strength & resilience through syilx culture

June 11, 2021

Content warning: The following story contains difficult subject matter, including a residential school experience. Please take care.

The first residential school in Canada, the Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Ontario, opened in January of 1831.

After 165 years of operation, the Canadian Residential School System officially ended with the 1996 closure of the last federally-operated facility, located in Punnichy, Saskatchewan.

The effects of this system continue to be felt by its survivors and their descendants to this day.

lasting impacts

Like Indigenous Communities around the country, the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation experienced the devastating impacts of the Residential School System.

Many Syilx Children attended either the Kamloops Residential School or the St. Eugene’s Residential School in Cranbrook.

 

A traditional Syilx stick game at Head of the Lake / Nk’maplqs in 1972

 

Some Syilx Nation children attended day schools in their home communities. These day schools also had the explicit mandate, as was once said by Sir John A. MacDonald, was to “take the Indian out of the child”.

Day schools also left painful and oppressive impacts on Okanagan Nation communities, as well.

“You don’t know how it feels”

Rosie Jack, born at Head of the Lake in 1932, was interviewed by UBC’s LaVonne Kober in 2012. During the interview, Rosie recalled her experiences at the Kamloops Residential School, were she was sent with her siblings as a child of seven: “to be taken away from your family, your mom and papa… sent away in a big, big stock truck. You don’t know how it feels. You are just completely lost and then you got punished because you cried for your mom. It’s hard.”

When the children arrived at the Kamloops Residential School, their hair was cut short and they were assigned uniforms. Rosie painfully recalled the moment she had to give up the beautiful new dress and shoes her mother had bought her for the journey. Rosie was separated from her brothers, and forbidden to speak her native nsyilxcən. The children attended classes in the morning, and worked in the afternoon. Rosie spent one month carrying sad irons between the kitchen and the laundry room. 

resiliency through traditional culture

Rosie later returned to the school as an adult: “When I went in that school when I was a girl it was huge, it was so big. When I went back there a few years ago, it looked so small.” Despite the pain of losing her siblings and watching her mother succumb to grief, Rosie was resilient, and able to rediscover her culture through the raising of her nephew, Terry. She discussed traveling to powwows across Canada and the United States so that Terry could compete in sticking tournaments: “he has always done so well. He’s a real good sticking player.”

“We are still here. In fact, we are thriving”

Former Grand Chief and Chair of the Okanagan Nation Alliance Stewart Philip states that “we can celebrate the fact that the Indian residential school was a complete and dismal failure. We are still here. In fact, we are thriving. Our languages are coming back through our children. Our songs and customs are coming back through our youth. Our traditions are being openly shared by our Elders. Our women are providing the leadership to ensure everything is done in a good way.” Philip adds that if people, like Rosie, did not have the “courage and resilience to resist, we would not be here today.” 

Gwyn Evans

drink up to the end of polio

June 7, 2021

Vernon’s COVID-19 vaccination program is well-underway, with more than half of North Okanagan adults having received their first dose.

Fifty-eight years ago, in 1963, the arrival of the Sabin oral polio vaccine in Vernon caused similar amounts of excitement among the city’s population.

A Vaccine you could drink

A polio vaccine was invented and tested in the 1950s and ‘60s by Albert Sabin, a Polish-American medical researcher. His vaccine replaced one invented by Jonas Salk that was approved for use in 1955. Salk’s vaccine was administered via an injection, while Sabin’s was taken orally.

 

From left to right, Dr. Duncan Black, Vera McCulloch and Bruce Cousins receive the Sabin oral polio vaccine from senior public health Nurse Evalyn Allingham.

 

The Toll of Polio

In the decades prior to the invention of a polio vaccine, thousands of people died around the world from the disease. Vernon experienced polio epidemics in 1927, 1934, and 1937. Although the disease mostly affected children, adults were also vulnerable to infection.

In 1953, Donald Joseph Tompson, a 29-year-old World War Two Veteran and Okanagan Telephone Co. employee, contracted polio and passed away five years later in Vernon. He left behind a wife and two young children.

Health Care Professionals Leading the Way

When Sabin’s oral polio vaccine arrived in Vernon in 1963, citizens of all ages were encouraged to take it. “Drink Up To The End of Polio” read signs plastered around the city.

Doctor Duncan Black, businesswoman Vera McCulloch and Mayor Bruce Cousins led by example, and were among the first to receive the vaccine. Evalyn Allingham, senior public health nurse for the North Okanagan, guided her staff through the process of immunizing Vernon’s population with both the Salk and Sabin vaccines.  

After years of the disease devastating populations around the world, polio vaccines helped to gradually reduce occurrences of the infection by 99%.

Gwyn Evans

 

cultivating Safe Spaces

online Workshop

 

Cultivating Safe Spaces

GVMA is honoured that Elaine Alec is able to run another session of the Cultivating Safe Spaces Online Workshop.

Friday, June 18, 2021, 1-2:30 PM

Cultivating Safe Spaces will be an online workshop led by Elaine Alec, a Syilx and Secwepemc community planner, author, political advisor, women’s advocate and teacher.

The Cultivating Safe Spaces Workshop is recommended to those working in Not for Profit sectors, Community Planning, Public Health, Education, Arts and Culture, Tourism, and anyone interested in learning more about creating and cultivating safe spaces of respect and inclusion in our community.

community, advocacy, & safe spaces

Elaine Alec is a direct descendant of hereditary chiefs, Pelkamulaxw and Soorimpt.

For over two decades, Elaine Alec has been leading expert in Indigenous community planning, health advocacy and creating safe spaces utilizing Indigenous approaches and ceremony.

 

Cultivating Safe Spaces Workshop Facilitator, Public Speaker, and Author, Elaine Alec

 

Bitter Root, or Spitlem in nsyilxcən language, is important to Syilx culture and people 

 

 June 18th workshop NOW FULL!

JOIN WAITLIST

 

We were honoured to have Elaine Alec visit, virtually, the Okanagan Online Book Club to discuss her book, Calling My Spirit back.

Click here learn more about Elaine Alec and her work.

Cultivating Safe Spaces registration information

Cultivating Safe Spaces will take place in an online workshop forum on Friday, June 4th, from 1-2:30 PM.

The workshop is recommended to those working in Not for Profit sectors, Community Planning, Public Health, Education, Arts and Culture, Tourism, and anyone interested in learning more about creating and cultivating safe spaces of respect and inclusion in our community.

Registration is open to all, with a maximum of 25 participants. The Cultivating Safe Spaces Workshop fee is $30.00.

June 18th session is NOW FULL! Please contact us below to join the waitlist. 

 

JOIN WAITLIST!

 

 

french family land

May 28, 2021

Near the entrance to the Vernon Recreation Centre, a humble plaque in the shade of a tall tree memorializes the 1891 residence of S.P. French.

That year, Samuel Phelps French, born in England in 1844, moved his wife Susannah and nine children from Winnipeg to Vernon and purchased between 10 to 20 acres of land to raise cattle.

A warm welcome

The family’s 1891 residence was actually not located where the plaque indicates, but on 32nd Avenue, then known as Schubert Street.

Many important events passed beneath the roof of this residence, and the French family extended a welcome to friends and strangers alike. 

In November of 1902, the Vernon News reported that “the hospitable home of Mr. and Mrs. S.P. French was 

 

DA plaque outside the Vernon Recreation Centre memorializes the first two residences of S.P. French (pictured top right, GVMA #5088). The Vernon Museum does not have a photograph of either of the houses.

 

 

taxed to it utmost capacity to receive the large number of visitors who during the afternoon and evening assembled to extend a welcome to the bride of Mr. S.P. French, Jr.

changing ownership & land use

It was not until 1905 that S.P. purchased 65 acres near where the Rec Centre now stands from the Estate of the late Luc Girouard and built a second house. By 1914, the land had been parceled up, with some of it being sold to the Canadian Northern Pacific Railway. S.P. then purchased a parcel of land east of Vernon and built a third house, on Sarsons Road. This residence still stands, while the plaque serves as a memorial of the two family homes that came before it.

S.P. helped to lay Vernon’s first sidewalk on 30th Avenue in 1893. He also served on the Vernon City Council in 1903 and was a devout member of the local Presbyterian Church.

names & recognition

S.P. passed away in 1926, predeceased by his wife Susannah in 1912. His nine children and twenty-eight grandchildren went on to have remarkable lives of their own. One son, Percy, even followed in his father’s footsteps and was named the Okanagan’s first “Master Farmer” by Winnipeg’s Nor’ West Farmer Magazine in 1932.

While his son was bestowed with the title “Master Farmer”, the residence of the family of S.P. French family is recognized with a plaque. 

Plaques such as this, as well as street names, are often in memory and recognition of the pioneers, agriculturalists and ranchers who first “settled” this area.

In recent years, there has been more of an acknowledgment of Syilx place names, and the nsyilixcen language of the Syilx people of the Okanagan Nation is being incorporated into place names and signs in places such as the UBC Okanagan campus. 

 

Gwyn Evans

ship of brides

May 21, 2021

In September of 1862, the S.S. Tynemouth arrived in Victoria to the great excitement of the city’s mostly-male population; 60 young women between the ages of 14 and 20 were on board, having been brought over from England to a new life in Canada.

The Tynemouth was the largest of the “Bride Ships,” a series of vessels that transported British women overseas to help populate the North American colonies.

Little More Than Cargo

Of the 60 individuals onboard the Tynemouth, most were orphaned or came from impoverished families, and were promised a brighter future in Canada.

The sea voyage was a rough one: the women were treated as little more than cargo, stuffed into the bottom of the ship with inadequate food and poor sanitation. Many became ill during this journey of nearly 100 days.

 

Dr. John Chipp’s house in Vernon circa 1891. Chipp arrived in B.C. via a “Bride Ship” from England in 1862.

 

 

“mostly cleanly, well-built, pretty-looking young women”

Even so, when the ship finally arrived in Victoria, the women were deemed “satisfactory”: the Colonist newspaper reported that they were “mostly cleanly, well-built, pretty-looking young women … Taken altogether, we are highly pleased with the appearance of the ‘invoice,’ and believe that they will give a good account of themselves in whatever station of life they may be called to fill.”

The stories of approximated half the women who traveled overseas in the Tynemouth have been traced. Some married and started families, while others worked as governesses, midwives, and teachers. Sadly, many also faced lives of destitution and depravity in B.C.’s mining towns.

A Local Connection

This interesting story also has a local connection. Alongside the 60 female passengers who traveled on the Tynemouth in 1862 was a man named John Chipp, who served as the vessel’s chief doctor.

When the ship arrived in B.C., Chipp set up a business in Barkerville before moving to Vernon in 1891. Here he became one of the city’s first doctors. Chipp’s daughter, Clara Cameron, was instrumental in the establishment of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital and his son-in-law, W.F. Cameron, served as Vernon’s first mayor.

John Chipp passed away in August of 1893. The contributions of Chipp, as well as W.F. and Clara Cameron are relatively well-documented and honoured.

We can also take a moment to think about those whose names and faces we don’t know, or remember, the young women who were integral to early settler life in Canada.

 

Gwyn Evans

recognition, resilience, resolve

May 17, 2021

May is Asian Heritage Month, and this year’s theme is “Recognition, Resilience, and Resolve.”

Vernon is home to hundreds of individuals of Pilipino, Vietnamese, Japanese, Pakistani, Chinese, and Korean descent. The city also has a large Indo-Canadian population.

First Sikh Immigrants to Okanagan

The first immigrants from India began arriving in the Okanagan Valley at the turn of the 20th century; three Sikh men arrived in Rutland in 1909, and others followed in 1913.

“Little Evidence of Discrimination”

Most took up jobs in the lumber industry, with plans to eventually return to India. It was not until a few years later that some decided to settle their families permanently in the Valley.

By the 1970s and ‘80s, the East Indian population in Vernon had increased significantly. A 1976 report on the ethnic composition of the Okanagan Valley suggests that Vernon had “little evidence of discrimination.”

And yet, the report also states that “East Indians claim that their members have been beaten by white men for no apparent reason. They are afraid to take part in public events because of bad experiences.”  

 

A 2006 photo of the North Okanagan Sikh Temple and Gurdwara. The temple was built in Vernon by the North Okanagan Sikh Cultural Society in 1987

 

Traditional Indian clothing for rent or sale for attendees of Bollywood Bang charity event

“We Mainly Kept to Ourselves”

In 1997, a researcher interviewed several Indo-Canadian families living in Vernon, and found that 17 out of 20 of those interviews lived in one high-density neighbourhood, often in duplexes. Some of the reasons the families cited for living there were the lower cost of housing and the proximity to friends.

However, the researcher concluded that this collective housing was also a reaction to feelings of alienation from the larger community.

One interviewee suggested that “people looked at our turbans and the traditional outfits that our women wear with disgust and suspicion. We kept mainly to ourselves.”

Celebrating Indo Canadian Culture

In 2021, the treatment of Vernon’s Indo Canadian population has certainly improved, largely through efforts to introduce Sikhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Indo Canadian culture to a new generation of people through public events like the Diwali Festival.

The wildly popular Bollywood Bang event, spearheaded by Vernon City Councillor, Dalvir Nahal, attracted hundreds of people and contributed thousands of dollars each year to local North Okanagan charity organizations.

In the 2020 provincial election, NDP candidate Harwinder Sandhu faced horrific racism during her Vernon-Monashee MLA campaign, with her signs defaced by swastikas and misogynistic words. Despite this opposition, Ms. Sandu was elected in a clear statement by the majority of Vernon’s citizens against this kind of discrimination.

The resilience and resolve of MLA Sandu, Councillor Dalvir Nahal, Activist Min Sidhu, and the many other Indo-Canadian men and women who have come before them have contributed to Vernon’s recognition of this diverse cultural group, even if work remains yet to be done.

 

Gwyn Evans

We love winkie bread

April 30, 2021

It was once the largest independent bakery in the B.C. Interior. During its operation in Vernon, King’s Bakery produced well in excess of 1 million loaves of bread.

King’s Bakery, located at 4401 31st Avenue, was a popular destination for the 1950s “housewife,” drawn in by the business’ commitment to serving only the freshest of bread.

However, it was a different clientele that King’s Bakery directed most of their advertising ventures towards attracting—children.

From Hockey Rink to Bakery 

King’s Bakery was a relatively small operation until it was taken over by Frank King and his business partner Willie Schmidt (both Vernon Canadians hockey players) in 1957. 

 

King’s Bakery at 4401 31st Avenue in the 1950s

 

The business grew from four to seventeen employees, and employed state-of-the-art, locally-sourced equipment to produce a daily 3,300 loaves, assorted pastries, doughnuts, cakes, and cookies. In fact, the bakery’s automatic doughnut machine could churn out 200 dozen doughnuts in just one hour.

Just 14 months after taking over the business, Frank King produced his millionth loaf, which was presented alongside a $50 certificate to one lucky customer.

Vanguard Marketing Strategy

The business’ success was perhaps thanks in part to what was then a unique marketing strategy. Every month, the bakery sponsored a Saturday matinee at the Capitol Theatre. Children were able to get in for free if they brought with them a red-and-blue dotted bread wrapper from the bakery. Similarly, a bread wrapper would allow youngsters to get into local hockey games for just 10 cents.

Even the business’ cheerful trademark “Winkie Bread,” accompanied by a smiling, winking mascot, was designed to appeal to children, who in turn encouraged their parents to frequent the local business. King’s Bakery has discovered for themselves a successful and community-minded marketing technique, even before large corporations like MacDonald’s adopted this approach to more nefarious ends.

Entrepreneur Frank King passed away in September of 2004.

Gwyn Evans

Vernon then & now

April 26, 2021

As part of the GVMA Earth Day, Every Day focus on ecological change in the Okanagan, we’ve developed a short slideshow of photographs comparing archival photos around the Greater Vernon area, with photos from 2021.

ECO: a Virtual program

The slideshow can also be used in conjunction with the ECO: Ecological Change in the Okanagan.

Designed for intermediate students in School District 22, the program will be of interest with anyone curious about how North Okanagan landscapes, wildlife populations, and ecology have changed over time

Learn More About: Okanagan Nation and the Syilx People; Early Explorers and Settlers; Land Use and Agriculture; Transportation and Recreation; the perspective of local Syilx Indigenous Youth Leader.

Included:

  • 30 minute ECO film
  • Now & Then Slideshow of Local Locations and Landscapes
  • An Educator’s Guide
  • Suggestions for Inquiries and Activities
  • Additional Resources 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

to access the ECO Virtual Program

For a limited time, the ECO Virtual Program is available for free to all teachers, educators, parents, and any interested community member!

Please Contact Us Here to order the ECO: Ecological Change in the Okanagan Virtual Program.

We hope you enjoy the journey!

 

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

Bringing water from the hills

April 16, 2021

Picture the Okanagan without its expansive fruit orchards. No juicy peaches and sweet cherries in the summer, and no crisp apples and tart grapes in the autumn?

It is almost painful to imagine!

But this was the reality of life in the Okanagan before the advent of irrigation.

an Idea Flowed…

At the turn of the 20th century, the valley was too hot and dry to support much agriculture.

The manager of the Coldstream Ranch, W.C. Ricardo, proposed  Aberdeen Lake on the highlands to the southeast of Vernon as a potential water source to irrigate thirsty crops.

Water flowing out of the lake via Jones (now Duteau) creek, he argued, could be diverted south by canal to supply orchard and fields in White Valley (now Lavington) and the Coldstream Ranch. 

A Coldstream orchard circa 1910

 

 

This water even had the potential to be directed north across the ranch to irrigate the BX and beyond.

bringing water down into the Valley

The White Valley Irrigation and Power Company beginning this momentous task in 1906 with the construction of the Grey Canal.

The introduction of water via the Grey Canal changed the industry of the valley from ranching and the cultivation of cereals to the production of fruits like apples, pears, and cherries. The advent of orchards across the Okanagan helped to greatly stimulate the economy, but these plants also came with higher water demands.

The Grey Canal was completed in 1914. At one time, it supplied water to the largest irrigation district in BC, and delivered more water than the system that supplied to the City of Vancouver. If you’d like to learn more about the Grey Canal, please check out Peter Tassie’s Water from the Hillspublished by the Okanagan Historical Society.

a more water-wise approach

The climate of the Valley hasn’t changed. We still live in a dry belt that, particularly during the summer, receives little water. And we certainly can’t go back to the way things were before the advent of the fruit industry. Our orchards are as much are part of our identity in the Okanagan as our emerald lakes and delicious wine.

Each of us can ensure that water is not being wasted and instead reserved for vital tasks. Indeed, the average Okanagan citizen uses 675 litres of water each day! This is more than twice as much water as the average Canadian.

To reduce water usage, citizens of the Okanagan can try xeriscaping, a style of gardening that utilizes plants with low water needs that thrive naturally in the Valley’s dry environment. Some great tips about how to xeriscape in the Okanagan can be found here.

It is also important to ensure that one’s water consumption is as low as possible, particularly during drought periods. Watering plants in the evening or early morning can help to reduce evaporation. A list of current water restrictions can be found online through Greater Vernon Water.

Visit the website Okanagan WaterWise for more tips, as well as the Okanagan Xeriscape Association’s plan list aunt other helpful lawn and garden care tips in the WaterWise Landscape Irrigation Handbook.

Gwyn Evans