The S.S. Okanagan’s maiden voyage was on April 27 1907. The ship had a capacity of 250 passengers. These ships not only transported people. They were also used for freight and especially important to tow train cars loaded with Okanagan fruit destined for Calgary and other eastern destinations.(Photo courtesy of the Okanagan Archive Trust Society)

Sternwheelers once plied Okanagan Lake

Vessels once transported passengers and goods along the Okanagan Valley

The S.S. Okanagan’s maiden voyage was on April 27 1907. The ship had a capacity of 250 passengers.

There were 32 state rooms and four saloons, including a dining room for 40 customers.

These ships not only transported people. They were also used for freight and especially important to tow train cars loaded with Okanagan fruit destined for Calgary and other eastern destinations.

Early transportation in the Okanagan Valley was done by boat and Okanagan Lake was the main transportation corridor.

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The first commercial boat on the lake was the Mary Victoria Greenhow, built and owned by Cpt. Thomas Dolman Shorts.

The boat was 10 metres long by 1.5 metres wide.

Shorts was born in Ontario in 1837 and arrived in the Okanagan in 1883. During his time in the area, he built and operated several of the boats that plied the lake.

He died in Hope Feb. 9, 1923.

In 1893, the Canadian Pacific Railway launched the Aberdeen, the first sternwheeler on the lake. It operated until 1913 when it was dismantled at Okanagan Landing.

The last sternwheeler, the Sicamous, was taken out of service in 1935 as the automobile had taken over as the primary means of transportation in the area.

The captain of the Sicamous, Joe Weeks, arrived in Canada in 1893 when he was 15. He captained ships in the area from 1904 to 1935 and logged more than 3.2 million kilometres.

After the Sicamous was taken out of service, Weeks worked on tow boats until he retired in 1942.

He died in 1969, at the age of 92.

The Sicamous was abandoned for 16 years. In 1951, the Penticton Gyro Club bought the sternwheeler for $1 and restored the craft. It is now in place on the shore of Okanagan Lake in Penticton.

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