A black and white image of a building, showing two men in apron looking out from a doorway. On the left of the building are a series of stacked milk pails, and on the right, a sign that reads "Home of Armstrong Cheese."
The Armstrong Cheese Co-Operative plant in 1940.

The ultimate comfort food

Cold snowy weather calls for comfort food like pizza, and what would pizza be without its quintessential cheese topping?

Moving back in time to 1902, the residents of the Village of Armstrong joined forces to establish a creamery, financing the project through the sale of land shares. Despite initial resistance from the municipal council, this determined group overcame obstacles. By the year’s end, a creamery had been constructed, furnished, and a skilled butter maker hired.

As detailed in an article by Mary Blackburn in the 47th Report of the Okanagan Historical Society, the creamery was situated just north of Armstrong, near Fortune Creek. In 1916, it was reorganized as part of the North Okanagan Creamery Association (NOCA), collecting milk from dairy farms extending from Mara Lake southwards to Vernon. By 1923, the Armstrong Creamery was producing an impressive 12,000 pounds of butter per month.

The City of Vernon Muscles in

The creamery changed hands in 1925, when it was purchased by Pat Burns and Co., becoming part of the Okanagan Valley Co-Operative Creamery (although the NOCA brand name persisted). Two years later, a devastating fire wiped out the Armstrong creamery, prompting the Vernon City Council to offer incentives to Pat Burns and Co. to centralize the creamery industry in Vernon. The history of NOCA and the Okanagan Valley Co-Operative Creamery carries on from here, but back in Armstrong, the loss of the dairy industry was being keenly felt.

A silver lining emerged in 1938 with the opening of a new cheese factory under the guidance of Charles Busby. Once again, shares were gathered for construction, leading to the official incorporation of the Armstrong Cheese Co-Operative in 1939. Armstrong Cheese swiftly became a renowned business, with temperature-controlled cooling rooms facilitating longer aging and mass production resulting in sales of 820,000 pounds a year by 1943.

Goodbye Armstrong

Fast forward to 1997, and the company changed hands, sold to Dairyworld Foods, the production and marketing arm of Agrifoods International Cooperative Ltd. In 2003, Saputo Inc. acquired Dairyworld Foods, including the Armstrong Cheese brand, and in 2004, closed the Armstrong plant.

Fortunately, just a few years prior in 1998, the Village Cheese Company opened in Armstrong, keeping the tradition of quality cheese-making alive in the region. Although the Armstrong Cheese brand can still be purchased throughout the North Okanagan, it is no longer the result of North Okanagan milk, most of which is now produced in Abbotsford, B.C., before being shipped to Calgary, A.B., for packaging.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives

horse drawn magic

 

November 27, 2020

During an unpredictable year, the Caravan Farm Theatre has been a model of adaptability. With strong and responsive COVID-19 safety protocols in place, the theatre has once again sold out their popular Winter Sleigh Ride Show.*

The Caravan Farm Theatre, now located on an eighty-acre property near Armstrong, actually began as a traveling troupe in the 1970s—hence the title of “Caravan.” The horse-drawn touring company put on a variety of productions for rural communities throughout B.C. and Alberta up until 1983. 

In 1985, the troupe split, with half deciding to continue touring internationally as the “Caravan Stage Company” and the other half deciding to settle on the North Okanagan property to form the “Caravan Farm Theatre.” One of their first productions was George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” held outdoors and with audience participation.

 

Horse-drawn Caravan Farm theatre wagon in 1989

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the theatre became known for its large-scale, high-quality productions, with a special emphasis on the works of Shakespeare and Brecht. The Caravan’s focus on Shakespeare was particularly natural. In Shakespeare’s era, plays were expected to be versatile, at times being shown in an outdoor playhouse, at other times an indoor theatre (hence his famous quote, “the whole world is a stage.”) Similarly, the Caravan’s productions were, and are, staged outdoors at different settings, allowing the audience to experience an immersive journey.  

The Caravan Farm Theatre carried forward this momentum and ingenuity into the 21st century. Their infamous Walk of Terror launched in the early 2000s, and at Christmas time the Winter Sleigh Ride is often sold out far in advance of December. Although this year things will be a little different—with tickets sold to “bubbles” instead of individuals, and plexiglass barriers separating one bubble from another within the sleigh—the magic of Christmas, and of attending a production by this innovative local theatre group, is sure to endure. 

As for the Caravan Stage Company, they too are still going strong, but their stage has experienced a bit of an upgrade: while they still use their traditional horse-drawn wagons to stage productions across North America and into Europe, they perform most of their acts aboard a 30-meter sailboat called the Amara Zee, which relaunched just this year after being dry-docked for two years of repairs. 

Gwyn Evans

*please note, as of November 27, it is uncertain if “the show will go on” with recent provincial public health protocols. Please check the Caravan Farm Theatre site for the latest new.