For the months of June and July, we are thrilled to present a series of blog posts by Collections Intern Rebeka Beganova. Rebeka (she/her) is a post-secondary student with a passion for research, literature, and history. Having completed an Associate of Arts Degree at Okanagan College, she is glad to be joining the MAV team during her last summer in Vernon before heading off to UBC Vancouver. There is no better way to say goodbye to her hometown than to explore its local history!

A black-and-white image of a man staring away from the camera while he conducts an orchestra (not pictured).
Okanagan Symphony Orchestra conductor Leonard Camplin, photographed in 1969

Food for the soul

Music is food for the soul, and Vernon has always had enough to satisfy.

Since the 1920s – when the city dubbed itself the “Pioneer in Music of Interior BC Cities” – and beyond, citizens have seemed to possess a yearning for expression and an ear for the arts. Every known and unknown genre has filled the Okanagan Valley at some point. Classical music has been a staple for decades: the Vernon Symphony Orchestra was formed in 1925, an abounding collective borne from a humble room of twenty musicians. Beyond the orchestra, music with local themes has poured from parchment to instrument to audience, with pieces heralding the Ogopogo and songs proclaiming the city’s beauty. The “Vernon Song,” for example, claims that Vernon is “a warm and friendly folksy kind of town,” and that “it’s the only place on earth to be with someone there to love you.”

Lending a helping hand (or bow, or pick, or string…)

A black and white image of a large group of men looking at the camera, standing in a semi-circle. They are holding a range of instruments, including clarinets, trumpets, and trompones.
Army band at Camp Vernon, 1916. Love of music was shared by civilians and military personnel alike.

Vernon musicians are not only masters of their craft; many are also good Samaritans. Benefit concerts and fundraisers are common local events that simultaneously spread good cheer and fight for important causes. In 2012, a local trio (including a prodigious eleven-year-old) lit up Los Huesos at Christmas time to raise money and food donations for the Vernon Women’s Transition House. The musicians adapted to the theme of the restaurant by performing Spanish Christmas songs. That same year, a concert called Tunes for Teeth helped raise money for the Community Dental Access Centre. This organization is a non-profit dental clinic providing support for low-income residents, and its place in the community is so invaluable that musicians travelled all the way from Denman Island to play in its honour.

Fundraisers have also been held over the years for the Vernon Community Music School (where, in 2013, a Winter’s Aria graced the ears of eager listeners) and for the Jessica Eaman Memorial Fund, which helps make possible cross-country skiing lessons for kids. From time to time, bands have performed in support of their own members, like the band New Classics did in 2013 for Mike Nitchie. Nitchie was diagnosed with HHT, a bleeding disorder, and underwent multiple surgeries. His friends and fellow musicians put on a show of support – literally – that raised both money and awareness for the disorder.

Music has long flowed through Vernon’s streets, as background sound and as spotlight events. Whether outwardly or not, it has been a binding force within the community: an aid in times of need, a balm for collective aches. What to know more about Vernon’s musical scene? Check out these other blog posts:


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

Rebeka Beganova, Collections Intern




The Vernon Fire Brigade Band circa 1901. Back (L-R): Daryl Burnyeat, George French, Louis Goult, R Fraser, and Alex McLeod. Seated (L-R): Fred Godwin, Percy Cooper, S.A. Shatford, Jim Varnes, and Charles Godwin. Front (L-R): Bill Sawyer and Fred Howard.

After a difficult 20 months, we all deserve a little music.

Many musical groups have called our city home over the years, but they are all predated by the Vernon Fire Brigade Band, formed all the way back in 1893.

The story goes that on a late fall evening in 1893, attendees of the Okanagan and Spallumcheen Exhibition were disappointed by the lack of musical entertainment, and proposed that Vernon should form its own band. That same evening, local bookstore owner A. C. Cann ordered a set of instruments for the new group to use.

Vernon only had a few experienced musicians at the time, so others were quickly taught to play and by January of 1894, regular rehearsals were taking place. The band’s first official performance was on May 24, under the direction of bandmaster Robert Fraser. The bandstand was located on what is now 30th Avenue, and the musicians were decked out in caps and matching uniforms.

Misfortune struck in 1898, when a devastating fire broke out in the building that was housing the band’s equipment. Unfortunately, all of the uniforms and instruments were destroyed. After this tragedy, the Vernon Fire Brigade decided to sponsor the band, and it became known as the Fire Brigade Band.

During the years of 1907, and 1909 to 1911, the band performed at the Provincial Exhibition at New Westminster. When World War One broke out a few years later, the group broke up, as many of the members enlisted for overseas service. Although the members would reunite in subsequent years to continue making music together, the sponsorship from the fire department had ended and they were no longer known as the Vernon Fire Brigade Band.


Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator


all that jazz


November 20, 2020

Vernon has a healthy, but somewhat underground, jazz scene. Not literally underground, of course. In fact, the Vernon Jazz Club sits proudly overlooking Vernon’s 30th Avenue in the upper floor of a heritage building that also houses Nolan’s Pharmasave.

The building was built in 1906 and used as a sales outlet for farm machinery. In 1910, the Ranchers’ Club, described as a “family social club” with male and female members, took over the second floor. A few years later, the bottom floor was purchased by R.E. Berry and converted to a drugstore. Meanwhile, the Ranchers’ Club was starting to lose their family-friendly reputation. In 1919, the club’s steward was fired for hosting all-night card games with unrestricted stakes. 


The first gig hosted by the Vernon Jazz Society and featuring the Larry Crawford Jazz Ensemble, held on September 11, 1999, in the basement of the Sandman Inn

In 1922, the group was reorganized as the Vernon Club for men only, and a peephole was installed in the door to screen those entering. It is even reported that the RCMP set up surveillance in the building across the street to determine what kind of card games were being played. The Vernon Club lasted until 2001.

A few years before the club folded, Tom Collins, a former HVAC technician, Curt Latham, a doctor, and Gerry Sholomenko, a secondary school teacher, and all jazz lovers, meet over coffee to discuss the organization of a venue where the music “wasn’t too loud, couples could have a dance or two, and local jazz musicians would have a stage,” and thus the Vernon Jazz Society was born.

The Society’s first gig, performed by the Larry Crawford Jazz Ensemble, was held on September 11, 1999 in the basement of the Sandman Inn. Drinks and chairs were hauled into the venue, which seated about 60 at tables around a small dance floor. Despite an awkward moment when the owner of Bean Scene, where the tickets for the evening had been sold, was turned away at the door, the performance was a success and inspired a greater public interest in Vernon’s jazz scene.

The club began to rent the current building from the Vernon Club in November of 1999 after the basement of the Sandman Inn was flooded by a burst pipe. They made a few changes to the venue, such as constructing a raised stage with curtains, and adding performance lighting and a sound system. After the folding of the Vernon Club, the Jazz Society began fully paying the modest rental fee to use the building. Since then, the Society has hosted a number of local and traveling jazz musicians, such as Brandi Disterheft, the Tom Collins Quartet, and Sherman “Tank” Doucette, to name but a few, as well as several sessions where young and mature musicians alike are invited to simply come out and “jam.” While the Jazz club has been closed since March this year, with such a passionate group of music lovers at its helm, it’s sure to continue bringing jazz to Vernon for many more years.

Gwyn Evans