admiral of the okanagan
August 6, 2020
He was one of Vernon’s most colourful personalities.
Captain Dolman Shorts arrived in the Okanagan Valley in the 1870s, by which time he had already gained quite the reputation for his optimistic and persuasive personality. He probably put these charms to good use when, in the 1880s, he saw that there was a need in the valley for lake transportation and convinced people that a ride up Okanagan Lake on his homemade rowboat would be a sound idea.
As it turns out, the rowboat, named “Ruth Shorts” after the captain’s mother, was far more predictable that he was. Captain Shorts did not have a set boating schedule, as he despised routine. Since the trip from Okanagan Landing to Penticton took at least 9 days of hard rowing, the captain and his passengers would put into shore at night, catch some fish for dinner, and sleep under the stars. When prompted about how long the trip might take, Shorts would say “I haven’t the faintest idea, but rest assured we’ll fetch up there sometime.” If the Captain fancied a midday nap, he caught 40 winks on the nearest beach, regardless of what his passengers might think.
John McCulloch’s experience working as a tobacco and soft drink salesman for his father’s business prepared him for ownership, and he also had the support of a remarkable woman.
Captain Dolman Shorts
When prompted about how long the trip might take, Shorts would say “I haven’t the faintest idea, but rest assured we’ll fetch up there sometime.” If the Captain fancied a midday nap, he caught 40 winks on the nearest beach, regardless of what his passengers might think.
Despite his quirks, Shorts had a strong group of supporters, and he soon graduated from a rowboat to one with a small steam engine, christened the “Mary Victoria Greenhow.” The vessel had a voracious appetite for coal oil and what was supposed to be her magnificent inaugural trip ended up with her being rowed anticlimactically back to the dock after she ran out of fuel. Only about a year later, she went up in flame.
However, Shorts’ spirits were certainly not dampened. In fact, these misadventures seemed to bring him great pleasure, perhaps because they provided stories to tell his passengers during their trips up the lake. He was known to have a vivid imagination, and with each retelling, the details grew more and more dramatic.
Shorts would go on to own a number of other vessels over the years, both big and small, including a barge named the “City of Vernon,” launched in August of 1894. Unfortunately, with his irregular schedule, the Okanagan’s first captain was eventually outcompeted by the more routine (but far less colourful) service of the C.P.R. steamships. He ended up broke and disenchanted with modern machinery, saying “I made six thousand dollars rowboating and lost it all in steam.” But his friends refused to let him wallow; a banquet was held at the Kalamalka Hotel in his honour, and he was granted the title of “Admiral of the Okanagan.”
Eventually, the Admiral moved away from the Okanagan, chasing gold in the Klondike, but his optimism and ambition have not been forgotten.