A bow view of the SS Sicamous sternwheeler while docked next to the coal cars at Okanagan Landing wharf circa 1920. (Greater Vernon Museum & Archives photo)

Kelowna History: Murder on the S.S. Okanagan

In 1912, Constable George Aston was shot on the S.S. Okanagan

It all started in 1912, with an armed robbery of the Okanagan Mission General Store.

It all ended when Walter Boyd James, who deserted the U.S. Army, shot constable George Aston on the S.S. Okanagan.

Brian Wilson, from archivos.ca retold the story of this tale that left a well-liked Mountie dead on the old boat.

“(James) liked to emulate his folk hero “Jesse” James; and like Jesse, Walter was never without his guns,” wrote Wilson.

“Then on Saturday evening, March 23, 1912; Walter James robbed the Okanagan Mission store at gunpoint. He burst into the store with a large pistol held high and yelled, “Hands up!””

James forced the shop owner, Mr. Small to open the safe, and made off with his prize.

Small’s apprentice, Roy Randall however ran off to tell the police. However James made a clean getaway.

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The long-winded heart-pumping story ends up with James, who was now running from the police and his travel partner, Frank Wilson, who was oblivious to the situation, being arrested by chief Roche and constable Aston in Penticton.

The two suspects were transported to the S.S. Okanagan that would set sail in the next morning.

“The heinous deed took place while at sail between Penticton and Peachland. It seems from later testimony, that James had hidden a small 22cal. pistol in a bag under his arm. It had not been detected by the police search on his capture. While Aston slept, the small firearm was retrieved. As Aston awoke, James asked him for a glass of water. When offered he drew the pistol and demanded that the officer put his hands up. Aston refused and leapt on James in an attempt to disarm him. The gun made a small ‘pop’ and the Constable fell to the floor,” wrote Wilson.

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The suspects then fled the stern wheeler at the Peachland dock.

Constable Aston was found alive, the captain steered the S.S. Okanagan toward Gellatley Bay. Aston was transferred to hospital in Kelowna and was pronounced dead soon after arriving.

After 200 men set out to search for Frank Wilson and James, Wilson writes that the two men were found near the waterfront at Wilson’s Landing.

The two escapees were taken aboard the S.S. Okanagan and securely tied to theaston 3 mast and transported to Kelowna to await trial,” wrote Wilson.

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James was hung at 24-years-old.

“Aston was placed in the Fairview Cemetery in Penticton with full Freemason honors.

The story of Aston’s death was shared by Old Kelowna, a popular Facebook group that shares Kelowna’s history online has garnered 253 shares since it was posted in 2016.

“The ship was retired in 1934 and sold for scrap and spare parts. Only the Stern Saloon, a room in the back of the upper deck, remains. It was moved to the SS Sicamous Heritage Park in Penticton in 2002, to undergo restoration work,” wrote Old Kelowna in a comment.

Read Wilson’s full story at www.archivos.ca

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