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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

4 Fascinating Facts About Dunster, BC

My father’s parents (Del & Hilda Harder) bought a house and some acreage in Dunster when I was a youth and, living in Valemount, I would often go to visit them there. Our extended family was scattered across B.C. and Alberta but we would always eventually find ourselves having a reunion at this special, centrally-located property.

I remember well the good times spent with aunts and uncles and cousins, going to the farmer’s markets and especially taking in the annual Ice Cream Social. All of these, along with the celebration of my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary at the community hall, were fond memories for me and so I wanted to do a little write up on this historic and unique place.  For even more info on Dunster please visit the community’s website here

#1 Geography

Dunster is a small but well known farming community in the heart of the Robson Valley. It is placed on the mighty Fraser River between the Rocky Mountains to the north and the Caribou Range of the Columbia Mountains to the south. It is located between the larger villages of Valemount and McBride, approximately 243 km southeast of Prince George and 37 km northwest of the historic site of Tete Jaune Cache. 

Speaking of geography, Dunster was once immortalized in the pages of the National Geographic Magazine. One of the most famous photos is of John and Josie Adams watching a television set in an old abandoned car. Residents have recreated the scene with an old car and mannequins near the Dunster General Store. 

Photo Credit:

#2 Name & Origins

Marylin Wheeler tells us ( “As construction on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway worked its way across the west, sections for maintenance were established about eight miles or so apart. Examples in the Robson Valley were Croydon, Dunster and Raush, ... Later, as roads improved and mills closed, Dunster became the centre for the area.”

Grand Trunk Pacific Railway: Royal B.C. Museum

The name “Dunster” was bestowed upon it by a railway official for the GTP who named it after his hometown in Somerset England.  In the old country, Dunster is a civil parish located across the Bristol Channel from Wales about 32 km northwest of Taunton and has a population of about 817 people. 

#3 Railway Station

The railroad station at Dunster was built along the line of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad at what was originally known as “Mile 72” in 1913 and a year later the rail line was completed. The GTP was eventually taken over by the Canadian National Railway and in the 1980’s the CN began to systematically destroy its old train stations. Locals rallied together to save the Dunster icon and purchased it from the CN for $1. 

GTP Station at Dunster (1920s): Wikipedia

As of August 1st, 2015, the building has been fully restored and is operating part time as a museum receiving over 1,000 guests last year. It is also a stop on the Skeena line of the VIA Rail and is one of the only remaining stations of its kind in Canada. 

#4 Other Early History 

The train station at Dunster was built in 1913 but the community considers its founding year as 1915 (making this past year its Centennial anniversary). It was 1915 when the post office was first started with George A. Hall as its postmaster and the beginnings of a school also took shape in Dunster. A new school was built in 1932 and again in 1964 and for many years ran as a Fine Arts School. 

Photo Credit: The Yellowhead Pass and Its People

The locally famous General Store was opened in 1918 and 3 years later a bridge was built to span the Fraser (“The first permanent road bridge in the Valley” MW) as the ferry was getting too busy.There is even an unofficial story about a group of older ladies who kept painting flowers on the bridge until the Department of Highways gave up repainting it and named it "The Dunster Flower Bridge".  

The first Community Hall was built in 1932 and the current building just off the highway was constructed in 1979. It is, of course, famous for its farmer’s markets and annual Ice Cream Social. Dunster is truly a one of a kind place in this world and will always hold a special place in my heart. 

"How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children 
of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.
They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; 
and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures." Pslam 38:7-8

Sources & Further Reading:

The Yellowhead Pass and Its People: Valemount Historic Society 1984

B.C. Place Names


Friday, January 1, 2016

A Brief History of Vernon, B.C. and Area

What is now Vernon, British Columbia was first inhabited by the Okanagan Indians of the Interior Salish People. The current area of the city was called Nintle-Moos-Chin by Okanagan Indians meaning  “jumping over creek”. This was because at this point the banks of present day BX Creek nearly met and it was possible to leap across it. A man of note among the Okanagan Indians was Kalamalka, 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. 

In 1811, David Stuart of the Pacific Fur Company (later part of the Hudson’s Bay Company) became the first white man to see the Okanagan Valley. The Okanagan Brigade Trail was a main Hudson’s Bay trail linking Ft. Vancouver in Washington State to what is now Kamloops. It followed the Okanagan River and made use of early Indian trading routes blazing through the woods of the west side of Okanagan Lake. Many miners also came 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.

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. 

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 Vernon 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”. 

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. 

Up to this point the area now known as Vernon had gone by three previous names ( Nintle-Moos-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 George Vernon. 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 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” (Greater Vernon Museum). They also subdivided several parcels of land for others who wanted a future in the fruit growing business.  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. 

Perhaps one of the most significant events in the history of Vernon and of the Okanagan Valley in general was in 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. 

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 Director and Curator, Ron Candy, says “You can compare it to the Kelowna International Airport of the time” (Vernon Morningstar). 

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 again, “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.”  

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 surrounding areas, is part of the Regional District of the North Okanagan which was formed in 1965.

It is indeed a place of great beauty and historic significance. So now that you have an idea of Vernon’s wonderful heritage go and dive further into it - read a book from the library, take a tour of our amazing murals downtown or visit our great museum.