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 Okanagan Landing Stationhouse Museum

One of Vernon’s hidden gems is the Okanagan Landing Stationhouse Museum, located in Paddlewheel Park.

In addition to a variety of other artifacts, the museum boasts an incredible scale model that depicts life in the Okanagan Landing in 1914.

The Era of Sternwheelers

Life was different in Vernon when sternwheelers still plied the waters of Okanagan Lake.

The Landing was a hub of activity, since it was the terminus of the Shuswap and Okanagan spur line of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the most northerly steamboat port on the lake. It wasn’t unusual for the arrival or departure of ships to draw large crowds to the Landing, and perhaps none more so than for the launch of the S.S. Okanagan in 1907. 

A New Ship

On April 16 of that year, the town was all but deserted, for the majority of its population had descended on the Okanagan Landing. Mayor W.R. Megaw had declared a half-holiday, and school, stores, and offices were closed.

The Landing, meanwhile, was festively decorated, with bunting, flags, and streamers waving cheerfully from every building.

But it was the S.S. Okanagan that was drawing the most attention from onlookers, with her gleaming white and gold trim.

Construction had begun on the CPR vessel a year earlier, in 1906. She was built to replace the aging S.S. Aberdeen in transporting passengers and freight between Vernon and Penticton. After a year of construction, she was finally ready to be put to work. 

The Christening

As the crowd waited impatiently, the ship’s gang plank was removed and she started to slowly slide along the greased stringers towards the water.

Meanwhile, a ceremony was taking place on the ship’s main deck; the wife of Captain Gore had been given the honour of naming the ship, and was presented with a flower bouquet and a silver water service. 

As the Okanagan slipped into the lake for the first time, Mrs. Gore showered a bottle of champagne across the ship’s bow. The guests on board toasted to the new vessel’s success, before they were transferred to the S.S. Aberdeen and brought back to shore.

Celebrations continued into the evening, with performances by the Vernon Fire Brigade Band and a dance hosted by Captain and Mrs. Gore at the Landing’s Strand Hotel.

 

YEARS OF SERVICE

The S.S. Okanagan was in service for 27 years before being retired in 1934. While most of her pieces were dismantled and sold as scraps, the Ladies Saloon from the boat’s stern was rescued by the S.S. Sicamous Restoration Society and moved to the heritage park in Penticton.

 

The Okanagan Landing Stationhouse museum is housed in in the original 1892 railroad station house. 

 

The S.S. Okanagan on her day of launch in 1907.

 

Okanagan Landing, showing the Strand Hotel, railroad, and SS Okanagan, sternwheeler circa 1910. GVMA #11232.

 

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

RASPBERRY ON THE RUN

 

February 1, 2021

A fortnight of liberty. A daring chase. A man named Raspberry.

The Vernon News of November 27, 1913, reported to its readers a most thrilling series of events.

On November 6, two members of Vernon’s chain gang had managed to escape, and enjoy two weeks of freedom. One of them was Fred Raspberry, a settler who had been apprehended for violating liquor control laws.

Raspberry and his companion, Harry Antoine, took refuge at the head of Okanagan Lake, on reserve land. News that they had been seen in this locale reached Police Chief R.N. Clerke, who contracted two Indigenous trackers to help him locate the fugitives.

 

In 1913, escaped prisoners Fred Raspberry and Harry Antoine, took refuge at the head of Okanagan Lake on Okanagan Indian Band land (Nk’maplqs)

Although Antoine quickly gave himself up without a struggle, Raspberry took off north on horseback, with his pursurers not far behind, following his tracks through a thin layer of snow.

One mile outside of Falkland, the group discovered a deceased horse, the poor creature having been ridden to the point of exhaustion. The Indigenous trackers were able to discover that Raspberry had then secured a fresh horse, and continued on to Douglas Lake, although the trail was nearly lost in the freshly-fallen snow.

In the early morning hours, a small camp fire was seen in the distance. Clerke and the trackers stepped off the trail, and concealed themselves in the underbrush. Crashing footsteps alerted them that Raspberry was aware of their presence — and taking off on foot in the opposite direction.

Easily seen across the moonlit field, the pursuing group watched as Raspberry, barefoot in the snow, launched himself over the side of a steep ravine. When Clerke arrived at the edge of the precipice, he called to Raspberry to halt, and fired a warning shoot near his foot. The fugitive shouted once and then stopped running, surrendering to his fate after a 48-hour manhunt.

The following day, the intrepid escapee was returned to Vernon, to finish out his six-month sentence. 

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

Gwyn Evans

travel with care

 

January 21, 2021

Our modern-day paramedic services are incredible advanced, from the receiving of calls and the dispatching of help, to the aid received at the hands of well-trained crews, to the rapid transportation by ground or air to an appropriate care facility. This sophisticated system evolved over many years.

November 27, 1913, dawned with much excitement. After two years of effort by the Girls Hospital Auxiliary, Vernon finally had a new, horse-drawn ambulance.

The members of this organization, under the direction of President Madge Burnyeat, were able to fundraise $950 with support from the community for this much-needed vehicle. 

 

The Girls Hospital Auxiliary of Vernon standing beside the ambulance they were able to purchase for the Vernon Jubilee Hospital in 1913.

“It will be of inestimable value in handling critical cases for the hospital,” reported the Vernon News. 

The invention of the first modern ambulance is credited to Baron Dominique-Jean Larrey, a surgeon in Napolean’s imperial army, who designed a lightweight, horse-drawn wagon that could move rapidly across the battlefield in the late 1700s.

Here’s an interesting sidebar—the highest medical honour that can be bestowed by NATO is known as the Dominique-Jean Larrey Award, and is giving in recognition of a significant and lasting contribution to NATO medical support or healthcare. In 2012, it was awarded to Canada for the establishment and command of a multi-national medical unit at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, between 2006 and 2009.

Despite the passing of around 130 years since Larrey’s invention, the ambulance purchased by the Girls Hospital Auxiliary was remarkably similar in function to those used by the Napoleonic army. The horse-drawn wagon had room for a driver or two in the front, and plenty of cabin space for the patients and their attendants.

The Girls’ Hospital Auxiliary (now known as the Vernon Jubilee Hospital Auxiliary) was started in 1907. The first purpose of this organization was to sew and mend hospital linens. By 1924, the group was made up of over 320 members—but only nine of them regularly attended meetings.

Today, the Hospital Auxiliary, which still consists of a mostly female membership, continues to enhance patient comfort and, by extension, provide important emotional care.

Gwyn Evans

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!

 

 

festive roadblock – That’s Lit!

 

December 11, 2020

Imagine you are driving down Vernon’s 30th Avenue, when you are confronted by a lit Christmas tree in the middle of the road! It seems hard to fathom by today’s safety standards, but throughout the 1930s and ‘40s, when traffic was much lighter than it is today, this was one of Vernon’s favourite seasonal traditions.

Each December, a large spruce was cut down, installed in the middle of the intersection of 30th Avenue and 32nd Street (this, of course, was before the construction of Highway 97), and strung with twinkling, multicoloured lights.

 

Vernon’s Downtown Christmas Tree in the intersection of 30th Avenue and 32nd Street in the 1930s

Christmas tree decorations have changed a lot over the years. During the Great Depression, trees were typically hung with tinsel, popcorn garlands, and handmade ornaments. By the 1940s, the handmade was beginning to be replaced by the store-bought, with glass baubles made by the Shiny Brite Company being some of the most popular ornaments of the decade. As for Vernon’s downtown tree, it was probably limited to only strings of lights for decorations, as the risk of festive glass grenades falling on passing motorists was likely deemed too high.

The Vernon Museum’s records do not indicate how or when this festive roadblock came to be part of the city’s Christmas season, but it was unfortunately a relatively short-lived tradition; in 1943, the downtown Christmas tree became a casualty of the Second World War.

The reason for the tree’s removal was two-fold. Firstly, the lighting was not switch-operated, which went against Air Raid Precautions. Secondly, because 30th Avenue was used extensively by mechanized military equipment, having a tree in the middle of the street constituted a significant safety concern. Instead, a planted tree was decorated outside of City Hall (which, at that time, was also located on 30th Avenue), with lighting that was controlled from inside the building, and thus could be switched off at a moment’s notice in the case of an air raid.

Like with most things in life, the different ways in which Christmas Trees have been decorated over the years has reflected the priorities of the era. As for this year, I suspect some people will take to using toilet paper as a garland out of pure luxury.

Gwyn Evans

horse drawn magic

 

November 27, 2020

During an unpredictable year, the Caravan Farm Theatre has been a model of adaptability. With strong and responsive COVID-19 safety protocols in place, the theatre has once again sold out their popular Winter Sleigh Ride Show.*

The Caravan Farm Theatre, now located on an eighty-acre property near Armstrong, actually began as a traveling troupe in the 1970s—hence the title of “Caravan.” The horse-drawn touring company put on a variety of productions for rural communities throughout B.C. and Alberta up until 1983. 

In 1985, the troupe split, with half deciding to continue touring internationally as the “Caravan Stage Company” and the other half deciding to settle on the North Okanagan property to form the “Caravan Farm Theatre.” One of their first productions was George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” held outdoors and with audience participation.

 

Horse-drawn Caravan Farm theatre wagon in 1989

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the theatre became known for its large-scale, high-quality productions, with a special emphasis on the works of Shakespeare and Brecht. The Caravan’s focus on Shakespeare was particularly natural. In Shakespeare’s era, plays were expected to be versatile, at times being shown in an outdoor playhouse, at other times an indoor theatre (hence his famous quote, “the whole world is a stage.”) Similarly, the Caravan’s productions were, and are, staged outdoors at different settings, allowing the audience to experience an immersive journey.  

The Caravan Farm Theatre carried forward this momentum and ingenuity into the 21st century. Their infamous Walk of Terror launched in the early 2000s, and at Christmas time the Winter Sleigh Ride is often sold out far in advance of December. Although this year things will be a little different—with tickets sold to “bubbles” instead of individuals, and plexiglass barriers separating one bubble from another within the sleigh—the magic of Christmas, and of attending a production by this innovative local theatre group, is sure to endure. 

As for the Caravan Stage Company, they too are still going strong, but their stage has experienced a bit of an upgrade: while they still use their traditional horse-drawn wagons to stage productions across North America and into Europe, they perform most of their acts aboard a 30-meter sailboat called the Amara Zee, which relaunched just this year after being dry-docked for two years of repairs. 

Gwyn Evans

*please note, as of November 27, it is uncertain if “the show will go on” with recent provincial public health protocols. Please check the Caravan Farm Theatre site for the latest new.

luxury lake travel- vintage okanagan style

 

November 13. 2020

What would it have been like to take a trip from Penticton to the Okanagan Landing aboard a sternwheeler? Unfortunately, most of will never know, since the Okanagan’s last paddle wheeler, the S.S. Sicamous, was retired nearly 85 years ago. Luckily, records in the Vernon Archives allow us to recreate these epic journeys—on paper, at least.

The S.S. Sicamous, launched in May of 1914, was the third in a line of stately sternwheelers to ply the waters of Okanagan Lake. She had a reinforced steel hull, and four decks. With 37 staterooms, one smoking room, four saloons, and a dining room, the ship could accommodate more than 300 passengers at one time. 

 

 

S.S. Sicamous, 1921

The Sicamous was a craft of grace and beauty, and she rightly earned the name of “The Queen of Okanagan Lake.” She transported passengers and freight up and down the lake, making stops along the way at Ewing’s Landing, Fintry, Carr’s Landing, Okanagan Centre, Gellatly, and Naramata, until 1936.

It’s a crisp spring morning in 1921. You rub sleep from your eyes, before pulling your wool clothing tight against the cold air drifting off the calm waters of Okanagan Lake. You are standing at the Penticton Wharf, the imposing shadow of the luxurious Incola Hotel, where you passed a pleasant night, to your back. It is 5:15 am, and the sky is still dark. You listen to the gentle chatter of early morning birds, and the slow murmur of waves against the shore. The town of Penticton is still asleep.

Just when you are beginning to lose feeling in the tips of your toes, the S.S. Sicamous pulls up to the wharf, breaking the sleepy silence with a cheerful blast of its whistle. As you wait in line for your chance to board, you watch the ship’s Union Jack drifting lazily in the breeze.

You’re making the trip to Vernon. It’s only 65 miles down the lake, but with the crisscrossing path needed to call in at the 15 landings along the way, you will have traveled more than 90 miles by journey’s end. You expect to be in Vernon by about 9:30 am, just in time for a bite of breakfast.

Finally, you are on board. The richness of the ship’s wood fittings—made from British Columbian cedar, Australian mahogany, and Burmese teak—contrast with the pale morning light. You watch as women in wool travel suits pull half-asleep children towards one end of the ship, while the men, chatting and smoking, move to the other.

You, however, decide to take a seat at a comfortable writing desk, and reach over to switch on a nearby reading lamp. The ship is delightfully warm, thanks to the miracle of steam heating. As you flip slowly through that morning’s copy of the Vernon News, you periodically glance up to admire the Sicamous’s beautiful stained-glass skylights.

After a little over 3-and-a-half hours later—most of which you spent in the observation lounge, watching the small, white-capped waves churned up by the ship’s wheel—you arrive at the Okanagan Landing. As you disembark, waving at a group of excited children on the shore, you think to yourself that you have never experienced a more marvelous journey. 

Gwyn Evans

nice ride!

 

September 11, 2020

What would it have been like to ride a school bus in 1924? Well, it certainly would not have involved the bright yellow paint and cracking vinyl seats we’re used to today. In fact, Vernon’s first bus was mostly made out of wood.

As more families began to settle in the Okanagan Landing and Greater Vernon areas, a form of transportation was needed to bring children to school. Fred Downer stepped up to the plate, and built the first school bus on a Ford Model T chassis in 1924, perhaps inspired by the design of the Armstrong school bus which had been built by Joe Glaicar a few years earlier (reported to be the first in Canada!).

 

 

The children who rode Vernon’s first school bus circa 1924. The bus’ builder, Fred Downer, is standing on the far right.

 

Like the one in Armstrong, Downer’s bus had wooden walls, but included screen windows, while Glaicar’s had canvas curtains that could be let down or rolled up as needed. Exhaust pipes ran down the centre of the floor to keep the bus warm during the winter. Apparently, the smell of schorched rubber was common in these early school buses, as the students would put their feet on the pipes to warm up, and melt their school shoes in the process, undoutedbly to the great chagrin of their mothers.

The wooden walls and lack of insulation earned these early buses the nick name of “chicken coops.”

Regardless, Vernon’s first bus was well-used from the get go. More than 40 students were driven to school on Downer’s bus by driver Ed Cooke during the 1924/1925 school year. The bus ride offered a chance to visit with friends and sing a song or two.

Gwyn Evans

early chinatown

 

August 14, 2020

“We were in Chinatown. On each side of the street were unpainted, boxlike, two-story buildings. They were dimly lit. In the background, the unfamiliar tones of a stringed instrument were heard and there was the drone of sing-song voices in the air. Seated on a porch were a couple of men with lighted punks in hand sucking on their gurgling water pipes. Noise coming from one building told us that a gambling game was under way. Everything was serene” – Vernon’s Chinatown as it was described in a passage of the 1983 Okanagan Historical Society report. 

Since few visual traces of it remain, it comes as a surprise to some Vernonites to learn that their city was once home to a thriving Chinatown, and the largest Chinese population in the B.C. Interior. A community that was once so full of vigor has been silenced by the passing of time.

 

 

Vernon Chinatown, 1907

 

The first group of Chinese immigrants came to B.C. in the mid-19th century in the pursuit of gold. Back home, these men were known as “Gold Mountain Sojourners,” and like most hopeful prospectors, only hoped to stay long enough to make a fortune before returning to their families. Unfortunately, most never did strike it rich and were instead forced to stay in B.C. for longer than expected.

Many Chinese labourers were also employed in the construction of the western portion of the CPR; in fact, over half of the crew that worked on the Shuswap & Okanagan spur line were Chinese. They were lead to believe that they would be paid well for the back-breaking work, and given a ticket back to China once the job was finished. Unfourtunately, the Canadian Government and the CPR did not honour this pledge, and many of the immigrants were left destitute, unable to return to their families.

About 1000 settled in the Okanagan; while some were entrepreneurs who opened cafes and laundries, most worked as low-wage labourers on farms and orchards. Some also worked as kitchen help for pioneering families like the O’Keefes and Ellisons.

Since their early days as hopeful prospectors, Chinese immigrants had faced prejudice and discrimination, and had formed tight community groups, modeled off of traditional Chinese societies and clan associations, to combat to this ostracism. It was for this reason that distinctive Chinese communities would begin to crop up in the middle of interior towns, including in Vernon. One of the first administrative buildings in Vernon’s Chinatown was a hall for the local chapter of the Chinese National League, opened in 1919 on the corner of 28th Avenue and 33rd Street.

Gwyn Evans