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 FlyOK.ca|
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.
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.
|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.
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.
|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.
|The launch of the SS Sicamous. PC sssicamous.ca|
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”.
|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)
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.
Sources & Further Reading:
The Greater Vernon Museum and Archives:
THE HISTORY OF COLDSTREAM
AND LAVINGTON: http://vernonmuseum.ca/ex_history_of_coldstream_and_lavington.html
THE BRITISH COLUMBIA DRAGOONS
VERNON’S OWN REGIMENT: http://vernonmuseum.ca/ex_dragoons.html
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