Content WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS MENTIONS OF ALCOHOL AND ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION.
A black and white image of a two-story white building. The top floor has two windows in the centre. The bottom floor has four windows and two doors. On the right, one man is standing in front of one set of the windows and another is leaning in an open doorway. On the right, three men in white suits and boy ties are standing in front of a door. A sign attached to this side of the building reads "barber shop."
A Vernon barber shop on the left with three barbers out front circa 1900.

NO-SHAVE NOVEMBER

As No-Shave November draws to a close, it’s an ideal moment to recount a humorous story from Charles Holliday’s “The Valley of Youth.” In this book, the author, a celebrated local photographer, reflects on life in the Okanagan during the 1890s, offering a glimpse into his nostalgic and occasionally controversial memories.

This particularly tale features G. G. McKay, a real estate agent hailing from Vancouver, assigned the role of promoting the Okanagan Valley to prospective residents. He quickly became known as “Gee-Gee” among Vernonites, and was noted as having a rather snooty attitude about their “primitive” ways.

gee-gee and the dubious barber

The folks living in Vernon were not willing to put up with this, and during one of his visits they sought a bit of retribution. Having neglected to bring his shaving kit with him, Gee-Gee asked around for a decent barber. Holliday and a few other locals directed Gee-Gee toward one associated with the Vernon Hotel, who had a little bit of a dubious reputation.

This barber was known to be not overly fastidious when it came to cleanliness. On occasion, he would also welcome clients after partaking in a strong drink or two, leading to animated storytelling sessions where he enthusiastically waved around his razor.

Unfortunately, it was during one of the barber’s unsober periods that the unsuspecting Gee-Gee visited him. He was said to have left a short while later, running at full speed away from the shop, his face pale beneath the coat of shaving cream still on it.

But Gee-Gee was not fazed for long, with Holliday begrudgingly acknowledging his resourceful and genial manner. Some sources have cited Gee-Gee as having been as influential as Lord Aberdeen in the non-Indigenous settlement of the Okanagan Valley. He also worked with Forbes Vernon to lay out the townsite of Vernon, and in the construction of the Coldstream and Kalamalka Hotels.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives

 

 

 

 

A black and white image of two buildings on the side a dirt road. The structure in the foreground, the Vernon Hotel, is shorter while the Hotel Vernon next to it is three-stories tall.
The original Vernon Hotel next to its Hotel Vernon addition in 1910 (featuring an ad for Fairy Soap on a nearby hitching post).

Vernon’s First Hotel

Don’t worry, you’re not seeing double. There was a point in Vernon’s history when the Vernon Hotel and the Hotel Vernon stood side-by-side on 30th Avenue. The taller Hotel Vernon was an extension of the original Vernon Hotel, which was built way back in 1885.

A black and white image of a large bar room. A dark bar is set against the far wall, and three men in white uniforms are standing behind it. A number of men are standing in front of the bar.
The Vernon Hotel bar room circa 1895. The hotel was known as a “working man’s hotel.”

GVMA #184.

The Vernon Hotel was the first hotel in the city, but even as early as 1889, it had earned somewhat of an infamous reputation; in his book “The Valley of Youth,” Charles Holliday describes it as “a pretty tough sort of place” after witnessing a crowd of men fighting in the hotel’s front yard. It was said, however, to boast the finest watermelon vines in town, so that is something!

A black and white image of the Hotel Vernon, from which large clouds of smoke are billowing out of.
Views of the Hotel Vernon fire in 1950. GVMA #9492 and #5134. 

The Hotel is expanded

In 1908, a large addition to the Vernon Hotel was completed just next door, and the name Hotel Vernon was attached to it. The hotel’s owner at the time was Doctor Hugh Cox. The expansion consisted of a three-story building, and added an additional 44 bedrooms, as well as sitting rooms, a barber shop, a pool room with pool and billiard tables, a bar, and three separate cellars. The old building, meanwhile, included 14 bedrooms, a dining room, and a kitchen. But even with this growth, the hotel was often at capacity, and sometimes in the summer months, staff would have to put out cots on the verandah for surplus guests.

The Vernon Hotel Company and The fire of 1950

In 1913, the Vernon Hotel Company was formed with the object of purchasing the Hotel Vernon. They had plans to remove the old structure, build another addition and increase the hotel’s rate from $1.00 to $2.00 per day. While the old Vernon Hotel structure was demolished in 1927 so that the lumber could be reused, the Vernon Hotel Company did not actually come in to possession of the Hotel Vernon (are you confused yet?) until 1943, when it was sold by the wife of the hotel’s late owner, George H. Dobie.

Unfortunately, the company’s time with the hotel was short-lived, as it was destroyed in a fire in January of 1950 that forced the hotel’s manager, William Petruk, to evacuate his wife and two small children from the second-story balcony. While all the hotel’s guests were able to escape safely with only a few minor injuries, all that remained of the building after the flames were extinguished was a single wall.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives