Vernon Preparatory School

July 12, 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/.

The Mackie Family

In 1940, Hugh and Grace Mackie purchased a house at 7804 Kidston Road and turned it into a beautiful and serene home for themselves and their five boys.

Hugh and Grace had been in the Vernon area since 1913, when they arrived with Hugh’s brother Augustine, an Anglican cleric, to establish a boarding school for boys.

This institution, the purpose of which was to mold young boys into model English gentlemen, was called the Vernon Preparatory School.

schooled In British Culture

Such a school was in high demand at the time it was established. Around the turn of the 20th Century, the Vernon area was home to a significant number of settlers from the United Kingdom.

 

Group photo of the student body of the Vernon Preparatory School in front of the school building circa 1931. Headmasters Augustine and Hugh Mackie are located in the centre of the third row from the front, with Grace Mackie between them.

 

Although they had traveled great distances to live in Canada, many of them still wished to see their children educated in British custom and culture. The school officially opened in January of 1914 for male boarders and day pupils between the ages of 7 and 14. 

The school had a few different locations over the years. As the class sizes expanded, the Mackie Brothers ended up leasing the Hensman Ranch so that their facilities could accommodate up to 50 pupils. Here Reverend Mackie built the St. Nichola’s Chapel, which the students attended regularly as part of their curriculum.

Discipline and Reputation

Discipline was strict at the Vernon Prep School, and the boys started each day at 6 am with a cold bath in an unheated washroom. But they were also allowed to engage in a variety of sports, from cricket, to soccer, to badminton, to swimming, to hiking, and the food was said to be exceptional.

All of this helped to develop the credibility and reputation of the school. Gerry McGeer, Vancouver’s mayor from 1935 to 1945, even sent his son the Vernon Prep School. McGeer was known for his efforts to stamp out the booze trade in Vancouver’s underworld, and his son became the subject of retaliatory threats during his time at the school. Luckily, the threats never amounted to anything beyond words and the boy was kept safe under the watchful eye of the Mackie brothers.

Mackie Lake House

When the Mackies purchased what would become known as the Mackie Lake House, they retired from the teaching profession. The school remained in operation until 1972. In 1997, the property was purchased and transformed into what is now the Coldstream Meadows Retirement Home.

 

Gwyn Evans

 

 

Canadian Battle Drill School

July 5, 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/.

Training centre on Coldstream Ranch

An exciting temporary exhibit by the Vernon Cadet Camp Museum explores the history of the Canadian Battle Drill School Training Centre located at the Coldstream Ranch from 1942 to 1946.

The pop-up museum exhibit is on display at Vernon’s Sun Valley Mall.at 3334 30th Avenue in Unit 110.

The exhibit displays aspects of the training centre, established by the Department of National Defence on 2,250 acres of land leased from the Coldstream Ranch.

First of its kind in Canada

The first of its kind in Canada, this training centre was a valuable contribution to Canada’s war efforts.

There was a personal motivation for the ranch’s manager, Thomas Hill, and the ranch’s owners. During the course of World War Two, 35 employees of the ranch enlisted for service overseas, with six never returning home.

 

Soldiers crawling through a trench filled with mud and water at the Canadian Battle Drill School at the Coldstream Ranch. In the background, instructors watch over the proceedings. (1944)

 

Devil’s Gulch

Arguably, one of the most interesting components of the Battle Drill School was its intense assault course, used to train soldiers in the maneuvering of hazardous landscapes. At the beginning of the course, a sign with the words “Devil’s Gulch. Abandon hope all ye who enter here,” topped by a bleached cow skull, signaled what was to come.

Upon entering the obstacle course, the school’s students would be faced with fences crudely wrapped in barbed wire. They would next have to scramble over a wooden structure 25 to 30 feet tall, before army crawling beneath entangled wire and through flooded trenches.

Hazed by Live Gunfire and the Occasional Rattlesnake

Soldiers-in-training had to traverse mud pit after mud pit, and then use ropes to scale down a vertical cliff face to reach the end of the course—only to have to turn back around and complete it in reverse. All along the way, they were hazed by live gunfire and the occasional rattlesnake.

As many as 20,000 soldiers trained at the Battle Drill School. Although the training was intense, many of the soldiers who endured it reported that without it, they would not have been able to survive, either physically or mentally, once they arrived overseas. 

Gwyn Evans

 

 

tidings of Comfort & joy

 

December 16, 2020

The Vernon Museum’s artifact collection has a lot of is Christmas cards. But this is certainly not a complaint! They don’t take up much space, are pleasantly festive, and provide firsthand insight into Christmases past.

These paper sentiments of peace and joy actually have quite a complex history that is, paradoxically, heavily intertwined with that of global military conflicts. 

During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/1871, a French stationer, Leon Besnardeaux (1829-1914) provided camped soldiers with stiff pieces of cardboard printed with lithographic designs so they could send messages home without the need for envelopes.

 

An example of a Christmas Greeting preserved in the GVMA’s collection

Some of these cards arrived just in time for Christmas. While Christmas cards themselves had been around since the 1840s, Besnardeaux’s good deed represented the origins of the picture postcard.

Christmas cards were hugely popular with soldiers during the First World War. Many were decorated with romantic images and local landmarks to bring joy to distant loved ones. Some of the most remarkable among these are the silk postcards. The silk embroidery was thought to have been produced by out-of-work civilians in France and Belgium, who then sent their creations to factories to be mounted on cardboard backings. The Vernon Museum has several silk postcards in their collection, and they are spectacular.

During World War Two, sending Christmas cards remained a popular tradition. Although the separation from family must have been keenly felt by the soldiers, most of the cards were cheerful and sometimes even goofy, likely to keep morale high on both ends, while those sent during the First World War tended to be a bit more somber and traditional in their motifs.

In 1917, a young Kitty Fitzmaurice received a Christmas card to her home in Vernon that showed a soldier peering out through a crumbled hole in a brick wall. Inside the card is a Christmas and New Year’s greeting, signed with the simple but emotive words “Love, Daddy.” Kitty’s father was Col. R Fitzmaurice, who went on to return safely home from the war and become Vernon’s mayor in 1920.

While the current global pandemic cannot and should not be compared to the World Wars, there is a certain parallel between the past and present absence of loved ones, and the ability of a simple folded paper to bring sentiments of joy to those from whom we are separated.

Gwyn Evans

celebrating japanese culture

 

September 25, 2020

In 1934, a Japanese Cultural Centre opened at 1895 Bella Vista Road. Although its opening did not draw much interest from the general population of Vernon, this was a major milestone for the local Japanese community. The centre would serve as as stronghold of Japanese culture over the next few years, a period when many Japenese immigrants faced significant social and political opposition.  

Japanese citizens began immigrating to the Okanagan Valley at the turn of the 20th century. The first to arrive was Eijiro Kojama, who settled in Coldstream in 1903 and was naturalized at the Vernon Courthouse in 1908. Kojama served as foreman at the Coldstream Ranch, hiring other Japanese immigrants to work as labourers. By 1911, 314 Japanese were living in the Greater Vernon Area.  

 

 

Members of the Vernon Japanese community gathered for a celebration at the Japanese Community Hall located on Bella Vista Road, circa 1935.

In 1908, the Canadian Government negotiated an agreement with Japan that restricted the number of new male Japanese immigrants to Canada to only 400 a year. A 1916 Vernon News article descripes “orientals” as “undesirable immigrants,” and states that the “proportion of orientals to the white population of British Columbia is far too great to admit any [further immigrants] without grave danger.” Despite these social and institutional barricades, the Okanagan Valley Land Company opened a Japanese work camp, where both men and women were employed in the fields and packing houses. Japanese churches, community centres, and associations began cropping up across the Okanagan Valley.

World War Two was a tumultuous time in Canada for Japanese immigrants. After the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the Okanagan Security Committee began pushing for the use of interned Japanese as involuntary orchard labourers. At the end of August 1942, around 250 Japanese men were accompanied by police from the Greenwood internment camp to orchards in Vernon. Labourers made less than 4$ a day, and were stripped of their civil rights. They were not permitted to shop on Saturdays, nor visit Vernon Cafes at night. In September of 1942, around 70 Japanese workers at the Coldstream Ranch were re-interned after petitioning for higher wages.

In 1967, the Canadian Government introduced a new points-based immigration policy that no longer considered race a factor for exclusion, introducing a new generation of Japanese immigrants to Canada and the Okanagan Valley. Today, the Vernon Japanese Culture Centre still stands, and its society, as well as associated organizations like the Vernon Judo Club and the Vernon Japanese Women’s Auxilary, proudly promote a culture that has withstood generations of suppression.

Gwyn Evans

woman of distinction

 

July 2, 2020

An online petition asking the government of BC to purchase a property at 9747 Cameron Road and incorporate it into the neighbouring Ellison Park has currently more than 10,000 signatures. While it is the future of the 34-acres of land that are stimulating significant public discussion, the history of one of the women who used to call it home is just as fascinating.

In 1946, the property in question, which included a 1912 historic house, was sold to Mayor and Mrs. Hodgson by the Dalziel family, who were moving to West Vancouver. Although she was often styled E.L. Hodgson, after her husband Eldred, a celebrated captain who served in both World Wars and as a fruit inspector in the Okanagan, Rosalind Hodgson’s name should be known for her own remarkable achievements.

During World War Two, Rosalind, an immigrant from England living in Vernon, enlisted with the Mechanical Transport Corps, and was immediately accepted after excelling in anti-gas, map reading, commissariat, first aid, driving, and mechanical repair training. 

 

 

An undated portrait of Rosalind Hodgson

 

She was accepted to a job as a vehicle driver, one that meant hard work, long hours, and no pay. Indeed, unless they were driving transport lorries or ambulances, female drivers were required to be self-sufficient. They were expected to operate vehicles in England or any other part of the Empire in need, including on active fronts. But this did not dissuade Rosalind; she paid her own way overseas, saying that she wouldn’t even mind being sent to Kenya or the Far East. 

Rosalind drove army vehicles all over the United Kingdom, and was attached to the Air Ministry in this capacity for some time. Her husband Eldred, meanwhile, was stationed in Manitoba as Adjutant of the Artillery Training Camp at Shilo. In 1943, the couple were granted leave together, and spent it pheasant shooting in the Okanagan—or, Eldred did; Rosalind, on the other hand, said that she didn’t much care for shooting and killing things “on this side of the Atlantic.”

After the war, the couple sold their property on Kalamalka Lake and moved to the 9747 Cameron Road property on Okanagan Lake, where they would remain until the 1960s. They later moved back to Cumberland, England. Rosalind passed away in 1973, and Eldred two years later, in 1975. 

Gwyn Evans

an explosive history

April 17, 2020

In the Okanagan we are blessed with so many great trails that are easy to access, but rural enough to allow you to maintain an appropriate social distance. Even so, walking around our valley can come with hazards, and no, we’re not talking about rattle snakes. Almost a century of military training in the Greater Vernon area has left our range land littered with unexploded ordnances (UXOs), despite the best efforts of cleanup crews.

The Okanagan Indian Band has paid a particularly high price for this reality; portions of reserve land were used during the World Wars for live-fire training exercises. Take a jaunt up to Goose Lake, at the top of Blue Jay Subdivision to Vernon’s North, to have the situation made all too real. Signs warning you not to trespass on the OKIB rangeland are dwarfed by those  cautioning you to stay out for you own safety; in 2015,  a three-inch mortar from the First or Second-World War was discovered on the range, which is only one of several found in the area over the years. Because of this danger, band members have to request special access from the Public Works and Housing Department to access this portion of their land. In total, about 2,800 hectares of band land hide powerful explosives amongst the rocks and shrubs.

 

 

 

 

Cleaning up UXOs is long, tedious, and costly work. In 2015, a highly-trained team scanned a 12-hectare section of the Goose Lake Range with powerful metal detectors, which resulted in about 10,000 hits. Each hit had to carefully excavated, although most turned up no more than horseshoes, barbed wire, and the occasional spent shell.

Despite the seemingly small risk of turning up a UXO, Vernon has experienced a number of tragedies from their discovery over the years. Three men died in 1948 while loading top soil into a truck, and two scouts were killed and one injured in 1963 after stumbling across a live mortar.  In April 1973, another two children were killed by a UXO, which launched renewed cleanup efforts. In the above photo, divers from Camp Vernon exit the water at Cosens Bay where they were searching for explosions in the summer of ’73.

In 2014, in the Monashee Mountains outside of Lumby, a Tolko staff member discovered a balloon bomb embedded in the ground of a forest service road. Interestingly, this particular UXO was of Japanese origin; during World War Two, the country attached incendiary bombs to balloons and sent them across the Pacific to start fires in North America. This one had made it all the way to the Okanagan.

Hopefully with time and the concerted efforts of trained professionals, the risk from UXOs will greatly decrease. In the meantime, if you are out exploring the Okanagan’s rangeland, obey any posted warning signs, and if you come across something that you suspect might be a bomb, make a note of the location (with coordinates, photographs, and as much information as your able to provided) before returning the way you came and calling 911.

Gwyn Evans