Vernon & District Family History Society

SHARING GENEALOGY KNOWLEDGE SINCE 1982

Gideon John Milligan by VDFHS Cemetery Committee

Image - SS Sicamous Sternwheeler before its launch in 1914. The Strand Hotel in the background

SS Sicamous Sternwheeler before its launch in 1914.

Gideon John Milligan was born on May 17, 1849 in the Camden area of Ontario to Robert and Mary (nee Scott) Milligan. His siblings included: Elisabeth, Margaret, Robert, Helen, James and John.

Gideon left his home as a young man of 18 and began his journey west. He mined for many years in northern British Columbia, Peace River and Alaska.

He arrived in the Vernon area (then known as Priests Valley) around 1889. He had moved from Donald, British Columbia, where he was the proprietor of the Adelphia Hotel and owned a wholesale liquor business with Martin J. O'Brien.

In Vernon, Gideon also worked as a hotel keeper. He owned the Strand Hotel at Okanagan Landing for a number of years.

Gideon built the ill-fated Okanagan Hotel in the city of Vernon in 1892 and from 1894 to 1904 served as the proprietor of the hotel.

It was on Tuesday, August 10, 1909 that tragedy struck Vernon in the early morning hours when the Okanagan Hotel burned to the ground. The alarm was raised about 1:45 when the fire bell rang out and residents of the city were alerted to the fact a large blaze had broken out. The fire brigade was soon on the scene but nothing could be done to save the building.

Image - Searching for the dead in the ruins of the Okanagan Hotel

Searching for the dead in the ruins of the Okanagan Hotel.

The Okanagan Hotel was one of the oldest buildings in the city of Vernon at the time. It was purchased in 1908 by A. Sigalet and S.J. Albers. The three story, brick veneered building was erected at the corner of Barnard Avenue (30th) and Vance Street (33rd).

That night there were at least 60 people in the hotel and in all the confusion it was impossible to know if everyone escaped. Many acts of heroism occurred that night as people were plucked from the burning building. The full realisation of the tragedy was not felt until the following morning when crowds gathered to view the devastation. It was then that a crew of men commissioned by the city to remove the ruins uncovered body after body, until the remains of eleven victims were revealed. The victims were unmarried men and a number of them were new to the city.

Gideon was one of the four signers on the document to incorporate the City of Vernon. The other three men were: James Schubert, William Armstrong, and Robert McDougall.

The notice of intention to apply for incorporation was dated October 17, 1892 and signed by these four men. Vernon was officially incorporated on December 30, 1892. The first official year of incorporation is referred to as 1893.

Image - Article in the British Times Colonist, 01-Jan-1893

 Article in the British Times Colonist, 01-Jan-1893

Gideon had a soft side for animals. One day when he was building the Okanagan Hotel a man got stuck hauling a load of fence poles near the worksite. The sledding was poor and the horses attached to the load were incapable of the task. The driver started to pound on the back of the animals with a fence stake but he got in only one or two strikes when Gideon had him by the collar, shaking him until his teeth rattled. He then made the driver remove half the load and understand what would happen to him if Gideon caught him doing something like this again before carrying on.

It was on Christmas Eve of 1907 that Gideon suddenly passed away from heart disease at the age of 58. The funeral procession began at Gideon's house at Okanagan Landing and carried onto the Pleasant Valley Cemetery in Vernon..