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SS Sicamous turns 110 with boisterous birthday party May 19

What do you do for a 110th birthday?

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> SS Sicamous reps Katie Pereira and Caitlyn Beairsto

You party like it's 1914.

And that's exactly what they'll do May 19 from 11 am to 4 pm at SS Sicamous Marine Heritage Park, when the Sicamous Society throws a 110th birthday bash for not one but two of its ships – the iconic SS Sicamous sternwheeler and its next door neighbour, the SS Naramata steam tug.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Katie Pereira, Matt Verboeket, Caitlyn Beairsto

Both played huge roles in the maturation of the Okanagan, and both were launched in 1914 – 110 years ago. And now the non-profit group hopes locals will turn up by the boatload for what promises to be a day of throwback maritime merrymaking that'll include activities and games both on board the Sicamous, in the park that surrounds it, and, if the weather cooperates, on the lake too.

As extra incentive, admission to the event is absolutely free.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Scene from prior SS Sicamous event

"We decided to have an old-fashioned birthday party," said Society Operations Coordinator Kyla Daman-Willems. "And we're calling it a regatta because regattas and ships go together. So it's officially the '110th Birthday Regatta.'"

According to Daman-Willems, who with general manager Katie Pereira chatted with PentictonNow last week, there'll be plenty to do.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Caitlyn Beairsto

"We'll have kids' games (many courtesy of Penticton's Amuzing Fun Rentals) and music outside on the lawn and inside you can tour the entire ship, which will be decorated for the occasion. Potentially even the wheelhouse up top if the weather cooperates.

"There'll be live music inside too, where one of our board members will play guitar. On the cargo deck the KVR model railway will be running, and we'll also have a restored tender (a small support boat) that's just been named after our retiring president Matt Verboeket."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Matt the boat and Matt the president

And if the wind is calm and the temperature warm, Hoodoo Adventures will show up with a small fleet of canoes for short-course races on Okanagan Lake.

There'll be food as well, though that part won't be free. In the dining hall they'll serve stuff like tea, coffee and snacks in exchange for donations, while reps from Kaleden's Lakeboat Winery and Penticton's Cannery Brewing will serve tasters.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Scene from prior Sicamous event

Meanwhile out front in the park there'll be a quartet of local food trucks – Samosa Express, Queen City Eats, Fiesta Mexicana and Our Little Donut Factory.

But that's not all. At 2 pm Penticton mayor Julius Bloomfield will step up to say a few words about the ships and the occasion. So too will folks from the Society.

<who>Photo Credit: Penticton Museum and Archives</who> The 1914 launch of the SS Sicamous

Then at 2:15, the ship whistle will sound.

It's that last bit that might just elicit a few tears from those with strong connections to the sternwheeler. According to Daman-Willems, the Sicamous whistle sounded long and loud 110 years prior, at 2:15 pm, May 19, 1914, when the ship launched from its birthplace at Okanagan Landing Shipyards, near Vernon.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

And so it will again, 110 years to the minute in the future.

And, say our contacts, the Sicamous whistle is not to be taken lightly.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"It's more of a horn really," said Periera with a smile. "A really loud horn.

"At one time guests would put donations in a box and we would then blow the whistle. That tradition stopped over time, but for special occasions we'd like to reinstate it. So we're beginning with this birthday."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Even the Naramata will get in on the action. It's just as old as the Sicamous at 110, and on the 19th the security fence gate will open and folks can walk the perimeter of the ancient tug.

Ongoing restoration will prevent anyone from actually clambering aboard, though everyone is welcome to pop inside the "SS Okanagan Ladies Saloon," the last surviving section from the sternwheeler SS Okanagan (launched in 1907) that rests on the park's lawn.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> The "Ladies Saloon" as a Christmas charitable toy store

What might surprise some – as it certainly did us – is just how long the Sicamous, now nothing short of an icon on Penticton's northern shore, has been out of service.

Its active life ended in 1937, just 23 years after its launch. That’s almost 90 years ago.

<who>Photo Credit: Penticton Museum and Archives</who> The SS Sicamous pulls into Penticton back in the day

"It was launched initially to take passengers up and down the lake," said Pereira. "It did that 'til the mid-30s, when it was getting down to its last passenger runs."

"It then ran freight for a couple years afterward before making its last voyage, an excursion with the Penticton Gyro Club, on July 23, 1937. And then it was parked (at its Okanagan Landing Shipyards birthplace)."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Scene from prior Sicamous event

There it remained, about a hundred kilometers north of its home today, 'til August of 1951 when the City of Penticton and the very same Penticton Gyro Club referenced above conspired to bring it back to what many felt was its rightful spot on the southern shore of Okanagan Lake.

But that leaves one big question. Why was the Sicamous retired after just 23 years?

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> A scale model of the Sicamous is part of the KVR model railway on the cargo deck

Because in 1915 the Kettle Valley Railway completed its Penticton connection. And it was only a matter of time 'til that newfangled railway technology proved to be a far more efficient mover of both people and cargo.

"I don’t think people realized though what they'd lost until much later," said Daman-Willems, adding that the eventual road connections through the valley would later do to the railway what the railway did to the ships.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> The SS Naramata

Those unable to make it on the 19th might want to drop by one day later on Monday, May 20, when admission is once again free and members of the Penticton Stamp Club will climb aboard for a celebratory 10 am unveiling of a commemorative Sicamous centennial cover.

For more on the 110th Birthday Regatta, running from 11 am to 4 pm May 19 at the SS Sicamous Marine Heritage Park, 1099 Lakeshore Drive West, turn here.

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