For July and August, the Vernon Museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the many heritage sites around the North Okanagan. To plan a visit to any of the sites featured, please visit https://vernonmuseum.ca/explore/heritage-field-trips/.

 

The Okanagan Landing Stationhouse Museum

One of Vernon’s hidden gems is the Okanagan Landing Stationhouse Museum, located in Paddlewheel Park.

In addition to a variety of other artifacts, the museum boasts an incredible scale model that depicts life in the Okanagan Landing in 1914.

The Era of Sternwheelers

Life was different in Vernon when sternwheelers still plied the waters of Okanagan Lake.

The Landing was a hub of activity, since it was the terminus of the Shuswap and Okanagan spur line of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the most northerly steamboat port on the lake. It wasn’t unusual for the arrival or departure of ships to draw large crowds to the Landing, and perhaps none more so than for the launch of the S.S. Okanagan in 1907. 

A New Ship

On April 16 of that year, the town was all but deserted, for the majority of its population had descended on the Okanagan Landing. Mayor W.R. Megaw had declared a half-holiday, and school, stores, and offices were closed.

The Landing, meanwhile, was festively decorated, with bunting, flags, and streamers waving cheerfully from every building.

But it was the S.S. Okanagan that was drawing the most attention from onlookers, with her gleaming white and gold trim.

Construction had begun on the CPR vessel a year earlier, in 1906. She was built to replace the aging S.S. Aberdeen in transporting passengers and freight between Vernon and Penticton. After a year of construction, she was finally ready to be put to work. 

The Christening

As the crowd waited impatiently, the ship’s gang plank was removed and she started to slowly slide along the greased stringers towards the water.

Meanwhile, a ceremony was taking place on the ship’s main deck; the wife of Captain Gore had been given the honour of naming the ship, and was presented with a flower bouquet and a silver water service. 

As the Okanagan slipped into the lake for the first time, Mrs. Gore showered a bottle of champagne across the ship’s bow. The guests on board toasted to the new vessel’s success, before they were transferred to the S.S. Aberdeen and brought back to shore.

Celebrations continued into the evening, with performances by the Vernon Fire Brigade Band and a dance hosted by Captain and Mrs. Gore at the Landing’s Strand Hotel.

 

YEARS OF SERVICE

The S.S. Okanagan was in service for 27 years before being retired in 1934. While most of her pieces were dismantled and sold as scraps, the Ladies Saloon from the boat’s stern was rescued by the S.S. Sicamous Restoration Society and moved to the heritage park in Penticton.

 

The Okanagan Landing Stationhouse museum is housed in in the original 1892 railroad station house. 

 

The S.S. Okanagan on her day of launch in 1907.

 

Okanagan Landing, showing the Strand Hotel, railroad, and SS Okanagan, sternwheeler circa 1910. GVMA #11232.

 

Gwyn Evans

 

 

luxury lake travel- vintage okanagan style

 

November 13. 2020

What would it have been like to take a trip from Penticton to the Okanagan Landing aboard a sternwheeler? Unfortunately, most of will never know, since the Okanagan’s last paddle wheeler, the S.S. Sicamous, was retired nearly 85 years ago. Luckily, records in the Vernon Archives allow us to recreate these epic journeys—on paper, at least.

The S.S. Sicamous, launched in May of 1914, was the third in a line of stately sternwheelers to ply the waters of Okanagan Lake. She had a reinforced steel hull, and four decks. With 37 staterooms, one smoking room, four saloons, and a dining room, the ship could accommodate more than 300 passengers at one time. 

 

 

S.S. Sicamous, 1921

The Sicamous was a craft of grace and beauty, and she rightly earned the name of “The Queen of Okanagan Lake.” She transported passengers and freight up and down the lake, making stops along the way at Ewing’s Landing, Fintry, Carr’s Landing, Okanagan Centre, Gellatly, and Naramata, until 1936.

It’s a crisp spring morning in 1921. You rub sleep from your eyes, before pulling your wool clothing tight against the cold air drifting off the calm waters of Okanagan Lake. You are standing at the Penticton Wharf, the imposing shadow of the luxurious Incola Hotel, where you passed a pleasant night, to your back. It is 5:15 am, and the sky is still dark. You listen to the gentle chatter of early morning birds, and the slow murmur of waves against the shore. The town of Penticton is still asleep.

Just when you are beginning to lose feeling in the tips of your toes, the S.S. Sicamous pulls up to the wharf, breaking the sleepy silence with a cheerful blast of its whistle. As you wait in line for your chance to board, you watch the ship’s Union Jack drifting lazily in the breeze.

You’re making the trip to Vernon. It’s only 65 miles down the lake, but with the crisscrossing path needed to call in at the 15 landings along the way, you will have traveled more than 90 miles by journey’s end. You expect to be in Vernon by about 9:30 am, just in time for a bite of breakfast.

Finally, you are on board. The richness of the ship’s wood fittings—made from British Columbian cedar, Australian mahogany, and Burmese teak—contrast with the pale morning light. You watch as women in wool travel suits pull half-asleep children towards one end of the ship, while the men, chatting and smoking, move to the other.

You, however, decide to take a seat at a comfortable writing desk, and reach over to switch on a nearby reading lamp. The ship is delightfully warm, thanks to the miracle of steam heating. As you flip slowly through that morning’s copy of the Vernon News, you periodically glance up to admire the Sicamous’s beautiful stained-glass skylights.

After a little over 3-and-a-half hours later—most of which you spent in the observation lounge, watching the small, white-capped waves churned up by the ship’s wheel—you arrive at the Okanagan Landing. As you disembark, waving at a group of excited children on the shore, you think to yourself that you have never experienced a more marvelous journey. 

Gwyn Evans