SS SIcamous Regatta Penticton Canoe Competition on Okanagan Lake
Canoe Jousting competition on Okanagan Lake. Photo taken in the early 1900’s, at the old Penticton Aquatic Club.

The Penticton Regatta

“Penticton has a long history of hosting regatta events,” said Dennis Oomen, one of the event organizer’s and museum curator. “Along with other communities around the lake, the summer was time for aquatic sports and festivities. From the early 1900s lakeside communities such as Kelowna, Summerland, Peachland and Penticton organized a variety of well attended regatta events.”

For Canadians, nothing is more iconic than the canoe. From the large solid cedar canoes of BC coastal First Nations, to the York boats of early Hudson Bay traders, canoes have been an integral part of Canada’s history and identity. The War Canoe plays an important part of this tradition as it represents a hybrid of both the sea-faring cedar canoe of BC and the early wood strip canoe of Eastern Canada. From the early 1900’s, boating clubs throughout Canada featured war canoe regattas during the summer, when up to 15 person crews paddled in each 30 foot canoe for a distance of about 1 kilometre.

On Okanagan Lake, the golden age of War Canoe regattas went from 1905 to 1914 as lakeside communities like Kelowna, Peachland, Summerland and Penticton assembled male and female crews to compete for the coveted Robinson Cup. With the onset of World War I, the regattas took a brief hiatus as men went off to fight in Europe. War canoe racing continued once the troops returned, but for brief periods and only sporadically over the next 8 decades up to 2000, when 4 surviving canoes were paraded as part of Peachland’s millennial celebrations.

War canoe races were an important part of regatta events. Male and female crews would compete for the prestigious Robinson Cup. As the years went by the war canoe races were held less frequently and by the 1960s were no longer a regular feature of regatta events.

The war canoes were a hybrid design, incorporating features of the large sea-faring canoes of the west coast and the wood-strip canoes of eastern Canada. Their large size, up to 30 feet long, meant that teams of up to 15 could participate.

Restoring the War Canoe for Races

In 2010, the Penticton Museum was given the opportunity to collect and restore these 4 war canoes, which were in various states of disrepair. With strong community interest and support from the local paddling community, the museum decided to pursue a plan to not only restore the canoes to their original form, but to bring back the glorious races from the past. The museum’s two war canoes were restored in 2014 by volunteers and school groups.

 For Jim Cooper, chair of the SS Sicamous Society and a member of the Okanagan Antique and Classic Boat Society  “We are thrilled that the war canoes are being restored as they represent a special era in local boating and especially ‘wooden’ boating, traditions we hope will return in force to the Okanagan!”

Learn More about the Regatta and other Peach Festival Events

Penticton Peach Festival