A tiny island on the edge of BC’s Okanagan Lake, Rattlesnake Island has a history and a very interesting one at that. One of the few islands on this incredibly large lake (135km long), it is said that the legendary Okanagan Lake monster, the Ogopogo, lives in a cave underneath the island. While a paddle to Rattlesnake Island is unlikely to offer a chance to see the elusive Ogopogo, there are some other fascinating sights to see.
Hidden in plain sight
A tiny dot of land on the eastern side of Okanagan Lake, Rattlesnake Island is quite hard to see unless you’re almost right on top of it. The low, rocky island almost blends completely into the rustic hues of the hills of Okanagan Mountain Park behind it. The landing beach for kayaks and canoes is easy to miss when arriving from across the lake, so much so that we had to do a full circumnavigation of the island before we found it!
Our trip around the island did allow us to see the first hint of Rattlesnake Island’s past. On the north side, giant concrete slabs sit at water level, some cracked, anothers part submerged. From here, nothing else can be seen. Above the concrete, steep rock and vegetation block better views.
After landing, we made the next discovery; steps cut into the rock leading upwards to the flattest part of the island.
An island like no other
Not far after we ascended the steps and a section of steep rock, we saw our first miniature golf course hole. Yes, a golf hole. There are a substantial number of these on the island, at least eight or nine. It is difficult to count them accurately as parts of them are damaged and/or overgrown. Most of the holes are built into the natural features of the island, with the golfing ‘green’ jutting up directly against rock and plants.
The golf course remains are not the only signs of construction on the island. There are several building foundations, including both square and round structures. A few other smaller concrete blocks lie here and there, with no obvious reason for their placement. Any visitor without any knowledge of the island’s history would certainly be perplexed.
The history of Rattlesnake Island
Rattlesnake Island may now be part of Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park, but it was once privately owned. Back in the 1970s, it was purchased by Eddie Haymour, a Lebanese immigrant. He wanted to turn the island into an Arab-themed tourist attraction (pyramids, restaurants, mini golf course, a giant model camel et al), serviced by a regular ferry. The concrete slabs we spotted on the north side were likely part of a dock. Haymour opened the half finished park in 1972.
The provincial government of BC was not a fan of the development. The government forced Haymour’s bank loan to be withdrawn, putting him in financial ruin (his wife and children also left him). They offered to buy the island for $40,000 – less than a quarter than Haymour had spent on his project so far. Haymour asked for help from the Labanese government with no luck before being forced to sign over the land to the government.
Returning to Lebanon, Haymour was frustrated with the unfair treatment from the BC government. With the help of his family, he seized the Canadian embassy in Beirut. Thirty-four hostages and a nine hour standoff later, the BC government agreed to discuss the case with him. Haymour was not prosecuted for his actions in Beirut.
A long story short, Haymour was eventually awarded $250,000 in compensation for the “cruel” action taken by the provincial government against him. The island however remained in the government’s hands.
Rattlesnake Island today
An oasis on a very popular recreation lake, Rattlesnake Island enjoys many visitors during the summer. There are wonderful views towards both Peachland and Summerland as well as Okanagan Mountain Park behind it. On this beautiful November day (with a top temperature of 17c!), we spent a good couple of hours just exploring and taking in the lake panoramas.
There are some great benefits to visiting Rattlesnake Island out of the main summer season. For one, we had the whole island to ourselves. The lake is also generally calmer outside of summer and we didn’t have any power boats zipping past on the water. What a peaceful experience!
If you wondered what happened to Eddie Haymour by the way, he purchased some land opposite Rattlesnake Island in Peachland and built a hotel that is still operating today (under different ownership).
Reluctant Dragon Cove
Just south of Rattlesnake Island is one of Okanagan Mountain Park’s designated camping areas – the wonderfully named Reluctant Dragon Cove. While I have no idea of the origin of the name, the cove is a pretty little place with a rocky beach, an outhouse, a bench or two and a couple of spots to put up a tent. We had a picnic here before enjoying a good few hours of sunbathing.
Probably due to spending a little too long sunbathing, our return paddle home was less than pleasant. Half way across the lake the wind picked up and we found ourselves paddling a metre and a half wave swell. Not the best end to a day on the water, but a good bit of exercise after all that fun in the sun.
Rattlesnake Island is accessible via a short 3-4km paddle from Peachland on Okanagan Lake’s western edge. There are numerous places along the highway either side of Peachland to park a vehicle for the day plus a couple of marinas and parks in Peachland itself.
The paddle over to Rattlesnake took 40 minutes in calm conditions but was double this on the way back with substantial waves and wind for half of the journey. Don’t leave your return journey too late in the day to avoid adverse weather conditions. Be aware though, that Okanagan Lake is at risk for sudden and drastic weather and wave changes at any time due to its large size. Always wear PFDs and take safety gear!
There is a beach on the southeastern edge of the island for kayaks and canoes to land on. It is well hidden behind a rocky outcrop.
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