2015 is the year of steam at Penticton Museum and Archives.
Ushering in a new year at the museum is curator Dennis Oomen, who took over for Peter Ord on Nov. 18. Ord recently moved on to the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria.
The first exhibit rotating under the helm of Oomen will revolve around the Kettle Valley Railway, starting off a year of steam-based exhibits entitled Steamfest.
Steam has a history in the Okanagan that extends back to the late 1800s.
“The Kettle Valley Railway was very important to the development of Penticton and southern B.C. in general. We’ll be dealing with that history and showing how the railway came about and how it was built,” Oomen said.
Initially conceived as an extension of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the KVR became an integral part of connecting the mining deposits in the south Okanagan to the rest of the province and the country.
“When the Kettle Valley Railway was made, all locomotives were all steam locomotives running on coal for the most part,” Oomen said.
He added the SS Sicamous, the five-decked sternwheeler which was another lifeline for the South Okanagan, was also steam powered.
“The early economic history of the region was pretty much powered by steam, so we are having a bunch of events that speak to that role,” Oomen said.
With a degree in history and years of museum work under his belt, Oomen’s fascination with who we are and how we got here is evident, but he prefers the history that breaks through the ages to today.
“As much as I like the study of history, I like the artifacts and objects associated with history. I didn’t want to be a document historian. I wanted to be someone who dealt with the tangible stuff of history. The artifacts and the material culture,” Oomen said.
Growing up in Ottawa, Oomen was surrounded by the federal museums which he would visit when he was younger. That’s when his passion for history took off.
“It really got my imagination going and that’s when I started steering myself toward museum work,” he said.
Taking up the new job in Penticton was an easy choice for him as he has been working in the Okanagan and surrounding area for years.
“It was just time for a change. It was a great opportunity and I really wanted to take advantage of it,” Oomen said.
He said he hopes to bring a fresh approach to the exhibits and to renew some of the current programs.
“We’ll be looking at whether to produce in-house or to get in some unique and interesting temporary exhibits. We’ll also be looking at the permanent exhibits with an eye to upgrading those as well,” Oomen said.
He’s happy to be taking over for Ord and hopes to bring a fresh set of eyes and expertise to the area.
“Peter Ord did a lot of great work, of course, but everybody has their own strengths and I’ll be bringing mine to the museum,” Oomen said.
He said one of his strengths is exhibit display work and he hopes to bring that expertise to the displays in Penticton.
Steamfest begins in January starting with the KVR exhibit.