At precisely 2:15 p.m. on May 19, 1914 the Okanagan’s newest steam-driven paddle wheeler, the SS Sicamous splashed into the lake.
Now 100 years later, the steamer that sits at the foot of Okanagan Lake in Penticton, is getting her much deserved year long celebration that kicks off on Monday with Okanagan Steamfest.
For the next 18 months the museums of the South Okanagan are recognizing the impact steam technology and travel had a century ago. The event, from 10 a.m. to noon, includes a day of activities, free tours, demonstrations, a commemorative and the unveiling of a collector stamp.
For one passenger, the romance of the old steamer holds special memories. Doreen Chaddock’s grandfather Joseph Weeks worked his way up from a deck hand on the Aberdeen getting paid $30 a month to captain of the Sicamous in 1922 until the boat retired in 1937.
Chaddock, along with her younger sister Frances, were on one of the last trips of the Sicamous.
“We lost five-year old Frances. When they found her, she was walking along a ledge on the outside of the railing, right over the paddle wheel,” recalls Chaddock. “She said she wanted to see how it worked.”
Penticton Museum curator Peter Ord said, as the story goes, Frances was coaxed back over the outer rail with an apple and then placed in the safe confines of a cabin for the rest of the trip.
It is stories like these that keep Ord enthusiastic about gaining more insight on the old photographs and newspaper clippings the museum has in its archives.
“The stories are so important because they provide that extra dimension to the historical narrative of what these machines were about. These pictures we have can’t speak unless they are given a voice and a lot of times it is difficult to find those voices. When you can find them it is gold, archival gold, he said.
The personal stories tie everything together for not only Ord, but anyone interested in the history of Penticton.
“Stories about the first soldiers who were conscripted up to their training camp in Vernon who boarded the Sicamous to get there. This is a project without end and we always welcome people to bring us stories, videos, photos, audio about the Sicamous and Penticton to ensure it is preserved from generation to generation,” said Ord.
The celebration continues into the week with the Centennial Celebration happening on May 24 from 4 to 7 p.m. Wine and ale tasting, fine food and music are on the schedule in Heritage Park.
Tickets are $25 and includes the first glass of wine and food tasting tokens. Some food will be prepared in a specially created rock oven, a duplicate of one that would have traditionally been used during the building of the Kettle Valley Railway. Tickets will not be available at the door.
Events will continue throughout the 18 months including on Father’s Day in conjunction with Loco Landing, tied in with the Peach City Beach Cruise next month, the inaugural Ogopogo Regatta, a Steampunk film festival and others.
As part of an upcoming feature series Peach City Radio, called Local Lore, Ord and others will be talking about the Sicamous and other things that had impact in the area’s history.
Steamfest is being organized through a committee with representatives from the SS Sicamous Restoration Society, the Kettle Valley Railway, Penticton Museum and Archives, the Okanagan Historical Society, Peachfest and other local businesses. For more info visit www.Steamfest.ca.