What became of historic paddlewheeler?

YOU ASKED:Whatever happened to the old Wanda-Sue paddleboat? It used to take tourists up and down the river when I was younger but it's been docked for the past 15 years now. Any chance it will rise again? It would still make a cool tourist attraction in the summer, or it could be docked somewhere in the park and used for heritage tours like the old SS Sicamous is in Penticton. Sad to see this part of our heritage gone for so long.

- Tyler

OUR ANSWER:It's been almost 13 years since the Wanda-Sue ferried her final group of passengers on a scenic tour of the South Thompson River.

For a good 20 years, the replica 19 th-century-sternwheeler was a common sight on the river, serving as a tour boat as well as a floating banquet hall for weddings, family celebrations, graduation parties and more.

And to think it was built almost entirely by one person.

George Slack was newly retired in 1976 when he began crafting the 108-tonne paddlewheeler in his backyard in Valleyview.

He had no formal shipbuilding training but he had an engineer's mind and he was good with his hands; if anyone could pull off a project of such magnitude, it was George.

"It was always something that was a fascination and a dream of his all his life, sternwheelers on the river," said Slack's son, Gunnar.

"The last working boat on the river was the SS C.R. Lamb, and I remember that boat tied up at the bottom of Eighth Avenue in 1948. Dad just always had a fascination with sternwheelers."

It took George seven years to complete his boat. His craftsman's touch can be seen throughout the vessel, from the artfully lathed ship's wheel that guides the Wanda-Sue to the meticulously assembled paddlewheel that propels it. George, in fact, machined and welded all of the components of the paddlewheel, adjusting the final design to maximize propulsion and efficiency.

The Wanda-Sue made her first voyage in 1983.

She was George's labour of love and he lived long enough to see her become a summer tradition for tourists and residents alike.

George died in 2003, just a couple of years after his son and daughter-in-law floated the idea of selling the Wanda-Sue. Passenger numbers were down, tour interest had dropped off and it was becoming too expensive to operate.

In 2004, Gunnar and Gail Slack made the difficult decision to pull the Wanda-Sue out of Kamloops and send her to Shuswap Lake to run scenic tours in Salmon Arm.

Within a year, the paddlewheeler was back in Kamloops, docked indefinitely at the Valleyview home she was created at. The Wanda-Sue has remained there since, her future still uncertain.

Gunnar fires up the engine every now and then just to keep the vessel in running order. He even took the family on a short cruise on Labour Day. But most of her time is spent moored at the family dock.

Now, Gunnar and his wife are again thinking it's time to sell the Wanda-Sue. They haven't set a price but Gail said the replacement cost of the Wanda-Sue is around $750,000.

"We really have to do something with it," said Gail. "But it's hard to let go."

Gunnar agrees it's time to sell the Wanda-Sue but that it won't be easy handing the keys to someone else.

"It would be nice if she could stay in Kamloops."

In the meantime, the Wanda-Sue remains at home in Valleyview, her future entirely dependent on her next owners.

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