A second look at the SS Sicamous’ in 1914 and 2023

A big part of lake's history

The sternwheeler SS Sicamous was launched nearly 109 years ago, on May 19, 1914.

Records show that Canadian Pacific Railway spent more than $200,000 on construction and interior finishing and fixtures on the deluxe paddle steamer. From its launch until it was retired from active service in 1937 it plied Okanagan Lake as the primary means of transporting cargo and passengers to and from 14 official stops, as well as a number of ad hoc landing sites.

The lake steamers were essentially a way to connect the Okanagan communities to the CPR spur line which ended near Vernon.

At 228 feet in length and 40 feet wide, the SS Sicamous was the largest and most luxurious of all the steamers on the lake. She initially sported five decks and could transport 500 passengers and 900 tons of freight, all at a speed of 17 knots (slightly over 30 kilometres pre hour).

In addition to the four large rooms, or saloons— including a bar in the men’s saloon—the vessel also had men’s and women’s observation decks and numerous observation and smoking lounges, as well as a large dining room that could seat 48 people at a sitting.

There were 40 staterooms/cabins, containing a total of 80 berths (beds), even though overnight facilities would not be expected on a one-way journey of only seven hours from one end of the lake to the other. And the Sicamous did not travel at night.

You may ask why were there so many private rooms with berths? The answer is so passengers affluent enough to afford a berth, could board the vessel the night before, and thereby not miss any sleep and avoid the rush and inconvenience having to arrive at the dock in time to board the vessel by the 5:30 a.m. departure time.

Due to the 1930’s economic depression, increased competition from the railways and improved automobile roads connecting the different Okanagan communities to each other, the Sicamous was removed from passenger service in 1935 and the once luxurious steamer was converted to a strictly cargo vessel.

However in 1936, that was not enough to keep her operating and by 1937 she was stripped of any valuable fixtures and left moored at the Okanagan Landing shipyard where she was built 22 plus years earlier.

The Sicamous was purchased by the City of Penticton for $1 and the derelict vessel was moved to that city in 1951, where she was permanently landed at the west end of Okanagan Lake Beach. She extensively restored back to her configuration as a passenger and freight carrier in the days when she was informally called, “The Queen of Okanagan Lake.”

The SS Sicamous was featured on a Canadian commemorative postage stamp on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of her launching.

The S.S. Sicamous Marine Heritage Society works to protect, preserve and promote the marine heritage of the Okanagan Valley. The restored SS Sicamous is certainly worth a Second Look, as is the museum with artefacts, located inside the vessel. And don’t miss the Okanagan tug boats located adjacent to the iconic old sternwheeler.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Terry W. Robertson received a bachelor of science degree in geology from UBC in 1970. His studies included physical geography, surveying and air-photo interpretation. Subsequently, he worked in petroleum exploration, initially based in Calgary and from 1978 to 1988 as an independent geological consultant working from his home the Okanagan.

In 1988, he left the oil industry and participated in the start-up and development of several small businesses in Lake Country, including a travel agency and a community newspaper which he edited and published from 1996 to 2003. With two children in local schools at the time and with a passion for politics, Terry was elected as the Lake Country trustee on the Central Okanagan School Board from 1990 to 2002.

He remains interested in politics and was an active supporter of the “Yes” side in the 2018 B.C. referendum on Proportional Representation. He enjoys getting outdoors, as well as travelling and exploring historic sites and museums. In addition, he likes to write about politics, history and geography.

Terry is interested in obtaining old (pre 1970)  photos of landscapes, street scenes or images of prominent structures from the Okanagan or Thompson region. If you possess any such images that you would permit him to copy and use in a future column, or have any comments about his column, please email him at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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