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A Victory For Lake Country, The Vernon to Kelowna Bike Race of 1930

By: Tiana Langedyk

The Vernon to Kelowna Bike Race in the 1930’s was instigated by a local bike shop to promote their store. Biking at the time was growing as an important sport in the Okanagan Valley with the development of new roads and pathways, particularly the development of Highway 97 which the race was held on. The race participant experiences provide an understanding of what life was like during the 1930’s and how much sport has contributed to the Okanagan lifestyle. 

On May 29th, 1930, 15 young men from Kelowna, Vernon and Lake Country linked up for a grueling 56-kilometer race from Vernon to Kelowna on Highway 97. The contestants included; L. Evans, (Oyama), A. Clarke, (Kelowna), H. Thomson, (Oyama), R. Bean,( Kelowna), J. Polecheck, (Vernon), R. Schmidt, (Vernon), R. Allen, (Vernon), H. Bernau, (Winfield), H. Nuyens, (Vernon), B. Longley, (Kelowna), O. Watson, (Kelowna), and, A. Veal, (Vernon)(1). Of the 15 contestants, three were from Lake Country; Lawrence Evans, Harold Thomson and Hugh Bernau. In his autobiography, Hugh Bernau stated he had bought a new bicycle earlier on from the money he made boxing apples and when he heard that a bike shop was organizing a race from Kelowna to Vernon, he decided that it would be good fun to enter. He had cycled around a bit but “had never gone any real distance at one time”(2). 

The determined young men rode along Highway 97 which at the time was unpaved and filled with potholes. Hugh Bernau recalled, “Highway 97 was unpaved and parts of this road from Kelowna to Vernon did not hold up for any length of time to traffic. Along Duck Lake was the worst, it soon became “washboard” and had a rather large number of holes! …I remember that I finished the course, but was a very weary young man at the finish. Remember that we had no speed gears in those days!”(3) In addition to the potholes, the Okanagan Orchardist reported headwinds were quite strong on the day of the race adding an extra challenge to the participants. There is no doubt that some sections of the road posed a great challenge to the determined young men. A truck followed behind the bikers and to provide assistance and pick up any who had flat tires or were too weary to continue the trek.

The last few kilometers of the race saw a great battle for the win, Arthur Clarke of Kelowna was in the lead followed closely by Larry Evans in the final sprint of the race. Arthur was in the lead by a half-mile at Reid’s Corner. In the final straight away. The two young men were welcomed by a round of cheers as they sprinted down Bernard Avenue towards the finish line in front of the Kelowna Post Office. Evans took the win by passing Clarke just seconds before the finish line. It was a great victory for Lake Country. Lawrence Evans came in at an exceptional two hours twenty-one minutes and 33 seconds, followed by Arthur Clarke at a close two hours, twenty-one minutes and thirty-six seconds. The Okanagan Orchardist reported: Both boys finished in good condition, after a heavy trip facing headwinds all along the route, at times, a near gale, is a creditable performance. It was Oyama’s big day, for twenty-two minutes later H. Thomson, leading the “B” class riders move into view and pulled over the mark just three minutes ahead of Ralph Bean, of Kelowna …The crowd had another thrill when the two remaining riders in the “C” class or bantamweight division came in fast with Bert Longley one minute ahead of Orville Watson(4).” Of the initial 15 contestants, only 12 finished the race. Amongst the class A riders in 8th place was Hugh Bernau, he later wrote, “I came in about halfway through the pack. I believe that there were five or six ahead of me!(5)” The official list of placements is as follows: 

  1. L. Evans, Oyama, “A” class, 2:21:33
  2. A. Clarke, Kelowna, “A” class, 2:21:36
  3. H. Thomson, Oyama, “B” class, 2:43:3
  4. R. Bean, Kelowna, “B” class 2:46:20
  5. J. Polecheck, Vernon, “B” class
  6. R. Schmidt, Vernon, “A” class
  7. R. Allen, Vernon, “A” class
  8. H. Bernau, Winfield, “A” class
  9. H. Nuyens, Vernon, “A” class
  10. B. Longley, Kelowna, “C” class 3:1:23
  11. O. Watson, Kelowna, “C” class 3:2:10
  12. A. Veal, Vernon, “B” class.(6)

The photo above shows the winners of the 1930 race in the front row, the men in the back row are the donors of the prizes and the bicycle shop owners. Evans stands proudly in the middle displaying his newly won bicycle and first place trophy. The group is posed in front of the Campbell and Lewis Bicycle Store in Kelowna, one of the key supporters of the race and donor of the bicycle. The second, third, fourth and fifth place winners also received prizes for their efforts. Generator lamps were given to A Clarke, R. Bean, and O. Watson. The Delta Lamp was given to R. Schmidt (7). The generator lamps and delta lamps were meant to be mounted on the front or back of a bicycle.

The race was such a roaring success that a second race was held again the next year on June 4th, 1931. This time the race started in Kelowna and finished in Vernon. The finishing times were slightly quicker than the times in the first race in 1930. Larry Evans reclaimed his victory, winning the race at an improved time of one hour and fifty-seven minutes. Harold Thomson came in second place at an incredibly close two hours, Arthur Clarke came third at two hours and thirty seconds (8). Race participant Hugh Bernau recounted that the second race was a long, hard uphill struggle for a long portion of the race. The second race in 1931 was the last Vernon to Kelowna bike race to happen. Bernau stated “I don’t believe that these races were kept up, probably due to lack of interest.(9)” 

The first place trophy was passed down to Larry Evans’ son, Brian Evans who generously donated it to the Lake Country Museum & Archives in 2021. It can be found in the Anne Land room. It has been restored to its former glory and proudly displays plaques of Larry Evan’s wins in 1930 and 1931. The third place trophy presented to H. Thompson in 1930 can also be found at the Lake Country Museum & Archives. On account of the descendants of both Larry Evans and his good friend and second-place winner, Harold Thomson, both of the men were very modest about their athletic accomplishments in the bike races and other sporting events they participated in. 

Larry Evans left a legacy in Lake Country for his feats of athleticism, he and his brother-in-law, Tom Towgood entered and won a two-oared rowing race. Towgood traded the outboard motorboat that they had rented at regatta time for the rowboat they used to win the competition (10). Evans even met his future wife Alice East at a local track meet in Lake Country. A descendant of Harold Thomson recalled Harold’s athleticism saying he got his practice in biking from his bike route in Oyama. In his stories he emphasized how his dog would ride on his back for part of the route. Lake Country resident Hugh Bernau recalled in his autobiography, Climbing Up The Ladder, what great fun he had competing in the bicycle races. He later met his future wife Winna Bernau (ne. Caesar) playing cricket for a team captained by her father, Mr. Caesar in Kelowna. In a comical remark Bernau stated he had not considered participating in a bike race even if it were held because, The next year, 1932, he was married and had his hands full looking after his  father-in-law’s orchard. “It was a difficult sidehill place, where he spent many years trying to make the irrigation water run uphill, before sprinklers came into fashion (11).” Hugh went on to act in many local plays, he and his wife were known as vibrant contributors to the community. A collection of photographs and stories about the Bernau family is available at the Lake Country Museum & Archives.  

The 1930’s Vernon to Kelowna bike races inspired Okanagan’s to develop sports activities that take advantage of the amazing landscape. Individual athleticism prevails today in many of our local athletes and Olympians. The Okanagan has proudly produced several olympic athletes including, Taylor Ruck, Josh Georges, Byron Dafoe, Christie Van Hees, Justin Schultz, Tess Critchlow, and Kelsey Serwa (12). These olympians bring a sense of pride to the Okanagan Valley and inspire others to participate in local sports. The contribution of sport over the decades has enhanced our community and continues to enrich the lives of Okanagan residents to this day. Sports play an important role in tourism, community activities, recreation and transportation within the Okanagan Valley. Big White and Silver star have become international hubs for winter skiing and snowboarding. Every year hundreds of tourists and locals ride their bikes on the Rail trail which stretches from Vernon to Lake County. The role of sports has shaped culture and community in the regions of the Okanagan for generations, sports continue to contribute to the wellbeing and happiness of many people throughout the Okanagan’s history. 



  1. Kelowna Courier and Okanagan Orchardist, May 29, 1930
  2. H. Bernadu. (n.d.) Climbing Up The Ladder. Lake Country Museum & Archives 
  3. See above, H. Bernadu. (n.d.) Climbing Up The Ladder. Lake Country Museum & Archives 
  4. See above, Kelowna Courier and Okanagan Orchardist, May 29, 1930
  5. See above, H. Bernadu. (n.d.) Climbing Up The Ladder. Lake Country Museum & Archives 
  6. See above, Kelowna Courier and Okanagan Orchardist, May 29, 1930
  7. L. Brown (2017) Okanagan Throwback: First bike race in Kelowna, Kelowna Now. #fs_108657
  8. Kelowna Courier and Okanagan Orchardist, June 4, 1931.
  9. See above, H. Bernadu. (n.d.) Climbing Up The Ladder. Lake Country Museum & Archives 
  10. Anecdotal account from Dwane Thompson, descendant of H. Thompson
  11.  See above, H. Bernadu. (n.d.) Climbing Up The Ladder. Lake Country Museum & Archives
  12.  D. Taylor, (2020). Kelowna’s strong history of producing elite level athletes. A look at some of the most notable professional athletes from Kelowna, B.C. Kelowna Capital News.


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