In my evenings, often spent unwinding in front of the TV with a netbook on my lap, I indulge myself in the type of vacuous activities that allow me to relax and allow the strains of the day to melt away. Often this entails a cynical perusal of the Weather Network to see how badly the forecast of the following day might be, a few posts on a favoured forum, a few articles on my favourite sport (yes, I am a NASCAR fan) and of course, Facebook. It's there that I see the games that my friends seem to spend an unusual amount of time playing (perhaps they too are in front of the TV with a netbook) look at their wall posts of clichéd yet cute posters, see the news stories that they read, and of course, the pictures that they post. It was one friend in particular that caught my attention, because she posted a photo of a famous house I had seen once.
The Nasookin house is the pilot house and forward section of two decks from the largest sternwheeler to ply the BC interior, the S.S. Nasookin. When she was eventually retired in 1947, the pilot house and Ladies Observation Lounge were floated on a barge to its present location, where it became a rock shop. Unused for many years, it was finally purchased in 1981 and converted into a home.
This of course set me to surfing for one of my favourite subjects - BC lake steamers. Within minutes I was sighing over the grainy black and white images of the S.S. Sicamous and the S.S. Okanagan and the steam tug Castlegar and even some of the old packing plants and wharves from Penticton to Kelowna. It was then, that another image came up, one that I spend a few minutes each year looking at - the M.V. Pentowna.
The M.V. Pentowna, a small sixty-one ton passenger ferry, was pre-fabricated in Prince Rupert
and shipped by rail in 1926. For years she operated between Penticton and Okanagan Landing carrying passengers and freight, and then in 1937 she was put to work pushing barges and carrying freight only. Retired in 1973, she became a familiar landmark in Peachland where she was used a breakwater in the local marina. It was here where my fondest memories of her arise, for seeing her was an habitual occurrence whenever the family headed north up the lake, and guessing whether she would be upright or on her side was always an animated discussion as we approached Peachland.
For the Pentowna had a propensity to sink, or at least, that's what I seem to remember most about her. Perhaps it was the misery of idleness after decades of activity that galled her into unhappiness, or maybe it was terrible neglect after years of service. Whatever it was, she was a misery to behold as she lay on her side. Even a child could see that.
As you may have read in my previous blog entry about sternwheelers, I have a love affair with the lake boats of my youth. The grand sternwheeler, Sicamous, the old steam tug, Narramatta, which I so often recalled seeing anchored near Okanagan Landing, and of course, the Pentowna. These are familiar benchmarks in my youth, and in fact, one of my earliest recollections (or perhaps it was simply a dream) was to see either the Pentowna or the CN tug #6 or the MV Okanagan at night in an Okanagan snowstorm. Like the Sicamous and the Narramatta, the Pentowna fueled my desire to go to sea and was one of the the cornerstones of my dreams to sail on a lake steamer.
So each year, in tribute to the inspiration this little lake ferry gave me, I'd spend a few minutes trying to learn her fate. The first time I read about her, was to discover she had been pulled out of the water to be refurbished. I had known this since on one of my trips back to the Okanagan as an adult on leave from the Royal Canadian Navy, I had been shocked to see her missing from her usual place of neglected somnolence. The thought of her being rebuilt excited me, for as a sailor and a lover of all things old, the idea she may go back to sail the lake again brought me no end of excitement. But my searches always ended fruitlessly - a frustrating endeavor to find her fate after so many years disappearing from history. And then, a few nights back,my deep seated fears were finally realized.
She had been scrapped in 2005.
The man who had bought her with all the goodwill and imagination needed to rebuild and put her back into service in the Okanagan's vibrant tourist industry had ran out of money, and all of the myopic think-of- the-present people that could have saved her had turned their back on her. For nearly ten years the Pentowna sat mostly unloved and completely forgotten, rotting away on a golf course until in exasperation, the owner had her cut up for scrap. The pity of it was that few cared about her fate. A vessel, intrinsically linked to our Okanagan history, a ship that when built, did not stand out as lovely or graceful - like a wallflower at a dance she was commonplace when young, but at seventy-nine and venerable she should have been an object of celebration and respect. In short, we let her go, and we are so much poorer for it.
I was rather surprised at how much it hurt to know she was gone. Yet another tenuous link to my idyllic childhood had disappeared - like the old Incola Hotel and Summerland's House on the Hill. The memories are all that I have - no tactile enjoyment like I get when I stand on the Sicamous. All I have are those memories of her as we passed through Peachland and the giggling bets on whether she'd be afloat or not.
Yes, it was a heartbreak from home this week.
Rest in Peace, Pentowna.