Two black and white images. One shows a classroom with five girls seated at desks working on artwork. Artwork is also hung up on the walls. The other photo shows Miss Jessie Topham Brown. She has white hair and glass with thick black frames and she is wearing a striped collar shirt with pearls.
An undated photo of a class at Miss Jessie’s art studio; (inset) a portrait of Miss Jessie in the 1970s.

International Women’s Day

March 8 was International Women’s Day. One woman who had a particularly important influence on the local art scene was Miss Jessie Topham Brown.

Miss Jessie immigrated to Canada from England in 1909, and later arrived in Vernon in 1916. She began working at the St. Michael’s Boarding School for Girls, located on East Hill, as a cook, coach, and art teacher. After World War One, she started teaching at the Vernon Preparatory School, and in the summers, offered art classes for both children and adults from a camp on Okanagan Lake near the Killiney Wharf.

Summer Art Camps

Those who attended these camps would pack out their supplies on horseback, and spend several days sleeping beneath the stars and painting during waking hours. The groups would sometimes venture to other locations, including the Mara and Shuswap Lakes, to capture different landscapes.

Described as a “paragon of the arts,” Miss Jessie had been exposed to creative pursuits since childhood, having spent three years at the Slade School of Art at University College, and although she did not paint much herself, loved cultivating the talents of others.

Art Studio and Art Gallery

Miss Jessie later opened her own studio on 32nd Street, which she then moved to the former Post Office building at 30th Avenue and 30th Street. Besides drawing and painting, she also taught pottery, weaving and silk screening until her retirement in 1967. Many of Miss Jessie’s former students went on to be accomplished artists, one of whom was Joan Heriot, good friend to fellow artist Sveva Caetani.

Miss Jessie was also integral in creating a facility to house a permanent collection of local artwork. The Topham Brown Public Art Gallery was originally located in the top floor of the Vernon Museum (now used as a storage space for artifacts); it later moved to its current location at 3228 31st Avenue, around the same time as its name was changed to the Vernon Public Art Gallery. To honour Miss Jessie’s contribution, the main gallery at the VPAG continues to be known as the Topham Brown Memorial Gallery.

In 1971, “in recognition of her service, contribution, influence and encouragement in the field of the arts to all residents,” Miss Jessie was granted Freedom of the City. She passed away a few years later, in 1974, at the age of 92.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives

 

 

 

 

 

killiney BeaCH

May the road rise up to meet you this St. Patrick’s Day! Vernon is home to a healthy Irish population, which is reflected in some of its place names. Killiney Beach, originally called Sproul’s Landing by the region’s settler population, is situated on Westside Road. Of course, long before the area bore either of these names, it was known to and used by the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation.

Killiney Beach in 1944.

Killiney Hill

The beach was named after Killiney Hill in Dublin, Ireland. Killiney Hill is a popular destination for hikers, drawn to its spectaculars views of Dublin, the Irish Sea, and the mountains of Wales. The hill is also topped by an obelisk built in 1742 in remembrance of the victims of the Irish Famine of 1740/’41.

Sproul’s Landing

Sproul’s Landing was a stop for the sternwheelers of Okanagan Lake. Some stops along the lake, including Sproul’s Landing, were unscheduled, and the ships would only halt at these smaller settlements on occasion. In order to request the S.S. Sicamous to make an unscheduled stop during its trips between Penticton and Vernon, residents would need to stand on the shore waving a white flag during the day, or light two bonfires at night.

Killiney Hill near Dublin, Ireland. Photo courtesy of the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

Harry Percy Hodges

When Harry Percy Hodges decides to settle at Sproul’s Landing in 1903, he changed its name to reflect his Irish roots. In addition to running his own farm, Hodges also worked as a bookkeeper at the Coldstream Ranch. He later married Arabel M. Ricardo, sister to W.C. Ricardo, the ranch’s manager. The couple has at least one child, a son named John.

Hodges passed away in Victoria in 1922.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

 

 

White Rock Lake Fire

Okanagan Lake has been the subject of much media attention over the last few weeks, since the most eastern flank of the White Rock Lake Fire has reached its shores. However, given the lake’s long history (it is, in fact, pre-historic), this is not the first time it has made the news.

A series of Anomolies

In February of 2021, some North Okanagan residents were shocked to see what appeared to be a tornado emerging over the lake near Fintry. This was later identified to be a steam devil, which forms over large bodies of water during cold air outbreaks. Steam devils are common occurrences on Canada’s Great Lakes, but it was only due to the North Okanagan’s unusual cold snap this past winter that one was able to form over Okanagan Lake.   

In 1979, the lake was recognized as an excellent location for underwater treasure hunters. Hundreds of pieces of glass and earthenware were found to be lying on the lake bottom, thrown overboard over the years by passengers on sternwheelers and other water crafts. In 1978, two divers discovered, at the bottom of the lake, an old steamer trunk full of collectible bottles, much to their delight.

On November 4, 1913, a tugboat called the Skookum collided with a CPR tug, the SS Castlegar, and sank almost immediately. The crew survived, with some minor injuries, but the vessel was never recovered. It is believed that the tug remains, to this day, in the silent depths of the lake. 

Sometime in the mid-1880s, the infamous Captain Shorts and a companion were wandering the shores of Okanagan Lake when they made a startling discovery; partly submerged in a few feet of water was the vertebrae of some enormous sea creature. The two men brought the bone to Leonard Norris, a government agent in Vernon, who, many years later, had it sent it to the University of British Columbia for identification. It was determined to be a whale bone, brought into the valley by human means, but how it came to be lying abandoned in a rugged and unfrequented section of Okanagan Lake remains unknown.  

And long before the concept of “news” was even invented, the lake and its environs represented part of the territory of the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation, and stood as a silent witness to all the little anomalies of human life. 

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator