Aug 10, 2012 / 5:00 am
There was a time when the sight of war canoes on Okanagan Lake was not uncommon.
"We know that these canoes have been used since the 20's in a regatta format," says the Curator of the Penticton Museum, Peter Ord.
"They were used extensively throughout the Okanagan. Peachland, Summerland, Penticton, Kelowna, Vernon, they all had these big aquatic days that were a big part of their sports calendar."
Ord says there was a time when many communities in the Okanagan had their own war canoe.
"One of the biggest parts of these regattas was the racing of the war canoes and there was quite a rivalry between them."
The sport attracted both men and women and continued full force until the outbreak of World War Two before its popularity waned.
Most of the 30 foot long cedar strip canoes have long been retired or forgotten, but not all.
On Saturday, August 11, after the Peachfest Parade ends around 11:30 a.m., an authentic 1920s vintage 30 foot long Penticton War Canoe will race along Okanagan Beach from the S/S SICAMOUS and back, giving spectators a chance to see an actual piece of living Penticton history in action.
"We're not sure how old it is. There is a plate on it that is linked to the Peterborough Canoe Company so we know where it was built."
The canoe is one of four the museum is in possession of which date back to that time.
"The last time these were used in a competitive manner was 2000, when two of them were restored by the Peachland Heritage Society and they were used as part of their millennium celebrations."
The S/S SICAMOUS Inland Marine Museum is hosting a new permanent war canoe exhibit put together through the generosity of the Penticton Museum and the work of designer Ted Senior.
The exhibit features a restored vintage Penticton War Canoe as well as historic artifacts from Penticton’s paddling past.
"War canoes were (first) used by the eastern First Nations during raids between various communities on the Great lakes. Then they were co-opted by new settlers and colonialists and then used to recreate traditional canoe craft." says Ord.
Eventually they were adapted for racing.
"They're very sleek and very light. They're principally designed for racing. The older war canoes had higher gunnels and wider bases so they could travel through different waters."
War canoes are still being produced today, although a fibreglass composite material has replaced the traditional cedar.
On Saturday, the canoe will be crewed by volunteers from the Penticton Racing Canoe Club, the Penticton Paddling Centre, local paddlers from the Raymond James Penticton Dragon Boat Festival, the Penticton Museum and the S/S SICAMOUS Inland Marine Museum.
Museum volunteers also have plans to race the vintage canoes next year.
If the remaining restoration work on the other canoes is completed by next summer, organizers will race the three with proceeds going to charity.
Donations to support this restoration can be made at the Penticton Museum or through the S/S SICAMOUS.
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