Walking through Penticton’s past

Like any city, Penticton has its secret places and odd little bits of history, like the fact that Elizabeth Taylor is rumoured to have once visited the Elite Café on Main Street.

Sandwiched between the old Capitol Theatre (now Nite Moves) and the Elite Restaurant

Sandwiched between the old Capitol Theatre (now Nite Moves) and the Elite Restaurant

Like any city, Penticton has its secret places and odd little bits of history, like the fact that Elizabeth Taylor is rumoured to have once visited the Elite Restaurant on Main Street.

In fact, that’s one of Chandra Wong’s favourite spots on the walking tour she conducts each Saturday morning, starting out from Nanaimo Square, a few blocks away.

“When you are at the Capitol Theatre (now Nite Moves) and the Elite, those two places seem to be connected in my mind. That would have been the commercial district of Penticton at the time, both were in place in 1936,” said Wong, who pictures people coming downtown to shop at Woolworth’s, on the corner of Wade and Main, where the CIBC is now.

“You could go shopping and maybe have had a snack at the Elite, or maybe you went to a show and you wanted to have a meal beforehand,” said Wong. “It’s a night on the town or it’s a day out shopping downtown.”

The heritage walking tour, “Cruisin’ the Strip” was a project that began last year, as the city, along with the museum and the Downtown Penticton Association got together to create walking tour maps of Penticton’s historic and interesting sites.

Funding from the Union of B.C. Municipalities helped pay for the design and publication of the maps. And this year, guided tours began. Research for the tour was also a joint project, as Wong did the graphic design for the maps with writer Katie Mead conducting the research with the assistance of museum curator Peter Ord.

Wong said she gets an interesting mix of people on the tours, drawing on both vacationers and residents alike.

“It’s about a 50-50 split, though it does lean a little more towards locals than towards tourists,” she said. “Some of them have lived in Penticton most of their lives and they are finding information they still didn’t know about the place they live in. That’s always exciting.”

There are a lot of spots along the tour that Wong likes, like the hidden courtyard behind Dragon’s Den. Sometimes though, it’s just the knowledge of historic sites like that of the Penticton Hotel, which was built on Vancouver Avenue in 1890 and burnt to the ground in 1925. And for Wong, the parking lot that was the site of Penticton’s Chinatown resonates strongly, even though it is only marked now by a mural on the wall of Guerard Furniture Co., which was inspired by an photograph from the archives.

Then there are places that people walk by everyday without realizing what they are seeing, like the walls of the Lloyd Gallery, which was the Empire Theatre. It was built, Wong explained, using a method that was new at the time, poured-in-place concrete, with the results evident as you look along the wall of the building.

“It was a new technique and they probably didn’t have it down pat. You can see where the concrete wasn’t mixed in very well and the lines are not engineered totally straight; you can see the pattern of the wood that would have been the frame to hold the concrete,” she said. “It’s almost like the fingerprint of the people in the past. You can’t really see them, but you can see their touch on what is around us.”

Then there is the dressing up, another perk of leading the tours, at least in Wong’s view. Each week, she dresses in an outfit supplied by Vintage and Vogue, trying to recapture some of the bygone eras.

“I get to change it up. Every couple of weeks I will go in and get something new,” said Wong. “I love that part too. It’s every girls’ dream to be able to dress up so here’s my chance to try a whole bunch of outfits.”

Tours begin each Saturday morning at 10 a.m. beside the salmon statue at Nanaimo and Main. For more information contact Peter Ord at the Penticton Museum and Archives, 250-490-2454.


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