The international gateway to British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, Kelowna is an extraordinarily scenic destination surrounded by rolling, pine-covered mountains. It is characterized by award-winning wineries, a thriving agricultural and orchard community, and an array of leisure activities. A short drive from downtown Kelowna will take you from a chic gallery to orchards, vineyards and grassy hillsides, all accented by the sparkling backdrop of 110 km-long (68-mile) Okanagan Lake. Kelowna is also a recreation enthusiast's paradise, with trails for biking and hiking, alpine and Nordic skiing, and a vast selection of water sports all within close proximity of the city. Sun-drenched plateaux, fresh seasonal harvest, memorable wines, powder snow, lake views and astonishing golf are signatures of this valley.
Artifacts suggest that hunters lived in the Kelowna area as far back as 2,000 years ago. However, the first European settlement took place in 1859, when three Oblate missionaries, Father Pandosy, Father Richard and Brother Surel, set up a mission for the area's natives, traders and new settlers. Three of the original buildings remain at the Father Pandosy Mission Provincial Heritage Site.
In 1893, Lord Aberdeen, Canada's Governor General, bought huge tracts of land in the valley in recognition of Okanagan's fruit-growing potential. He also built Guisachan House, now a 2.4 acre heritage site.
Kelowna became a city in 1905 at a time when the population was 600. Its name comes from the story of August Gillard, an early settler who crawled from an underground shelter just as a group of Indians passed by. The Indians called out, "Kim-ach-touch", meaning Brown Bear. Over time, this became Kelowna (meaning Grizzly Bear), which was easier to pronounce.
Today, the greater Kelowna area has a total population of 145,445. It also boasts a rich history. See fascinating exhibits in the Wine Museum, the BC Orchard Industry Museum, the Kelowna Museum and the Military Museum.
Kelowna is the largest city in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley and boasts all the amenities of a major city. Located approximately 400 kms (240 miles) from Vancouver and 600 kms (360 miles) from Calgary on Highway 97. Kelowna is 150 km (90 miles) north of the United States Border, and is easily accessible by air, and by bus and car via Highways 1, 3, or 5.
Kelowna International Airport is the 10th busiest airport in Canada, with daily direct departures to Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, and Toronto. As well, the Shell Aero Centre welcomes private aircraft and provides pilot services, such as sleeping quarters, cooking facilities, and 24-hour customs.
The Kelowna Art Gallery is located in the heart of the Downtown Cultural District. As Kelowna's leading public gallery, it is central to many cultural initiatives, each year bringing a variety of local, national and international exhibitions to the region.
In the 1960s, the Okanagan Historical Society took on the task of preserving the historic Pandosy Mission site on Benvoulin Road in Kelowna. It was here that Father Pandosy, an Oblate priest, established the first white settlement in the Okanagan Valley in 1859.
Many of the buildings had fallen into disrepair. Work parties from the historical society and the Knights of Columbus have laboured over the years to restore four of the original buildings: the Chapel, the Root-House, the Barn, and the Brothers House. Four other historic buildings have been moved to the site.
Today, it is jointly administered by the Okanagan Historical Society and the Catholic Church. The property remains in the hands of the Catholic Church. There is a caretaker on site and the grounds are open to the public from dawn to dusk from Easter to Thanksgiving. Admission is by donation.
This was originally a Presbyterian Church. It was built in 1892 in the Gothic Revival style and served the community until 1964. The original tower was replaced in 1953 and the steeple replaced during restoration in the early 1980s. Benvoulin Church is located at what was once the Benvoulin Town site, which was laid out by pioneer land promoter, Mr. G. G. McKay. This is also the site of the McIver House, one of the city's unique heritage settings. It is also home to Xeriscape and Heritage Gardens.
Restored in 1986, this charming pioneer church has become one of the most popular locations for weddings. Though right in the city, it offers a historical location in a country setting. The tall steeple on this white shiplap building has been a landmark for over a century.
Enjoy unique regional collections and exhibitions. The museum explores the natural and human history of the Okanagan region, and regularly features visiting displays from around the world. Offering events and educational programs to the public, this facility provides an interesting approach to the preservation of past and present, alive with our history!
The early settlers in the Okanagan region nurtured the first seeds of agricultural opportunity. Orchards gradually replaced rangeland with a bountiful selection of fruit, introducing a new industry into the Valley. This museum offers reflective and interactive interpretations of the local orchard industry - past, present and alive with our history!
The Okanagan Military Museum is a non-profit, charitable, volunteer organization committed to collecting, displaying, and interpreting memorabilia related to the military service of Okanagan residents for present and future generations. The collections include small arms, photos and text, primary materials, and an extensive reference library.
Artifacts and exhibits chronicle the beginnings of wine making globally and explore the history of the local wine industry. We offer "Okanagan One-Stop Shopping" for wine and wine-related information, such as wine festival guides, seminars, and daily tasting. The VQA Wine Shop showcases all of BC's Vintners Quality Alliance wineries.
Kelowna is all about variety. Even the mountain biking terrains offer a choice for experts and novices alike. Travel through pine forests or wide desert spaces. Try urban biking or single-track off-road trails. Catch air with dramatic climbs and fantastic downhills. Test your skills with epic rides or just have fun any way you like. The breathtaking views themselves will make the journey worth it.
With its lush parks, glorious trails, forests and streaming waters, there's no better place to birdwatch than Kelowna. This area of the Okanagan Valley offers some of the best shorebirding, gull-watching, and urban birding experiences in BC. Kelowna plays host to hundreds of birds in dozens of varieties. Better still, their locations are all within easy access - either by bus or by taxi within city limits, or just a short drive from the city.
From the 110-kilometre long Lake Okanagan to over 200 other freshwater lakes throughout the area, Kelowna is the perfect place for people who love their boats. From jet skis to houseboats, canoes to kayaks, there's every kind of boat to enjoy. Spend an exciting afternoon parasailing or wind surfing. Gather the family or a few friends and rent a houseboat for the weekend. Or simply head off on a good old-fashioned paddle boat and stop by a lakeside for a quiet picnic.
Kelowna is a favourite spot for fishing. And no wonder! There are over 200 freshwater lakes in the area, each with an assortment of fish, including: Rainbow Trout, Kokanee Salmon, Whitefish, Burbot, and Carp.
Bring water and snacks and set off with family and friends for a hiking experience you'll never forget! Kelowna and its entire surrounding area provide awesome beauty for miles upon winding miles. Every step you take comes with another glimpse of flowering bushes, tall pines, clear waters, wonderful wildlife and breathtaking views. From steep forest trails to easy strolls by gentle streams, from hidden nooks to open spaces, there's a sight and spot for everyone.
Nothing brings you closer to nature than riding on the back of a steed. Add to that rolling hills, open meadows, refreshing waters, and majestic mountains, and the experience becomes nothing short of exhilarating. Horseback riding in Kelowna is a journey you'll never forget. In fact, you'll want to relive it over and over again!
Why just hike and bike through the mountains when you can ski, board and feel absolutely exhilarated?
The nearby Monashee Mountains boast consistent amounts of light, and dry powder snow that challenges every level of downhill enthusiast. Four ski resorts within a short drive from the City (Silver Star Mountain Resort, Big White Ski Resort, Sun Peaks Resort and Apex Mountain Resort) offer a wide selection of amenities beyond the major attractions of skiing or snowboarding. Big White is the closest to Kelowna and is considered by residents to be the local mountain. Winter is a great season in the Okanagan, and cross-country skiing enthusiasts will enjoy the serenity of ther wilderness. In addition to the trails available at the major ski resorts, Kelowna has several active cross-country ski clubs that maintain approximately 85 km (50 mi) of groomed trails in the area that are easily accessible.
Everyone, especially picky eaters, will enjoy choosing their own fresh fruits and veggies. The whole of the Okanagan Valley is ripe with plump offerings. It's a great way to bond with family and friends, so be sure to make the time.
There are four annual wine festivals held in the Okanagan Valley - in spring, summer, fall and winter. Sample award-winning wines. Attend an educational seminar or, celebrate with live entertainment and wine paired with fabulous local cuisine. More information, including an event schedule, is available at the Visitor Info Centre.
This non-profit program brings a touch of art and culture to Kelowna's lakefront and parks from June to September. Throughout the summer, Parks Alive offers a variety of music and entertainment the whole family can enjoy. Plus, it's free. For more information stop in at the Kelowna Visitor Info Centre to pick up a copy of the Parks Alive summer schedule.
Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia