A second look at the SS Sicamous’ in 1914 and 2023

A big part of lake's history

The sternwheeler SS Sicamous was launched nearly 109 years ago, on May 19, 1914.

Records show that Canadian Pacific Railway spent more than $200,000 on construction and interior finishing and fixtures on the deluxe paddle steamer. From its launch until it was retired from active service in 1937 it plied Okanagan Lake as the primary means of transporting cargo and passengers to and from 14 official stops, as well as a number of ad hoc landing sites.

The lake steamers were essentially a way to connect the Okanagan communities to the CPR spur line which ended near Vernon.

At 228 feet in length and 40 feet wide, the SS Sicamous was the largest and most luxurious of all the steamers on the lake. She initially sported five decks and could transport 500 passengers and 900 tons of freight, all at a speed of 17 knots (slightly over 30 kilometres pre hour).

In addition to the four large rooms, or saloons— including a bar in the men’s saloon—the vessel also had men’s and women’s observation decks and numerous observation and smoking lounges, as well as a large dining room that could seat 48 people at a sitting.

There were 40 staterooms/cabins, containing a total of 80 berths (beds), even though overnight facilities would not be expected on a one-way journey of only seven hours from one end of the lake to the other. And the Sicamous did not travel at night.

You may ask why were there so many private rooms with berths? The answer is so passengers affluent enough to afford a berth, could board the vessel the night before, and thereby not miss any sleep and avoid the rush and inconvenience having to arrive at the dock in time to board the vessel by the 5:30 a.m. departure time.

Due to the 1930’s economic depression, increased competition from the railways and improved automobile roads connecting the different Okanagan communities to each other, the Sicamous was removed from passenger service in 1935 and the once luxurious steamer was converted to a strictly cargo vessel.

However in 1936, that was not enough to keep her operating and by 1937 she was stripped of any valuable fixtures and left moored at the Okanagan Landing shipyard where she was built 22 plus years earlier.

The Sicamous was purchased by the City of Penticton for $1 and the derelict vessel was moved to that city in 1951, where she was permanently landed at the west end of Okanagan Lake Beach. She extensively restored back to her configuration as a passenger and freight carrier in the days when she was informally called, “The Queen of Okanagan Lake.”

The SS Sicamous was featured on a Canadian commemorative postage stamp on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of her launching.

The S.S. Sicamous Marine Heritage Society works to protect, preserve and promote the marine heritage of the Okanagan Valley. The restored SS Sicamous is certainly worth a Second Look, as is the museum with artefacts, located inside the vessel. And don’t miss the Okanagan tug boats located adjacent to the iconic old sternwheeler.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


A Second Look over Kelowna's downtown lakefront and beyond

Kelowna in 1909 and now

Kelowna: Panorama from Siwash Point on the westside of Okanagan Lake in 1909 and 2023

Siwash Point refers to the northernmost extension of high ground running from Lakeview Heights to a point jutting into the lake just north the bridge.

The word, “Siwash”, refers to indigenous people and suggests the point may have, at one time, been the location of an encampment or settlement of indigenous people. It was in common use, by both indigenous and European settlers, but has fallen out of favour in recent years.

The most striking difference between the two photos, besides the overall spread of urban development visible in the modern-day photo, is the ongoing intrusion of multi-storey structures (10 storeys and more) which are not seen in the 1909 photo.

Not only was there no need for such buildings back then, the technology to effectively construct such tall structures was just being developed. New York City’s tallest building in 1908 was only 41 storeys tall.

The other striking difference is barely captured in the modern-day photo. In the lower left corner of the photo, a chimney and the top of an evergreen tree bracket the roofline of houses and a forest of large pine trees along the ridge facing the lake. Most of Siwash Point in 1909 was vacant land. However today, only a few open spots between the residences and trees, provide glimpses that still required splicing photos together, to approximate the same vista that was easily obtained back then.

In both photos, the central highpoint is Dilworth Mountain, which rises about 268 metres above the valley floor to an elevation of just over 610 metres above sea level.

The knoll at the far left of the two photos is Mount Baldy, which reaches an elevation of just over 530 metres above sea level.

Please email your comments and suggestions for future Second Look views to Terry Robertson at [email protected]

(The older photo and was taken in 1909 by pioneer photographer G.H.E. Hudson. Credit: Canada Patent and Copyright Office / Library and Archives Canada / PA-029607.)

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Kelowna’s Bernard Avenue between and Pandosy and Water Streets   

Bernard Ave. then and now

The historical, upper photo looking down Bernard Avenue was taken just over 100 years ago, in 1920. Bernard Avenue was named after one of the two Leguime brothers when, in 1892, they laid out the Kelowna townsite. They also tagged Leon Avenue, located two blocks south, in honour of the other sibling surveyor.

The two men went on to establish the Leguime Brothers General Store that was located not far from where the “Sails” sculpture stands today.

The abundance of dark leaves on the trees suggests to me this photo was taken in the late spring or summer. The shortness of the shadow also identifies the historical photo as likely being exposed around the date of the summer solstice.

The sharp edges and deep black tone of the shadows point to it being a clear and sunny, Okanagan summer’s day. In addition, based on the angle of the shadows relative to the compass direction of Bernard Avenue, it is possible to say that it was the middle of that day, nearly 103 years ago that this scene was frozen in time.

If one looks carefully where the blue arrow is pointing, you can see the triangular peak of a top floor “false-front” wall on the building located near the centre of the top photo.

In the modern day, lower photo, one can just make out that the red arrow points to the same triangular, false gable-end peak feature, which has been retained on what is now the BMO building. The building on the current site incorporates the heritage “false-front” and brick-work façade finishing, for two storeys of the current, three-plus storey structure.

The lack of strong shadows, except for directly under some cars and the sparse yellow leaves on the trees in this photo confirm I took it on a cloudy day in late autumn.

The historical photo was found on Wikimedia Commons. Credit: Gowen Sutton Co. Ltd. / Library and Archives Canada / PA.

Support your local museums, archives and historical societies who are preserving the local history and heritage we all share. Please email your comments and suggestion to Terry at [email protected].

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


A second look at Kelowna's downtown lakefront

City dock then and now

The top photo shows the SS Sicamous coming into dock at Kelowna in 1915.

The dock was located downtown at the foot of Bernard Avenue. The bundles of piles set along the sides of the dock acted primarily as shock absorbers to protect the structure in the event of a rough or hard docking or when a vessel was tied up to the dock in stormy weather.

The Aquatic Centre’s on-shore buildings, and the adjoining covered grandstand, are clearly visible, but the large, in-lake swimming pool area associated with those structures is not obvious in the photo. The Aquatic Centre structures were built around 1909/10. They gave the public access to Olympic-sized facilities for competitive and recreational swimming and diving, for part of the year. They also enabled the presentation and observation of numerous aquatic events, including the Kelowna Regatta, which began in 1906.

Paper prints of the black and white photographic negatives were manually coloured at the time, probably in an effort to produce warmer, more appealing images, for reproduction and sale as picture postcards.

The modern photograph is actually a composite of two photos spliced together. The modern vista includes the access ramp to the Downtown Marina, located at the foot of Bernard Avenue in Kelowna. Also in the foreground are a few powerboats docked at the southeast corner of the marina.

In the immediate background one can see a number trees in the north end of City Park. In the distance, across the Okanagan Lake, the road leading to the western end of the Okanagan Lake bridge, is visible along with some residences on the eastern edge of Lakeview Heights. Beyond that, emerging from the blue summer haze is Mount Boucherie.

Support your local museums, archives and historical societies who are preserving the local history and heritage we all share. Email your comments and suggestion to Terry Robertson at [email protected].

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More A Second Look articles

About the Author

Terry W. Robertson received a bachelor of science degree in geology from UBC in 1970. His studies included physical geography, surveying and air-photo interpretation. Subsequently, he worked in petroleum exploration, initially based in Calgary and from 1978 to 1988 as an independent geological consultant working from his home the Okanagan.

In 1988, he left the oil industry and participated in the start-up and development of several small businesses in Lake Country, including a travel agency and a community newspaper which he edited and published from 1996 to 2003. With two children in local schools at the time and with a passion for politics, Terry was elected as the Lake Country trustee on the Central Okanagan School Board from 1990 to 2002.

He remains interested in politics and was an active supporter of the “Yes” side in the 2018 B.C. referendum on Proportional Representation. He enjoys getting outdoors, as well as travelling and exploring historic sites and museums. In addition, he likes to write about politics, history and geography.

Terry is interested in obtaining old (pre 1970)  photos of landscapes, street scenes or images of prominent structures from the Okanagan or Thompson region. If you possess any such images that you would permit him to copy and use in a future column, or have any comments about his column, please email him at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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