An Okanagan Hero

 

November 6, 2020

 

In a damp, dark trench crawling with rats, George McLean sat silently alongside his fellow members of the Fifty-Fourth (Kootenay) Battalion. The year was 1917, and in a few hours the silence that had descended over no-man’s land would be broken by the sounds of screams, explosions, and machine gun fire. It was the first morning of the Battle for Vimy Ridge, which many historians consider a defining moment, and one of the greatest victories, for the Canadian Army.

George McLean, from the Nk’maplqs (Head of the Lake) Band, was not new to the world of soldiering by the time of the Battle for Vimy Ridge. During the Boer War, when he was 25-years-old, McLean had served with the Canadian Mounted Rifles. When World War One broke out, McLean, alongside every other male member of the Head of the Lake Band between the ages of 20 and 35, enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Almost immediately, he was sent overseas to France.

It was the start of the third day of the Battle for Vimy Ridge, but for the soldiers who were participating, it undoubtedly felt much longer. One member of the 2nd Divisions’ 6th Brigade described “wounded men sprawled everywhere in the slime, in the shell holes, in the mine craters, some screaming to the skies, some lying silently, some begging for help, some struggling to keep from drowning in craters, the field swarming with stretcher-bearers trying to keep up with the casualties.”

Just after pulling a wounded officer to safety, McLean and another soldier discovered a dugout hiding several German troops. Before either of the men could respond, McLean’s fellow soldier was struck. Alone in a vulnerable position, McLean responded quickly, raining small “pineapple” bombs down on the German troops. This did not result in any German casualties, but certainly startled the cowering men. A German Sergeant called to McLean to stop the onslaught, and asked how many troops he had with him. McLean replied that he stood with 150 men. Immediately, the German officer gave over his weapon and ordered his troops to stand down. McLean then single-handedly captured 19 prisoners and marched them back to his own lines. As they walked, McLean was shot twice in the arm, and five of the prisoners attempted to disarm him, but he did not falter.

Due to his wound, McLean was evacuated from the front lines and sent to London to recover. Later, he was later awarded the Distinguished Conduct Metal for his outstanding bravery. When he died in 1934 of unknown causes, the Royal Canadian Legion offered his family a war hero’s burial, but they declined, preferring instead to bury him near Douglas Lake Ranch. George McLean’s grave was marked with a simple wooden cross, as modest and steadfast as the man himself.

We will remember them.

 

Private George McLean

 

George McLean (standing, far right)

 

Sunday, November 8, 2020 is Indigenous Veterans Day. To see all of the veterans from the Nk’maplqs (Head of the Lake) Band (Okanagan Indian Band), click here.

 

sinking of Llandcovery Castle

 

November 3, 2020

 

“Canadian Hospital Ship Sunk by German Submarine Off the Irish Coast—Many Nurses and Doctors Missing” read the headline of the July 1, 1918, edition of the Vernon News. The event was one of the most controversial during the Great War, since attacking a hospital ship was against international law as well as the orders of the German navy. The sinking also brought the war home to the citizens of Vernon, since among the hundreds who died from the attack were two former nurses of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, Margaret Marjory Fraser and Minnie Katherine Gallaher.

On June 27, 1918, The Llandovery Castle was on its way back to England after bringing about 600 Canadian casualties to recover in Halifax. The crew consisted of one hundred and sixty-four men, eighty officers and men of the Canadian Medical Corps, and fourteen nurses, a total of two hundred and fifty-eight people. Special lighting illuminated the ship’s four Red Crosses as she traveled across blackened waters.

Somewhere off the coast of Ireland, around 9:00 PM, the ship was torpedoed by the German submarine U-86. A first-hand account of the sinking was provided by officer Leslie Chapman, who described the horrors of being trapped on a sinking ship: “I found myself blown out of my bunk and landed on the floor of my cabin. On my rude awakening I did not grasp what had happened until a brother officer came running off the bridge, and said we had been torpedoed. The vessel commenced sinking by the stern quickly and the Captain gave the order to abandon ship, and send an SOS on the wireless. This was not possible, because the apparatus had been smashed by the explosion.”

It only took ten minutes for the Llandovery Castle to sink. Many of the nurses had been asleep at the time the boat was struck, but they managed to get into a lifeboat with Sergeant Arthur Knight; tragically, suction from the sinking ship pulled the lifeboat under and all of the fourteen nurses drowned. Knight struggled through the chilling water and was pulled aboard another lifeboat. Only 24 people survived the attack.

Margaret Marjory Fraser was born on the March 20, 1885, to Duncan Cameron Fraser and Bessie Grant. Margaret worked as head nurse at the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, alongside Matron Minnie Katherine Gallaher. She enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps in September of 1914. Before being appointed Matron of the Llandovery Castle, Margaret served as a nurse on the front lines in France. Many of her patients were wounded German soldiers, and she was often one of the first to offer their parched lips a drink of water. She was known for writing down the dying words of German officers and soldiers, and transmitting them to their families through the channels of the Red Cross. Three months after her brother James was killed in action in FranceMargaret would board the Llandovery Castle in Halifax for the last time.

Both Margaret and Minnie are immortalized in the Halifax Memorial erected in Point Pleasant Park as a reminder of all the men and women who died at sea.

We will remember them.

 

 Postcard of the Llandovery Castle

 

Matron Margaret Marjory “Pearl” Fraser (Credit: FWW Veterans of Guysborough County) 

Minnie Katherine Gallaher

archival fonds – where stories live on…

 

October 23. 2020

What are archival “fonds”?

From the UBC library: The word “fonds” is used to describe most archival collections in Canada and also in many European and Latin American countries.  Fonds simply means the documents in any media or format created or received by a person or an organization in the course of their personal or professional activities.  For example, the “Jane Smith fonds” would refer to the records created and received by Jane Smith.

Read the wikipedia article for  the term “fonds.”

The Greater Vernon Archives has some gems in the archival fonds entrusted to us to store, care for and preserve. 

Secrets that followed people to their graves remain in the pages of diaries tucked into shelves. Family rivalries and reunification play out in letters left for us to interpret.

The early sketches of artists who went on to renown in their own lifetime, or after their death, trace their early development in the notebooks they left behind.

Every archival collection will hold its own surprises. At GVMA it’s  hand signed letter from Einstein, notes on fittings from Coco Chanel, Luis Vuitton himself sending a reminder on an invoice. All in a small but mighty little archive in Vernon, BC.

What can you discover in your hometown archive?

 

Pages from the sketch book of naturalist and artist, Allan Brooks from the Allan Brooks fonds held at GVMA

 

Signed letter from Albert Einstein in response to a letter from Sveva Caetani, held in the Sveva Caetani fonds at GVMA

 

Legendary Lake creature from the depths

 

October 23. 2020

With Halloween just around the corner, it is officially the season of the unsettling, the surreal, the supernatural.

From the Scottish Highlands, to the northern forests of Nova Scotia, to the Slavic countryside, nearly every country has its own mythical monster whose tales frighten children and whose existence causes debate among even the most skeptical of adults.

The Okanagan’s resident “monster” is now most widely known as the Ogopogo, and year after year a new story of this slippery serpent emerges.

Legends of a lake creature named N’ha-a-itk had existed for generations among the Okanagan Syilx People. It was settlers who gave it a new name – and its infamy.

In August of 1926, while at a Rotary lunch held on the shores of Okanagan Lake, W. H. Brimblecombe broke out in song with a popular British Music Hall hit. He sang, “I’m looking for the Ogopogo, the bunny-hugging Ogopogo. His mother was an earwig, his father was a whale. I’m going to put a little bit of salt on his tail. I’m looking for the Ogopogo.”

By the time of this club luncheon, stories of a mysterious creature living in the depths of Okanagan Lake were already popular amongst settlers. But after this delightful lunchtime performance in 1926, the Okanagan’s resident monster would come to be known as the Ogopogo.

Along with a new name, settlers also gave the sea creature a new “image”, ranging from cute and comical, to monstrous and terrifying.

The first “modern” sighting of the Ogopogo occurred in 1873, when a woman named Susan Allison reported seeing a snake-like creature moving through the water near her home in West Kelowna. 

 

From a 1946 Christmas card (how festive!)

 

In 1926 Joseph Egbert Montague started his shipping company in Vernon, BC, under the name J.E. Montague Ltd. The company expanded in 1928 and became known as British Columbia Fruit Shippers. By that time, the moniker “Ogopogo” would have been in use.

 

A few years later, during the 1880s, the infamous Captain Shorts discovered a large vertebrae bone in the shallows of Okanagan Lake, which would be determined to be from a whale. How a whale bone came to lie in Okanagan Lake remains a mystery. Could it perhaps be a bone belonging to Ogopogo’s whale father?

While fishing one morning in August of 1925, a man named J. Mitchell Boyd allegedly saw a strange creature with the head of a sheep moving languidly through the water (this is apparently quite the trustworthy account; as reported in the Vernon News a few days after the sighting, “Mr. Boyd stated, for the benefit of those who may have doubted his statement, that he had not partaken of cheese the night before, nor anything else which might have caused an optical delusion”). Nearly thirty years later, in 1959, the Miller and Marten Families also described a close encounter with a large, snake-like creature while out for a day of boating.

In 1978, while driving across the Okanagan Lake Floating Bridge, Bill Steciuk and twenty other onlookers witnessed a dark head and three black humps protruding out of the water. The year 2000 would bring about another sighting, when marathon swimmer Daryl Ellis was accompanied by two large creatures during his swim passed Rattlesnake Point (perhaps Nessie was down for a visit?)

In 2004, John Casorso recorded the first alleged video of Ogopogo; from a vantage point on his family’s house point, Casorso was able to capture grainy footage of a dark creature, about 15 metres long, emerging from the still waters of Okanagan Lake. And less than two weeks ago, a Calgary resident celebrating Thanksgiving in the Okanagan recorded a video of a strange formation of waves that some viewers thought could have been another sighting of the Okanagan’s most elusive resident.

Whether you believe in the sea serpent or not, one thing is for certain; the Ogopogo is a lot of fun to talk about.

Gwyn Evans

Museum Begins Process of Reconciliation

 

October 13, 2020

The Greater Vernon Museum and Archives (GVMA) is honoured to host the Cultural Safety Program, facilitated by local Indigenous Elders. The program provides training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, and anti-racism for partners in arts, culture, and heritage in the North Okanagan as they share positive information about Syilx People and participate in a process of reconciliation and future collaboration. 

Elders and program leaders, Christina “Chris” Marchand is a Sixties Scoop survivor, and Eric Mitchell the survivor of a residential school. Together, they created the Cultural Safety Program in 2008, initially for nursing students at UBCO. Since then, the training has expanded to students, professors and staff from all faculties – and now to partners from cultural organizations in the Greater Vernon area.

Marchand and Mitchell have dedicated their life’s work to educating non-Indigenous people about the impacts of racism and intergenerational trauma to begin the process of working toward reconciliation in the future. For their work, Marchand and Mitchell were honoured with honourary law degrees from UBCO in August 2020.

 

Chris Marchand

 

Eric Mitchell

Providing this training to staff and leaders of cultural organizations, “is an important – and necessary – step towards answering the Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action 57,” believes GVMA Executive Director, Steve Fleck.

Call to Action 57 calls for federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.

The first group of North Okanagan cultural partners will begin the four day training in the GVMA’s Community Hall on Friday October 16, 2020.  To mark this historical step in cultural connection, diversity and reconciliation, Mayor Victor Cumming will join the GVMA and the Arts Council of the Okanagan in welcoming the Elders at a private ceremony at 10:30 AM. 

As Fleck notes, “As cultural partners, we hope to foster a safe and collaborative environment that results in deeper sharing, learning and understanding with the Syilx People in the Okanagan Territory.”

This program is would not be possible without support from the Regional District of North Okanagan and the BC Arts Council. For more information, please contact the Vernon Museum: mail@vernonmuseum.ca

 

the fall & the fire

 

a continuation of Part 1 and Part 2

On the evening of April 24, 1978, a devastating fire broke out on the corner of 27th Avenue and 33rd street, destroying the final vestiges of Vernon’s Chinatown.

By the 1970s, Chinatown had already started to fade; the Chinese community in Vernon certainly hadn’t disappeared, but had instead been assimilated into the larger Vernon population. Some sources claim that this was due to a decrease in racism that had forced Chinese individuals to gather in distinct urban Chinatowns. Whether or not this is the truth, poverty and modernity certainly had a role to play.

Many former Chinese business owners were forced to sell as the years went on due to dwindling finances, while several landmark buildings were demolished to make way for more modern structures. The Kwong’s Hing Lung & Co. grocery store, for example, was sold in 1945 and renamed the P and M store by owners John Pawlyshyn and James Mykiuk. In 1975, it was replaced by a new building that housed the Brandle Realty Offices.

 

 

The final block of Chinatown up in flames on the night of April 24, 1978

 

On the night of April 24, 1978, a fire started at 8 pm and burned until after midnight, destroying five buildings that represented the last remaining block of Vernon’s Chinatown. The first to go up in flames was the former headquarters of the Dart Coon Club. Firefighters were quick to the scene but were unable to prevent the fire from spreading. They evacuated three from the burning buildings, including a 67-year-old woman, Chung Yee Wong, who was taken to hospital for smoke inhalation.

Foul play was suspected to have caused the blaze.

Members of the Chinese Community were quick to acknowledge this loss of history: Dart Coon Club official Water Joe said that although the buildings that burned were in need of serious repairs, “it’s sad in a way that [they’re] gone because that block was the last of old Chinatown.”

Not all traces of Vernon’s Chinatown have disappeared, however. The Gateway Shelter at 2800 33 Street is located in one of the last remaining Chinese buildings, formerly the home of the Freemasons Society. Plaques installed in 2014 tell the community’s story. Moreover, Vernon is still home to a significant Chinese population of more than 500 individuals who speak a variety of languages, from Cantonese, to Mandarin, to Shanghainese. Finally, if one thing is certain, it’s that many Vernonites, both Chinese and not, have clear memories of this colourful community, and their stories allow it to live on.

Gwyn Evans

i’d like to buy the world a coke

 

June 4, 2020

Vernon once had its own Coca-Cola plant, built in 1969 at 4607 27th Street, but prior to the construction of this building, the local representative for the soft drink company was McCulloch’s Aerated Waters.

Alex McCulloch owned the bottling plant at 3400 Coldstream Avenue that would later be named McCulloch’s Aerated Waters from 1912 to 1934, at which point it was inherited by his son John.

John McCulloch’s experience working as a tobacco and soft drink salesman for his father’s business prepared him for ownership, and he also had the support of a remarkable woman.

John’s wife Vera was born in Vernon in 1905. After attending school in Armstrong, she went on to earn a BA at UBC with a major in mathematics. Vera came to Vernon in 1927 to teach Grade 9 mathematics at Vernon High School, then went to Ontario for two years to attend the Royal Ontario College of Art. When she returned to Vernon, she was reacquainted with one of her former students, John McCulloch. The couple was married in 1932.

 

 

McCulloch’s Aerated Waters Coca-Cola ‘Cooler’ float, used for a parade in 1934

 

Alongside running their business, John and Vera were active citizens. Vera was involved with the local church community, while John was a trainer of the Vernon Tigers Lacrosse Team, a CJIB employee, and a member of the Kildonnan Pipe Band. The couple had two sons, Malcolm and Derry.

John passed away in 1951, and Vera took over the family business. Both Derry and Malcolm worked as employees. 

McCulloch’s Aerated Waters was a bottling plant, selling everything from sodas, beers, and mineral waters, to fruit drinks, juices, and syrups. One of their creations was a bright yellow soda pop called “Second to None.” Vera ran the business until 1964, when it was sold. The plant was torn down and replaced by a retirement building—fittingly named McCulloch Court.

As for Vera, the selling of the family business wasn’t an ending, but a beginning. She threw herself into local politics, serving on the school board from 1954 to 1963 and as president of the Vernon and District Council of Women from 1965 to 1967. She was also active with the Vernon Women in Business, the Okanagan Historical Society, the Friends of History and the Okanagan Regional College council.

To honour her service to the community, Vera McCulloch was named Good Citizen of the Year in 1971. She passed away in March of 1994.

Gwyn Evans

okanagan crafts brew  

March 3, 2020

A horse-drawn beer wagon destined for the local bar or saloon was a common sight in turn-of-the-century North American cities, and Vernon was no exception. In 1895, these wagons trundled off with barrels of lager from Vernon’s first—and only—brewery, the Vernon Spring Brewery (not to be confused with the Okanagan Spring Brewery).

Four years before the above photo was taken, in the winter of 1891, any exciting announcement reached Vernon’s citizens: Mr. Robert Ochsner was erecting a brewery on Okanagan Avenue. The Vernon Spring Brewery opened a year later, in 1892, becoming the first lager beer brewery in active operation in the province. Oshner used water from the Vernon Creek to run his operation, which suggests that the brewery would have been south of what is now the Tiki Villiage Motor Inn on 25th Avenue. 

 

 

Vernon Spring Brewery, photo date unknown

 

While today craft and micro-breweries are often considered a trendy location to socialize with friends, the Vernon Spring Brewery was built right in the height of the temperance movement, and not everyone was pleased by its presence in Vernon. In a tongue-in-cheek excerpt in the Vernon News of March 1892, it was even noted that one Vernon horse (yes, you read that right) had joined the movement against alcohol and refused to stay anywhere near the brewery. In fact, he was so offended by the institution that he marched himself straight back to town after being parked nearby it, much to the dismay of two gentlemen who came back from fishing to find their ride home had left without them.

Ochsner was undeterred by this opposition, and spent many days driving around town distributing samples of his first batch of lager. Allegedly, the universal verdict of all who tasted this “sparkling nectar” was that they would never drink anything else again. However, well-known photographer and author C.W. Holliday had a different memory of Ochsner’s first brew. Whether it was because Ochsner was an amateur beer maker or because the brew was affect by the climate, anytime a bottle of the first batch was opened, it would violently erupt in a cascade of foam until only about an inch of flat beer was left. Holliday notes that people would often order a bottle just for the fun of it, and seeing the bar and bartender submerged in a sea of beery foam was well-worth the asking price.

Robert Oschner left the brewery in 1896, and it remained idle for a year before John Haverty, formerly of Winnipeg, took over its management.

Unfourtunately, records at the Vernon Museum are limited as to what happened to the Vernon Spring Brewery, but our city’s experience with brewing continues under the successful—and refreshing—Okanagan Spring Brewery.

Gwyn Evans

can I have your autograph?

February 28, 2020

 

Today, we have yearbooks, guest books, and, probably more relevantly, Facebook timelines, but up until the mid-19th century, they had autograph books.

While going through the archives, Barbara Bell discovered a small autograph book from 1929, which belonged to a fourteen-year-old Madeline Megaw. The book’s worn gray cover was unremarkable, but the contents were spectacular. Small, intricate watercolours, original musical compositions, famous quotes, and declarations of affection, dot the pages.

Madeline was born and raised in Vernon, B.C., to the well-known Megaw family. She was a talented musician, and in 1928, won first honors in a pianoforte class. She would go on to have a successful nursing career in Vancouver, before returning to Vernon to work in a medical clinic. Madeline had a deep love for nature, fishing, and cross-country skiing, which many of her friends captured through the landscapes painted in her autograph book.

 

 

 

 

Madeline’s friend Helen carefully painted a scene of fashionable flapper woman lounging on the beach, while another friend, David, printed a greeting in neat Chinese characters. Annie painted a small boy in bed dreaming about holding-up Santa with a toy gun (presumably to steal all the presents), and Margaret wrote a verse in Latin. A little sketch shows a puppy staring mischievously at some slippers. Bobby Megaw, Madeline’s four-year-old brother, even used a whole page to print his name in big, blocky, child-like writing.

Leather-bound autograph books first emerged in 16th-century Europe, and were used by young scholars to collect each other’s signatures as mementos at graduation. From here, autograph books grew in popularity, and by the Victorian era, had begun to include not only signatures, but messages, drawings, and memorabilia from one’s friends and family.

By the 1950s, autograph books were still in use, but contained little to no artistic elements, and were instead used for simple signatures or witticisms; today, in the age of the digital, they are practically unheard of. In archives, libraries, and private collections, autograph books are a true treat, as they capture, often in the most beautiful ways, past social interactions and family dynamics. Flipping through this little book, one is struck by the time and attention spent on the little paintings and drawings, and the feelings of affection expressed toward Madeline by her friends. Just by looking through this special possession, one comes to know Madeline a little bit better.

Gwyn Evans

the home town paper

January 30, 2020

 

In this age of information, it is undeniable that our relationship with local print newspapers has changed. While many of us still enjoy pouring over the local going-ons with a cup of coffee in hand, the explosion of the internet in the 1990s increased the range of media sources available to the average reader. Now most of us get our daily news straight to our smartphones, while the print newspaper industry has experienced a significant decline. 

Before the advent of the internet, the local newspaper held an almost reverential position as the hub of community conversations. This was made obvious in a 1948 mini documentary produced by the National Film Board and directed by Morten Parker, called “The Home Town Paper.” Over the course of twenty-two minutes, narrator John Drainie, speaking with that polished, flourished language one expects from the time period,  introduces viewers to a successful community newspaper—the Vernon News.

 

 

Vernon News press room with staff about to print, 1920

 

Click here to view the NFB documentary on the Vernon News, “Home Town Paper”!

NFB Home Town Paper

While the scenes of the physical printing process of the newspaper is fascinating in and of itself, the true beauty of this documentary is the look it provides into everyday life in mid-century Vernon.  In the bright Vernon News office, beside neatly-stacked piles of paper, editors pour over the next day’s edition, only to be interrupted by a tap at the window. It’s a popular garage owner, all smiles with two large trout he caught earlier that week at Mabel Lake in hand (turns out, they’re actually salmon imported from the Coast for the role, but the illusion still stands). As the narrator notes, this is the stuff that will make the next day’s paper. The footage captures other issues of the day—the loss of the British fruit market, still caught up in post-war austerity, the City Council’s discussions of the need for a new, larger City Hall, and the city band’s upcoming concert.

The Vernon News started in 1891 as a five-column, eight page paper, with articles of mostly agricultural topics. Despite some significant obstacles along the way (including the destruction of the entire office to a fire in 1897), the paper dominated the news industry for years in Vernon. The National Film Board documentary highlights not only the importance of the Vernon News to our community, but the slower, congenial pace of life in Vernon at the time.

Gwyn Evans