Search This Blog

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

7 Fascinating Facts About Okanagan Landing, B.C.: Gateway To the Okanagan

“You can compare (Okanagan Landing) to the Kelowna International Airport of the time” Ron Candy, Greater Vernon Museum curator (from Vernon MorningStar) 

The first place that my wife and I rented as a couple was on Garnet Street overlooking Okanagan Landing. For two people who had grown up in the north we could not believe our luck as we were able to wake up every morning and see Okanagan Lake and then the amazing sunsets. We fell in love with the area – especially Kin Beach and Paddle Wheel Park and though we now live in downtown Vernon we still enjoy the Landing immensely with our 3 year old daughter. 

As I began reading about the history of the Vernon area and especially when I first went to visit the Okanagan Landing Station House Museum located on the site of Paddle Wheel Park I was blown away by the immense importance and industry of this beautiful place. Now there are many people who know more about the Landing than I do (like the wonderful folks at the museum) but I wanted to write this little blog with these basic facts to grab the attention of local residents and others who may visit the area and to encourage them to find out even more about the rather illustrious history in our own back yard! 

#1 Some Geo-political Background

One geographical definition of Okanagan Landing, according to the Okanagan Mainline Real Estate Board, is “The northeast flank of the Ellison Ridge along the east shore of Okanagan Lake including Ellison Provincial Park and Okanagan Landing to the southwest boundary of the old city of Vernon.” 

In 1949 the Okanagan Landing and District Community Association was created “to promote social, recreational, educational, and cultural activities among its members; to improve the conditions of and advance in every way community life and affairs in the Landing area; and to provide suitable buildings and grounds for the furtherance of such objectives.”  

Later in 1965 this port area was known as Electoral Area A under the Regional District of North Okanagan and then in 1993 the community was annexed into the city of Vernon though it maintains its distinct cultural identity. 

#2 The Railway

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about Okanagan Landing is that it was quite literally the gateway to the entire Okanagan Valley and was much of the reason that the Valley populated and flourished throughout the late part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th.  This was due to two powerful and romantic forms of transportation – the train and the steam ship.

In 1885 the Transcontinental Rail Way was completed at Craigellachie, some 99 kilometres northeast of Vernon. In 1887 Forbes Vernon (for whom the town is named) and Francis Barnard ( of BX Express fame) co-founded a syndicate that eventually brought a spur line , The Shuswap & Okanagan Railway, from Sicamous to Okanagan Landing in 1892. 

With the building of the spur line came a boom of construction at the Landing (mainly by the CPR) and the hustle and bustle of moving passengers and goods throughout Okanagan Lake communities with the final stop being in Penticton. New settlers would come through the Landing and famous Okanagan fruit, among other goods, would go out. The Landing would become home to a shipbuilding yard, a station house, a massive pier complete with rails and, among other things, a hotel named the Strand (There is a current development there whose name is taken from this hotel). 

The Shuswap & Okanagan Railway: Enderby & District Museum

#3 The Steam Ships

It was Captain Thomas Dolman Shorts who first offered commercial transportation on Okanagan Lake– first on a row boat and then on a steam driven vessel carrying 5 passengers. However, it was when the CPR arrived that the big Stern Wheelers began to be built and to ply the waters of Okanagan Lake. 

The beautiful ships SS Aberdeen, SS Okanagan and SS Sicamous, along with the tug boat Naramata were all built at the Landing. To the residents of the Okanagan Valley these ships were a lifeline. They provided the mail and necessary items for survival as well as a social aspect of visiting and sometimes even a family vacation on a round trip of the lake. 
The SS Sicamous and the Naramata tug were relocated and restored on the north beach of Penticton where they can (and should!) now be visited as part of the museum at The Stern Wheeler and Heritage Park. A walk through the old sternwheeler is rather spellbinding and well worth the time. 
The SS Sicamous 

#4 Ellison Provincial Park

Ellison Provincial Park is one of my favourite places to visit in the Okanagan. It is 219 hectares situated near the very end of Okanagan Landing/ Eastside Road on the east side of the lake and boasts biking and hiking trails, beautiful rock cliffs , camping sites and two beautiful beaches. 

Before the park was established in 1962 it was known as Otter Bay Camp for Girl Guides and Boy Scouts. It was named after Price Ellison, a very prominent figure in local history and an MLA and Cabinet Minister for Richard McBride’s provincial government. Born in Manchester, England, Ellison arrived in the Okanagan in 1876 as a blacksmith and ended up owning land on East Hill and the Landing and “at one time owned or controlled 80% of the property in the area.” 


#5 Allan Brooks

A well-known resident of Okanagan Landing was the renowned ornithologist and painter Allan Brooks. His works can be seen at the Allan Brooks gallery located in the Greater Vernon Museum and his namesake is also honoured at the Allan Brooks Nature Centre at the top of Mission Hill. 

Allan Brooks was born in India in 1869 and after many travels he eventually decided to call Okanagan Landing home in 1905. A sniper in WW1, Brooks interest in birds and their habitat and his wonderful talent for art later resulted in the contribution of sketches for such publications as The Audubon society and National Geographic. His acre of land in the Landing  “ became a sanctuary and nesting site for over 34 species of small birds”.  No less than Robert Bateman has credited Allan Brooks with being an inspiration to his work as an artist. 

#6 Paddlewheel Park

A little known fact is that Paddlewheel Park is actually the property of the Okanagan Landing & District Community Association and is available for public use through their generosity. It’s a wonderful little park with leafy trees (many hand-planted by residents) and a great sandy beach. It is home to a community hall (which was the old CPR workshop until it burned down and was rebuilt in 1999) and the old CPR stationhouse which was almost destroyed but for some valiant efforts of local advocates. The annual Landing Regatta is an event that has been held in this area intermittently since 1910.

In 1971, the OLDCA, led by Alan Hill and other local residents, was able to purchase the decommissioned lands of the CPR and through a massive community effort the vision of Paddlewheel Park eventually came to fruition and now serves the entire North Okanagan. The children’s playground takes the form of a sternwheeler paying homage to the rich history of the area.

#7 The Okanagan Landing Station Museum 

In June of 2014, a long anticipated dream came to life as the Okanagan Landing Stationhouse Museum and Art Gallery was officially opened. It is located in the old stationhouse which had been moved closer to the community hall sometime back. 

Although small in size, it is rich in history and very impressive with its crowning achievement being the 20’ long diorama displaying in minute detail the area as it was in 1914. The North Okanagan Model Railway Association built this magnificent model to precise scale and it is worth going to the museum just to see it. One truly feels like they have stepped back in time and are able to see the vast panoramic that was Okanagan Landing in the early 20th century. A tremendous part of the heritage of all of the Okanagan Valley has been preserved here. 

"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters..." Psalm 23:2


A Brief History of Okanagan Landing & District Community Association,  2002 Miriam Jayne

The Vernon Morning Star:

The British Garden of Eden, Paul M. Koroscil


1 comment:

  1. These are all interesting bits of information, but nowhere is there any mappings of the different locations. I'd love to see a map of the old RR line.