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