A photo of Pauline Johnson, taken shortly before her death in 1913, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Talented Wordsmiths

Vernon has long been home to a plethora of talented wordsmiths, which a humble binder in the Vernon Archives titled “Writers” reveals. The binder is full of information about several of Vernon’s many authors and poets, arranged alphabetically from Thomas Andrews (author of Type: Writer) to Mark Zuehlke (author of Scoundrels, Dreamers, & Second Sons). The Vernon Museum is even lucky enough to have its own award-winning author and poet on staff, Laisha Rosnau.

In addition to these gifted locals, Vernon has also played host to several traveling writers over the years. One that caused a particular stir during her turn-of-the-century visit to the city was Tekahionwake (Pauline Johnson).

Tekahionwake (Pauline Johnson)

Tekahionwake, born in 1861, was a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, and daughter of Chief Onwanonsyshon (G. H. M. Johnson) and Emily Howells. Tekahionwake began writing poetry in her mid-teens, after a childhood of poor health largely confined her to indoor pursuits like reading.

Sometime after 1884, following the death of her father, Tekahionwake began a career as a public orator and embarked on a series of speaking tours in Canada, the United States, and England. Her poems were largely patriotic in nature, but she also incorporated elements of Mohawk culture into her performances.

A visit to Vernon

Tekahionwake visited Vernon in 1907, where she offered a poetry recitation in the second-floor hall of the W. F. Cameron general store. By then, she had published two volumes of poems, “The White Wampum” (1894) and “Canadian Born” (1903), and the crowd was large and appreciative.

When she passed away in 1913, the Vernon News dedicated several pages to describing Tekahionwake’s life and many cultural contributions. Despite what her critics might have said during her lifetime and beyond it, this remarkable woman paved the way for other Indigenous female voices to be heard. 

The documentary Why We Write: Poets of Vernon, by Hannah Calder and Curtis Emde, delves into the world of poets and bookmakers living in and around Vernon, British Columbia. It will premiere at the Vernon Museum on April 29 and 30. Click here to learn more.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

Marie and William Brent circa 1910.

Okanagan Women’s Voices

A recent publication, edited by Jeannette Armstrong, Lally Grauer, and Janet MacArthur, explores the lives of, and relationship between, seven Syilx and settler women.

Okanagan Women’s Voices: Syilx and Settler Writing and Relations 1870s-1960 was the result of hours spent digging through archives across the Okanagan (including the Vernon Archives) to highlight the voices of Susan Moir Allison (1845-1937), Josephine Shuttleworth (1865-1950), Eliza Jane Swalwell (1868-1944), Marie Houghton Brent (1870-1968), Hester Emily White (1877-1963), Mourning Dove (1886-1936) and Isabel Christie MacNaughton (1915-2003).

Marie Houghton Brent Fonds

One collection in the Vernon archives that proved to be particularly useful to Armstrong, Grauer, and MacArthur was the Marie Houghton Brent fonds (for those unfamiliar with the term, in archival science a fonds refers to a records group). This fonds, which was donated to the Vernon Archives by the Ferry County Historical Society in 2000, contains a wealth of Brent’s correspondences, personal writings, and certificates.

Her Story

Marie Brent was the daughter of Charles Frederick Houghton and Sophie N’Kwala. Houghton, who was originally from Ireland, established the Coldstream Ranch in 1863, which he later sold to Charles and Forbes Vernon. Sophie N’Kwala was a granddaughter of the Grand Chief Hwistesmexe’qen, known commonly as N’Kwala or Nicola.  

Sadly, Sophie passed away when Marie was young, and she was raised by her great-aunt Thérèse (Teresa) N’Kwala Laurence, who raised her to be the family’s historian and taught her the stories and traditions of the Okanagan Nation. As a young women, Marie lived for a time with her father, Charles, in Montreal. She later returned to the Okanagan, where she married William Brent in 1908. Throughout her life, Marie continued in the mission ordained by her great-aunt to preserve and share her ancestral teachings, and between 1935 and 1966 wrote a series of articles which were published in the Okanagan Historical Society (OHS) reports. As Robert Hayes of the Kelowna Branch of the OHS aptly stated, “Thérèse N’Kwala Laurence chose well. We owe her and Marie Houghton Brent a debt of gratitude.”

To learn more about Marie Houghton Brent, and the other six women featured in Okanagan Women’s Voices, grab a copy of the book or join the Vernon Museum for Learn + Connect: Reading for Reconciliation, a virtual book club from April to June 2022 featuring this incredible new publication.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

Alapetsa O’Keefe

July 21, 2021

 

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/.

Beauty & Bounty

Cornelius O’Keefe arrived at the head of Okanagan Lake in 1867, with his partners Thomas Greenhow and Thomas Wood, and a large herd of cattle.

Struck by the beauty and bounty of the region, O’Keefe decided to pre-empt 160 acres of land to start a ranch. With time, the O’Keefe Ranch grew to cover around 12,000 acres.

Long before O’Keefe’s arrival, the area was the traditional land territory of the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation. For them, it was their home and native land, on which their culture can be traced by 10 centuries, and where many Syilx People live to this day.

Alapetsa 

The area was also home to a woman named Alapetsa.

Alapetsa (Rosie) was born to Stalekaya (Francois) and Sararenolay (Marie) circa 1850. Around 1869, she began living with Cornelius O’Keefe in a common-law marriage, and working around the ranch.  

 

A portrait of Christine Catherine O’Keefe, the daughter of Alapetsa and Cornelius O’Keefe (O’Keefe Ranch Archives)

 

A daughter, Christine, was born to the couple about 1871. They had at least one other child, a son, who is believed to have tragically drowned at a young age.   

Indigenous + Settler Unions

Alapetsa and Cornelius O’Keefe’s relationship was not a unique one. Most early European male settlers to the Okanagan Valley had an Indigenous partner, who provided the ranchers with companionship and assistance around the homestead. These partnerships were not legal marriages in a European sense, but they were considered binding.

While many ranchers formed true bonds of love and friendship with their Indigenous partners, societal pressure to remarry a more “proper” (that is, a European) wife, often resulted in the dissolution of these relationships and the disenfranchisement of the their Indigenous wives after only a few years.

societal pressure 

The relationship between Cornelius and Alapetsa was dissolved before he married a white woman in 1875. She remained in the area, raising her daughter Christine, and is believed to have eventually married a man named Michele. Alapetsa passed away in 1905.

To learn more about Alapetsa, as well as other powerful and unique women involved in O’Keefe Ranch, sign up for a Heritage Field Trip to O’Keefe Ranch on Friday, July 30, 2021.

Gwyn Evans

 

 

Coldstream Kate Kalamalka

 

March 5, 2021

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political successes of women. Even more importantly, perhaps, it is a chance to elevate the voices of those women whose achievements have been silenced, whether intentionally or not, by the passing of time. One such woman is Catherine Kalamalka.

Gaps in the Archives

An important caveat : the GVMA’s limited resources about this remarkable woman are indicative of a larger, national tendency for Indigenous Peoples, and especially Indigenous women, to be underrepresented in archives and settler-based museums.

Katherine’s descendants and wider Indigenous community could likely offer a much warmer, personal, and accurate portrayal of her life than the one that is presented here.

Daughter of Chief Kalamalka

According to “Q’sapi: A History of Okanagan People as Told by Okanagan Families,” Catherine Kalamalka (sometimes spelled Katherine or Katrine in other sources) was born circa 1847 to Chief Cohastimene and Marie Kwentek.

She was the granddaughter of the famous Chief Kalamalka, for whom the Kalamalka Hotel was named. Later, it is believed Long Lake was renamed Kalamalka Lake in his honour.

 

Cosen’s Bay and Kalamalka Lake (GVMA)

 

Unfortunately, the museum does not have a photo of Coldstream Kate in their collection. This photo, however, does show her father, Chief Cohastimene (sometimes spelled Goastamana), in 1902. His daughter Catherine would have been in her fifties when this photo was taken.

“coldstream Kate”

Catherine was known as Coldstream Kate, and, according to a Vernon News article in 1926, was “the best known woman in the Okanagan Valley, if not in the province. She was famous for her beauty and kindly disposition.”

Following his arrival in the area, Catherine began a common-law partnership with Forbes George Vernon, for whom our City is named. Together, they had two children, Mary and Louisa. When Vernon was elected to the Provincial Legislature in 1875, he left Catherine and his daughters, and moved to Victoria. Two years later he married Katie Alma Branks of California.

a tower of strength

After Vernon’s departure, Catherine, then aged thirty-eight, married forty-two-year-old widower Louis Bercier from Washington. The couple farmed on a property at the Head of the Lake, and later settled near Whiteman’s Creek with Catherine’s daughter Louisa.

Catherine Kalamalka, then known as Mrs. Louis Bercier, passed away on February 9, 1926 at the age of about 80. Her obituary in theVernon News states that “with the passing of Mrs. Bercier, many a poor man and woman lost a good friend whose bright disposition was a tower of strength in difficult times.”

Gwyn Evans

vernon hospital’s founding mother

 

October 9. 2020

October is Women’s History Month, a celebration of the outstanding achievements of women throughout Canada’s history. Since its incorporation in 1892, Vernon has been home to a number of fascinating women, and this is therefore the perfect opportunity to explore how their legacies have shaped our city.

For any of us who have visited the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, we owe this woman our health; she was the driving force behind the establishment of Vernon’s first hospital, fondly known as the Cottage Hospital.

Clara Chipp came to Vernon circa 1888 after marrying the town’s first government official, Walter Dewdney. Walter had recently lost his wife, and Clara stepped up to act as a surrogate mother to his three young children. The young stepmom quickly became active in Vernon’s social scene, hosting picnics for local children and playing the organ at church services.

 

 

Clara & Walter Dewdney, 1889

Unfortunately, Walter was under a significant amount of stress from his job. He had little time for anything other than work, and spent long hours confined his desk. He began to suffer from bouts of depression, on top of chronic pain due to a kidney disorder. Just four years after marrying Clara, he took his own life.

Following Walter’s tragic death, Clara found herself alone with her three stepchildren. She moved in to a new house closer to that of her father, John Chipp, a local doctor, so he could help with their care. From this vantage point, Clara was also afforded a clear view of the handsome young shopkeeper, William Cameron, who worked across the street. In 1894, Clara and William were married.

In 1894, diphtheria broke out in Vernon, and underlined the urgent need for a local health care facility. At this time, Clara was Vice-President of the National Council of Women and used her position to canvas the district for financial support towards the construction of a hospital. In 1897, Vernon’s first Jubilee “Cottage” Hospital was opened in a boarding house on 28th Avenue—a temporary facility until the new building opened on Hospital Hill in 1909.

Tragically, Clara would never live to see this day. In 1898, she was diagnosed with cancer, and instead of suffering through her deteriorating health, she took her own life by drinking carbolic acid in 1900. A tribute to her in the Vernon News stated that “the establishment of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital was due almost entirely to the untiring efforts of the late Mrs. W.F. Cameron … It is eminently fitting that her memory should be honored in this connection.”

So next time you pass by or through the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, spare a thought for the woman who fought tirelessly for the health of Vernon’s citizens.  

Gwyn Evans