The Grey Canal transformed land use and settlement in the North Okanagan.
Now a network of multi-use trails that encircle the Greater Vernon area, serving up stunning views, this early irrigation system brought water from the lakes in the surrounding highland into the valley from 1914 to 1971. It once comprised the largest irrigation district in British Columbia.
Members of the Ribbons of Green Trail Society (ROGTS) wanted to find out more about the early days of the Grey Canal and how it impacted this area.
“At Ribbons of Green, we’ve been working to find ways to connect all the original sections of the Grey Canal route into the current trail network,” ROGTS member Ingrid Neumann said.
“We met with some of those involved in the canal as an irrigation system, and found out how much it impacted the settlement of this area. Their stories are fascinating, so we wanted more people to be able to hear them.”
Neumann enlisted fellow member and video documentarian Bruce Mol to film interviews with Robert Davison, Tom Ouchi, Mas Sakakibara and Peter Tassie.
Mol and Neumann then edited the footage to create the series to capture the knowledge and recollections of these multi-generational residents. Each tells a different part of the story of this feat of engineering, and how it changed life in the North Okanagan.
“Today, everything is power pumps…but that canal was 100 per cent gravity,” said Davison of Davison Orchards. “You’ve got to hand it to the vision they had: to cross a rock pile, they built a flume around it. Then they get to another rock pile and they drilled a tunnel through it.”
Sakakibara said without the Grey Canal you wouldn’t have farmland up on the Bella Vista.
“I’m sure the Japanese immigrants wouldn’t have bought the property if they didn’t have water but they had that Grey Canal with water running through it,” Sakakibara said.
Engineer and land surveyor Peter Tassie’s father was the manager of the Vernon Irrigation District in the 1930s and ’40s.
“It was a major undertaking, a major achievement, and a major benefit to the economy,” said Tassie.
These pioneers, along with filmmakers, Mol and Neumann, presented the first screening of The Ways of Water docuseries at the Vernon Museum to a sold-out crowd recently. Due to the response, a repeat screening takes place May 14, but it has also sold out.
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