Vernon: Steam Punk Capital of the World

Steam punk is a branch of writing and art (especially jewelry and sculpture, romantic novels and visual poetry) that recombines materials from the age of steam and iron, and sets them in the contemporary world of petroleum and electrons. Here’s what has to say about all that:

  • Take place in the Victorian era but include advanced machines based on 19th century technology (e.g. The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling);

  • Include the supernatural as well (e.g. The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger);

  • Include the supernatural and forego the technology (e.g. The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, one of the works that inspired the term ‘steampunk’);

  • Include the advanced machines, but take place later than the Victorian period, thereby assuming that the predomination by electricity and petroleum never happens (e.g. The Peshawar Lancers by S. M. Stirling); or

  • Take place in an another world altogether, but featuring Victorian-like technology (e.g. Mainspring by Jay Lake).

Very cool stuff. A popular way of crafting some good steampunk is to hop on down to the flea market and scrounge up some  broken watches and costume jewelry, and do your magic to them, like this:


What’s not to love? You can view the rest of this Australian Maestro’s gallery here. Well, here’s the thing. I’m living on the edge of a city in the grasslands, and for a year and a half I’ve been talking about the lost world of the grass, and trying to show how it’s the future, while wandering through the houses and vineyards that have been plunked down in the middle of it like some bad body jewelry. Well, I’ve just had a brainwave. This is steampunk!


Steam Punk in the Hills!

OK, maybe more waterpunk, but still, right?

You see, this city is flush with crafty artists and self-proclaimed avante garde writers, who are busy … making old things, in old ways. The truly avante garde poet Jason Dewinetz, for instance, pretty much gave up poetry to devote himself to a letterpress. He has never been so happy. You can find his award-winning design work at Here’s one:


One of the first books Jason did, before he was in the dungeon of Okanagan College and out at the Greenboathouse just up the lake from my house now, and long before I moved here, was this baby. First, the proud papa…

daydreamhr … and then the book …daydreamh

And for a sample of this translation of Shakespeare into a kind of steampunk nrrgh? Here you go: click. At the time, I was trying to work out some things about oral language, but what I did manage was to translate myself into Vernon, capital of steampunk. It’s not just Jason. It’s Kevin Mcpherson Eckhoff, too. He’s a stand-up comic who teaches writing things at Okanagan College, hangs around Jason’s dungeon, and hosts chapbook making afternoons at Vertigo Gallery in Vernon. Here’s one of Jason’s books…


This tradition of using Victorian etchings in new and wild ways as a new art form and a daughter of poetry and excellent glue-stick technique has roots in the first world war, and wouldn’t you know it! So does Vernon! In fact, in Vernon, the men of the entire Interior, between the Coast Mountains and the Rocky Mountains, a country as big as West Germany, were lured into a makeshift camp on the grasslands, trained for a few weeks in marching and lunging, and then sent off to France, where they all died. And that was the end of that. Well, you might think so, but not in Vernon. Now it’s steampunk. Look:


In Vernon, the War has Just Begun!

See the Steampunk touch? The mirrored wall beside it, complete with tagging and this photographer’s legs and worn-out hiking boots? Excellent, Vernon!

In fact, the war is everything to Vernon.


Note the Steampunk Hand-written Addition!

That’s one tagger I owe a cup of coffee. It was a French soldier who shot my Great Uncle Alfred through the head and sent him down the long road of a private post-war battle with the German Post Office and, gasp, eventual incarceration in an insane asylum in Sweden, no less. Not a boy from Vernon. No, they were all dead by the time Verdun rolled around.

My resolute hatred of war aside, I think this steampunk thing is the key to local society. After all, here’s a local alley…


The Last Two Straws

The installation would be nothing without the tire. Pure steampunk!

Even the local art gallery is in on the act. It is right now trying to get funding to move out of its parkade before the local museum gets funding to move out of space built 50 years ago and as tiny as a crypt, while the politicians are trying to insist that they become one building, with one great big cold storage for all their paintings and artifacts (this was a fruitgrowing town once, and cold storage knowledge runs deep in the veins). Here’s what it looks like from the street…

show2 Annual High School Student Show, Vernon Art Gallery

While the kids are being taught about the ancient aesthetic thing of art (In mnany places, contemporary with the pre-World War I era, but in Vernon definitely a NOW thing), the passing traffic is driving right through their paintings. Really…


Pure Steam Punk.

Note the lack of “plant art” in the “planting box frame”. For “art”, the writing is on the wall.

You see how that works? No need for a multi-million dollar gallery. Just a cold storage and a bunch of polished windows, and we’re in. Meanwhile, over at city hall, the wise councillors are into a little steampunking of their own…

fountainoflifeCivic Fountain

That’s an elm seed (an invasive weed) and a dead mosquito and … eeyew.

You see how this works? Vernon is so steampunk, that everything is steampunk here. Even nature. Now “nature” is not a word I use when I’m in the grass, but down in town, where it’s an aesthetic thing, well …

manintree See the Man Walking Up in the Tree?

I wish I could do that. Very futuristic! And the civic offices? Aha!

blackbird Former Flower Planter

Now a weed planter, framing the reflected “nature” in the office window… no different than the art gallery with its cars, but grass and dandelions. Wow. Just wow. Brilliant use of media, guys! I owe this landscaper a coffee, too. And as for the War That Will Not End, even it is fought in Nature …

neverendingwar Note the Flag!

In Vernon, where World War II soldiers line up at the bus shelter, Canada is steam punk, too.

Now, I’m thinking that we could make common cause here. I could use the concept of steampunk to find an appropriate language for the colonial treatment of the earth in this place and put on some photography/text shows to blow the whole idea of nature wide open, so even Leipzig, champions of street art, would notice, Kevin and Jason could teach the stuff at the college, the museum and the art gallery could move in together and make steampunk displays of both artifacts and paintings in the same installations, and install stuff in windows to keep it all up to date, the taggers could be put on the gallery board of directors, the landscaper dude can be given a bag of dandelion seeds to work his magic on the civic lawns, and the road crew could use their mastery of abstract impressionism …


… to beautify the streets.

headrushGreen Light in Vernon

A head rush, for sure. There’s no limit. The cars don’t actually have to move…

waitingThey’re Waiting for Us to Catch Up!

Notice the excellent steampunk decoration of nature in the background. Exciting stuff!

Whatever else happens, the galleries and museums are going to need to reflect a culture in which the current galleries, the back alleys of town, are endlessly creative …

windowsweedswideIt Just Would Be So Much Less Without the Nature

Here too …

boxy Clever Use of Asphalt and Cardboard

And here…

door A Veritable Steam Punk Novel!

And pure mystery here …wallofmysteriesMystery Wall.

It is time to honour the culture of this place, and to help it heal its war wounds by bringing it to a language that can mesh its exciting culture of power …

betweenturns It’s Unclear Whether You Should Turn Left

and gas …

fitting This Gas Fitter Should Get an Award from the Regional Arts Council

Especially for that drain.

… and power…

redwhiteblue I weep for the joy of it. And for its exquisite use of line …redno Right to the Red Door!

…and (Hey, it is steam punk) Victorian lighting technology …lamplines In Vernon We Don’t Let in the Light. We Beam it to the Stars.

What a gas!

Not just a gas, but jazz…

jazzline The Power Lines of Vernon: A National Artistic Treasure

One of the earliest public art installations in the country, and, thanks to steam punk, excellently preserved. It makes those decades of a fruit industry all worthwhile!

And just in case you forget to …breatheBreathe.

More of that private parking thing, though. I think humans are at war with cars.

This war must end!

reflecteyes No Cars, No Steam Punk!

Note the eyes in the back window.

After all, the cars, strategically placed, beneath walls painted with the right colours, with the right orientation to the sun … can become steam punk, too!


Vigilance is necessary …wild

… and nature could be treated with as much honour as the concrete it complements…

planter Weeds Trying to Steam Punk an Abandoned Planter for Shrubberies

Well, shrubberies were so 1970s. There was still money here. There was still a fruit industry. The museum had 50 years less steam punk to try to preserve. Time is part of every story here. And out on the outskirts, where something of the earth still breathes?  Aha …

plasticvistaThe Plastic Has Been Laid Down

Steam Punking the Land

It’s only here, where the city breaks down at its edges, that steam punking is a bad idea. In the city core, steampunking adds life. Out here, it’s just death. This soil has been stripped of nutrients, plasticized, chemically sprayed for weeds (yesterday, to prevent seed germination), and pounded back to rock …

soilTractor Blight

Steam punk gone bad.

So, you see. Steam punk, the heart and soul of a city that so wants to have a big art gallery like those huge multinational global cities of artistic excellence like Kelowna! What? You haven’t heard of Kelowna? Well, you’re forgiven. It’s a strip mall of car dealerships that sits on top of a bunch of old onion fields, but here’s the thing: they have the steam punk bug too.


Stephen Foster’s Toy Portraits, June 22 to September 29th, 2013

Pure Steampunk!

Now, in Kelowna this stuff is called “Art”, but in Vernon it’s the streets. We have an incredible confluence of forces: museum, gallery, college, writers, print foundry, book designers, taggers, landscapers, road crews, and all the people who dress up like this …

olourfulworldWithout Colourful People, Vernon is Just for Cars

… just to keep the colour thing working. Kelowna doesn’t have that. As for the toy Indians? They did that in Dresden a decade ago. But this art is on the street and its punk thing? They did that in Leipzig only five years ago, so, like, we’re ahead, right! Not only that, in Leipzig, they don’t have this …

P1600605Crab Spider Hunting on the Steampunk Weeds in the Steampunk Suburb

They had a life on earth 200 years ago. We still have it. So, when we go to the stars with our art, and our streets, we can make a new kind of city, in which art, streets, museums and galleries are all one thing. I mean, we’re already there. Sometimes being in cold storage for awhile is an advantage… if you seize it. Even Kelowna can’t do that anymore, even if you haven’t heard of it, even if you have. Think Green!

forever “Art” is obsolete, but the green light is on!no card

Vernon! Steam Punk Capital of the World!

I’m serious.

7 replies »

    • Now, that’s a great response! What I’m personally amazed at is how this idea seems to encompass so much: it provides a point of overview for almost everything that is going on the way the earth is seen, what is done to it, the way the city organizes itself, and a certain potential for new solutions. I’m going to try to come up with terms for this new steam punk universe. That ought to blow the top of my head off!



      • If the top of your head blows off, I would buy a ticket to peek inside. Seriously, Harold, you are an amazing writer, always. Always, you interpret the environment clearly and beautifully. And I think this is close to being the most amazing piece you’ve posted to date.


      • Whoa, why thank you. The pressure’s on now. I’ve just been digging some improvements out of my backyard. From improved land back to food land whew! But I came up with a term out there: unimprovement. As in “I’m going to unimprove my land.” The connotations suck, but it’s fun to think of trying to use that one! Thanks Harold


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