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

 

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