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SS Sicamous celebrates birthday

The sternwheeler is taking on passengers for its 101st birthday.
SS Sicamous ship’s manager Don Wright at the wheel in the lower deck of the paddle-wheeler.

All aboard!

The SS Sicamous will be seating passengers next week to celebrate the ship’s 101st birthday.

But the harboured ship will remain stationary, of course.

“The SS Sicamous is a testament to Penticton and what all of the people have put into it,” said Jessie Dunlop, assistant manager at the SS Sicamous Heritage Park.

May 19 marks the 101st anniversary of its first launch into Lake Okanagan from a port in Vernon, on Victoria Day of 1914. People gathered from all over to witness the event, Dunlop said.

The Sicamous was assembled in Vernon, but originally built in Port Arthur, Ont., a city now known as Thunder Bay. It was shipped by rail and required 17 cars to haul the whole thing.

Powered by a sternwheel, the Sicamous finally made it possible for small agricultural communities along the lake to sell their goods to markets outside of the Okanagan.

Dunlop said the Sicamous left Penticton every morning around 5:30 a.m., made its regular stops, and arrived in Vernon around noon before returning south.

And until the 1930s, it was the only powered transportation available through the South Okanagan. Service on the Sicamous ceased in the mid-1930s.

After sitting idle for more than a decade, the Sicamous came home to Penticton in 1951, after the city bought the ship from the Canadian Pacific Railway for $1.

But not every aspect of the ship was so affordable. Countless dollars and volunteer hours were spent on ongoing restoration efforts. It’s now only one of two sternwheel-powered ships left in British Columbia – and it’s the biggest.

During the celebration, a much more detailed account of the ship’s past will be shared by local historian Randy Manuel. And to capture the essence of the ship during its heyday, the SS Sicamous Society has invited live Edwardian-era musicians as entertainment for the anniversary. The cost of admission is a donation, which will support the restoration of the ship.

Dunlop said the celebration is for the whole community – “everyone that’s living in Penticton or has visited, or even people who have only ever admired the boat from the outside.”

The society is hoping to make the anniversary celebration an annual event, after launching it last year for the 100-year milestone. Special Sicamous stamps were issued through Canada Post, which are being sold for $2.50 each, and can only be purchased through the society.

Similarly, special stamps will be sold to commemorate the 100th anniversary for the Kettle Valley Railway, which is on May 31.

“The Kettle Valley Railway and the SS Sicamous worked together to shape the growth and economic development of the valley that we know and love today” said manager Don Wright. “It is important that we celebrate this important milestone, and recognize all of the work that our community has put in to ensuring that we reached this day.”

The celebration takes place between 10 and 11:30 a.m. with refreshments to be shared.