This post was written by Norm Barry, a second year library technician student studying at Langara College about a practicum placement outside of the library field.
An opportunity arose through the Library Tech Practicum program for me to work part-time at a Non-Traditional Library to complete a further 70 hours of practicum time in the Spring Semester of 2016, March through May.
The practicum was to be done with the Westbank (West Kelowna) Museum and Archives.
At the start of the practicum the Museum Board of Directors asked me to consider creating a couple of displays to be shown in the lobby of the museum. One was of local writers ( Westbank area) and the other was of the history of the Westbank area sternwheeler transportation at the turn of the century. I began researching both topics for available facts, using both the archived printed materials at the Museum and material available on the internet.
The project I moved forward with, was the Sternwheeler Transportation in the Okanagan Valley circa 1890’s through 1970’s. The challenge was to find historical material on Sternwheeler and other Utility boats of the time frame before highways and bridges had been constructed in the Okanagan Valley. This means of transportation was the only means at the time to transport goods and people up and down the valley, using the Lakes.
I was able to make a start with some material that the Museum had in print, including some pictures. There were also available through the Peachland Historical Society, a book on the topic with usable facts, and pictures. Further to that I began searching the internet for any websites that might carry content on Sternwheelers of the Okanagan Valley. I discovered one resource that provided facts and photos of some of the sternwheelers and other utility boats used on the lakes. It was the best document I could find on the internet on the topic, titled: Lakeboats of the Okanagan by R. Bruce, Lake Country Museum.
Internet material was sparse and photos of many of the vessels were/are not available, unfortunately.
With the material discovered, as described I was able to put together four large display posters, each containing 3 to 4 pictures and facts of Sternwheelers, Barges, Utility Boats and Tugboats used over the years. The Westbank Museum has them displayed in the entrance lobby, as at the date of the writing of this description and is very happy with the results.
The following content has been reproduced with permission from the Westbank Museum and Archives.
Sternwheelers / Steamboats, Tugboats & Utility Boats of the Okanagan Lakes; circa 1898-1958.
Once European settlers began to find their way into the Okanagan Valley at the end of the 19th century and into the beginning of the 20th century, settling in new areas, they needed a way to get supplies in and trade goods out; A need for transportation. There were not many white people in the Okanagan Valley at that time as there was not an efficient transportation system in place. But as more commercial boats travelled on Okanagan Lake, more people settled on the lake’s shore. Water transportation helped to settle the Okanagan Valley.
The very early or as we might call them, the first “ Mark of Sternwheelers” that operated from 1897 area through to 1937 were boats like the SS’s Fairview, Aberdeen, Okanagan and Sicamous. ( see Display Poster 1 for complete text )
Note that the SS Sicamous was the largest of the Okanagan Lake sternwheelers and probably the most famous. It is still preserved in Penticton BC and sits as a semi-floating museum on the north- end shores of Okanagan Lake.
Freighters and Ferries
There were old sternwheelers circa 1910 like the SS Kaleden that served as freighters up and down both Okanagan and Skaha Lakes then later, Motor Vessels like the MV Pendozi that served as ferries between Kelowna and Westbank before the first bridge crossing of Okanagan Lake was built. The Pendozi ferry operated from 1939-1958. ( see Display Poster 2 for complete text)
Tugboats and Barge Tugs
Tugboats eventually replaced the Sternwheelers for freight-handling as barges were constructed to handle large tonnages of freight. Tugs would pull and push the barges along the lake to the wharves where goods were loaded and unloaded. ( see Display poster 3 for a description of these tugs)
Utility Boats of the Okanagan Lakes
There were many “ Utility” boats operating on the lakes over the years, the early small ferries like the MV Aricia operating between Kelowna and Westbank, small passenger shuttles for short distances, small utility freight boats etc. A couple of mention might be the MV Cygnet and the MV Aricia. ( see Display poster 4 for a description of these vessels)