A trip back in time to Christmas in Vernon 125 years ago - InfoNews

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A trip back in time to Christmas in Vernon 125 years ago

Photo of Vernon in 1893 — shortly after incorporation. (Photo taken looking east, from the area where the Schubert Centre sits today).
Image Credit: Greater Vernon Museum and Archives
December 20, 2017 - 6:30 PM

VERNON - During the Christmas of 1892, Mr. Postill returned from the coast for Christmas, Miss Carmichael went to Victoria, and Fred Blane was taken off to jail.

That’s the type of delightfully small town talk that filled the pages of The Vernon News 125 years ago.

The year 2017 has been a milestone birthday for the City of Vernon, marking the 125th anniversary of its date of incorporation, Dec. 30, 1892. That makes it the oldest incorporated city in the Okanagan. 

So, what would Christmas have been like in this fair city 125 years ago? We took a trip to the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives to find out.

For starters, Christmas wish lists would have looked pretty different back then. In December of 1892, you might have asked Santa for a cloth bound book or a harmonica if you were a kid, or fancy candies and cigars from Toronto if you were an adult. Those items, along with fine tweed pants for men and silks for the ladies, were advertised for sale by local shops in the Dec. 22, 1892 issue of The Vernon News. 

For a special holiday treat, mom might have made spiced grapes, hot slaw or cold tomato catsup — all of which were featured as seasonal recipes. Directions for making everybody’s favourite ‘potato yeast’ for breads and buns was detailed. Holiday foods were also on supply at the general store, which advertised “Chrestmas fruits in great variety (sic)” and dressed turkeys.

Incorporation would have been the big topic around the Christmas dinner table. It seemed, from newspaper reports at the time, that most favoured the idea and thought it would help the town progress.

Photo of Dec. 22, 1892 edition of The Vernon News.
Photo of Dec. 22, 1892 edition of The Vernon News.
Image Credit: Greater Vernon Museum and Archives

Visitors may have stayed at Hotel Kalemalka (as it was formerly spelled) or The Coldstream, which cost $1 to $2 a night and purported itself to be the largest hotel in the Interior.

Many in the area would have attended the midnight mass at the “neat little way-side” church at O’Keefe Ranch (St. Anne’s Church), the Church of the Oblate Mission near Kelowna or St. George’s Anglican Church in Enderby, which still stands today.

Young adults got in the holiday spirit by taking sleigh rides and singing old college songs that were “perhaps only semi-academical in their origin” according to the wry writer of the report.

Party-goers may have attended gatherings at such hotspots as the Hotel Benvoulin in Kelowna where dinner was followed by a “hop.” According to a report in the Dec. 29 edition of the paper, the ball was enjoyed by “lovers of the terpsichorean art” — a fancy word for dancing. On Boxing Day, you may have gone to the “Grand Xmas Ball” at the town hall in Enderby.

Some had a little too much fun, and while there wasn’t social media shaming in those days, embarrassing behaviour was bound to make it into the local paper. A report in the Dec. 29 edition described a couple of drunks who created some amusement by “fooling” with each other at first, and then getting into a rough and tumble scrap. “One of them, a belligerent little hoodlum from Armstrong,” the article says, “conducted himself in a manner that gained for him the hearty contempt of those who witnessed… the fray.”

Not unlike today, many took extra steps to spread heartfelt holiday cheer. One Canadian Pacific Rail worker, for example, filled “scores of little stockings” along the line before before hurrying back to the coast for Christmas. 

Of course, not everyone was basking in holiday cheer. Remember Fred Blane? He was shipped off to Kamloops jail for six months. He stole from his employer, who, after growing suspicious of Blane’s activities, laid out a purse of money as a trap. Apparently, Blane’s “silly subterfuges” to cover up the theft made his case before the jury all the more worse.

See what you can learn from the past? Always let your potato yeast sit for four hours, don't conduct yourself in a manner that may gain hearty contempt, and stealing from your boss can get you a lengthy stay in the Kamloops jail — as well as a place on Santa’s naughty list.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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