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LOST STREET NAMES: Vernon’s first forefather

Terry Hurst

Terry Hurst

Lost Street Names

The City of Vernon was named for Forbes George Vernon, described as “a big genial Irishman with a merry twinkle in his eye.”

Born in Bedfordshire on Aug. 21, 1843, the third son of an Irish father, Vernon was educated in England, and received a commission in the 21st Fusiliers in 1863. He resigned his commission in the same year to emigrate to Canada.

In 1863, he sailed with his elder brother Charles Albert Vernon and their friend Capt. Charles Houghton via New York, Panama and San Francisco. Landing at Esquimalt, they came directly to the Okanagan on the recommendation of Houghton, who had no doubt seen a colonization circular advertising free land grants of 1,450 acres to military officers.

In 1865, both Forbes and Charles each preempted 200 acres “from the back of the priest’s house to within one half mile of the arm of Okanagan Lake.”

In 1873, the Vernons purchased Houghton’s military grant, which he had named the Coldstream Ranch, and he in turn obtained their 400 acres as part of the deal. In 1883, Charles Vernon sold his share of the renamed Vernon Ranch to his brother.

Now sole owner, Forbes bought more and more land, eventually owning 13,000 acres – the entire Coldstream Valley from the eastern boundary of the present ranch down to Kalamalka Lake, including Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park. For 30 years he operated it as a successful cattle ranch. In 1894, he sold the property at a handsome profit to the Earl of Aberdeen, who revived Houghton’s original name – the Coldstream Ranch.

As was common in those early days with a dearth of marriageable white women, Forbes had a common-law marriage with Katherine Kalamalka and had two children by her.

In 1877, Forbes married Katie Branks, forming an important alliance with a prominent Victoria family.

Forbes was elected to the B.C. Legislature in 1875 for Yale riding and appointed Chief Commissioner of Lands. After an unsuccessful attempt to run federally, he was returned to the B.C. Legislature and in 1887 resumed the role of land commissioner.

It was while he held this office that the new City of Vernon was named after him.

After his defeat by Donald Graham, Forbes was appointed Agent-General for the Province of British Columbia in London, England. He was dismissed in 1898 when the office was eliminated, but remained in London where he died in January 1911.

NOTE: a “preemption” was a term used in the 19th Century to refer to a settler’s right to purchase public land at a federally set minimum price. The price per acre was four shillings and two pence.

Born in Vernon, Terry Hurst has had a life-long passion for Vernon’s history. She is author of Vernon and District Pioneer Routes, the stories behind the area’s street names, published by the Vernon Branch of the Okanagan Historical Society in 1996. Watch for future columns recounting the origins of road and street names in the BX, Coldstream and Okanagan Landing.

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Jennifer Smith

About the Author: Jennifer Smith

Vernon has always been my home, and I've been working at The Morning Star since 2004.
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