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Friday, July 24, 2015

4 Fascinating Facts About the Vernon, BC Train Station: Gateway To the City

“The heritage value of the Vernon CPR Station lies in its association with the Canadian Pacific Railway and its role in the settlement and economic growth of Vernon and the Okanagan Valley.”  Vernon Heritage Registry

#1 Shuswap & Okanagan Railway

If you were to stand in front of the old Vernon train station and look to your right you would immediately be struck by a large and impressive mural depicting the building of the Shuswap & Okanagan Railway. This railway was a spur line of the great Transcontinental Railway that united British Columbia with the rest of Canada. The Transcontinental Railway was completed in 1885 and the S & O spur line was finished in 1892 starting in Sicamous and terminating in Okanagan Landing.

In 1886, A group of businessmen including Forbes G. Vernon ( for whom the town is named), Francis Barnard ( of the BX Express fame), J.H. Turner (later a Premier of B.C.), Moses Lumby and J.A. Mara had a vision for this railway and began an enterprise to build it. The S & O railway opened up the entire Okanagan Valley to the world and redefined Vernon as a city. Its historic value to Vernon and the whole of the Okanagan Valley cannot be overstated. 

#2 T.E. Crowell the Builder

Mr. Crowell was a prominent  builder in the early days of Vernon. He is responsible for such historic buildings as the Park School ( now the Okanagan Science Centre), Central School ( now Beairsto School), the Vernon Armouries and many of the landmark houses of the town. 

In 1911, he was given the contract to replace the original 1891 CPR station with the beautiful building we have today. It is a brick building with a fieldstone foundation, pink granite quarried locally and a multi-sided turret. It is known for its “Alpine” or “Swiss” design which was “intended to give visitors a sense of the picturesque and promote tourism as well as settlement”. The street in front of the station became known as "Railway Avenue" (now 29th Street). Today the station houses several different business including the ever popular Ratio Coffee & Pastry . 

#3 The C.N.R  and 
the Kelowna Pacific Railway

In January of 1925 the newly formed Canadian National Railway ( the C.P.R.’s biggest competitor) formed a railway line from Kamloops to Kelowna and in 1926 began passenger service. Despite the competition, the C.N.R. actually shared the Vernon train station with the C.P.R. 

This railway eventually became the Kelowna Pacific Railway in 2000. The track from Vernon to Kelowna is currently planned for a major local and tourist attraction - “The Okanagan Rail Trail”. 

#4 Settlers, Soldiers and Goods

The train station was the gateway into the city for scores of settlers from all around the world - including Lord and Lady Aberdeen who purchased the Coldstream Ranch and began fruit orchards. The station was also the main form of transportation for many people and goods (not the least of which was fruit) out of the city and into the world. 

Lord and Lady Aberdeen

Excerpts from the reports of The Okanagan Historical Society testify to this fact:

“Our love of the land, and its scarcity in England, plus the attractive Canadian Pacific Railway propaganda, lured my husband and I to Canada… We took our tickets for Vernon, B.C., from an agent in Plymouth... A one-way ticket from Plymouth to Vernon 
cost us 87 dollars.” Grace Worth OHSR Volume 33:113

“A large, red dot in the guidebook being designated "Sicamous," they bought tickets for that destination, only to find that the railway station then constituted the "town". They boarded the next train which was the Shuswap and Okanagan Railway branch line, for Vernon. There they were befriended by the mayor, all hotels being full. The owner of Shorts' Point, now Fintry, gave the Newton Brothers work planting 100 acres to fruit trees.”  
OHSR Volume 21:42

“At the age of 70, Joe (Harwood) went back to England. It was a big day for him. His many friends rejoiced with him, for the railway station was packed with well wishers when he set off on his long journey to a land he had left 58 years previously.” OHSR Volume 24:39

Photo Credit: Don Pierce for Ratio Coffee

And the Vernon Heritage Registry notes that… “the Vernon CPR Station was also the point of departure for troops in World War I and II. During both world wars, the Vernon Army Camp was an active training centre for thousands of troops who travelled on the CPR.”

Truly, the "Old Station House" is a civic treasure. 

"Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness..." Isaiah 43:19

You May Also Like:

7 Fascinating Facts About Okanagan Landing, B.C.: Gateway To the Okanagan

Historic Timeline of Greater Vernon, BC

Sources & Further Reading:

Vernon Heritage Registry:

Okanagan Historical Society Reports

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