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War canoe restoration

A group of Penticton Secondary School students are spending time outside the classroom each week restoring a heritage war canoe.

It's part of an ongoing Penticton Museum project to give four of the historic watercraft a new lease on life.

"It changes up the routine, and it's interesting because we get to see how they built the canoe and how it's held together," said grade 11 student Diego DeAlmeida.

The five grade 11 and 12 students, who are involved in the career transitions course at the high school, started the work in January and expect to be finished by June, acording to their teacher Kevin McGifford.

Every Thursday they go to Art House Penticton and work on getting rid of worn out parts and prepping for re-finishing, with guidance provided by Mike Elliott of Kettle River Canoes in Grand Forks.

McGifford said the project is giving the students both practical and employable skills.

"Then on top of that they are going through the experience of what it means to be a volunteer," he said.

According to museum curator Peter Ord, war canoes were used by Coastal First Nations for raiding parties around the early 1900s.

Early white settlements then adopted the concept of the large war canoe, but used their own building technology to recreate them.

They were mostly used for racing by settlements in Ontario and the Maritimes. The first evidence of canoes being used in the Okanagan dates back to around 1908, said Ord.

The two World Wars put an end to the racing, as young men went overseas to fight.

But by the late 1940s, the war canoes started coming back and racing became popular again in the Okangan and other places.

There was another hiaitus from the early 1980s to 1999, when Peachland restored some of the watercraft and did a ceremonial race as part of its millennium celebration.

Two of the canoes then remained in Peachland and the other two were stored in Kelowna and used by the Kelowna Fire Department.

Two were built by Gordon Jennens in Kelowna from 1949 to 1951 and the others, dating back to the mid 1940s, were built by the Peterborough Canoe Company in Ontario. 

After the watercraft arrived in Penticton in recent years, one was  restored almost immediately and the other three are being worked on by the students, Shuan Boo of Peachland and others.

The final goal is one of the canoes will be a permanent exhibit at the S.S. Sicamous and the three others will be restored to racing condition and raced during a regatta in September.

"This is a very important heritage project that revitalizes a piece of Penticton history intimately connected to its water," said Ord.

Grade 11 student Tanner Abernethy says the whole project has been a good fit for him.

"I get to work with friends and I enjoy hands on projects," he said. "It's really quite fun and the historical part is cool."

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