Vernon started the winter party in 1893, and it's still going strong

Rebecca Bollwitt

The biggest winter festival in Western Canada has a big history, experienced by Vernon locals and visitors alike over the last century and a quarter.

Vernon, BC - You could say it all started in 1893, when the town of 10,000 hosted the first affair of its kind “on ice” in the relatively new Province of British Columbia. But the first Vernon Winter Carnival as we know it today was held in 1961.

Now, some may know Vernon as a summer destination, with hiking, biking, swimming, golf, wineries and so much more, but Vernon is also a winter haven, and at its heart is the Carnival.

“We are a world class skiing destination, winter fun with cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, along with many other winter sports, and absolutely spectacular scenery,” says longtime supporter and volunteer Ruth Hoyte. 

Vernon's first winter carnival 1893
Photo: Vernon Winter Carnival
Organizers and participants at the first ever winter festival gathering in Vernon, in 1893.

“Not only do we have outdoor activities, Vernon has a terrific amount of activities, live entertainment, dancing and theatre. But the most fantastic aspect of Vernon is its people!” And Hoyte would definitely know, from experience.

Find the spirit of winter at the Vernon Winter Carnival 

Hoyte first moved to Vernon in January of 1974. Being new to town she didn’t know many people but she did notice a common theme: they were all very excited about the Vernon Winter Carnival

“We had a day off school to attend events, such as the ice sculptures, which were downtown at the time. I immediately was drawn to the excitement, as many of my new pals were involved, participating in the parade and the girls were talking about Queen Silver Star.”

A role Hoyte says many of her classmates held was that of a “Jopo” in the parade. “Jopo”, the jester role in the life of Carnival first appeared as the brainchild of Mrs. John Maynard. A contest was held to name the jester and 12 year old Tina Wunderli won with her entry of “Jopo." Bill and Lorraine Allum were the first Jopos.  

Hoyte’s love for the Carnival snowballed from there. “Once I graduated school and worked downtown at Eaton’s, Carnival was always fun, especially as most businesses decorated their premises and had lots of great costumes to go along with the theme.”

During the first carnival local minor hockey held a jamboree that included speed skating, novelty and ice races. The Vernon Girls’ Trumpet Band participated every year, from 1961 until the group ended in 2009.

A special square dance number was written for the Vernon Winter Carnival by Don Messer of “Don Messer’s Jubilee” fame, called “Silver Star Breakdown” and Silver Star was the host of the Western Canadian Ski Jumping Championships.

Vernon Winter Carnival programs and brochures over the years
A "Jopo" in the parade.
Vernon's snow sculpture competition draws some of the best from around the world.
A family favourite at the carnival is the ice slide.

Later in life, once Hoyte started her own family, she became involved in the bygone Queen Silver Star program, as a volunteer committee member and even holding the position of “button gal."

“It was at those meetings, I realized how big Carnival was and all the events which happened.  I began to volunteer at other events, what fun! My favourite role was organizing the Celebration of talent for the next seven years."  

Celebrate winter and community at the Vernon Winter Carnival

"This allowed me to connect with the community, that was my greatest pleasure. I eventually stayed on the Carnival Board for numerous years, including being their secretary. Many people, board members and volunteers have made my time so enjoyable. I was proud to be a part of it.”

The parade is a highlight, as shown here in the 1960s.

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