The one thing George Zimmerman, Joe Podonowski, Victor Lewynsky, Larry Fisher, Colin Foord and Don McKay had in common with each other was pigeons.
On Aug. 8, 1965 – 50 summers ago – the six men got together at Zimmerman’s Stickle Road home, on his lawn, and held the first meeting of the Vernon Fancy Pigeon Club.
“We all had pigeons, we talked back and forth with one another and we said why not get together to form a club or something so we can take our birds and show them at the IPE (Armstrong’s Interior Provincial Exhibition),” said Zimmerman, who turned 80 in September and who remains secretary-treasurer – the only position he’s ever held and the only person to hold the title – in the now-called Vernon Pigeon and Poultry Club.
The purpose of forming the club was to create an interest in showing birds at the IPE and that tradition, like the club itself, has carried on for 50 years.
The first show at the IPE in 1965 had five pigeon classes, consisting of racing homer, performing rollers, meat producers, show bird long beak and show bird short beak.
“The year before, they had 15 birds altogether,” said Zimmerman. “The first year we showed, they had 59 with the ones we put in. The year, after that, they got some poultry people interested.”
To be a member of the IPE, club members paid a fee of $4.
Today, the Vernon Pigeon and Poultry Club is responsible for setting up the entire bird show for the annual Armstrong exhibition.
“We accept the entries and run the show for the duration of the fair,” said current club president Dudley DeLeenheer, 74, a purebred bird fancier who joined in the early 1970s and has been showing his birds ever since.
“We enjoy doing it; it’s our major show of the year. We encourage locals to show their birds.”
Another annual event for the club is its winter show, held during the Vernon Winter Carnival in February.
The first such show, in 1969, was called the Pet Stock and Hobby Show, and it was held in the Dogwood Gym at the Vernon Recreation Complex.
The show featured pigeons, bantams (miniature chickens), gerbils, budgies, fish bowls, rabbits and many hobby displays put up on the gym’s walls.
“Everyone brought their pets but we didn’t know what to do so we got them to come in and we put on a show,” laughed Zimmerman.
The Winter Carnival show, which moved into its permanent home, the rec centre auditorium, turned out to be a popular event with the public.
In 1972, crowds were large enough that you had to carefully maneuver your way through the displays. Zimmerman, who has kept meticulous notes and statistics for 50 years, said 2,543 people passed through the door that year.
The club’s largest winter show came five years later, in 1977, when they had 947 birds to show including 200 racing homer pigeons in the gym.
“The cages were double and stacked two-high with narrow walkways,” said Zimmerman, who got his interest in birds working at the old Vernon Fruit Union in the feed division.
From the original six, membership in the club has grown to a high of 119, in 1978, to its current 53 members.
Zimmerman estimates he has sold 3,668 club memberships in 50 years, and made nearly 64,000 coop cards (information on breeds on display cages at shows).
“We’ll be trying hard to go for another 50 years,” he said.
The Vernon Pigeon and Poultry Club is one of the only of its kind in the country.
“It’s rare that you have both,” said DeLeenheer. “To have stuck together all this time is even more rare.”