History of the SS Sicamous Stern Wheeler
About the Ship
The SS Sicamous is a luxury passenger vessel that was used to transport passengers and cargo to remote communities along the shores of Okanagan Lake. The ship was launched in 1914 from the Okanagan Landing Shipyards, at the north of the lake. The Sicamous travelled from Penticton to Okanagan Landing with 14 scheduled stops throughout. Her luxury and beauty attracted crowds at each dock, while travellers experienced elegance in dining and service renowned by Canadian Pacific. The ship is a now preserved on the shore of Okanagan Lake, and is cared for by the SS Sicamous Marine Heritage Society. It is a unique part of Okanagan history and heritage.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long was the SS Sicamous in service?
The S.S. Sicamous was launched on May 1914th 1914. The ship was in service for 22 years (until 1936).
Where did the SS Sicamous Travel?
The Sicamous travelled all along the shores of Okanagan lake, from Penticton in the south up to Vernon at the north of the lake. There were 14 scheduled stops throughout, and ship could also make unscheduled stops at smaller settlements (the residents would stand on the shore and wave a white flag, or light two fires at night, to get the attention of the Captain). The Sicamous would depart from Penticton at 5:30am every day, except Sundays. Weather and schedule permitting, it would be back in Penticton by 8pm each night. The Penticton wharf and railway station was at the base of Martin Street, close to where the peach concession stand is today. The Railway owned Incola Hotel was just across the road, and this is where many passengers would spend the night. Learn More
How did the SS Sicamous get to the Okanagan?
The SS Sicamous was owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway company. This company owned the railways that spanned the whole of Canada, as well as a fleet of stern wheelers on the Lakes and rivers of British Columbia .The steel hull and boiler were actually built in Eastern Canada (in Thunder Bay, Ontario). The hull was transported across Canada by rail, and then put together at the Okanagan Landing Ship Yards (at the north of Okanagan Lake). The Sicamous has been in the Okanagan ever since her launch in 1914.
What did the SS Sicamous do?
At the turn of the 20th century, the lake boats were central to life in the Okanagan, and would have carried everything needed for daily life and commerce. The cargo deck of the Sicamous would have contained: fruit and vegetables from the farms and orchards, livestock such as pigs or horses, machinery or supplies for building the KVR and many other items besides. The CPR also had a contract for the mail routes, so letters and parcels would be transported inside. The upper levels of the ship were reserved for passengers.
How fast could the ship travel?
The ship has a 101HP jet-condenser steam engine, and coal powered boiler. It could reach top speeds of 18 knots (21 mph). The engines were powered by steam from a coal powered boiler. To reach these speeds, the boiler burned up to 17 tons of coal each day. Coal had to be hand shoveled into the firebox, and it would have been tiring and dirty work. Luckily though, water from the boiler was used to provide hot water for the showers, so at least the coal passers could wash up afterwards.
Why is it called the SS Sicamous?
The S.S. stands for steam ship. The name “Sicamous” comes from a once important railway station at Sicamous, BC. This railway station was north of Okanagan Lake, and connected to the Okanagan by a spur line that reached the north of the lake. From there visitors could travel by ship. Canadian Pacific Rail had a tradition of naming ships after local communities. As well as the Sicamous, there was also a Tug boat Naramata, and Kelowna and a stern wheeler called the “S.S. Okanagan”.
Why does it say “Victoria” on the back?
Like ships today, the Sicamous had to be registered. At the turn of the 20th century, the port of registry was Victoria, so this was proudly written in gold paint on the back of the paddle wheel. Fun Fact: did you know? When the Sicamous was launched a mistake was made, and Vancouver was accidentally written. It was repainted soon after the launch.
When did the Sicamous last go out on the lake?
Sadly the Sicamous is now beached and no longer travels on the lake. There is still a little water under the hull, and in the spring the ship floats a little as the lake water rises! The Sicamous was retired from service in 1936. After many years waiting at the Okanagan Landing shipyards, the ship was purchased by the City of Penticton, with encouragement from the Penticton Gyro Club. The Sicamous made its final journey to Penticton in August of 1951. A trench was dug in the ground, and the ship was pushed in. She remains there to this day.
Who worked on the SS Sicamous?
The Sicamous had its own full time crew and cook staff. There were four members of the Kitchen team, all recent migrants from China. Food was first class, and the CPR was renowned for the service in its lake boats and railways. Food was cooked from scratch in the kitchens, hidden away on the cargo deck. It was then sent up to the passenger decks by dumbwaiter. The crew had a mess room alongside and would knock on the wall to get the chefs attention. The Sicamous crew were fond of the cooks, who were even known to make them ice cream on occasion.
Why did the ships stop running
At the beginning of the 20th century, the lake boats were central to life in the Okanagan. After only a few short years life in the Okanagan began to change. The Kettle Valley Railway line to Penticton was complete in 1915, and the first train arrived in May of that year. This dramatically improved access to the South Okanagan. Cargo and passengers that had once travelled by ship, now had the option of alternative routes by rail. The ships were still important for linking the North and the South of the lake, but demand dropped. The motorways were also completed in the 1930s, and motorcars increased in importance, further reducing reliance on the lake boats.
Where can I buy framed prints of old historic photos?
Almost all of the old pictures on this website are originally from the City of Penticton Museum. If you look at the caption for each of the online photos, there should be a little identification number (for example, the launch of the SS Sicamous is PMA# 5219 ). If you want to browse the photos you can make an appointment with Gary or Jeanne at the Penticton Archives, and they can help you choose from the digital collections (there isn’t a charge for this service). The archives are usually open on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday each week. Calling ahead is the best plan, as it means the Archives volunteers can get materials ready ahead of your visit. To contact the Penticton Archives call 250-490-2451 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The printing of archive photographs is usually done by Stuart Bish Photography. Stuart may also have some old SS Sicamous images ready for printing and framing. If the image is for personal use (in the home or office) it may be best to contact him directly, to see if he has the photo you are looking for! Here is the website: http://stuartbish.com/