Thank you to guest columnist Jenna Kiesman, Hall Manager for the Okanagan Landing & District Community Association, for this wonderful article.

The Okanagan Landing & District Community Association recognizes that the areas now known as Paddlewheel Park, Paddlewheel Hall and Stationhouse Museum are part the Ancestral, Traditional and Unceded Territory of the Syilx people of the Okanagan Nation.

If you were suddenly transported back in time over 100 years ago, the area of Okanagan Landing would have been a busy and boisterous place to visit. The hissing of a steam locomotive would be heard as it drew slowly into Okanagan Landing station on the Canadian Pacific Rail (CPR) line. Here, an unassuming maroon building labelled “CPR Station” would mark the first stop for hundreds arriving in Vernon for the first time. Today, the area of Vernon known as Okanagan Landing is a quiet and quaint part of the North Okanagan region. Many who live in Vernon may not know the importance of the community of Okanagan Landing to the development of Vernon as a major city centre in the Okanagan Valley.

When the CPR completed its transcontinental rail service on November 7th, 1885 with the driving of the last spike at Craigellachie, BC, the country was now connected by rail from coast to coast. In 1892, the CPR built a spur line – which is, a railway line that branches off from the main trunk – from Sicamous to the head of Lake Okanagan in Vernon. This terminal was known as ‘Okanagan Landing’ and became the major transfer point of goods and people from rail to water transportation-serving communities. Lake Okanagan was the original “highway” in the region after all. Now, people and freight in the Okanagan Valley could have access to the rest of the province – and beyond.

Group of CPR Staff at the Okanagan Landing circa 1910. GVMA #29711.

After 1900, there was a sharp upturn in the population of Vernon and new businesses, such as ranches and orchards, all sprang up overnight. In those days, Okanagan Landing was a central port that supplied the necessities of life to communities throughout the Okanagan Valley, such as Kelowna, Summerland, Penticton and Westbank. Over seventy-five tons of freight came through Sicamous each week, imports to the growing regional economy. Thirsty customers procured their liquid form of sustenance from the Hudson Bay Company and the Government Agent dispensed licenses and permits. This economic dependency on Vernon greatly benefited businesses in Okanagan Landing that supported the movement of goods and people across the lake – although there were some drawbacks for the residents of smaller communities who relied on Vernon.

One example of the challenges of a regional dependency on the services in Vernon is that of a former Boer-War soldier named George Henry Williams. In June of 1907, Williams was living in Summerland awaiting his marriage license to be issued by the Government Agent in Vernon. With only one day left before the wedding and the marriage license nowhere in sight, Williams travelled up the lake to Okanagan Landing on a steamboat with the goal of expediting the license (his bride-to-be was anxiously waiting back in Summerland). Williams debarked in Okanagan Landing in the early afternoon and realized he would only have 2 hours to complete his mission before the steamboat left again for Summerland. Riding fast on horseback along the rough, dusty road that linked Okanagan Landing to Vernon, Williams arrived in town to discover that the Government Agent was out of town and his marriage license unobtainable. A mad dash back to Okanagan Landing was made by Williams but it was too late – the steamboat had left. Upon Williams’ return to Summerland, considerable phoning and conversing was necessary to advise the wedding guests of the delay in the marriage ceremony.

The SS Okanagan in 1907. Could this have been the vessel which transported George Williams from Summerland to Vernon? GVMA #15557.

Today, communities across the Okanagan Valley are connected by roads, not water.  This history of Okanagan Landing is preserved in Stationhouse Museum, which is housed in the original CPR stationhouse building. When CPR railway services formally ended in 1936, the Stationhouse building passed into private hands. In 1982, the building was donated to the Okanagan Landing & District Community Association by Wes and Kay Whitehead. The Museum now houses an amazing 21’x4’ scale model depicting Okanagan Landing in 1914 when the S.S. Sicamous, a sternwheeler, was nearing completion in the shipyards there. Stationhouse Museum, a partner of the Museum & Archives of Vernon, opens each summer for visitors who wish to learn more about the history of Okanagan Landing.

Stationhouse Museum, a partner of the Museum & Archives of Vernon, opens each summer for visitors who wish to learn more about the history of Okanagan Landing.

The Station House Museum hours:

    • Saturday, June 29, 2024: 12-4 PM
    • Sunday, June 30, 2024: 12-4 PM
    • Monday, July 1, 2024: 12-4 PM

For the reminder of the summer season, Stationhouse Museum is open Friday to Sunday from 12-4 PM  (weather permitting).

The Museum is located adjacent to Paddlewheel Hall at 7813 Okanagan Landing Road, Vernon, BC
The S.S. Okanagan sternwheeler docked at the Okanagan Landing wharf. To the right is the Station House building, which now houses the museum of the same name. GVMA #2803.

Jenna Kiesman, Hall Manager OKLDCA