Frequently Asked Questions
All about the history of the SS Sicamous
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 email@example.com.
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/
To learn more about the SS Sicamous, including the construction, launch, day to day operations visit the History page.
Questions about Visiting
What is the Sicamous?
The SS Sicamous is the largest surviving stern wheeler in Canada. The ship is now a museum, heritage site and must-see tourist attraction. The lower deck hosts the original steam boiler, steam engines and a model of the Kettle Valley Railway (with working miniature trains!) The upper decks have been fully restored, and you can see the cabins, dining saloon and even the Captain’s wheel. Visits take up to an hour, and guided tours are available.
Planning a Visit to the SS Sicamous
The Sicamous is open almost daily during the summer, and on weekends in the autumn, winter and spring. The SS Sicamous is easy to find. Look for us on the beach in Penticton, on the Southern shore of Okanagan Lake. Our address is 1099 Lakeshore Drive West, Penticton, BC V2A 1B7.
Can I book a visit for my School or Tour Group?
Yes, please click here to learn more: Group Visits to the SS Sicamous
Is the ship suitable for families?
The museum is a perfect activity for families with young children. The kids love watching the trains move around the model railway. (The hardest part will actually be getting them away from the trains upstairs to the passenger decks) Once upstairs they will enjoy running and dancing to the old fashioned music in the dining saloon 🙂 If you climb up to the pilot house (at the very top of the ship) you will find the Captains wheel and a brass tube marked “speaking tube”. This is connected to a tube downstairs in the engine room, and can still be used to talk through. If you pull the little levers at the base of the Steering wheel, little bells will ring downstairs. We think the kids will have fun talking to each other and exploring the ship. It is also a nice rainy day activity, and an escape from the heat and sunshine of the Okanagan summer.
Is the Museum Wheel Chair Accessible?
The SS Sicamous has recently had an elevator installed. This means increased ease of access for guests with wheel chairs, and visitors who have difficulty with stairs. Unfortunately some of the original doorways on the upper levels are very narrow, and may pose a problem for larger wheel chairs (with a width of 27.5″ or greater). We encourage you to double check with the crew before your visit. To view an access map of the inside of the museum please click here: Wheel Chair Access Information
This project was made possible by partial funding from the Government of Canada’s Enabling Accessibility Fund, and from the Southern Interior Development Initiative Trust. The supporting pier around the elevator was built by volunteers, who have invested many hours into seeing this project through.
Do you host Weddings and Receptions?
Yes we do. The Sicamous is available for weddings year round, and you can hold the ceremony and reception on board. You can find details about the wedding options, pictures and pricing on the Weddings website. The Sicamous is also available for events such as Anniversaries and wine tastings. If you are considering hosting one of these events at the Sicamous, please take a peek at the Weddings Site as well, as this has the most relevant pricing information and planning details. Registered Charities may also be eligible for non-profit rates. Please contact the SS Sicamous Society for more information.
Who does the SS Sicamous belong to?
The Sicamous is owned by the city of Penticton. It is operated by a non-profit organization called the SS Sicamous Society. Our mission is to preserve, protect and promotethe marine heritage of the Okanagan Valley. We are led by a board of directors, and have a team of dedicated volunteers. Click here to learn more: About the SS Sicamous Society
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