This all steel, rectangular, barge-like vessel was christened “Ookpik” by then 1964 Peach Queen-Elect, Fyfe Rutherford, on June 14th, 1964.
Ookpik was then shoved into the lake by three bulldozers. Owners Hans Rodewoldt and Stephen Pilott (D.B.A. Okanagan Cruisers Ltd.) were extremely proud of their new 250 passenger capacity vessel painted a bright red, white and blue. It was powered by twin ford diesel engines with a total of 250 horsepower and capable of 11 knots top speed.
Ookpik had a dance floor and stage on the main deck and a 1000 square foot observation deck above, featuring live entertainment; at least that was the plan. An ad in the Penticton Herald of June 30, 1964 (page 15) stated Ookpik was to make daily four-hour cruises at eight knots, but never made its maiden voyage in 1964. Laid up for the winter, she was beached in a storm just before Christmas. Vandals then re-christened it “Toothpik.”
Ownership had passed to Norm Edwardson of N.E. Construction. He was ordered by city council to have it moved off the beach by March 20, 1965 and beat the deadline by one day. Now moored just north of the Sicamous, on June 24th, 1965, the newly christened Okanagan Pilot swung in her mooring and came to within inches of striking the Sicamous.
Okanagan Pilot operated in service during the summers of 1965 through 1967. Ads for the vessel touted “dining, dancing with two cruises departing daily at 3:30pm and 8:30 pm, departing from the foot of Martin Street.” During the approach to the Martin Street dock on Sunday morning, Aug. 1967 at 12:25am, fire started in the wiring system in the engine room, but was quickly extinguished by Engineer H.C. Roadwolbt, and the 150 passengers disembarked safely.
In Feb. 1968 the Okanagan Pilot was seized under a writ ordered by the Workman’s Compensation Board but was ‘bailed out’ by one of the owners.
The 1968 season saw the Okanagan Pilot operated as a nightclub called “Popeye’s Place” moored near the government wharf at North Beach Marina. The operating license was granted by city council under very strict rules (note: daily) due to residents’ previous complaints of noise.(6) “Popeye’s Place” did become the Okanagan’s first nightclub and the world’s only floating “A Go-Go,” open Monday to Saturday, from 9pm.
But city council was not happy without a cruise attraction to offer. The MV Fintry arrived in Penticton Monday, Sept. 29th, 1969, to operate six cruises sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce as a replacement attraction for the 6,800 person strong, Church of God Convention being held in Queen’s Park.(8) The MV Fintry was then operated throughout the 1970 to 1973 seasons.
The Okanagan Pilot broke from her moorings on April 11th, 1970 and floated around in the lake for sometime before being boarded and anchors dropped. Later she was towed in and moored at the city wharf, but city council wanted her removed.
As late as January 1973, a pair of Lethbridge, Alberta business men tried to get city council’s approval to restart the Okanagan Pilot as a dining and dance facility for the 1973 season. If approval was obtained, they would purchase the vessel from its owners in Prince George, B.C.
The last reference to Ookpik comes from the Herald Aug. 1, 1975. The City, claiming she was an eyesore and a danger to the public, made many attempts to get the owner, Kerr Holdings of Quesnel to remove it.
When all else failed, the city secured an order and had it towed to Greata Ranch. She sat there for several years until towed to Kelowna and dismantled for shipping to Mica Dam for timber reclamation.
Whether she actually reached that destination is a mystery. Rumor has it that she is still in service as a freight barge on the McKenzie River.
Pictures: Okanagan Archives Trust Society
Writer: Brian Wilson
from the Historical Magazine – Archivos