Organizers of the Steamfest Regatta and Antique Boat Show running Sept. 19 to 21 are hoping to re-capture the aquatic spirit that was prevalent in the early 1900s.
Peter Ord, curator of the Penticton Museum, said the event will be a showcase and fundraiser for the restoration of four of the city’s original war canoes.
Ord said the canoes were brought back to Penticton five years ago, with the intention of resuscitating the old-fashioned war canoe races that were popular at the turn of the century. War canoe regattas were popular at boating clubs throughout Canada. The races featured up to 15-person crews paddling in 10-metre canoes for a distance of about one kilometre.
“It’s been a slow process but we really wanted to get some of that activity along the Okanagan beach waterfront happening again,” he said. “It’s something that was such a big part of the community so long ago.”
The Steamfest Regatta is a smaller-scale event that he and co-ordinator Lyndie Hill of Hoodoo Adventure Company would like to see grow and expand during the next few years.
“I am very excited to be involved in this new event,” said Hill. “It is a real celebration of the sport of paddling which is growing at an outstanding rate in the area. It is also an amazing way to bring all the different paddling communities and families together for a common goal of highlighting the aquatic gems that we have here in Penticton.”
The peak popularity of war canoe regattas happened between 1905 and 1914 as lakeside communities like Kelowna, Peachland, Summerland and Penticton competed for the coveted Robinson Cup.
Ord said he’s hoping to see the event grow, adding it would be nice to re-capture a similar type of spirit in the coming years, and that eventually, the same four communities would once again be competing for the Robinson Cup again.
“The history of water sports on Okanagan Lake stretches back over a century, and having access to these amazing racing canoes from the past provides a perfect opportunity to revive those rich traditions,” he said.
Mike Elliot, who has been responsible for restoring one of the war canoes, said this type of project requires a great deal of work from numerous individuals. Elliot said an assessment of the canoe was performed in January, and work began in February.
“We’ve got one, just in the final stages of completion,” he said. “We’ll be completely done with this one on Thursday. It will be on display on Saturday and in the water on Sunday.”
In addition to the war canoe races, there will also be kayak, canoe, outrigger and dragon boat races, a “unique” bathing suit competition, decorated boat competition, and tub racing.
The Okanagan Antique and Classic Boat Society will be featuring a fleet of restored motor craft at the Penticton Lakeside Resort marina. Organizers are devoted to having the regatta and boat show as an annual event, and to increase the awareness of the paddling community in Penticton.
Jim Cooper, chair of the SS Sicamous Society and a member of the Okanagan Antique and Classic Boat Society, said he’s thrilled the war canoes are being restored because they represent a treasured era in local boating, and represent traditions he hopes will return to the Okanagan.