big game once abounded

April 26, 2021

In honour of Earth Day last week, the Vernon Museum has taken the opportunity to research how local human activity has effected, and continues to effect, ecosystems and wildlife in the North Okanagan.

This is the last in a series of articles that explore some of the results of this investigation.

“A Sportsman’s Paradise”

Vernon is described as “A Sportsman’s Paradise” in a promotional booklet from 1891. “Big game abounds in caribou, white and black-tailed deer, and on the higher mountains big horn sheep and goats,” the brochure continues.

“More remote are to be found great black, cinnamon and grizzly bears. There are a few grey wolves, lynx, coyote and the king cat of the Rockies, the American panther.”

A visiting hunting party in Vernon in 1914

 

 

This advertisement was incredible successfully and over the next few years hunters came from far and wide to take advantage of the Okanagan’s bounty.

An Unregulated West

At this point, there was little in the way of game law enforcement, and no game wardens, and the citizens of Vernon wrote many letters of complaint against the hunting parties, most of whom were visiting from the South.

In September 1892, a hunting party from eastern Canadian killed 180 sage grouse at the Head of the Lake, destined for the Vancouver market.

A party of 20 Americans arrived in a private rail car to hunt big game that same year. They took only the heads and left the meat to rot.

In 1904, one family shot 92 blue grouse in a single day.

This was a very different kind of hunting than the Syilx people of Okanagan Nation had practiced as a traditional way of life, livelihood and culture for thousands of years.

Before non-Indigenous contact, the Syilx had been a hunter-gatherer culture who used every part of the animals they hunted as meat for food, but also fur for clothing and warmth, hide for clothing and structures, bones for tools and implements. Sinew was used as thread in sewing. 

No part of the animal was wasted, and animals were hunted sustainably, for thousands of years, without negative impact on their populations.

Sadly Diminished Populations

In a 1912 Vernon News special holiday edition, pioneer Mr. Leckie-Ewing noted that big game in the Okanagan had decreased significantly in number or their haunts had moved further away.

Lake trout populations, once an important food source for the Syilx People, had all but disappeared from Okanagan Lake. Blue grouse and other fowl were still around, but their numbers had “sadly diminished when compared with … some ten or twelve years prior.” In fact, sage grouse became extinct in the Okanagan in 1918.

By the 1950s, excessive hunting also meant that mountain caribou had disappeared from the Okanagan.

The Syilx people still pass on sustainable hunting practices and knowledge within their communities, and some of this traditional knowledge has been used to inform best management practices for wildlife conservation. First Nations groups in BC and in Alberta are consulting on caribou recovery projects across the region. 

The biggest threat to mountain caribou populations in BC and Alberta, and south of the border, is no longer sport hunting, but rather other forms of human impacts, most notably transportation corridors, infrastructure for resource extraction, such as forestry, mining, oil and gas exploration, and recreational vehicle use areas all encroaching on their habitat.

These same things allow caribou predators, such as wolves, easier access to caribou habitat to the detriment of the caribou population.

Preserving Local Okanagan Fauna

Today, we are fortunate to have stricter regulations in place around hunting and fishing, and a better understand of how humans can significantly effect wildlife populations. However, before these measures were put in place, visiting hunters negatively impacted Okanagan wildlife populations.

To help preserve our local fauna populations, trophy hunting and other wasteful practices should be discouraged. Residents should also remove or limit attractants like garbage and fallen fruit to discourage animals like bears from becoming urban visitors. Do not feed or try to tame wild animals, but keep them and yourself safe by maintaining an appropriate distance.

Perhaps most importantly, if there are regulations in place to attempt to keep wild animal habitat preserved, respect these regulations and ride recreational vehicles, hunt, and recreate in other designated areas.

Gwyn Evans

drive-in delights

 

March 29, 2021

The North Okanagan’s recent mild weather has been accompanied by a secondary treat: it has allowed the Starlight Drive-In near Enderby to open early, with the first showing on March 19.

The Starlight Drive-In is the sole surviving permanent open-air theatre in the Okanagan. But before there was The Starlight, there was The Skyway.

the skyway

The Skyway Drive-In, located at 2204 48 Avenue in Vernon, was operated by Odeon Theatres of Canada (now known as Cineplex Inc.) and opened on May 1, 1950.

The first showing was a grand affair, advertised in The Vernon News with a full two-page spread. The feature presentation was the 1950 comedy A Woman of Distinction, which premiered at 8 pm.

The cost for an adult ticket was 55 cents and a well-stocked concession stand served french fries, soft drinks, hot dogs, and of course, popcorn.

cinema stowaways

It was an instant success and many Vernonites have fond memories of this former landmark.

On the Facebook Page “Vintage Vernon,” a photo shared by the museum of the theatre provoked an outpouring of reminiscences. 

Some commenters remember hiding themselves in the trunks of vehicles to sneak in for free (although at least one of the theatre’s managers, Bob Scott, was quite aware of this little trick and apparently didn’t mind—the stowaways spent good money at the concession).

Aerial view of the Skyway drive-in theatre just outside Vernon, circa 1975

 

 

Photo courtesy of Rhiannan Johnson via Vintage Vernon Facebook  page

 

 

A Simpler Time

Many recalled the movies they watched on the big screen: E.T., Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Back to the Future and the Odessa File were some of the ones shown. For others, the photo provoked a yearning for childhood and a “simpler” time.

The theatre grounds boasted swing sets and other playground equipment, which kept children occupied during pre-shows and intermissions. Teenagers found the drive-in to be a good hangout (and romance) spot. Some older folks who lived nearby could watch the showings from the comfort of their own homes, while parents enjoyed a night-out as their pajama-clad children slept through the second feature in the back seat.

end of an era

The theatre grounds boasted swing sets and other playground equipment, which kept children occupied during pre-shows and intermissions. Teenagers found the drive-in to be a good hangout (and romance) spot. Some older folks who lived nearby could watch the showings from the comfort of their own homes, while parents enjoyed a night-out as their pajama-clad children slept through the second feature in the back seat.

Sadly, these summer night traditions came to an end in 1991, when the theatre was demolished and replaced with the Skyway Village housing development. Now, the Chartwell Carrington Place Retirement Residence stands where the Skyway Drive-In once did. Although the demolition of the Skyway Drive-In was a loss for the City of Vernon, the tradition of open-air movie-watching lives on with the Skylight.

Gwyn Evans

Early carnival Parade & silver star footage

 

February 12, 2021

Take a trip back in time to the 1964 Vernon Winter Carnival!

First stop: Winter Carnival Parade

We’re not sure what those vikings from the Revelstoke float are doing would go over very well today, that spider float is a bit horrifying, and at least one small child is not impressed! Nonetheless, it’s a charming and entertaining journey back to a parade of the past.

Next stop: Silver Star Mountain

This appears to be a slalom competition. We’re fairly certain those were the alpine downhill skis of the day, but it looks like people are competing downhill on nordic cross-country skis — and admirably so! 

Enjoy!

 

the first winter carnival

 

February 8, 2021

The 61st Vernon Winter Carnival has official kicked off!

Businesses around town are decorated with cowboys, horses, and the Carnival signature colours of blue-and-white.

Beautifully carved ice sculptures line the roadways in Polson Park, and several organizations are preparing to host Wild Western-themed virtual events.

Prior to the 1960s, when the Winter Carnival as we know it began, Vernon already celebrated the winter season with style. Long before Jopo, Jopette, and Queen Silver Star, there was a highland shepherdess, a minstrel, and a Russian nihilist on a frozen Kalamalka Lake.

In February of 1893, Long Lake, as Kalamalka Lake was then known, boasted a most spectacular scene; a fancy dress carnival, allegedly the first affair of its kind in the Province. 

 

Some of the participants in Vernon’s first winter carnival, held on Long Lake in February of 1893

Thanks to exceptionally cold weather that year, the event’s organizers were able to clear out a large skating rink in the middle of the lake, with plenty of room for the costumed skaters who were transported to the venue by horse-drawn sleigh.

As they skated around the rink, a jockey milled with a flower girl and Little Red Riding Hood, while a book agent attempted to sell the Canadian Stock Book to a clown and a gentleman of Henry II’s period. The costumes were judged, and Ida Birnie was recognized as the best-dressed lady for her portrayal of a highland shepherdess, while best-dressed gentleman went to S.A. Shatford in his Uncle Sam costume.

After the judging, the skating continued, complete with a two-mile race between some of the boys and young men. The crowd was loath to leave the frozen lake even as the sun began to set, although the ladies who had been standing behind the refreshment booth all day were probably ready to head home and get their feet warmed up.

The following day, this same group of church ladies hosted a follow-up event at Cameron’s Hall in order to use up some of the plentiful refreshments that had been gathered for the Long Lake festival. That evening, community members arrived once again in their costumes for yet more revelry. The evening passed quite happily, with dancing, music, and recitations, in spite of the stir caused among the church ladies by the appearance of one F.W. Byshe, who was dressed as none other than Satan himself, complete with horns and a tail.

Join us from home on Tuesday, February 9th, at 7 PM for more tales about the Vernon area during the Wild West era at the GVMA’s Winter Carnival Virtual Event Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…

magical Ice Park & Palaces of the past

 

February 1, 2021

The 61st Vernon Winter Carnival – Western Canada’s largest winter carnival – is about to begin…

…in ways different from every Carnival hosted since the first in 1961!

This year’s theme is “Wild West” and it will be a new frontier to explore the Carnival through virtual events and in small, safe groups due to public health and safety guidelines.

This year will be the first for a Drive-Through Ice Park at Vernon’s Polson Park.

The Ice Park will follow a long history of ice structures, palaces, sculptures, and  carving competitions.

 

Vernon Winter Carnival Ice Palace 

The first Ice Palace  debuted on Barnard Avenue (now 30th Avenue) during the Carnival’s inaugural year, 1961. The following year, the Ice Palace moved to Polson Park, where it provided a sparkling venue for the coronation of that year’s royalty and was a major attraction for visitors.

Huge blocks of ice were tinted in shades of blue and green, and framed by two massive ice columns. The columns, with their lights and pennants, reached a height of forty feet! Visitors were invited to fill the seats of Polson Park’s grandstand for an excellent view of the coronation, while a concession provided hot coffee to warm up cold hands.

In 1966, the Palace was built for the first time in the (then-new) Civic Plaza.

The first ice sculpture contest was held in 1971. Students of all ages, under the direction of art teachers from local junior and secondary schools, were provided with a block of ice, chisels, and mallets, and allowed to let their imaginations run wild.

In 1974, the Inland Natural Gas Company upped the ante by offering prize money for the best sculptures, while all participants received a celebratory scoop of NOCA’s blue and white Carnival Ice Cream. 

This well-loved tradition was not always easy to realize. On January 26th of 1977, the Vernon News reported that a pipe had leaked and filled the local Inland Ice Man plant with ammonia. Engineer Gus Joachim was overcome by fumes that could be smelled as far away as half a mile into the city’s downtown core, and sent to the Vernon Jubilee Hospital to recover.

This incident not only caused employees to be sick and out of work for several days, but also put a halt on the Winter Carnival’s ice sculpturing event that year. The plant’s manager John Jones had managed to produce enough ice for the Palace, but not enough for the sculptures.

Warm winters during the ‘70s and ‘80s meant that in some years, ice blocks could not be cut from natural sources like Swan Lake, since the ice was not hard enough to carve. Eager students waited on the weather to see if they could take part in the Ice Sculpture Contest in the Civic Plaza, now known as Spirit Square. 

In 2020, the Ice Palace and sculptures returned for the Vernon Winter Carnival’s momentous sixtieth year. The Winter Carnival committee will carry the spirit forward into this unprecedented year with the first ever Drive-Through Ice Park.

 

 

 

Click here to find out more about the GVMA’s Winter Carnival Virtual Event Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch… on Tuesday, February 9th.

WIld nights at the Kal

 

January 15, 2021

The Vernon Winter Carnival is beginning in just over two weeks, and for those of us who have been starved for a change—albeit a safe one—to our repetitive lockdown lives, it couldn’t come too soon.

This year’s Carnival theme of “Wild West” fits in quite well with our mandate here at the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives.

While this area was home to the Indigenous Syilx people for centuries, the place that came to be known as Vernon began as a small, sleepy “cow town”. 

 

The Kal Hotel, the year it opened in 1892

Many of the stories preserved within our walls tell of life back in its frontier days.

The hub of social activity in Vernon during this time was the Kalamalka, or Kal, Hotel. This impressive piece of architecture was built in 1892 by the Land and Development Company for a cost of $19,000. The new hotel was named in honour of local indigenous chief Kalamalka (this being the anglicized spelling and pronunciation). The hotel’s interior was complete with a billiard room, bar and ladies parlour, while the exterior boasted tennis courts and a vegetable garden.

In his book “Valley of Youth,” colourful local historian and photographer C.W. Holliday describes the Kal Hotel as the local social centre of Vernon, saying that “here one might meet celebrities and interesting people from all over the world.” One of the favourite places for locals and visitors alike to relax was the hotel’s cozy lounge, where they could gather around a large open fireplace and enjoy a favorite drink carried over from the bar on cold winter nights.

Despite the tendency for the hotel to be considered the go-to spot for “festive and convivial gatherings,” the wife of the hotel’s first manager, Mrs. Meaken, ran a tight ship. If she felt the evening’s proceedings were becoming too disorderly, she had the disturbing habit of appearing in the doorway of the billiard room dressed in her nightgown. “Gentlemen,” she would say sternly, “it is time to go to bed.” A gloomy silence would then descend over the room, as the men packed up and shuffled home. No one, it seems, ever refused her orders.

Another story recalls Mr. Meaken, who, unlike his wife, was said to be meek and mild, took full advantage of the Missus being out of town and had a little too much to drink. While under the influence, he had the brilliant idea of bringing a horse in from outside and riding it around the billiard table. One can only imagine what Mrs. Meaken would have thought if she had seen this spectacle.

Holliday is careful to add that although these stand-out moment’s in the hotel’s career naturally stick in his memory, most of the time the gatherings were quiet and composed, and this Wild Western hotel was exactly what it claimed to be—a comfortable family venue.

For more tales of Vernon’s “Wild West”, join us for the GVMA Winter Carnival event, Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…

Gwyn Evans

meanwhile, back at the RancH…

sharing history through community 

vernon winter carnival virtual event

 

MEANWHILE, BACK at the RANCH…   February 9, 2021 at 7 PM

Take a Virtual Trip back in time through the Wild West and ranchlands of the North Okanagan. Interpretive guides and special guests will tell tales of life back on the early ranches of the valley through streaming video, on-location film clips, and multi-media displays.

Learn more about the early relationships between the settlers and the Syilx Indigenous First Nation. Find out about the Syilx and settler women who made this place home, and the fur brigadiers, gold rushers, cowboys, and bank robbers who made this place wild.

Join us and special musical guest, Duane Marchand, for this virtual event!

Visit the Vernon Winter Carnival website for more info and tickets.

 

 

GET TICKETS TODAY!

 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021 – Virtual Doors Open at 6:30 PM.
Register by 6:45 PM. Event begins at 7 PM sharp.  

WE RESPECTFULLY ACKNOWLEDGe

Greater Vernon Museum & Archives is located on the Ancestral, Traditional and Unceded Territory of the Okanagan Nation and the Syilx People.

virtual trip along the trestles

 

January 14, 2021

Well, two weeks in and 2021 has already been quite the year.

From an ongoing global pandemic, to Black Lives Matters protests, to the very recent attack on the US Capitol, we are living through historic times.

While this might be “interesting” in retrospect, living through historic times can also be mentally and emotionally exhausting.

If you’re feeling that way, perhaps you’d like to journey back 40 years to 1980 and travel the trestles of the Kettle Valley Railway high above Myra Canyon.

If so, click on this link & enjoy the trip!

 

 

the queen’s visit

 

January 4, 2021

Happy New Year from the staff, board, and volunteers of the Greater Vernon Museum & Archives!

Did you, perchance, take some time over the holidays to binge watch some programs like, say, The Queen’s Gambit or The Crown?

While we don’t have any local footage of chess tournaments in the North Okanagan to offer (not to say there weren’t riveting local competitions!), we do have wonderful, clear footage of Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Vernon in 1959. 

Enjoy!

 

 

Intrepid early ski club

 

December 5, 2020

After what’s felt like a long, challenging year, several Okanagan locals are looking forward to finding a sense of freedom in the feeling of skiing down the slopes of Silver Star.

However, in its early days, simply getting up Silver Star Mountain was a feat and challenge in and of itself, only attempted by the most adventurous and determined ski enthusiasts.

In the 1930s, North Okanagan citizens realized Silver Star – which was named after a mining claim on the mountain – was a superb destination for skiing. 

 

Two unidentified skiers pose on the Birnie Range Ski Hill, with the city of Vernon in the background, circa 1940s

However, the mountain could only be accessed by trails, and later, a small, unmaintained road which only allowed vehicles to make it halfway up the hill. Hoping to make skiing accessible to a wider public, the Silver Star Ski Club decided to move their winter pursuits to Birnie Range on a hillside overlooking Kalamalka Lake on the west side of Highway 97.

On February 9th, 1939, the Vernon News reported: “the Silver Star Ski Club, which will be host to the second annual Okanagan Valley ski championships, on Sunday, February 19th, has completed an addition to the main jump on Birnie Range that should make leaps of 110 to 120 feet possible.  Jumping for men and junior boys will be one of the features of the meet.”

It was here that the club started their annual four-way championships, consisting of ski jumping, cross-country, downhill, and slalom events. Memberships cost between $0.75 for youth and teens, and $2.50 for adults.

In 1948, the club moved its activities away from Birnie Range after a mild winter produced a lack of snow. They tried a couple different locations around Vernon, before deciding that the lower elevation was not ideal and returned to their goal of conquering Silver Star Mountain as an accessible ski hill for local and visiting enthusiasts. 

Gwyn Evans