A black and white photo of 11 women, some seated on chairs, some in front on the floor, with one standing in the back. They are in a room lined with bookshelves that has brick walls and several large houseplants/.
Members of the National Council of Women in Ottawa in 1898. Lady Aberdeen is in the centre, holding a book. Image courtesy: Topley Studio / Library and Archives Canada / PA-028035

Gender Equality Week

September 18 to 24 is Gender Equality Week in Canada, and this year’s theme was “Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities.” In an official statement, the Honourable Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth, described the week as a time to “recognize the important progress we’ve made towards gender equality while also recognizing the important work that lies ahead of us.”

a local connection

One organization with local roots that was dedicated to the advancement of women was the National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC). Founded it 1893, it is one of Canada’s oldest advocacy groups, and is still operating from its headquarters in Ottawa. The NCWC, a member of the International Council of Women (ICW), was created by its first president—and former Vernonite—Lady Ishabel Aberdeen.

Lady Aberdeen was the wife of Lord Aberdeen, Canada’s Governor General from 1893 until 1898. When she established the National Council of Women, she was also the president of the ICW. In 1895, Lady Aberdeen established a Vernon Branch of the NCWC, with Addie Cochrane serving as president.

Women’s Suffrage

The NCWC began fighting for women’s suffrage in 1910; however, the NCWC was considered to be an elitist organization by several well-known suffragists, including Nellie McClung, due to its middle-class composition and lack of French Canadians and women of colour.

The case was similar here in Vernon, in that the local branch was mostly made up of women from Vernon’s more wealthy families. However, both the local and national chapters of the Council of Women made important contributions towards gender equality in Canada.

ORGANIZATIONAL ACHEIVEMENTS

One of the most prominent accomplishments of the Vernon branch was the petition for a hospital, which led to the opening of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital in 1909. Meanwhile, the NCWC established the Victorian Order of Nurses to provide at-home nursing care, and supported the rights and opportunities of women in the workforce.

Mysteriously, the local branch of the NCWC virtually disappeared in 1920, and the reason for this is unknown. In 1959, it was resurrected as the Vernon & District Council of Women which operated until 1974 before folding due to low membership numbers. However, since then, other local organizations have continued to protect and promote the rights of women and gender equality for all.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

Group photo of a family of men, women and children who were internees in the Vernon internment camp during WWI.

The Vernon Internment Camp Opens

On Sept. 18, 1914, the Vernon Internment Camp opened on the site of what is now MacDonald Park. Around 1100 men, women, and children, mostly of Austro-Hungarian and German descent, passed through the Camp’s gates before it closed in February of 1920. They were stripped of their rights and deprived of their freedom, some of them even remaining imprisoned for several months after Armistice.

The Vernon Internee Headstones and Monument Project

In 2015, the Vernon and District Family History Society completed the Vernon Internee Headstones and Monument Project. This project, which was funded by the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund, uncovered information about the 11 men who passed away in the Vernon Internment Camp. Their names were Mile Hećimović, Bernard Heiny, Ivan Jugo, Karl Johann Keck, Timoti Korejczuk, Leo Mueller, Stipan Šapina, Wasyl Shapka, Jure Vukorepa, Samuel Vulović and Wilhelm Heinrich Eduard Wolter.

All 11 were originally buried in the Pleasant Valley Cemetery, but four were of German origin and were later transferred by the German War Graves Commission to the Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener, Ontario. The other seven remain interred in Vernon. Thanks to the efforts of the Family History Society, all of their headstones have been restored or replaced, and their lives commemorated.

Woodland Cemetery (Kitchener, Ontario) marker for L. Mueller and W. Wolter.

Leo Muller

While the stories of all 11 men can be found here, one example is that of Leo Mueller, a German who came to Canada in 1906 and was naturalized in 1909. Leo and his wife Martha settled in Vancouver for some time, where he worked as a hairdresser. They had two children, a daughter and a son, who both sadly died before they were toddlers.

In 1916, Leo and Martha were arrested and interned in Vernon. Leo was injured during an altercation with a fellow prisoner and died in the Vernon Jubilee Hospital on July 12, 1919.

While Leo died from an injury, most of the other 10 men succumbed to illnesses including tuberculosis, pneumonia, heart disease, and meningitis.

We Will Remember them

With this weekend representing the 107th anniversary of the camp’s opening, we remember all who lost their freedom and—in the worst of cases—their lives in the Vernon Internment Camp.

Additional Resources

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator