Vernon, Kalamalka Lake, Photo Destination BC Andrew Strain
Vernon is the central hub of the northern Okanagan Valley. The surrounding mountains and valleys provide many opportunities for outdoor recreation. Nearby award-winning Silver Star Mountain Resort attracts visitors winter and summer and offers stunning views. Trails for hiking, cycling and mountain biking are within easy reach and if you want to do a spot of fishing the many lakes provide ample opportunities. Vernon has some of the loveliest sandy beaches in the North Okanagan Valley with tourists from all over the world coming to discover the wealth of beach recreation at nearby Kalamalka Lake, Okanagan Lake and Woods Lake. A nature centre, honeybee attraction, science centre and the wineries of the Okanagan are all close by.
For many thousands of years, parts of the Okanagan Valley were occupied by the Interior Salish people. Change came in the summer of 1811 with the arrival of the fur traders but by the 1850s, fur traders had given way to miners.
Drawn by the native presence, the first Oblate missionaries ventured into the valley. Father Durieu built a cabin near the junction of Swan Lake and Long Lake Creeks around 1863, joining Luc Girouard, a gold miner and the first white settler in the area. The gold miners’ camps, in turn, drew cattlemen, anxious to market beef on the hoof. As the cattle ranches flourished, wagon roads replaced the original pack trails. A section of the road from Fort Kamloops, crossing Swan Lake Creek and continuing eastward to the gold mines on Cherry Creek, served as Vernon’s first main street.
Within ten years, the fledging settlement of Priest’s Valley (Vernon) boasted a post office, as well as a hotel, a general store, and a schoolhouse. In 1885 a government agent’s office was opened, and Charles Brewer and E.J. Tronson laid out a townsite, christening it Centreville. The Hudson’s Bay Company, recognizing the potential of the community, opened a rough wooden store in 1887, the same year the town was renamed Vernon. Transportation links to the outside world became a reality as the CPR main line was completed. By 1890, a charter was granted for the construction of a branch line from Sicamous to Okanagan Landing. In the surrounding district, wheat growing had become an important industry, second only to cattle ranching. Fruit farming was introduced by Lord Aberdeen on the Coldstream Ranch lands, attracting many British families to the area.
The first brick building appeared, wooden sidewalks were built, and the first telephone was installed. Discussions regarding the future of the rapidly growing town culminated in the incorporation of the City of Vernon on December 31st, 1892.
By 1908, a reported 1,000 fruit trees were planted in the Okanagan Valley and land prices had risen from $1 to $150 an acre. The economic activity of World War I was followed by a depression which lasted until 1923. At the end of World War II, a new tide of immigration resulted in a housing shortage – solved in part by the construction of the “100 homes” on the East Hill. The real estate boom of the 1950s was tempered with nostalgia as some historic structures were swept away in the name of modernization.
Vernon’s diversified history is reflected in the richness of its built environment. As the site of the original town, downtown Vernon has retained its role as the centre of commerce and culture for the community. A mural tour, which illustrates many historical features, has become a popular asset for downtown Vernon.