Historical festival gathering steam
Update: Okanagan Steamfest has created a Youtube channel and posted their first promotional video.
May 2014 may be more than a year off, but planning is already well underway for an 18-month long festival to celebrate the centennial of not only the SS Sicamous, but the SS Naramata and the Kettle Valley Railway.
Steamfest will celebrate the impact of steam travel on the development of the Okanagan with a combination of events, exhibits, performances and culinary celebrations to recognize and remember the character and history of the South Okanagan.
It’s a chapter of local history that brought far-reaching changes to life in Penticton, according to Peter Ord, Penticton Museum curator and one of the Steamfest organizers.
“If you look at the arrival of these particular transports, you see how the changes to the valley occurred. The first settlement of Penticton was all about attracting people to develop agricultural land,” said Ord. But getting the farmers’ products to market prior to the arrival of the railroad to connect to the steamships like the Sicamous on the lake, was a difficult thing.
“Relying on the ships and trains really changed everything, because it allowed everything to happen much quicker. Otherwise, the only way to get into Penticton was by trails or really bumpy roads by stagecoach,” said Ord.
The Sicamous, ensconced in the sand at the west end of Okanagan Lake Beach, is perhaps the most visible reminder of the steam era, but two other important events also happened close to the time the classic paddle-wheeler was launched. The SS Naramata, is two weeks older than the Sicamous, and the Kettle Valley Railway was completed a year later.
Steamfest is being organized through a committee, with representatives from the SS Sicamous Restoration Society, the Kettle Valley Steam Railway, Penticton Museum and Archives, the Okanagan Historical Society, Peachfest and local businesses.
Altogether, it is expected to cost about $300,000, with 80 per cent of the budget coming through federal grants, like one from the Canadian Heritage Anniversaries fund, which Steamfest recently received Penticton city council’s support to pursue.
“That one will allow us to make it a valley-wide event,” said Ord, explaining that the amount of the grants they receive will determine the size of the festival.
Events already planned include a travelling exhibit about steam technology and a travelling music show to tour the valley.
They are also planning a cooking competition using replicas of the rock ovens that were part of the daily life of the workers who built the KVR.
In the middle of the bush, using a rock oven is the way to go, said Ord. In association with the Naramata Bench Wineries, he continued, Steamfest wants to have a competition with local chefs to come out with dishes that they can cook in the rock ovens.
Both steamships and the steam railway were able to change the socioeconomic landscape of the area, making this an important era to remember, according to Ord.
“And it’s quite a unique story, if you look at how transport impacted the rest of Canada,” said Ord. “You can see that elsewhere in B.C., but there is more of a romantic element to this, in that you had both the trains and the paddle-wheelers working together.”