with a series of sporting events, including baseball, lacrosse, trap shootings, and tug-of-war. Other outlying communities, including Enderby, came to compete in the day’s activities, and it is noted that Vernon won all events except tug-of-war.

May Long Weekends in Vernon were also marked with sporting events and special activities in celebration of the Queen’s birthday. On May 24, 1895, a cricket match was held between Kelowna and Vernon, with the SS Fairview offering special trips between the two cities for individuals who wished to attend.

In 1900, Enderby hosted Vernon and other nearby communities for a series of foot, horse, and canoe races. A football match was also held between the community of Lumby and employees of the Coldstream Ranch, followed by a grand ball in Morand’s Hall.

A most respected sovereign

Queen Victoria’s passing in 1901 was announced in large font on the front page of the January 24th edition of the Vernon News, as the City mourned the loss of its “Most Respected Sovereign.” Later that year, Vernon officially celebrated “Victoria Day” for the first time, with—you guessed it—sporting events, including three-legged and ladies races.

“Queen Victoria is Dead: Her Most Gracious Majesty Succumbs to the Grim Reaper. The Nation Overwhelmed with Grief. The World Sorrows over the Decease of Its Most Respected Sovereign-The End Came on Monday, at 6:55 London Time-The Prince of Wales Now King Edwards VII.”

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

A photo of Pauline Johnson, taken shortly before her death in 1913, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Talented Wordsmiths

Vernon has long been home to a plethora of talented wordsmiths, which a humble binder in the Vernon Archives titled “Writers” reveals. The binder is full of information about several of Vernon’s many authors and poets, arranged alphabetically from Thomas Andrews (author of Type: Writer) to Mark Zuehlke (author of Scoundrels, Dreamers, & Second Sons). The Vernon Museum is even lucky enough to have its own award-winning author and poet on staff, Laisha Rosnau.

In addition to these gifted locals, Vernon has also played host to several traveling writers over the years. One that caused a particular stir during her turn-of-the-century visit to the city was Tekahionwake (Pauline Johnson).

Tekahionwake (Pauline Johnson)

Tekahionwake, born in 1861, was a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, and daughter of Chief Onwanonsyshon (G. H. M. Johnson) and Emily Howells. Tekahionwake began writing poetry in her mid-teens, after a childhood of poor health largely confined her to indoor pursuits like reading.

Sometime after 1884, following the death of her father, Tekahionwake began a career as a public orator and embarked on a series of speaking tours in Canada, the United States, and England. Her poems were largely patriotic in nature, but she also incorporated elements of Mohawk culture into her performances.

A visit to Vernon

Tekahionwake visited Vernon in 1907, where she offered a poetry recitation in the second-floor hall of the W. F. Cameron general store. By then, she had published two volumes of poems, “The White Wampum” (1894) and “Canadian Born” (1903), and the crowd was large and appreciative.

When she passed away in 1913, the Vernon News dedicated several pages to describing Tekahionwake’s life and many cultural contributions. Despite what her critics might have said during her lifetime and beyond it, this remarkable woman paved the way for other Indigenous female voices to be heard. 

The documentary Why We Write: Poets of Vernon, by Hannah Calder and Curtis Emde, delves into the world of poets and bookmakers living in and around Vernon, British Columbia. It will premiere at the Vernon Museum on April 29 and 30. Click here to learn more.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

Marie and William Brent circa 1910.

Okanagan Women’s Voices

A recent publication, edited by Jeannette Armstrong, Lally Grauer, and Janet MacArthur, explores the lives of, and relationship between, seven Syilx and settler women.

Okanagan Women’s Voices: Syilx and Settler Writing and Relations 1870s-1960 was the result of hours spent digging through archives across the Okanagan (including the Vernon Archives) to highlight the voices of Susan Moir Allison (1845-1937), Josephine Shuttleworth (1865-1950), Eliza Jane Swalwell (1868-1944), Marie Houghton Brent (1870-1968), Hester Emily White (1877-1963), Mourning Dove (1886-1936) and Isabel Christie MacNaughton (1915-2003).

Marie Houghton Brent Fonds

One collection in the Vernon archives that proved to be particularly useful to Armstrong, Grauer, and MacArthur was the Marie Houghton Brent fonds (for those unfamiliar with the term, in archival science a fonds refers to a records group). This fonds, which was donated to the Vernon Archives by the Ferry County Historical Society in 2000, contains a wealth of Brent’s correspondences, personal writings, and certificates.

Her Story

Marie Brent was the daughter of Charles Frederick Houghton and Sophie N’Kwala. Houghton, who was originally from Ireland, established the Coldstream Ranch in 1863, which he later sold to Charles and Forbes Vernon. Sophie N’Kwala was a granddaughter of the Grand Chief Hwistesmexe’qen, known commonly as N’Kwala or Nicola.  

Sadly, Sophie passed away when Marie was young, and she was raised by her great-aunt Thérèse (Teresa) N’Kwala Laurence, who raised her to be the family’s historian and taught her the stories and traditions of the Okanagan Nation. As a young women, Marie lived for a time with her father, Charles, in Montreal. She later returned to the Okanagan, where she married William Brent in 1908. Throughout her life, Marie continued in the mission ordained by her great-aunt to preserve and share her ancestral teachings, and between 1935 and 1966 wrote a series of articles which were published in the Okanagan Historical Society (OHS) reports. As Robert Hayes of the Kelowna Branch of the OHS aptly stated, “Thérèse N’Kwala Laurence chose well. We owe her and Marie Houghton Brent a debt of gratitude.”

To learn more about Marie Houghton Brent, and the other six women featured in Okanagan Women’s Voices, grab a copy of the book or join the Vernon Museum for Learn + Connect: Reading for Reconciliation, a virtual book club from April to June 2022 featuring this incredible new publication.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

killiney BeaCH

May the road rise up to meet you this St. Patrick’s Day! Vernon is home to a healthy Irish population, which is reflected in some of its place names. Killiney Beach, originally called Sproul’s Landing by the region’s settler population, is situated on Westside Road. Of course, long before the area bore either of these names, it was known to and used by the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation.

Killiney Beach in 1944.

Killiney Hill

The beach was named after Killiney Hill in Dublin, Ireland. Killiney Hill is a popular destination for hikers, drawn to its spectaculars views of Dublin, the Irish Sea, and the mountains of Wales. The hill is also topped by an obelisk built in 1742 in remembrance of the victims of the Irish Famine of 1740/’41.

Sproul’s Landing

Sproul’s Landing was a stop for the sternwheelers of Okanagan Lake. Some stops along the lake, including Sproul’s Landing, were unscheduled, and the ships would only halt at these smaller settlements on occasion. In order to request the S.S. Sicamous to make an unscheduled stop during its trips between Penticton and Vernon, residents would need to stand on the shore waving a white flag during the day, or light two bonfires at night.

Killiney Hill near Dublin, Ireland. Photo courtesy of the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

 

Harry Percy Hodges

When Harry Percy Hodges decides to settle at Sproul’s Landing in 1903, he hanged its name to reflect his Irish roots. In addition to running his own farm, Hodges also worked as a bookkeeper at the Coldstream Ranch. He later married Arabel M. Ricardo, sister to W.C. Ricardo, the ranch’s manager. The couple has at least one child, a son named John.

Hodges passed away in Victoria in 1922.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

Group photo of the members of a local hockey team posing on the ice on Kalamalka Lake in 1922. Back row, left to right: Jack Sadler, Graham Ferguson, Charles Sadler, and Lionel Locke. Front row, left to right: George Belsey and Albert Belsey.

Hello, 2022

Another year has begun under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the Omicron variant causing an increase in case numbers and a return to heightened health-and-safety measures, it can feel like we are right back where we were almost two years ago, in March of 2020.

As difficult as it can be to consider the passing of time on a longer scale, especially when our everyday is plagued with uncertainty, it can provide a sense of perspective; no matter how bad things might seem now, they too shall pass.

100 years ago: A civic Election

100 years ago, in January of 1922, the City of Vernon was ringing in the New Year with a civic election. On January 5, the Vernon News sullenly reported that although the election of the City Council, School Trustees, and Police Commissioner was set for the following Thursday, the general populace seemed to be taking little interest in the whole event. What generated the most stir was that a woman, Elsie Richards, was nominated for a School Trustee position, a first for the city. Although Mrs. Richards was not successful in her bid, it was a positive step forward.

A daring robbery

That same month, a small group of robbers broke into Vernon’s Government Liquor Store through the building’s main entrance, made their way upstairs, smashed the locks on the storage room doors, and took two cases of Scotch and one of Rye Whiskey. The store manager George Brazier was not overly upset by the robbery, because the thieves’ poor taste meant that they had made off with the cheaper brands of Whiskey.

Princes, pirates, and princesses, oh my!

A children’s costume party was held by the Vernon chapter of the I.O.D.E. (the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire) at the local armoury. The children dressed as knights, pirates, and princesses were said to have acted the part admirably, as if they had “been lifted from the story book page, or brought to Vernon from some far away romantic land in a swift airplane just for the occasion.” The evening raised nearly two hundred dollars towards supporting the widows and families of those who served in World War One. 

Mild weather and winter sports

The first few days of January 1922 were relatively mild in temperature, with highs just below freezing and lows of -10°C. But a fine ice and snow season meant that local curlers, skaters, and skiers were able to enjoy their chosen winter sport. Meanwhile, the first hockey game of the season, held at a local rink between Vernon and Armstrong, saw the former achieve a quick and clean victory.

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

The front page of the Vernon News from October 13th, 1921.

100 years ago

What was happening in Vernon 100 years ago, in the autumn of 1921? The Vernon News (and particularly the “Town and District” column) provides some insight.

Group photo of some of the Coldstream Ranch fruit pickers, circa 1915. GVMA #2523.

On October 3 of that year, a masquerade ball was held at the dining hall of the Coldstream Ranch fruit pickers. The venue was decorated with autumn leaves, berries, asparagus ferns, and paper lanterns, and entertainment and refreshments were provided. Attendees dressed as knights, princesses, sailors, soldiers, and clowns milled about the dance floor. Someone even arrived disguised as Palmolive soap.

The Post Office clock circa 1935. GVMA #4767.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For about a week during that October, Vernonites were reported as being very tardy, on account of the Post Office clock being out of commission. When the clock was dismantled for repairs, those who governed their daily actions by the ticking of the clock were “forced to rely on their own more or less accurate timepieces.”

A bizarre was hosted by children of the Presbyterian Church Sunday School on October 15, 1921. Large quantities of farm produce, preserves, pickles, and home cooking were available for purchase. The afternoon concluded with a musical program.

Edna Harwood and Agnes Fletcher dressed as witches for Halloween circa 1918. GVMA #1519.
The Empress Theatre in 1922. GVMA #4597.

The Empress Theatre hosted showings of the 1921 films “Stranger than Fiction,” “The Devil,” and “Nobody,” and a local minister invited those who cuss to a lecture on the Third Commandment.

On the afternoon of October 31, a Halloween party was held at the new South Vernon School; around 400 students attended. Later that evening, the doors of the school were opened so that the citizens of Vernon could inspect the new facility.

Among all of these notable events, the everyday moments of life are also noted in the Vernon News: from births, deaths, and birthdays, to special visitors, meeting notices, and local sales.   

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator