Long shot of a field with drying tobacco leaves
Tobacco drying in a field in Vernon in the 1920s.

A promising industry

Between the 1890s and 1930s, Kelowna had a flourishing tobacco industry, evidenced in the numerous tobacco barns still present on the city’s outskirts. What is less well-known, however, is that Vernon also once had its own, much-smaller tobacco industry.

The beginning of the commercial tobacco industry in the Okanagan Valley is often attributed to Louis Holman, who arrived in 1893 and later managed the Kelowna Tobacco Co. However, Holman’s understanding of tobacco cultivation stemmed from observing the techniques of the Syilx People of the Okanagan.

Wild tobacco and syilx culture

Smańxʷ, or wild tobacco, is a culturally-important plant for the Syilx People, who cultivated it for generations prior to the arrival of settlers. The plants were grown along creeks and in other moist locations, and the leaves were harvested in the fall and left in the sun to dry for smoking and ceremonial purposes.

While the commercial tobacco industry in Kelowna had started flourishing as early as 1905, the serious cultivation of the plant by non-Indigenous individuals in Vernon didn’t begin until the 1920s. On August 16, 1927, Vernon residents were intrigued to witness trucks loaded with harvested tobacco passing through the city streets. A tobacco field in the BX area was undergoing harvesting, and the crops were being transported to a warehouse on 30th Avenue for drying. Around 30 acres of tobacco had been planted on properties surrounding Vernon.

The dream dwindles

In September of that same year, tobacco sourced from Vernon made its way to the Provincial Exhibition in New Westminster, where it was said to have garnered significant interest. Following this, the plants were exhibited in various stores in Vancouver and New Westminster. At this juncture, the future of Vernon’s tobacco industry seemed promising.

However, in 1928, growers in Vernon started to voice concerns over the lack of demand for their produce. Whereas the previous year saw the purchase of the Vernon crop by B.C. Tobacco Products Co. Ltd., situated in Vancouver, the current year witnessed a decline in demand. This issue of supply and demand was pervasive across Canada.

This, combined with the onset of the Great Depression and research findings out of Summerland that suggested that the Valley might not actually be well-suited for the cultivation of the plant, contributed to the decline of the tobacco industry in Vernon. Shortly thereafter, Kelowna’s tobacco industry also faltered.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Archives Manager

A beige certificate with a red stamp. The title reads "The Silver Star Mining Company."
A stock certificate from 1897 preserved in the Vernon Archives that shows A. G. Fuller purchasing 100 shares in the Silver Star Mining Company.

International Mountain Day

Today is International Mountain Day! Did you know that Vernon’s own mountain, SilverStar, was once the site of a promising but ultimately unsuccessful mining operation?

However, long before this, the mountain was used for generations by the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation, with foot trails providing access to the mountain’s rich hunting and foraging grounds. Once settlers arrived in the region, the peak became known as Aberdeen Mountain after Lord Aberdeen, Canada’s governor general from 1893 to 1898.

Silver Star Mining Company

The mountain’s earliest claim was staked in 1896 by the Silver Star Mining Company, of which rancher Cornelius O’Keefe was the president. Shafts were dug near the mountain’s submit by pick and shovel, while black powder was used to break up larger pieces. The raw ore was loaded into buckets, and then transported down the mountain on pack horses.

Trace amounts of silver, lead, zinc, molybdenum and copper were quickly found in the ore, which lead miners to believe they had found their own Montezuma’s treasure. Mining fever was spreading all across the province at this time, and reports by the Vernon News of the “magnificent specimens” coming down from the mine only served to generate more excitement. Several well-known Vernonites invested dozens of shares in the company, which were sold at a cost of $1.00 each.

Moving forward

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the enthusiasm to fade, as prospectors quickly realized that the ores were too low a grade to be worked at a profit. The mountain’s mining era quietly ended in disappointment around 1926. But a handful of intrepid skiers were waiting in the wings for their turn to explore the mountain…

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

 

Vernon's Okanagan Indian Band Mural. An older indigenous man with gray hair wearing a cowboy hat is located on the left of the image. He is smiling and wearing a blue plaid shirt. Next to him is a woman, smiling slightly, and wearing an orange head scarf, and a white and orange scarf around her neck. To her right is a blue stylized eagle, wolf, and sea serpent design. The background shows a blue, multicoloured lake, with green forests and blue mountains in the background. The blue-black sky is doted with pink clouds.
Tommy Gregoire is immortalized on the left side of Vernon’s Okanagan Indian Band mural, which was completed by Michelle Loughery and her team in 2001. If you are interested in learning more of the stories behind the murals, take a tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

A black and white view over a lake. The lake stretched to the horizon. On the right is an exposed mountain with desert-like shrubbery. The left side is more lush with tall trees and shrubbery. The sky is dotted with puffy white clouds.
Looking south from Middleton Mountain over what used to be Long Lake Reserve #5 circa 1950.

Ancestral Territory

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

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

A document with the words "Minutes of Decision" along the top. It is page 215.
An image from the Final Report of the Royal Commission’s decision in regards to reserves in the Okanagan region. The full report can be viewed online.

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

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

Mckenna mcbride royal commission

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

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

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

Happy Father’s day!

An Indigenous man wearing a blue ball cap is looking off to the left. He is wearing a black shirt and camouflage jacket. The background shows a wintery landscape.
Frank Marchand. Photo by Athena Bonneau, courtesy of https://thediscourse.ca/okanagan/frank-marchand-okanagan-changemaker.

Traditional and contemporary Indigenous culture emphasizes the importance of learning from one’s elders and passing along knowledge to younger generations. Frank Marchand, a member of the Okanagan Indian Band, epitomizes this cultural value in both the relationship he shared with his father and Elders, and in the role he has played as an educator to dozens of local students.

From Father to son

Frank Marchand’s late father, Gordon Marchand, was a Master Carver, a practice and designation he passed along to his son. Now, Frank has followed in Gordon’s footsteps in emphasizing the importance of dugout canoes and traditional waterways to the syilx and secwepemc people through public education.

A large trunk of a tree which is half-carved into a rounded, dugout shape. The legs of two people standing nearby are also visible, as well as a red chain saw. Wood chips cover the floor, but the far background shows that it is a winter's day.
A photo of the in-progress canoe constructed by Frank and students from SD22 in 2022. 

CANOE CULTURE REVITALIZED

In 2020, Frank and his apprentice William Poitras spent the summer working with youth from the Westbank First Nation. Together, the group took 21-days to construct a dugout canoe, which was inaugurated at a blessing ceremony at kłlilx’w (Spotted Lake), located near Osoyoos. Frank also worked with students in Kamloops’ School District 73 to create three other canoes.

That same year, Frank was nominated as a community changemaker, one of several individuals identified by IndigiNews as having a positive impact on his or her community.

Now, in 2022, Frank has spent several months working with students from Vernon’s Alternate Learning Program, Open Door Education Center, and Kal Secondary School to create another dugout canoe which will be unveiled at a ceremony at Canoe Beach. The canoe will then be on display at the Vernon Museum for summer 2022. 

In addition to revitalizing canoe culture across the Valley, Frank is also a member of the Okanagan Nation Response Team, a group of community members with extensive training in suicide education, community mobilization, and critical incident response.

FOOTAGE OF FRANK AND STUDENTS WORKING ON A CANOE IN 2018

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

An outdoor camp setup. In the background is a wooden roofed structure, as well as a teepee. In the foreground is four children and an adult. The four little boys have dark hair. Three are watching the adult, while one is looking at the camera. The adult is wearing leather clothing, and his face is panted in black and white. He has a wolf skin over his head and hanging down his shoulders. He is looking down at a rock in his head. In front of him are two woven baskets.
The Sen’Klip Native Theatre Company’s Indigenous summer encampment re-creation at Head of the Lake circa 1997.

Indigenous Theatre in Canada

June is National Indigenous History Month, and an opportunity to highlight the history of the Sen’Klip Native Theatre Company and their contributions towards the advancement of Indigenous theatre in Canada.

When the Sen’Klip Native Theatre Company was founded in Vernon in 1988, they were one of only a handful across the entirety of Canada. The company was based on ancestral storytelling practices, and provided an outlet for the expression of Indigenous cultural values and social concerns.

SEN’KLIP = COYOTE

The company’s founder, Lynn Phelan, had previously worked with an Indigenous theatre company in Vancouver before returning to her hometown of Vernon. In 1987, she started the Native Youth Summer Theatre with Ruby Alexis, a member of the Okanagan Indian Band.

The company later changed its name to the Sen’Klip Native Theatre Company, after the nsyilxcen word for “Coyote.” To both the Syilx and Secwepemc People, Coyote is considered a trickster, creator, teacher, and entertainer.

In 1989, the company produced its first professional play, “Shadow Warrior,” which toured B.C. Around that time, the company also began developing its “Coyote Tales” series, based on the legends of Sen’Klip. This series was on-going throughout the years, and explored themes of respect for the Earth and its creatures.

The Power of performing arts

The next few years witnessed the continued growth of the company, in both size and popularity. 1992 was a particularly successful year, and saw the company embark on a valley-wide elementary school tour, develop an experimental traditional summer camp (later featured at the PNE), and attend an Ecotourism conference in Whistler.

The Sen’Klip Native Theatre Company ran for a decade, and during that time, they continuously demonstrated the power of performing arts to serve as a major method of cross-cultural communication.

Celebrating SEN’KLIP at the MAV

There will be a display of costumes from the Sen’Klip production of “How Turtle Set the Animals Free,” based on the Syilx captikʷł, at the Vernon Museum in June. Costumes and masks were created by Sen’klip founding director, and renowned Syilx artist, Barbara Marchand.

Music in the Museum performer and local singer-songwriter, Duane Marchand, is also an alumni of the Sen’Klip Native Theatre Company.

 

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

 

 

 

 

(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

 

 

On September 30, the public is asked to wear orange to mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The above logo was created for non-profit use by Andy Everson of the K’ómoks First Nation.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

On June 3, 2021, the Canadian Government declared September 30 National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in commemoration of the lost children and survivors of residential schools. This announcement marked the most recent development in Canada’s efforts towards Reconciliation, which remains an ongoing process. The following timeline highlights some of the local and national developments in this fight for justice, but is by no means comprehensive.

 

A Timeline of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada

June 30, 1970: The St. Eugene’s Mission Residential School in Cranbrook closes after 80 years of operation. Most Syilx students were sent either to Cranbrook or Kamloops.

May 5, 1977: The North Okanagan Friendship Center Society (NOFCS) is established in Vernon to provide programs, services, and support to the community. 

July 31, 1978: The Kamloops Residential School closes after 88 years of operation.

1994: The Indian Residential School Survivors Society begins as a working committee of the First Nations Summit.

1996: Canada’s last federally-funded residential school, the Gordon’s Residential School in Punnichy, Saskatchewan, closes.

March 31, 1998: The Aboriginal Healing Foundation is established to fund projects that address the intergenerational impacts of Canada’s residential school system.

2001: The documentary “Survivors of the Red Brick Schoolhouse” is produced by a group of former Syilx students of the St. Eugene’s Mission Residential School, under the direction of Virginia Baptiste.

Nov. 23, 2005: The Canadian Government announces a $2-billion compensation package for Indigenous Peoples who were forced to attend residential schools.

2008: Prime Minister Stephen Harper offers an apology to residential school survivors.

2008: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) is officially launched. Over the course of 6 years, the TRC interviews more than 6,500 witnesses, and hosts 7 national events to engage and educate the Canadian public.

2015: The TRC releases its final report which includes 94 Calls to Action.

2015: The Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) establishes the Syilx Indian Residential School Committee.

Nov. 28, 2017: The ONA unveils the Syilx Okanagan Indian Residential School Monument in Penticton.

June 18, 2020: OKIB Chief Byron Louis and Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming begin regular meetings to develop a stronger relationship between the Band and the City.

 

To learn more, please join us at the museum on September 30, 2021, to honour National Day for Truth and Reconciliation with a series of presentations and displays. Click here to learn more. 

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator