Transportation in the South Okanagan has changed considerably over the years.
Initially, Okanagan Lake was the main transportation corridor and transportation between communities in the valley was done by boat.
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.
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.
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.
Railway travel was also an important part of early transportation.
The Kettle Valley Railway played a role in the development of Summerland, but the community had passenger train service for less than half a century.
The railway was originally designed to bypass Summerland. In 1910, James Ritchie, the reeve of the municipality, requested the railway not bypass the community. This request was turned down.
Ritchie then surveyed the area, using a carpenter’s level, and designed a route that would pass near the present research station. This plan kept the grade to no more than two per cent and shortened the route by nearly a kilometre.
A steel bridge over the Trout Creek Canyon was built in 1913 and the first train crossed it on Oct. 25, 1913.
The first train passed through Summerland on May 31, 1915. The last passenger train came through Summerland on Jan. 16. 1964, less than 49 years after train service began.
While travel by road is the dominant form of transportation in the region today, it was difficult in the early years of development.
The first road between Summerland and Penticton was the Brigade Trail, now known as Shingle Creek Road. It was once known as “The Back Road to Penticton.”
When the railway was being built on the upper bench above Okanagan Lake, there was a road. In 1913, the road along the lake was constructed. Three workers were killed when a silt cliff collapsed. This was done, prior to lake levels being regulated, so this road was subject to flooding.
Today, much of Highway 97 in the Central and South Okanagan is four lanes wide, allowing for faster and more efficient travel than in past years.
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