Vernon & District Family History Society


VDFHS In The News

Book offers glimpse into internment camp

Vernon Internment Camp in operation from 1914-1920

Roger Knox Feb. 14, 2018 9:30 a.m.

Image: The Vernon and District Family History Society has produced a booklet on a First World War internment camp in Vernon. Vernon Internment Camp 1914-1920 is available at the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives. (Roger Knox/Morning Star)

Thanks to descendants and research, the Vernon and District Family History Society has provided a new glimpse of what life was like in a First World War internment camp in Vernon.

Don McNair, a society member, editor and layout man, helped produce a fascinating 28-page book, complete with amazing photographs sent by descendants of those imprisoned. It’s called Vernon Internment Camp 1914-1920.

“During the First World War, more than 1,000 men were imprisoned at an internment camp in Vernon’s north end (where W.L. Seaton Secondary sits today),” wrote McNair. “Most were forced to work on roads in B.C.’s Interior, but 200-300 stayed right in the camp in Vernon for years, plus about 80 of their wives and children.”

They were kept, said McNair, simply because of who they were: subjects of the German or Austro-Hungarian empires, with which Canada and the British Empire were at war.

The booklet is about not just the prisoners in the Vernon camp, but also about the soldiers who guarded them.

“In our research, we were concerned with the guards as well as the prisoners,” said McNair. “There’s a cast of about 2,000 people: 1,000 prisoners, 1,000 guards…We know more about the prisoners than about the guards but we hope that changes.”

Most of the men in the camps and retained in the camps were German, and McNair, 63, has some working with the German language which allowed him to discover some valuable information for the booklet.

One of the things that stands out for McNair in helping make the booklet was how delighted descendants were to understand what became of their ancestors. McNair, a military and history buff who has no connection to the camp, said a shining example in the book is the Schwarze family, Karl and his wife, Victoria, and their children, Gunter and Karla.

The Schwarzes emigrated to Canada in 1910 and Karl became a high school principal in Nanaimo.

“Andrea Schwarze, in Dresden, Germany, held on to his grandfather’s stuff,” said McNair, who made contact with Schwarze through the Internet. “His grandpa was in the camp and was deported. He had scraps of strange letters, strange photographs, not knowing their context or how they related to otehr international events.

“He puzzled over them without throwing them out.”

The photos in the booklet – there are pictures on every page – are spectacular.

They were provided by the national archives, Okanagan Military Museum and descendants who, McNair said, were more than happy to share their stuff.

McNair called the booklet project “exciting.”

“We thought we were encountering a story we really understood. In fact, we don’t understand it,” he said. “There is so much information to draw from, so many sources, I’m overwhelmed by how dramatic the story is without mayhem.

“We don’t have men being shot. We have one instance of a man being stabbed in the hand with a bayonette. The level of brutality seems to be less, even in the local work camps.”

The booklet touches on life in the camps, which includes pictures of games of soccer and hockey among prisoners, and introduces the public to some of the prisoners and guards.

McNair said there will be a follow-up booklet.

“Definitely,” he said. “If anybody has something they’d like to contribute, you can get a hold of me online at”

The booklet is available at the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives. McNair will be talking about the booklet at the Okanagan Regional Library on Saturday, March 3.

Original Vernon Morning Star Article at

No Stone Left Alone ceremony

Vernon students remember fallen soldiers at No Stone Left Alone ceremony

Erin Christie Morning Star Staff Nov. 3, 2017 11:00 a.m.

Image: Dennis Wilson, of the Royal Canadian Legion, speaks at the No Stone Left Alone ceremony Wednesday at Pleasant Valley Cemetery

It's a simple gesture - but to hundreds of soldiers and their families all over the world, the placing of a poppy on the headstone of a fallen comrade is a symbol of respect, and more importantly, a reminder to veterans that we will remember them.

That's the message W.L. Seaton teacher Yvonne Fiala, hopes students will take away from the No Stone Left Alone ceremony held at Pleasant Valley Cemetery on Wednesday morning.

The ceremony, organized by Fiala and Lawrna Myers, of the Vernon and District Family History Society, saw 130 students from three local schools gather to pay their respects to fallen veterans in a brief remembrance service before placing more than 500 poppies on local military grave sites.

Image: Grade 10 W.L. Seaton student Abby Battersby lays a poppy on a veteran's grave as part of the No Stone Left Alone ceremony Wednesday at Pleasant Valley Cemetery. Visit to see a video of the event. (Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star)

In the weeks leading up to the ceremony Fiala, who introduced the concept to Vernon schools last year after participating in a cemetery tour lead by Myers, said she and her colleagues at the participating schools; W.L. Seaton Secondary School, Vernon Secondary School and Beairsto Elementary School assigned Remembrance projects, including research on First World War and Second World War veterans.

"The goal is to get the students reflecting a little bit more as we get closer to Remembrance Day, and to encourage them to learn more about Canada's rich history of service to their country," Fiala explained.

"I find they come to realize how much sacrifice was involved with military service, and it makes it a bit more real seeing local names."

"It gives them the feeling that these men and women are more than just a name on a list their teacher gave them," Myers echoed.

Image: A poppy is left on a veteran's grave as part of the No Stone Left Alone ceremony Wednesday at Pleasant Valley Cemetery. (Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star)

"Especially if the name they are assigned to research is someone buried right here in Vernon, because then they are given the opportunity to lay a poppy on their gravestone. I think that really helps them connect."

Through research initiated by the family history society several years ago, Myers said 550 military graves have been identified and marked in the Vernon cemetery. She said there will be many more to mark as the society continues with the project. Wednesday's ceremony, she noted, was one of dozens hosted by, or on behalf of the No Stones Left Alone Memorial Foundation that took place in communities across Canada on Nov. 1.

The Edmonton-based non-profit organization, founded by Maureen G. Bianchini-Purvis in 2011, aims to honour our fallen military while educating students of the sacrifice made by Canadian veterans, by placing poppies at their headstones every November.

For VSS student Brianne Bertram, the project became something of a personal passion after the Vernon teen learned she shared the same last name as the soldier she was assigned to research.

"He was from Australia, my family is from Scotland, so we aren't related as far as a I know, but it would be cool if we were," she noted.

"I still thought the process of learning all this, and then being able actually place a poppy on his headstone was really impactful - to be part of something all these other people are doing for these soldiers who might not have family left to leave poppies for them - it feels like we're really doing a good thing."

Original Vernon Morning Star Article at

Explore your history

The Vernon & District Family History Society holds open house and invites new members

Staff - Vernon Morning Star, Oct. 22, 2017 4:30 a.m.

If you've been thinking of delving into your ancestry, the Vernon & District Family History Society is here to help.

The society is holding an open house Nov. 4 from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at its resource centre at Peace Lutheran Church (lower level), 1204 - 30th Ave. This will be an opportunity to find out how membership in the society can help you track down family ancestors or long-lost relatives.

The Vernon & District Family History Society has:

  • A well-stocked resource library.
  • International genealogy databases.
  • Knowledgeable resource staff volunteers.
  • Monthly meetings with information sessions.
  • A quarterly journal.
  • Training sessions with genealogy software.
  • Assistance with documenting your histories.
  • The camaraderie of like-minded members.
  • Annual social events.
  • The occasional seminar featuring renowned genealogy lecturers.

For Ted Hoyte, whose family roots in Vernon are deep, membership in the society has gone a long way towards helping him to explore his ancestry, which includes his maternal great-great grandparents Hephzibah and Samuel Gibbs.

Samuel was born in London, England in 1849, while Hephzibah Collins was born in Dartmouth, England in 1851. They married in London in 1870 and had seven children born in London.

In April 1885 the family travelled to New York City on the ship, Egyptian Monarch. They then went to London, Ont., where a son Henry was born in 1886. In 1891 the family was living in Enderby, B.C. where a daughter Ethel was born and Samuel was working at a flour mill.

By 1901 some of the older children had married or were working at other places in B.C. and Samuel was in Lillooet, B.C. working for the provincial government. He died there in 1925 and Hephzibah in 1927.

Original Vernon Morning Star Article at

October 18, 2017 - Vernon’s history mapped out

Vernon residents can learn more about the community’s history.

By: Morning Star Staff / Wed Oct 18th, 2017 6:30am

Image: Yvette Miller (left) and Valerie Hooper place photographs and advertisements around the new version of the 1892 map of Vernon. The map, which shows homes and businesses, is on display Nov. 4 at Peace Lutheran Church and the Greater Vernon Museum. (Photo submitted)

The Vernon and District Family History Society, in partnership with the Greater Vernon Museum, has prepared a map showing the location of homes and businesses at the time that the city was incorporated in 1892.

“The two members of the society who volunteered to work on the map project, Yvette Miller and Valerie Hooper, used as a base, a plan of the town of Vernon surveyed by J.P. Burnyeat and deposited with the Province of B.C. Jan. 24, 1891 by the Okanagan Land and Development Co.,” said Larry Gilchrist, with the society.

In 1892, the city limits went from 25th Ave (the old railway tracks) to 35th Avenue and from 35th Street (behind Safeway) to 25th Street. Much of the area north of 34th Avenue was bush and the area east of 28th Street and north of 30th Ave was mainly forested.

“The lots in this area were accessible by logging roads only. It’s hard to image Vernon as a forest,” said Gilchrist.

The original street names reflected the names of the important people who lived in Vernon. In 1947, the current street and avenue system came into being, replacing the names with numbers. But the map recognizes both versions of the street names in 1892 and 1947.

“Photos of some of the men involved in arranging the incorporation of the city, as well as newspaper ads for businesses that existed at the time have been added to the outside margins of the map,” said Hooper.

Hooper and Miller made good use of the information available at the museum, including maps, tax assessment rolls and the Vernon News. Society member Sheila Copley plowed through the town (later city) minutes leading up to incorporation and for a year afterwards and made notes.

The map will be on display at the society’s open house at Peace Lutheran Church Nov. 4 or drop by the Greater Vernon Museum where you also can see the map, and peruse some of the resources used.

Original Vernon Morning Star Article at

Take a tour through local history

Cemetery tours provide a fascinating glimpse into Vernon's past

Staff Writer, Vernon Morning Star/ Jun. 10, 2016 3:00 p.m.

Image: Members of the Vernon & District Family History Society

The Greater Vernon Museum and Archives and the Vernon & District Family History Society are teaming up once again to offer their popular Pleasant Valley Cemetery Tours this summer.

The first tour takes place Saturday and they will run monthly, July 9, Aug. 13 and Sept. 10, starting at 9:30 a.m. at the Pleasant Valley Cemetery, with a duration of about two hours.

Following the tour, a light lunch will be served at the museum, where tour guide Lawrna Myers will be available to answer any further questions. The museum will also have more information on display about the historical figures mentioned during the tour.

"With mostly new characters on tour, from North Okanagan Creamery Association's (NOCA) organizer and manager Everard Clarke, to boxer Clarence (Noodles) Knox, to First World War bride Martha Hammond and missionary Julius Rieske, you'll learn a little history along the way and maybe a tad bit of gossip," said Denise Marsh, marketing and communications coordinator for the museum.

During the tour, Myers will touch on the victims of the Okanagan Hotel fire, some of the internees of the First World War Internment Camp and those from the early 20th century insane asylum, as in previous years.

Tickets are $20 per person with a limit of 25 participants per tour. Tickets are only available at the museum and will not be available on the event date. Participants are asked to wear good walking shoes as the tour involves walking and standing.

For more information, please call the museum at 250-542-3142 or visit or see

Original Vernon Morning Star Article at