Search This Blog

Monday, December 28, 2015

8 Fascinating Facts About the History of Vernon, BC (During Its 125th Birthday)!

See also A Historic Timeline of Greater Vernon, BC here

#1 The Okanagan First Nations 
(“Syeelhwh Nation”)

What is now Vernon, British Columbia was first inhabited by the Okanagan  ("Sqilxw") Indians  of the Interior Salish People. The current area of the city was called Nintle-Noos-Chin by Okanagan Indians meaning roughly  “jumping over place”. This was because at this point the banks of the present day BX Creek nearly met and it was possible to leap across it. 

Of note among the Okanagan Indians was a chief named Hwistesmetxe'qen meaning Walking Grizzly Bear (1780/1785 – 1865). He would later be called Nicolas or Nicola by the fur traders and thus lent his name to many geographical features including the Nicola Valley. He at times lived at the Head of the Lake (The northwest tip of Okanagan Lake) and was known as a very great chief amongst the Interior Indians and a wise and peacemaking partner of the white fur traders. As Stan Saurwein states in his book Fintry: Lives, Loves and Dreams the father of the famous Indian Chief Nicola walked these lands with his people. “Pelkamulox’s people spent their summers roaming the plateau down to the Fintry delta and their winters at the village of Nkama’peleks, near the head of Lake Okanagan.”

Goastamana, son of Chief Kalamalka, with Ellen Ellison. Photo Credit

Kalamalka was also a well-known Indian chief in the area that is now Vernon. He was so popular that one of the first hotels in the city was named after him. Later, the beautifully coloured lake just south of Vernon would be renamed Kalamalka as well. 

#2 The Fur Traders & the Gold Rush 

In 1811, David Stuart of the Pacific Fur Company became the first white man (as far as we know) to see the Okanagan Valley. The Okanagan Brigade Trail was a main Hudson’s Bay trail linking Ft Vancouver (Washington State) to what is now Kamloops. It made use of early Indian trading routes and followed the Okanagan River and then blazed through the woods of the West side of Okanagan Lake. It was a significant boon to the growth of what would be Vernon. 

The Okanagan Trail, which was more or less the same route as the Brigade Trail brought miners up from the U.S.A. through the Okanagan and back to the areas of the Fraser River gold rush. In 1863 gold was discovered in Cherry Creek (about 40 Kilometres East of Vernon) and this led to some miners and traders settling in the Vernon area.

Luc Girourad is known as the first permanent white settler in the Vernon area (c.1861) – his cabin can still be seen beside the roundabout near the Schubert Centre ( 30th Ave. and 35th St.)  In 1859 the Oblate Missionaries of the Catholic Church entered the Valley having traveled all the way from France via the Oregon Territory. Anglican and Protestant churches would soon arrive in the ensuing years. 

#3 The Ranching Years 

In 1864 Forbes and Charles Vernon obtained a large ranch from fellow Irishman Charles Houghton. Houghton had named it the Coldstream Ranch likely after the Coldstream Guards, a regiment of the British Army. The District of Coldstream retains this name to this day and the nearby city was named in honour of Forbes Vernon.   In the same year Francis Barnard, of the BX Express fame, started a ranch north of the town site to breed his horses for use in his stagecoach business which was a formative influence in the early days of British Columbia. Today the area north of Vernon is still known as “The BX”

Cornelius O'Keefe
Forbes George Vernon

It was 1867 when perhaps the most famous of the ranchers, Cornelius O’Keefe, arrived with two others – Thomas Greenhow and Thomas Wood -  to establish a ranch at the Head of Okanagan Lake. This is the same year that the first town site was settled due in large part to satisfy the needs of the surrounding ranches. Price Ellison was also a very influential rancher, businessman and politician in the area and had his ranch near the bottom of East Hill. Vernon was at one 

time (c.1877) known as Forge Valley because of Ellison’s blacksmith shop.  Later it would become known as Priest’s Valley due to the presence of the Oblate Missionaries. 

#4 The Beginnings of a City 

As has been mentioned the area now known as Vernon had gone by three previous names ( Nintle-Noos-Chin, Forge Valley and Priest’s Valley). Then in 1885, E.J. Tronson and Charles Brewer laid out a town site and gave Vernon its fourth name – Centreville.  It wasn’t until 1887 that the town was officially named Vernon after Forbes G. Vernon. Back then local streets were named for local pioneers (you can still see the original names of some streets on small signs on the street posts) and today’s main business street (30th Avenue) was then known as Barnard Avenue after Francis Barnard. 

In 1892, Vernon was finally incorporated as a city of British Columbia. It became home to banks, hotels, schools, a fire hall, a hospital, a city newspaper, a courthouse and many varieties of stores. Japanese and Chinese settler were also an important part of the culture and history of Vernon and there was for many years a “Chinatown” in Vernon’s midst.  Vernon was not only the first city incorporated in the Okanagan Valley but was for many years the largest and most influential one as well. 

#5 The Fruit Growing Industry 

Lord and Lady Aberdeen visited the Vernon area in 1890 and a year later purchased the Coldstream Ranch from Forbes Vernon. In 1892 the Aberdeen’s had 100 fruit trees planted at the ranch “in an effort to kick start a fruit growing industry in the region.” They also subdivided several parcels of land for others who wanted a future in the fruit growing business. 

Lord and Lady Aberdeen and family. PC: Greater Vernon Museum

Before long the Aberdeen’s were selling their produce to the CPR dining cars and hotels. However, they soon realized the need for irrigation channels and eventually the Grey Canal would be built in 1908. It would soon help irrigate the entire Vernon area.  The fruit industry in Coldstream and Vernon had begun and would eventually become famous all over the country and the world for its fine produce. The famous Vernon Fruit Union was eventually established in 1913.

#6 The Railway & Steamboats 

Perhaps one of the most significant years in the history of Vernon and of the Okanagan Valley in general was 1892 when a spur line called the Shuswap and Okanagan Railway was completed. Beginning as on off shoot of the famed Transcontinental Railway in Sicamous, the S & O  was the brainchild of Forbes Vernon and F.S. Barnard, among others, and it connected Vernon, Okanagan Landing just west of Vernon, and eventually all  of the Valley to the rest of the world. 

The launch of the SS Sicamous. PC

At Okanagan Landing where the tracks ended, the steam boats began. They travelled the entire distance of Okanagan Lake paddling past such places as Fintry, Okanagan Centre, Kelowna, Summerland and finally Penticton. Small scale commercial boating had been running since 1882 through the efforts of Captain Thomas Dolman Shorts but when the railway came and the first steam boat, the SS Aberdeen was built, commercial goods and passenger transport really took off. In reference to Okanagan Landing, Greater Vernon Museum’s Curator, Ron Candy, says “You can compare (Okanagan Landing) to the Kelowna International Airport of the time”. 

#7 The Military Heritage 

Although there had been a number of attempts to form a militia unit in Vernon it wasn’t until 1908 that the first such unit was officially formed – it was called the Canadian Mounted Rifles and later the 30th Regiment B.C. Horse but was known more commonly as the Okanagan Mounted Rifles. A military heritage had begun to take root in the Okanagan. To quote Ron Candy,  “In 1912, the same year the 30th B.C. Horse came into being, a permanent annual district summer training camp for cavalry and infantry militia units was established in Vernon.  The camp was located on Mission Hill; the same area used today for cadet training.” This camp would be home to up to 2000 men in 1914 – two thirds the population of Vernon at the time. 

Mural in downtown Vernon depicting the military. PC: Tourism Vernon

During WW1 the 30th B.C. Horse went overseas…"During its service in France, the Regiment took part in a number of battles including Ypres, Somme, Vimy Ridge, Cambrai, and Passchendaele.  A total of 686 members of the regiment were killed in action or died from wounds." The regiment eventually morphed into the British Columbia Dragoons and fought in WW2 where they landed in Marseilles and ended up capturing the town of Delfzijl, one of Germany’s last defenses. 

On a sad note we must record the dark history of our WW1 Internment camp. The camp was on the grounds of what is now MacDonald Park near Seaton High School and "...thousands of Ukrainians and others of European descent and their families were interred and forced to do heavy labour. Of the 8,579 people interred, more than 5,000 were of Ukrainian background and many were women and children. Many were not released until 1920.” (Vernon Morningstar) 

#8 The Evolution of the City 

There are many more stories of Vernon from the beginnings of Sovereign Lake and Silverstar Mountain right up to the world class resorts above Okanagan Lake and of course the world famous wine industry at our doorstep. Today Vernon, along with the District of Coldstream and other historic surroundings, is part of the Regional District of the North Okanagan which was formed in 1965.

Kalamalka Lake

From Okanagan Lake to Swan Lake to Kalamalka Lake and the valleys in between Vernon has always been a place of unrivaled beauty. From the First Nations, fur traders and miners to the ranchers, businessmen and politicians, Vernon, British Columbia has also had an illustrious history in the Okanagan Valley, the province and the country. To live in a place of such beauty and history is indeed a privilege. 

So now that you have an idea of our city’s wonderful heritage go and dive further into it…. read more articles on this blog (linked throughout this article), read a book from the library, take a tour of our amazing murals or best of all visit our great museum. 

"The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters..." Psalm 23:1-2

Sources & Further Reading: 

The Greater Vernon Museum and Archives:



Valley of dreams : A Pictorial History of Vernon and district

The British Garden of Eden; Paul M. Koroscil

Fintry: Lives, Loves and Dreams; Stan Saurwein 

The Vernon Morningstar

Correspondence with Dr. Duane Thomson, President of Lake Country Museum


Saturday, December 19, 2015

5 Fascinating Facts about the Magi: Looking Into the History and Theology of the Three Wise Men

#1 What the Bible Tells Us

The only mention of the Magi (Wise Men) in the Bible is in Matthew’s Gospel 2:1-12. Here is a portion (the entire passage is at the bottom of this blog):  

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him… When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:1-3, 10-11).

Adoration of the Magi by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.

The Bible never mentions how many magi came from the East but it has been traditionally represented as three most likely because there were three different types of gifts. Another misconception is that the Magi came when Jesus was an infant. Jesus was most likely between 6 months and two years old (thus Herod’s killing of all those under 2 years old later on in the passage). 

#2 Who Were the Magi?

The Greek word used for “Magi” is magos and is connected with “wise men, teachers, priests…astrologers, sorcerers etc.” (Strong’s) from Babylon or perhaps even the Orient. It is translated as “sorcerer” later in the New Testament but in this context it fits more closely to astrologers. Guzik tells us “Church traditions even tell us their names - supposedly Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar. You can see their supposed skulls in the great cathedral at Cologne, Germany.”

Craig S. Keener PhD. makes the point that: "Matthew informs his readers that even at Jesus’ birth, the (Jewish) religious teachers who knew the most (2:5) failed to act on the truth, while (Gentile) pagans whom one would never expect to come to the Jewish Messiah did just that.”  

"Early Christian Magi". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikipedia 

Although astrology is forbidden by the Bible, God chose to reveal Himself to these people who obviously had sincere hearts in seeking the truth - just as Jesus later gave of Himself to those considered “unclean” by the religious elite. They would have been forever changed by meeting Him. 

Early Christians regarded the coming of the Magi as a significant event, even recording it in the art of the catacombs. 

The Prophecy of Balaam – Numbers 24:17

There is a prophecy of the coming Messiah in the Book of Numbers by the disingenuous prophet Balaam. 

“I see Him, but not now;
I behold Him, but not near;
A Star shall come out of Jacob;
A Scepter shall rise out of Israel,
And batter the brow of Moab,
And destroy all the sons of tumult.”

Justin Martyr and other early Church fathers related this prophecy to the Star of Bethlehem and the Magi. In fact, well respected Bible commentator Matthew Henry notes: “Perhaps this prophecy of Balaam (one of the children of the east) concerning a star that should arise out of Jacob, as the indication of a sceptre arising in Israel, being preserved by a tradition of that country, gave occasion to the wise men, who were of the east too, upon the sight of an unusual star over the land of Judea, to enquire for him that was born king of the Jews.” 

#4 The Star

There are at least three main theories as to the science behind the Star of Bethlehem which the Magi followed. Some say it was a comet (however those were usually seen as bad omens), some say it was a nova or birth of a star but the third explanation is the most likely – that it was a conjunction of planets as Johannes Kepler believed. A BBC article featuring astronomer David Hughes states:

“This leads the astronomer to conclude that the star of Bethlehem was probably not a star at all, and that it was more than one single event. …Hughes's best explanation for this series of events is something known as a triple conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn - with the two planets coming close together in the sky three times over a short period.” 

Furthermore some Christians believe it to be an entirely supernatural phenomena - “We believe it to have been a luminous appearance in mid-air; probably akin to that which led the children of Israel through the wilderness, which was a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night..." Charles Spurgeon

#5 The Gifts 

According to, “These valuable items were standard gifts to honor a king or deity in the ancient world: gold as a precious metal, frankincense as perfume or incense, and myrrh as anointing oil.” 

Gold was often a token of royalty – in this case the royalty of the baby Jesus. Frankincense was used in sacrificial offerings and could be a reference to His deity and finally myrrh was a perfuming ointment often used in embalming – this could speak of the sufferings and death that lay ahead for this little infant. 


These were not just presents of altruism from the Magi – they were offerings to God Himself.  “This expression, used frequently in the Old Testament of the oblations presented to God, is in the New Testament employed seven times, and always in a religious sense of offerings to God. Beyond doubt, therefore, we are to understand the presentation of these gifts by the Magi as a religious offering.” James, Faucet & Brown

David Guzik leaves us with this thought-provoking statement:

“We see here three different responses to Jesus; one may say that all people respond in one of these three ways.
- Herod displayed an open hatred and hostility toward Jesus.
- The chief priests and the scribes were indifferent toward Jesus, all the while retaining their religious respectability.
- The wise men sought out Jesus, and worshipped Him - even at great cost.”

Which will we be? As they say – Wise men still seek Jesus. For it is Jesus in whom are “hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). 

Sources and Further Reading:

The IVP Bible Background Commentary NT: Craig S. Keener 

Star of Bethlehem: The Astronomical Explanations (BBC):
Matthew Henry Bible Commentary

David Guzik Bible Commentary ( 


Matthew 2:1-13:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,
saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
 ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”
Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared.
And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.
When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.
And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Gift Card (How the Gospel Is Like a Gift Card)

So this Christmas I received, as I’m sure many of you have, a few gift cards. Whether they are big or small most people get some for the holidays. One of the cards I received this year was from Sherry’s Grandma (she’s become my Grandma too). It was a Starbucks card and Sherry and I thoroughly enjoyed using it on our day off together.

I guess what I like about gift cards is that they are a means for me to receive something valuable for free. But when you think about it, it’s not really free – someone had to pay for it. In this instance it was our Grandma but it made me think of another instance.

I’ve known a few people who just can’t wrap their mind around the Gospel of Jesus – basically because it’s something offered for free. And not just anything – but the very eternal salvation of our souls. Eternal salvation not just to live the way we do now but to live in Heaven with our Creator and the One who loves us. Our Maker has made a way back to Himself!

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9.

But things that are free often raise the suspicion of many. If it’s so good – why is it free? Isn’t anything worth having worth working hard for?  So whether it’s a lack of trust, pride or just a lifetime of being used to having to work hard for everything little thing you’ve received – many people struggle with this idea of a  “free” gift of salvation. 

However here is where salvation is like a gift card. It may be free to you – but it’s not free. Freedom itself is not free and it never has been. Oh, God knows it’s not free – just like the gift card someone had to pay for it. And Jesus paid dearly for it on the cross! God’s Son was the “Giver” of this gift card so to speak. He paid a debt that we could not pay no matter how much money we had or how hard we worked or how good we were. He paid the debt of sin which made the way for the “gift” of eternal salvation.  

So what’s our part of the deal? 

1) Well similar to the gift card at Christmas we first must receive and accept it from the giver. It’s our choice to do so. 

2) And we certainly don’t try to pay for it as this would greatly insult the giver and miss the point.

3) We also trust the person who gave it to us. We trust them that it has value and that it will actually pay for the cup of coffee or the iTunes song (or whatever it might be). 

4) Finally, we need to redeem it. Go to the store, cash it in – enjoy the gift.  Merry Christmas!