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Rare, recovered 1930s footage of steamship offers glimpse of Okanagan's past

Rare footage recently uncovered by the Okanagan Archive Trust Society based in Kelowna, B.C., shows the S.S. Sicamous on Okanagan Lake. (Okanagan Archive Trust Society - image credit)
Rare footage recently uncovered by the Okanagan Archive Trust Society based in Kelowna, B.C., shows the S.S. Sicamous on Okanagan Lake. (Okanagan Archive Trust Society - image credit)

Rare video discovered by a historical studies group in Kelowna, B.C., offers a glimpse of what life was like for European settlers in the Okanagan Valley almost a century ago.

Earlier this month, the Okanagan Archive Trust Society unveiled a two-minute video of the S.S. Sicamous sailing on Okanagan Lake, which the organization says was filmed sometime in the 1930s.

The video is just a small part of a huge collection of film and photos that was discovered more than a decade ago in a Kootenays residence, many of which are still in the process of being digitized.

The society's executive director Brian Wilson says the footage of the steamship was filmed by brothers Louis and Rudolph Pop, who worked as furriers and taxidermists in Vancouver and filmed what they saw on their journeys to other parts of the province from the late 1920s to 40s.

WATCH | S.S. Sicamous sails on Okanagan Lake:

"They chronicled all of their trips up to hunt the big beasts, to create the dioramas that they did for the Royal Museum [in Victoria]," Wilson said on CBC's Daybreak South.

"[The brothers] were from a privileged family from Vancouver that would come up and hire local people to take them way up into the woods to hunt the big game."

Challenges of digitizing old footage

Wilson says he received the S.S. Sicamous footage, along with hundreds of other vintage films, photos and other artifacts, from a man living on Kootenay Lake who his friend got to know more than a decade ago.

The man's family was vacating their home in 2008 and said they had some archive material the society might be interested in.

"[They were,] sure enough, one-in-a-lifetime collection of films from a Vancouver family and no one seemed to be interested in it but us."

Wilson says all of the archive material was produced by the Pop brothers, and are all attached with labels indicating the year of production. Based on his 44-year expertise of B.C. history, he says, he can verify that the S.S. Sicamous footage was filmed in the 1930s.

S.S. Sicamous Marine Heritage Society
S.S. Sicamous Marine Heritage Society

Wilson says he heeded Library and Archives Canada's advice to store all the old artifacts in a freezer to preserve them, before he handed them to a video production company in Port Coquitlam, B.C., for digitization.

Lifetime Heritage Films CEO John Romein says it took several years of extreme care to revitalize the two-minute video of S.S. Sicamous and other footage filmed by the Pop brothers.

Restoring film that's almost a century old and not kept in optimal conditions can be a challenge, Romein said.

"Lots of old films are actually in good condition, but sometimes we come across film that has had mould attack because it's been sitting in a damp location," he said.

"Once mould attacks the film…[it] eats away the emulsion."

Most of the film Romein received from Wilson had been shrunken due to aging, he said, and it was quite a challenge to flatten the shrunken film before digitization.

He says he's looking forward to digitizing more century-old films from Wilson, because they are precious historical assets.

"You can't place a price tag on that — the value is immense," Romein said.

The S.S. Sicamous was launched by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1914 to transport more than 200 passengers at a time from Penticton, B.C., to other communities around Okanagan Lake, according to the S.S. Sicamous Marine Heritage Society.

The five-level ship, which is now exhibited at a heritage park in Penticton, had 30 cabins for overnight stays. It had its final run in 1936.