The Dredge Boats

Dredge boats were small vessels, with a barge, dredge and boom (crane) attached.  These boats dredged the shoals and switchbacks of the winding Okanagan River, so that other vessels could travel safely. They also were used to drive piles into the riverbank to prevent erosion. The dredge boats were also used to maintain the docks and boat landings: dredging away the soil so the shallow water could accommodate the hulls of larger vessels and stern wheelers.

Dredge Boats on Penticton River - Dredge ShedImage: Dredge boat “Heron” and her crew – working to dredging soil from the bed of the Okanagan River. Photo courtesy of the Penticton Museum and Archives.

Dredging the Okanagan River Channel

Dredging in Okanagan River started in 1908. Joe McDonald was placed in charge of operating a “swing-boom” to dredge the Okanagan River channel. He was also responsible for placing brush along the banks, and driving piles along the side of the river to prevent erosion.

Passenger and freight service between Penticton and Kaleden started in 1912 (with the vessel Mallard) but navigation on the river portion between Skaha Lake and Okanagan Lake was challenging and the route was soon abandoned.

Several years later a control dam was constructed at the mouth of Okanagan River on Okanagan Lake. Although navigation was no longer possible, the dredge boats were still kept busy, with the river channel dredged in the hopes of preventing flooding ( to keep water flowing in the channel and off land adjacent to the river channel). Dredging stopped after the completion of the Penticton channel project (in 1953).

The Dredge Shed

The dredge shed is a large timber storage building located in the Heritage Park. It was built in 1933, and was once located at the mouth of the Okanagan River. However, completion of the Penticton Channel (in 1953) meant that the water was redirected, and the area has been dry ever since. The Shed now houses a carpentry workshop, storage area for restoration items, and the fire suppression system for the SS Sicamous. The structure is cared for by the Sicamous Society, and owned by the City of Penticton.

north side of Dredge ShedImage: The North Side of the Dredge Shed Notice the double doors on the top level? Supplies were loaded through these using the dredge boat boom (the crane).

 The Heritage Value of the Dredge Shed

Source: The information in this text is directly from the Penticton Heritage Registry (2009).

The dredge shed’s value lies in the role it played in the development of water transportation on the Okanagan River and Okanagan Lake. Constructed in 1933, the dredge shed is a 20 foot by 50 foot building which housed Dominion Coast Guard tools and equipment required to maintain navigable depths on Okanagan River between Okanagan and Skaha Lakes, and to build breakwaters and to dredge dock sites inundated with sediment from Penticton Creek along the Penticton waterfront for navigation purposes.

The dredge shed was situated so that vessels could be loaded from the north side and land access could be achieved on the east side.  In this manner fuel, provisions, and tools were loaded onto the dredges and other vessels used by the Dominion Government on the lake and river. The double doors on the second level of the north side provided access to the shed for materials to be moved by the boom on the dredge.

The dredge shed is valued as an important industrial structure which served the south Okanagan from the 1930’s to the 1950’s. Its simple vernacular design speaks to its functionality. This is evident in its rugged construction of large timbers, broad low-pitched roof with wide overhang, cladding of wide dropped, solid loading docks, and large loading doors.