The SS Okanagan stern wheeler was owned and operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). The vessel was constructed in 1906 at Okanagan Landing (Vernon) and launched in 1907, becoming the second steamship on Okanagan Lake. She linked the transportation hubs at both the north and south ends of Okanagan Lake. This helped the development of interior British Columbia; along with other steamships of the 1900s.
The Story of the SS Okanagan
One hundred years ago at the Okanagan Landing shipyard of the CPR, a beautiful new sternwheeler was taking shape. Under the skilled hands of dozens of carpenters a wooden-hulled vessel, accommodations for 400 people, was being built that would be one of the finest and fastest paddlewheelers in British Columbia.
The new steamer was named the Okanagan and was launched on April 16,1907. A gala ball followed and the lovely white steamer went into service soon after, replacing the aging Aberdeen as the main CPR vessel on Okanagan Lake. At that time the Kettle Valley Railway had not been started, and the only rail connection to the valley was over the CPR from Okanagan Landing, near Vernon, to Sicamous on the main line. If anyone wanted to travel to the south Okanagan, the best way was by CPR sternwheeler down Okanagan Lake.
The Okanagan featured a beautiful interior with a large dining saloon, spacious ladies cabins, a smoking lounge, and 32 overnight cabins. The interior boasted attractive colours with goldleaf highlights; bright chandeliers with curtains on the windows. Wall to wall carpets adorned the Ladies’ cabins, lino was in the Men’s smoking lounge where men chewed tobacco, and a hardwood parquet floor was a feature of the dining saloon.
In 1912 the Okanagan played host to the Duke of Connaught, who was Governor General of Canada, when he and the Duchess of Connaught toured British Columbia. Several extra bathrooms were installed for the royal party and the steamer was given a very thorough once over by the shipyard staff. Flags and bunting decorated the decks.
The Okanagan was in a sense a victim of her own success and traffic grew. In 1914 the CPR built the even bigger Sicamous and the Okanagan became the relief vessel and spent many months rushing the Okanagan’s prized fruit to the railhead at Okanagan Landing. The days of the sternwheelers were nearing an end the Okanagan was retired in 1934 with the Sicamous to follow a few years later.
The beautiful Okanagan was broken up at Okanagan Landing. However, the Ladies Saloon from the stern of the boat survived, used as a beach cottage near the Landing. Remarkably it was in good condition even in the 1990s. The saloon was brought to the attention of the SS Sicamous Society at Penticton, who arranged for the purchase of the structure and the logistics of the safe transfer from Vernon to Penticton.
- In 1904, CPR began to develop plans for new sternwheeler to replace the S. S. Aberdeen (the first CPR steam ship to operate on Okanagan Lake).
- The design for the Okanagan was based off the express steamer Rossland which was built in 1897 for the CPR’s Columbia River service
- Named after Okanagan Lake
- Preliminary work on Okanagan began in spring of 1906 and the keel was laid on July 10 at Okanagan Landing.
- Launched on April 16th 1907.
- Okanagan was retired in 1934
- Okanagan moved to Penticton on March 29, 2002
The Impact of the SS Okanagan
- the introduction of the Okanagan drastically improved CPR Okanagan Lake service
- it freed the Aberdeen to be used for freight
- the improvement of CPR Lake service attracted settlers to the Okanagan Valley and increased the Okanagan’s economic development
Launch of the SS Okanagan
- On April 16, 1907, even though the ship was not complete, launching ceremonies were held
- A special train brought guests and the Vernon Band to Okanagan Landing
The Okanagan Semi-Weekly:
“Mrs. Gore broke the traditional beribboned bottle of champagne over the bows saying: ‘I call her Okanagan; success to her.’ The beautiful boat then floated out on the bosom of Okanagan Lake as graceful as a swan. All on board now repaired to the dining saloon where the waiters served claret cup and everyone drank to the steamer Okanagan and the Okanagan district.” Okanagan cost approximately $90, 000
Murder on the SS Okanagan Stern Wheeler
- Constable Aston of Penticton was shot and killed on the SS Okanagan in 1912.
- Aston was to escort two criminals (James and Wilson) on a journey on the SS Okanagan , they were to be transported to Kelowna.
- Constable Aston was shot with a pistol that James had managed to hide on his person.
- James and Wilson escaped at the Peachland docks. When Aston was discovered, 200 armed men from all over the valley hunted for them. They were found and arrested at Wilson’s Landing ( a community north of Kelowna.)
- They were put under heavy guard and taken to jail in Kelowna, where they were later transferred to jail in Kamloops and tried for the murder of Constable Aston.
- Wilson claimed to be an unwilling partner in the affair and turned King’s Evidence.
- James’ trial was held on May 12, 1912 in Vernon, where the jury found him guilty of “a most cold-blooded and atrocious murder.” On Friday, August 9, 1912, Walter James Poelke, 24 years of age, was hanged at Kamloops for the willful murder of Constable G. H. Aston.
With the construction of highways and railways, passenger service by boat was no longer needed and Okanagan spent her last years transporting freight and pushing barges. She was retired in 1934 and sold in 1938 to be dismantled for scrap and spare parts.
The Stern Saloon of the SS Okanagan
The ship was retired in 1934 and sold for scrap and spare parts. Only the Stern Saloon, a room in the back of the upper deck, remains. It was used as a beach hut, and spent many years in Vernon. The Stern Saloon was moved to the SS Sicamous Heritage Park in Penticton in 1992.
Arrival in Penticton
In 1992 the Ladies Saloon of the SS Okanagan was purchased by the Sicamous Society, and brought to rest in the Heritage Park. Restoration works are now underway. We have received a generous donation of $13,000 from the Oktoberfest Society, to put towards the restoration of the structure.
Turner, The Sicamous & the Naramata, 21.