Crowds of people walking a long a board walk, some with parasols in a park. Some structures are visible in the background, and a few horses and buggies along the right side. A hillside with trees is visible in the background.
Crowds enjoying the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee celebrations in Vernon in June of 1897.

MAY LONG

Although many of us now think of the May Long Weekend as the beginning of camping season in B.C., the history of Victoria Day is a bit more complicated.

In 1845, the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada decided to officially recognize the birthday of Queen Victoria on May 24 with public celebrations. But it wasn’t until 1901, following the Queen’s death, that May 24 became officially known as “Victoria Day” in her memory.

celebrations fit for a queenA black and white portrait photo of a Queen. She is wearing a small crown perched on the top of her head, and a lace veil down the back of her neck. She is not smiling but looking off to the left. She is wearing a diamond necklace with matching earrings. She also has a sash across her left shoulder and a decorative gown.

At the turn of the 20th century, the settler population in Vernon eagerly celebrated Queen Victoria’s birthday, as well as her reign in general.

On June 22, 1897, Vernon celebrated the Diamond Jubilee with a series of sporting events, including baseball, lacrosse, trap shootings, and tug-of-war. Other outlying communities, including Enderby, came to compete in the day’s activities, and it is noted that Vernon won all events except tug-of-war.

May Long Weekends in Vernon were also marked with sporting events and special activities in celebration of the Queen’s birthday. On May 24, 1895, a cricket match was held between Kelowna and Vernon, with the SS Fairview offering special trips between the two cities for individuals who wished to attend.

In 1900, Enderby hosted Vernon and other nearby communities for a series of foot, horse, and canoe races. A football match was also held between the community of Lumby and employees of the Coldstream Ranch, followed by a grand ball in Morand’s Hall.

A most respected sovereign

A black and white document. The top reads "The Vernon News." It discusses the death of Queen Victoria.

Queen Victoria’s passing in 1901 was announced in large font on the front page of the January 24th edition of the Vernon News, as the City mourned the loss of its “Most Respected Sovereign.” Later that year, Vernon officially celebrated “Victoria Day” for the first time, with—you guessed it—sporting events, including three-legged and ladies races.

“Queen Victoria is Dead: Her Most Gracious Majesty Succumbs to the Grim Reaper. The Nation Overwhelmed with Grief. The World Sorrows over the Decease of Its Most Respected Sovereign-The End Came on Monday, at 6:55 London Time-The Prince of Wales Now King Edwards VII.”

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

Sochi Paralympic gold medalists at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre celebration in 2014. Left to right: Ina Forrest (Armstrong), Josh Dueck (Vernon) and Sonja Gaudet (Vernon).

An Unbreakable determination

Even a tragic accident could not slow down Josh Dueck’s remarkable athletic career.

Josh was born in 1981 in Kimberley, B.C., and now lives in Vernon. An aspiring Olympian, Josh learned to ski at the age of 13, and later worked as a coach of the Silver Star Freestyle Ski Club. 

In 2004, while attempting to demonstrate a jump to a group of club members, Josh experienced a crash landing that resulted in him being paralyzed below the waist.

Within a year, however, Josh was back on the snow as a sit-skier, and made his Paralympic debut at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Here he won a silver medal in the men’s sitting slalom race.

A remarkable Feat

The following year, Josh made waves by becoming the first person to complete a back flip on a sit ski, a feat which earned him a spot on the Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2012. In 2013, he was also named one of the National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year.

An Olympic Champion

At the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Josh captured his second Paralympic silver medal, this time in the downhill event, as well as a gold medal in the super combined. To honour his achievement, he was named Canada’s flag bearer for the closing ceremony.

A Community Icon

Josh is not only an ambassador for Paralympians across the country, but also an active community member involved with a plethora of organizations, including the Rick Hansen Foundation, Wings for Life, Spinal Cord Injury BC, and the Live it Love it Foundation.

In 2018, Josh Dueck was inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame.

Vernon Vanguards of Winter Sports

If you are interested in learning about other celebrated local athletes, the Museum and Archives of Vernon is hosting a Winter Sports Display featuring vanguards Larry Kwong, Josh Dueck, and Sonja Gaudet. Check is out during the museum’s open hours.  

 

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

 

Aerial photo of the ski runs at the New Winterside Ski Resort (Tillicum Valley) circa 1972. The raceway can also be seen.

SilverStar’s Little SIbling

It may have only operated for a few years, but Vernon’s Tillicum Valley Ski Hill played host to several professional athletes and even launched the career of a future downhill champion.

In the mid-1960s, Vernonites Molly and Sandy Boyd decided to rig up a tractor-driven tow rope from an old purse seiner so that they could ski down a hillside on their property, since the couple were too busy with five kids and a farm to make the trek up to SilverStar. After a few quiet first seasons that saw mostly family and friends using the hill, it began to garner attention following the addition of a new tow rope, safety gates, groomed slopes, and even a children’s ski school.

Night Skiing at New Winterside, undated.

Moving on up

By 1969, the Boyds and business partner Neil Wolliams had decided that it was time to move their venture five miles up the hill to their Tillicum Valley property where a northern exposure offered better snow conditions. They installed a 2,000 foot T-bar to service two lit runs that could be used for day or night skiing, and named it the New Winterside Ski Hill and Recreation Area.

The resort officially opened in January of 1970. In addition to the two slopes, it included a skating rink, snowmobile trails, and ski-doo rentals. Eventually, it would come to be year-round playground with a hot spring, a raceway, hiking trails, and even an alpine slide. It is here that Rob Boyd, one of Molly and Sandy’s sons and the first male Canadian to win a gold medal in a World Cup downhill race in his home country, began his athletic career.

Sandy Boyd and an unidentified woman looking at the bottom of a cart for the alpine slide at Tillicum in 1979.

From New Winterside to Camp Tillicum

After several seasons of poor snow conditions, the Boyds were forced to sell New Winterside in the early 1980s. They moved to Whistler to support their son’s blossoming skiing career, and New Winterside faced an uncertain future as its assets were sold off. Thankfully, in 1989, the property was purchased by the Girl Guides of Canada, and “Camp Tillicum” is still used by the group today. Molly and Sandy eventually moved back to the Vernon area, and continued to serve as active and energetic community members. 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

The Okanagan School of Ballet. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

The Okanagan School of Ballet has been a fixture on Vernon’s 27th Street since it opened in 1980. The school’s director and one of its founders, Deborah Banks, is a former member of the Alberta Ballet Company and a born-and-raised Vernonite.

Prior to housing the ballet school, the building, which was built circa 1938, was used as a private residence and later by the local Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In addition to ballet training, the school also offers classes in tap, jazz, modern, and hip hop, and prepares students to take exams with the Royal Academy of Dance. Several of Bank’s graduates have gone on to have successful careers in performing arts.

In addition to regular classes, students at the Okanagan School of Ballet participate in festivals and recitals. In 1990, to celebrate their 10th anniversary, students performed “A Celebration of Dance.” In 1993, the Okanagan School of Ballet and the Young Scott Singers entertained audiences with a production of The Nutcracker, with Katherine Wilson playing Clara. In 2013, the school presented The Wizard of Oz for its annual recital, which saw Andie Wemyss fill the role of Dorothy.

Banks, who holds an advanced executant certificate from the Royal Academy of Dance, has being teaching dance to students of all ages and skill-levels for more than 40 years. That is a lot of pointed toes! 

 

Right: A photo from the May 1, 1990, edition of the Vernon News. Young dancers prepare for their Royal Academy of Dance exams at the Okanagan School of Ballet. 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

Larry Kwong wearing a New York Rangers jersey in 1946.

2021/’22 Hockey Season

With the cooler weather setting in, hockey season is only just around the corner. The 2021/’22 National Hockey League season begins on October 12 between this year’s Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The NHL has a long history, dating back to 1917 when it replaced the National Hockey Association. But it was not until 1948 that the league saw its first non-white player; the player who broke the colour barrier was named Larry Kwong, and he was born right here in Vernon.

 

One of Fifteen

Larry Kwong (1923-2018) was the second youngest of fifteen children. His father, Ng Shu Kwong, had immigrated to Canada from China in 1884, eventually setting up a store in Vernon called the Kwong Hing Lung Grocery.

Like many young boys, Larry grew up listening to hockey games on CBC radio. His passion for the sport was obvious even from the age of five, and two of his older brothers, Jack and Jimmy, encouraged Larry to start playing hockey himself. When the weather was cold enough, Jack and Jimmy would pour water into a vacant lot near the family store, creating a rink for Larry to practice. Larry and some of his friends also liked to frequent a nearby local pond to play their games and sharpen their skills.

 

A first hockey Team

When Larry was 16, he joined his first hockey team, the Vernon Hydrophones. His natural talent gained him instant attention, and his career took off from there. This is not to say that he did not face significant racial barriers along the way; in fact, in 1942, he was invited to the training camp of the Chicago Black Hawks, but the Canadian Government never processed the paperwork that would allow him to leave and return to Canada.

 

Joining the NHL

It wasn’t until after his enfranchisement as a result of serving in the Canadian Army during World War Two that Larry was able to accept an invitation into the NHL. He made his debut with the New York Rangers on March 13, 1948. However, Larry decided to leave the team after only one season; although he was the Rangers’ top scorer, he received very little ice time.

 

A long Career

He went on to have a long and successful career in senior leagues across Canada and the United States, and coached both hockey and tennis in England and Switzerland. He also helped to run his family’s grocery business, which had migrated to Calgary.

In 2011, Larry Kwong was inducted into the Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame, and two years later, in 2013, into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame. This remarkable man passed away in Calgary on March 15, 2018. 

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

For July and August, the Vernon Museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the many heritage sites around the North Okanagan. To plan a visit to any of the sites featured, please visit https://vernonmuseum.ca/explore/heritage-field-trips/.

 

THE Silver Star Mountain Museum

A series of year-round exhibits by the Silver Star Mountain Museum located throughout the resort’s village share the ski-hill’s long history.

After more than 90 years of development, the hill now welcomes thousands of local, national and international visitors each year. Although hundreds of individuals worked to shape Silver Star into what it is today, it took just a few to discover its potential.

A First Ascent

In 1921, Bert Thorburn and Tini Ryan road their bicycles up Silver Star Road, stopping one half mile below the first switchback. Strapped to the frames of their bikes were pairs of skis.

After leaving the bikes behind, Bert and Tini continued to trek by foot and by ski for 17 kilometres up to the mountain’s summit. After many hours, they reached the open slopes of the Star and completed the first ever ascent of the mountain.

Exploring the Possibilities

Then, in the spring of 1930, Bill Osborn, David Ricardo, and Michael Freeman obtained permission to stay overnight in the mountain’s forest fire lookout.

The next day, they retraced their steps, and were among the first to ski down the mountain. 

In 1934, Phil Hoskins, Robin Richmond, and Carl Wylie spent four days at the summit, exploring the open slopes. They returned full of enthusiasm for the possibilities of future skiing at Silver Star.

A Club IS FORMED

Finally, in 1938, the Silver Star Ski Club was formed with Carl as president. Bert, Tini, Phil, and Robin were all instrumental in the club’s formation.

The City of Vernon even donated a log cabin to new club as a weekend home for the more adventuresome skiers.

The Village, courtesy of the SilverStar Mountain Resort.

 

Bert Thorburn, Mike Freeman, Jim Duddle, and George Duddle on Silver Star’s southern slope in 1939.

 

Group of people sitting in the Silver Star Mountain lookout tower circa 1930. GVMA #290.

a reputation is established

In December of 1938, the hill’s first downhill race was held, with competitors coming from Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton, and Summerland. In less than 20 years, Silver Star had gained a reputation as a skiing mecca across the Okanagan Valley, and it hass only been up from there!

 

 

Gwyn Evans