Okanagan region has seen a number of military units formed and based
in, or associated with, the area for almost a century beginning with
the first cavalry units established in the late 1800s. Refer to the
map below and click on the indicated units for a more detailed historical
Survey of Okanagan Valley Military History
By M. Vincent Bezeau
armed clashes occurred during the pre-historic millennia of what is
now Canada's Okanagan Valley, recorded aboriginal and first-contact
history is mainly that of peaceful trade and commercial relations. The
earliest permanent European settlers were missionaries who arrived in
1859, followed by ranchers, farmers, miners, and others. Many immigrants
had some military experience, principally in imperial British Forces
or the Canadian Militia. They provided a sight military flavour to valley
society in the 19th Century. Imperial sentiments and connections were
strong, and a small number of volunteers served in the South African
War that began in 1899.
BCD parade in Enderby, 1910
independent rifle companies were formed along the line of the Canadian
Pacific Railway, the north-south valleys, and mining communities in
the British Columbia interior beginning in 1898, followed a decade later
by independent squadrons of mounted rifles (cavalry). "B"
Independent Squadron, Vernon, and a Company of Infantry, Armstrong,
both formed in 1908, were the first military units in the Okanagan Valley.
The Canadian Government encouraged the creation of rifle clubs associated
with the Canadian Militia. The first local cadet organizations started.
Armouries were rented or built. Soon, companies and squadrons, amalgamated
into regiments - the 1st (later 30th) Regiment, British Columbia Horse,
and The Rocky Mountain Rangers (abbreviated RM Rang) - gathered together
for summer training. A common training ground was established in 1913
on Mission Hill, just south of Vernon. It became the principal training
camp for units from Vancouver to the Rocky Mountains.
Major Ford and
the First World War began in 1914, local units were called out for guard
duty. There was a rush of volunteers, who served throughout the army,
but most prominently in the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles (2nd CMR), raised
by the local cavalry, which fought as infantry in France and Belgium.
Thousands of others trained from spring to fall in tented camps in Vernon.
The population at home formed support networks, including volunteer
organizations such as the Women's Service Corps. An internment camp
for 'enemy aliens' was established in Vernon. With fewer men available,
society changed. Women went into the fruit packing plants and wore trousers
while working in the orchards.
the war, the soldiers returned home. They started veteran associations:
branches and units of the Great War Veterans Association (now the Royal
Canadian Legion); its older cousin, the Army and Navy Veterans in Canada
(now the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada); and the Whizzbang
Association (for members of the local regiment). Fewer returned than
left: both because of casualties, and because some single British men
remained 'home' in the old country.
The militia returned to its roots. The wartime 2nd and 11th CMR (the
latter originally raised in the lower mainland, but supplying reinforcements
to units fighting at the front) were perpetuated by The British Columbia
Mounted Rifles - the renamed 30th Regiment, currently titled The British
Columbia Dragoons (BCD). The wartime 172nd Battalion was perpetuated
by the RM Rang, headquartered in Kamloops. These were lean years for
the wide-spread valley militia. They trained locally and during summer
concentrations at Camp Vernon. The valley population was too small to
justify navy or air force units. Regular forces were mostly far away,
although they set up and administered relief work camps for unemployed
men during the Great Depression.
Second World War broke out in 1939. Local units were immediately called
out for guard duty, followed by mobilization. The BCD raised the 5th
Canadian Motorcycle Regiment, later converted and redesignated the 9th
Armoured Regiment (The British Columbia Dragoons), which fought in Italy
and North-West Europe. A second, reserve regiment stayed at home. The
RM Rang mobilized a battalion for home service. It was sent to oppose
Japanese troops on Kiska Island in Alaska - the Japanese left before
the American-Canadian assault landing on the island - and later transferred
to England for reinforcement and training duties. A second, reserve
battalion of RM Rang stayed at home. Many individuals joined other units
of the navy, army, and air force, and served in Canada and abroad.
during the First World War, Japan was a threat and became an enemy nation
in 1941. Large home-defence forces were kept in British Columbia to
guard against possible invasion. While mostly based on the coast, some
depth formations and support installations were located in the central
plateau. An infantry brigade was based in Camp Vernon, which greatly
expanded to handle year-round training. A special Battle School was
in Coldstream, and, uniquely, a Special Operations Executive commando
camp for Chinese-Canadians in an isolated area between Kelowna and Naramata
in 1944. From 1942, companies of Pacific Coast Militia Rangers - a light,
reserve, scouting force - were established to assist the army throughout
British Columbia, including in the Okanagan Valley.
organizations were formed on the home front, including for Air Raid
Precaution. The BC Women's Service Corps re-formed - later becoming
Canadian Red Cross Service Corps detachments - as did other support
services. Two west-coast minesweepers, HMCS Kelowna and Kalamalka (chosen
as an alternative to 'Vernon'), received much local support. Meanwhile,
rationing and other changes brought the war effort home to everyone.
veterans who returned in 1946 had greater help than after the First
World War. Veterans' housing was built in many towns. Returning navy,
army and air force personnel brought their experiences and memorabilia
to enrich the valley's cultural pool. This continues today, as retiring
Canadian Forces members make the Okanagan their home. Thus, the valley's
military heritage is world-wide and from every service.
the Vernon camp became a summer army cadet training facility, although
still used by others. In the 1950s, with much of the world dividing
into communist and non-communist camps, civil defence brought awareness
of warlike threats home to the Valley. Ground Observer Corps detachments
were formed and stood ready to report enemy aircraft flying through
Canadian airspace until improved radar networks made them obsolete.
However, the decades of peace that then followed saw a slow fading of
the military in the public's midst. The militia returned to its roots,
shrinking in size as times and budgets changed. The number of cadet
organizations decreased as military support fell out of favour. Often,
only commercial contracts - such as military trucks from the former
Western Star Company or equipment from Pacific Safety - or remembrance
activities by ex-service organizations made the news. But Valley men
and women still proudly serve Canada and Canadians in the Okanagan -
dramatically so by fighting forest fires in 2003 - and, through the
regular forces and peacekeeping operations, around the world.
Forces Griffon helicopter flying over Kelowna during operations
against the wildfires of 2003. DND photo
Winnipeg in the Arabian Gulf.
Forces Coyote armoured vehicle in Bosnia. DND photo
soldier and friend in Eritrea.