Many people ask us to put our finger on what makes this place so special. When we go back in time, we can see that this has always been a special place.
The first inhabitants of the North Okanagan were part of the Interior Salish people who occupied the Valley for many thousand years. In 1811, the first recorded contact between native & white fur traders was made along the trail on the west side of Okanagan Lake. This trail was used to export furs via the Columbia River by the Pacific Fur Company, the Northwest Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company and became part of the Hudson Bay’s Brigade trail that linked Fort Okanagan to Fort Kamloops.
THE GOLD ERA
In 1850, with the discovery of gold in a creek at the head of Okanagan Lake, gold miner camps drew early attention to the area. A few of the early gold miners became the areas first permanent settlers, largely from European descent. They were attracted to the opportunities offered to establish ranches and/or farms in the Okanagan Valley.
THE COMMONAGE RESERVE IS ESTABLISHED
The surrounding area, called the Commonage has records dating back to 1876 when a Commonage Reserve was established as part of the joint Indian Reserve Commission agreement signed by Canada and British Columbia. The Commonage reserve extended east of Okanagan Lake to Kalamalka Lake, covering an area of about 24,000 acres. The area was reserved for winter grazing by the cattle of both the native people and the new settlers that were reaching the area.
THE COMMONAGE PROPERTY IS SOLD & A COMMUNITY STARTS TO FORM
In 1889, a new agreement was reached wherein the government would take over the Commonage in return for the establishment of a large Indian Reserve on the north-west side of Okanagan Lake. The Commonage was put up for sale and after that, opened for pre-emption. The first known owner of the Commonage property, (now known as Predator Ridge) was Alfred C. Carew.
In 1890, Commonage Road was established. The original route was the main stagecoach route from Priest Valley (Vernon) to the Mission (Kelowna). The route also connected through Oyama and Oceola Flats (Winfield) and was the earliest known trail leading into the area known today as Lake Country. Fruit orchards were introduced into the Okanagan Valley during this time and Wheat growing also became an important industry.
On December 30, 1892 Vernon became the first incorporated city in the Okanagan Valley, with a population of 600. In the next few years, Neil McQuarie, a mechanist in a coal mine purchased the Commonage property from Carew. When the coal mines in Pittsburg, PA slowed down, Canadian born McQuarie moved his family to the Okanagan, where his brother was living nearby.
Neil built a homestead and with the help of his brother Bob, also built a log barn on the property sometime around 1898. The log barn was built using yellow pine, lodge pole pine, spruce and fir and would remain standing for close to 117 years!
In 1898, the Commonage school was also built on the McQuarie land and was a major attraction for ranchers to settle into the area. One of these settlers was Thorlakur Thorlakson who settled into the property beside Predator Ridge right after the school was built. His family still own and operate this land now.
The one-room log school was built for approximately $20 and was constructed with log walls, a hand cut shake roof and the desks and other furniture were handmade by various families in the area. The school quickly became the heart beat of the community hosting Saturday night dances, Sunday morning church services and even special family events at Christmas.
The provincial government supplied a teacher, provided an adequate number of children attended, which is why a number of children that lived at a distance, boarded nearby and even started their education before the age of 6. The school was closed in 1912 because of an insufficient number of students enrolled.
In 1975 the school was restored and moved to Paddlewheel Park as one of Vernon’s historic sites.
VERNON BECOMES AN AGRICULTURE & ECONOMIC HUB OF THE OKANAGAN
In the early 1900’s, Vernon became the largest town in the Okanagan Valley with a population of 802 in 1901 and 2,671 in 1911. Vernon began attracting many different ethnic groups including: British, Eastern Europeans, Chinese, Scandinavian, East Indian, Japanese & Belgian
The large scale cattle ranching era ended and many large ranch owners began to sell their land to developers for subdivision. We are unsure of exact dates, but after Neil McQuarie sold the land, the following owners were on title: James Simpson, W. Gardner, Henry Murk and J. Donaldson.
By 1907, Vernon was recognized as the economic hub of the Okanagan. With the change in agriculture from ranching to intensive farming (tree fruits) a need for increased irrigation was needed and the first irrigation system (Grey Canal) was opened.
Unfortunately in 1913, the Economic Depression hit and major land companies collapsed and the fruit industries suffered tremendously. To mitigate effects a Military Camp was built and a Vegetable growing and dehydrating industry was started in Vernon.
Somewhere between the Economic Depression of 1913 and 1925, the Churchill family moved into the McQuarie homestead and lived on the land free of charge. Those were tough times and it was not uncommon to find “squatters” trying to stay alive in very inhospitable environments. In 1923, the WWI depression hit hard in Vernon with bankruptcies of many of the irrigation companies and a cut in municipal infrastructure.
WELCOME TO THE NEIGEL RANCH
In 1925, the Neigel Family from Cherryvale, Kansas purchased 1,980 acres of the Commonage area, including 800 acres of the east side of Commonage. The family ran the picturesque ranch through to 1956 which generated a meager existence, due to its varied topography (tillable fields to rocky canyons to timbered slopes). The sale of large Ponderosa Pine logs was vital to ranch existence. The area was used primarily for cattle ranching, hay and logging.
In 1954, American Businessman, Frank Stewart purchased 1,180 acres from Neigel, which Neigel continued to rent back from Stewart until Fall 1956. After the Neigel’s eventual departure from the area, the French family moved into the Neigel home and leased the ranch and the nearby Bailey ranch until 1961.
A GOLF RESORT IS BORN
In 1979, The Neigel Ranch was sold by Frank Stewart to a consortium from Kamloops, headed by Rudy Marelli. The consortium purchased the land with the plan to start building a golf course. The planned development did not proceed past the stage of elementary landscaping. The ranch was then rented to neighboring rancher, Thorlakson for pasture for a number of years.
In 1989, Barrie Wheeler & the Paterson family (Herb & son Dave) acquired Neigel Ranch. With infused sufficient capital the property was developed into its realization of a premier quality golf course and accompanying housing development. Predator Ridge Golf Resort is officially opened in July 1991.
In 1993, The City of Vernon annexed over 1,200 acres of the former Neigel Ranch, mainly agricultural land which became part of the City of Vernon. In 1996, Barrie Wheeler sold his interest to the Paterson’s, who in turn sold their interest to current owners Wesbild Holdings Ltd in 2007.
Since acquiring Predator Ridge Golf Resort, Wesbild has completed a complete Clubhouse renovation, added a new 18-hole golf course, completely rebuilt the golf practice facility and added several new neighborhoods to the community. The community plan approved by the City of Vernon, for Predator Ridge Golf Resort has plans for 2,100 units which may house approximately 5,000 people. The resulting Predator Ridge Golf Resort “town” will be self-contained and approximately the size of the nearby City of Armstrong.
- “Where the Grass Is Always Browner on the Other Side of the Fence”, written by Dr. D. John Price, copyright 2005, published 2008
- The City of Vernon Heritage Register
- Lake Country Museum