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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

5 Fascinating Facts About the SS Sicamous Sternwheeler: The Queen of Okanagan Lake

My wife’s grandmother has told us stories of when she rode this magnificent boat up and down Okanagan Lake and having visited both the Okanagan Landing Station House Museum and the SS Sicamous Heritage Park my appreciation for this rich history has inspired me to write this little blog that will hopefully inspire others to look into the “Queen of Okanagan Lake”…. 

Her Birthplace – Okanagan Landing

1892 was an historic year for the Okanagan Valley as it signaled the completion of the Shuswap & Okanagan Railway. The S & O was a spur line that connected the CPR’s transcontinental railway in Sicamous to the shores of Okanagan Landing just south of Vernon. 

Where the rail ended the boats began and Okanagan Landing became the gateway to the entire valley for both freight and people. To quote Ron Candy, former curator of the Greater Vernon Museum, “You can compare (Okanagan Landing) to the Kelowna International Airport of the time” (Vernon Morningstar). It was here where the SS Sicamous, the third of a line of stately CPR Sternwheelers, was assembled and, on May 19th, 1914, launched into the waters of Okanagan Lake. She was named for the town of Sicamous from whence the railroad came and it is said that the Native word means “Shimmering waters” or “River circling mountains”. 

Today you can revisit this epic history with a trip to the Okanagan Landing Station House Museum and Art Gallery located alongside Paddlewheel Hall at Paddlewheel Park. 

Her Building & Design

The SS Sicamous was indeed the most impressive of all boats to ply the waters of Okanagan Lake and rightfully earned the name “The Queen of Okanagan Lake”.  The steel hull of the Sicamous was forged in Port Arthur, Ontario (now part of Thunder Bay) and shipped by rail to Okanagan Landing. She was then registered officially at Victoria.


The ship was 228 feet long overall and 40 feet wide. She was originally built with five decks and a capacity for 500 passengers, 900 tons of cargo and 17 knots of speed. According to the Okanagan Historical Society Report of 1964, “The two cabin decks had 40 staterooms… four saloons, one  observation lounge and one smoking lounge on each deck at the bow  and the stern. …  The 65-foot long dining room accommodated 48 persons at a sitting… Writing desks and reading lamps were on the balcony above the dining room.  The staterooms, furnishings and fittings of the steamer were  beautifully finished in British Columbia cedar and Douglas fir, Australian mahogany, and teak wood from Burma—a combination that  gave an effect of unusual richness.”  

The brass hardware was imported from Scotland and the entire ship had electric lighting and steam heating. In those older days, the men would have one end of the ship to fraternize in while the ladies and children would gather at the other end. 

Her Ports & Landings

We think now of the major population centres on the lake such as Vernon (Okanagan Landing), Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland,  Summerland and Penticton, however the SS Sicamous made many stops along her way. Such important stops included Ewing’s Landing, Fintry, Carr’s Landing, Okanagan Centre, Gellatly, and Naramata. In fact, “It was during the years of service of the "Aberdeen," the "Okanagan" and the "Sicamous" that the fruit industry developed and the new towns of Peachland, Summerland and Naramata came into existence.” (OHSR 28: 37)

Okanagan Landing today

One old timer who lived during the era of the sternwheeler enthusiastically tells of their signifance: “It is difficult now, No! Impossible to imagine the importance steamboats played before there were adequate roads. They were the only link to the outside; their passing told the hour. They came to shore, to the beach of a settler in answer to a fluttering flag and a whistle blast summoned  a homesteader to his landing to receive freight, groceries or lumber, to pick  up a crate or two of strawberries or to land a crock of Christmas rum.  Sternwheelers were loved by those who dwelt along the lake. (OHSR 36:167)”

And whether it was the Landing, Kelowna, Penticton or anywhere in between locals would always gather when the ship came to the shore to see what treasures it bore that day. 

Her Passengers

Passengers came from all parts of the world – often across Canada on the transcontinental railway and then to Okanagan Landing – to board the SS Sicamous to various parts of the Valley. Some of the most famous passengers included Prime Ministers William Lyon Mackenzie King and Arthur Meighen and of course the future King of England himself, Edward the VIII ( although he soon famously abdicated his throne).

But more important were the everyday folks who populated the Valley and to whom the Sicamous was a lifeline for communication, travel and emergencies. Many local lake folks would even hop on the Sicamous to have a brief but well deserved vacation.  The ship carried many of the workers that built the Kettle Valley Railway and also carried soldiers off to war and back home again - “At war's end she brought back the survivors and loudly  announced their return with long blasts of her whistle as they neared  their destination. (OHSR 28:31)”


It would be remiss to not mention the esteemed captains of the SS Sicamous throughout the years. They were: John C. Gore ( maiden voyage, June 12, 1914), George L. Estabrooks (1914), Otto L. Estabrooks (1915), William Kirby (1915), George Robertson (1915-1919), J.A. McDonald (1920), George Robertson (1921-1922) and finally Joseph B. Weeks (1923-1937). 

Her Resting Place – Penticton 

Many factors led to the demise of sternwheeler traffic on the lake. The Great Depression and the rise of the automobile and roughhewn roads were one but the completion of both the Kettle Valley Railway and the CN Rail line from Vernon to Kelowna were significant as well. In 1935 the ship underwent a descaling in which the upper deck and part of the hurricane deck were removed.  The SS Sicamous was retired from passenger service in 1936 and finally, after hauling freight for another year, was left to float at its mooring in Okanagan Landing. 

This is the point where nearly all sternwheelers soon met their end – but not the SS Sicamous. She is, in fact, the largest sternwheeler left in all of Canada.  Although the mighty ship could have ended up working the frigid waters of the North West Territories, the CPR, fortunately, was determined to preserve it as a heritage marker. In 1949 the City of Penticton purchased this grand boat for $1 from the CPR and 2 years later she was floated down the lake and beached at her present site on the north shore of Penticton. 

Integral in this process was the Penticton Gyro Club, the City of Penticton and eventually the SS Sicamous Marine Heritage Society (est. May 1988) which has restored the boat and operates her now.  For many years while in Penticton the SS Sicamous served as the local museum and then as a variety of restaurants. Today, under the guidance of the SMHS, she is displayed in her former glory for the elder to reminisce and the younger to learn of our beautiful history. A visit to the SS Sicamous Heritage Park will bring back the wonder of the days when sternwheelers were the queens of Okanagan Lake.

"The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.

He restores my soul..." Psalm 23

Sources & Further Reading:

The Okanagan Historical Society Reports ( Various) :

SS Sicamous Heritage Park Pamphlet 


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

5 Fascinating Facts about the the Year of Jubilee: Redemption, Restoration and Rest

“And the LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a sabbath to the LORD… And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family.” 
 Leviticus 25:1-2, 10 

#1 Origins

Most of what we read about the year of Jubilee is found in the 25th chapter of the Book of Leviticus ( the 3rd book of the Bible). Strong’s Concordance tells us that the Hebrew word for Jubilee is “yowbel” meaning:  the blast of a horn (from its continuous sound); specifically, the signal of the silver trumpets; hence, the instrument itself and the festival thus introduced:—jubilee, ram's horn, trumpet.

In Leviticus 25 we read that Jehovah commands a Sabbath (or “Rest”) every 7th year for the land and then also commands the Jubilee to be celebrated every 50th year (although some say its every 49th year). James, Faucet & Brown sum it all up rather eloquently: 

“This most extraordinary of all civil institutions, which received the name of "Jubilee" from a Hebrew word signifying a musical instrument, a horn or trumpet, began on the tenth day of the seventh month, or the great day of atonement, when, by order of the public authorities, the sound of trumpets proclaimed the beginning of the universal redemption. All prisoners and captives obtained their liberties, slaves were declared free, and debtors were absolved. The land, as on the sabbatic year, was neither sowed nor reaped, but allowed to enjoy with its inhabitants a sabbath of repose; and its natural produce was the common property of all. Moreover, every inheritance throughout the land of Judea was restored to its original owner.” 

Other Scripture passages referring to the Year of Jubilee include Leviticus 27, Numbers 36:4, Ezekiel 46:17 (“Year of Liberty”) and Isaiah 61:1-3. 

#2 Lessons of Jubilee

As is always the case for God’s commands there is reasoning behind it and lessons to be learned. One of these lessons was to remind the people of Israel that they were ultimately brothers and sisters and to treat each with equality and equity.  ‘Therefore you shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the LORD your God." Lev 25:17

The Year of Jubilee by Henry Le Jeune 

The 7th year Sabbath and Year of Jubilee were also instituted to encourage trust in and dependence on the Lord and not in their own strength.  ‘And if you say, “What shall we eat in the seventh year, since we shall not sow nor gather in our produce? Then I will command My blessing on you in the sixth year, and it will bring forth produce enough for three years.”  Lev 25:20-21

As William Baur writes in the ISBE:  “They should never lose sight of their being brothers and citizens of theocratic kingdom. They owed their life to God and were subject to His sovereign will. Only through loyalty to Him were they free and could ever hope to be free and independent of all other masters.” 

The ultimate themes of Jubilee were redemption, restoration and rest. 

#3 Agricultural Purposes

Not only were there spiritual and ethical reasons for the 7th year Sabbath and Year of Jubilee – there were practical and physical reasons to allow the land to rest. In fact, farmers have been using this practice for millennia. explains:  “The core philosophy behind crop rotation is to never allow crops to completely deplete the soil of any one nutrient. Alternating different plants helps keep that balance intact. Letting a field lie fallow, free from any cultivated crop, is often part of a good crop rotation program. By remaining unsown, the ground rests and fertility can be restored.” 

#4 Modern Usage

You may have heard the word Jubilee used in more modern times. It is especially used of the anniversary of royalty both in the United Kingdom (as in Queen Elizabeth the II’s Diamond Jubilee) and many other countries. When you see the name of a hospital with “Jubilee” in the title it is usually in honour of a Royal Jubilee.  

Logo for Jubilee 2000

As the turn of the century approached a global effort called Jubilee 2000 was mobilized. Its goal was to have the debt of third world countries forgiven by the year 2000. Originally a movement within the Anglican Church ( and founded on the basis of the Biblical Jubilee), it became widespread including benefit concerts led by the likes of Bob Geldof and Bono. 

#5 The Jubilee and Jesus

Isaiah 61:1-3 is widely believed to refer to the Year of Jubilee ( “the acceptable year of the LORD) as well: 

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.”

It is no coincidence then that Jesus chose to read this passage of Scripture at the synagogue in Nazareth and he made it plain that it spoke of Himself (Luke 4:16 – 21)  “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”,  He said. Although the Jews had likely not celebrated the Year of Jubilee in many years, Jesus here symbolically links it to His ministry on earth – one of redemption, restoration and rest! 

Matthew Henry comments that the Year of Jubilee began on the Day of Atonement ( Yom Kippur) … “When they had been humbling and afflicting their souls for sin, then they were made to hear this voice of joy and gladness (Ps. 51:8). When their peace was made with God, then liberty was proclaimed; for the removal of guilt is necessary to make way for the entrance of all true comfort (Rom. 5:1, 2). In allusion to this solemn proclamation of the jubilee, it was foretold concerning our Lord Jesus that he should preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” 

This Jubilee of redemption, restoration and rest is only truly fulfilled in Jesus Christ and is only truly experienced as we believe in Him and receive Him …. Coming to know Him personally. May we all experience that personal Jubilee in Jesus and then pass on its benefits to our brother, sisters and neighbours. 

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, 
and I will give you rest.” Jesus, Matthew 11:28

Monday, May 9, 2016

7 Fascinating Facts About Okanagan Lake, British Columbia

As a child living in Northern British Columbia, I would marvel at the scenery and feel of the Okanagan Valley whenever my parents would take me there on vacation. To me it was the ultimate getaway and piece of paradise on earth. Little did I know that I would one day find myself  not only living there but raising a family with my beautiful wife. Here are some of the fascinating things I have found about this extraordinary lake....

#1 Geography & Hydrography of the Lake 

Okanagan Lake (also known as Lake Okanagan) lies in the Okanagan Valley of the Interior Plateau of British Columbia between the Columbia and Cascade Mountain ranges. The Monashee Mountains (a subset of the Columbia) can be seen to the East of the Valley. It is a fjord lake and the remnant of Lake Penticton, a huge post glacial lake that once filled the Okanagan Valley. 

Waves at Kin Beach/  PC Joe Harder

It is approximately 135 km long with a surface area of 361 kilometres squared. Its maximum width is 6.4 km and its maximum depth is 242 metres. (Source: B.C. Place Names, Tourism Vernon). It is the largest lake in the Okanogan (American spelling) River drainage system which ultimately flows into the Columbia River and is also the 8th largest lake that is entirely within B.C.  The lake is home to only two islands: tiny Grant Island to the north (also where the deepest point of the lake is) and Rattlesnake Island to the South.

#2 The Name of the Lake 

While long known as Okanagan Lake, the name was officially adopted only on October 6th, 1936. As noted above it is spelled “Okanogan” once you cross the American border. Having only two different spellings is a vast improvement though on earlier days when there were as many as 46 variant spellings.  The American explorers, Lewis and Clark, spelled it “Otchenaukane” and the epic Canadian explorer, David Thompson, wrote it down several ways, one of which was “Ookanawgan”. 

An arm of Okanagan from Adventure Bay/ PC Joe Harder 

As for the meaning behind the name B.C. Place Names recounts: “One of the more likely explanations is that the name comes from "kana" meaning "the place of," and "gan" meaning "water" or "lake".  The Okanagan Indian band website however says that Okanagan is the “Anglicized version of Suqnaqinx and refers to the Indigenous people of the Okanagan territory, it translates as ―takes to the head or mind.” No matter how you spell it though (or translate it) the name Okanagan has become synonymous with beauty and tranquility. 

#3 The Okanagan Great Divide

Another geographical feature worth mentioning is the Okanagan Great Divide. Just about a mile north of Armstrong this little pullout on the east side of highway 97 often goes unnoticed, however it is the marking spot that determines the direction where rain and other water sources will take dramatically different routes. On the north side of this divide the water will flow into Shuswap Lake, on into the Thompson and finally enter the Pacific Ocean via the Fraser River. If, however, the water falls on the south side it will enter Okanagan Lake, on through the Penticton Channel and the Okanogan River into the Columbia River. This water enters the Pacific Ocean 350 km south of the Fraser. 

#4 The Indigenous People of the Lake 

The Okanagan People (also known as the Sqilxw or Syilx) are the indigenous people of the area surrounding Okanagan Lake. They now make up the Okanagan Indian Band which, along with 7 other Bands, forms the Okanagan Nation Alliance (which includes the Colville Confederated Tribes which lies south of the American border). 

The Okanagan Indian Band is also referred to as Inkumupulux or Head of the Lake – “ Inkumupulux is both a name for the people and where we live ( OIB website).”  Of note among the Okanagan People was a chief named Hwistesmetxe'qen meaning Walking Grizzly Bear (1780/1785 – 1865). He would later be called Nicolas or Nicola by the fur traders and thus lent his name to many geographical features including the Nicola Valley.

#5 The Ogopogo

This "Lake Monster" has its origins in Native legend. "The late Elder, Elizabeth Lindley taught us that N’ha-a-itk, commonly referred to as Ogopogo, is a metaphor for
sustainability and a good topic to express our connection to the land (Source: WFN )." Over the years, the Ogopogo has morphed into a rather happy but mysterious creature that supposedly inhabits the waters of Okanagan Lake.  In 1926 a sighting of the Ogopogo was reported by over 30 cars full of people on Okanagan Mission Beach in Kelowna.

The name Ogopogo was actually coined that same year by the Kalamalka Players - an organization of local amateur performers. The Okanagan Historical Society reports (Vol 4:28): “A luncheon for the Vancouver Board of Trade was given at the Kalamalka Hotel by the Vernon Rotary Club and the Vernon Board of Trade. L. M. Richardson of Vernon, presided, and the writer was asked to sing. As it had been well received on the former occasion, he decided to sing the Ogopogo song again. At the time there was considerable talk about the mysterious creature in Okanagan Lake and…. the name and tune caught on, and the guests left the Kalamalka Hotel to spread the fame of Ogopogo far and wide.

#6 Sternwheelers on the Lake 

Long before rails and roads, Okanagan Lake had  been a natural corridor for water transportation throughout the Okanagan Valley.  Things really began to boom though when, in 1892, a spur line was built from the Sicamous station of the Transcontinental Railway to Okanagan Landing just west of Vernon. The CPR began building luxury Sternwheeler Ships including the SS Aberdeen, the SS Okanagan   and the SS Sicamous. These ships would carry cargo and passengers all the way down the lake to Penticton with many stops along the way. Okanagan Landing became the gateway to the entire Okanagan Valley.

SS Sicamous at Okanagan Landing/ PC

The first bridge to span Okanagan Lake was built in 1958 to connect Kelowna to Westbank (West Kelowna). This bridge was later replaced in 2008 by the current 5 lane William R. Bennett Bridge which sees significant traffic year round. Before the bridges, ferries like the MV Pendozi and Fintry Queen would carry freight and people across this point. The average temperature of the lake in July is 19-23 degrees C / 69-71 degrees F however, as hard as it is to believe now, the lake used to freeze. In fact in 1949-50 the lake frozen virtually from end to end.

#7 Cities & Activities on the Lake 

While Vernon was once the major population centre on the lake, Kelowna later eclipsed its neighbour to the north to become the largest city. Penticton, at the very south end of the lake, rounds out the top three population centres. Lake Country (made up of the 4 wards of Oyama, Winfield, Carr's Landing and Okanagan Centre) as well as West Kelowna, Peachland, Summerland and Naramata make up the rest of the towns on Okanagan Lake. Smaller historic communities like Fintry are also popular destinations. 

City of Kelowna/ PC Wikipedia

There is almost every conceivable type of water activity on the lake, as well as camping, hiking, biking and world class wineries and resorts around the lake. With good reason, Okanagan Lake and its Valley have become a favourite destination amongst British Columbians, Canadians and people the world over.

"The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul..." Psalm 23