The First Nations of the South Okanagan settled the area around Osoyoos and raised cattle and wild horses. The first encroachment from the outside world came in approximately 1811, when fur traders came searching for better trade routes.
In the 1880s, free gold-bearing quartz was found east of the present day Oliver, and Camp McKinney became a busy gold mine, attracting the usual restless characters: miners, con men, and outlaws.
Established between 1918 and 1921 as a settlement for unemployed veterans of the First World War, a gravity-fed canal was constructed to provide irrigation to the semi-arid area, which accounts for the lush greenery around this Capital of Wine Country, one of the most picturesque places in the Okanagan.
The founders of Oliver named the town after "Honest" John Oliver, a BC premier after the First World War, who believed that the irrigation canal would bring prosperity to this northern end of the Sonoran Desert. Oliver was unincorporated for many years, and was run from Victoria, the provincial capital. The town was incorporated in 1946, and elected its own council in 1968.
Today, Oliver is a thriving community, with agriculture, tree fruits, and vineyards still prime industries. The economy is still dependent upon the irrigation ditch to keep the land arable, although the ditch has seen many changes and upgrades over the years.
Oliver is located near the south end of the Okanagan Valley, 25 km (15 mi) north of the USA border and sits in the only desert area of Canada. The attractive climate fosters popular tourist activities, including summer water sports, golf and sight-seeing. Oliver is an ideal setting for growing Okanagan wine grapes and producing among the best rated wines in the world.
The Oliver and District Heritage Society Museum and Archives provides visitors with a sense of life in the early years of the Oliver area, through a series of walk-through galleries.
See Oliver as it existed when ranching and lumbering were the primary occupations, which grew in service to the gold mining towns of Camp McKinney and Fairview in the late 1890s. The old Fairview Jail forms part of the museum exhibits. In the jail are displays and information about the old mining town of Fairview, which was built on the western slopes of Oliver.
Don't leave without looking at the exhibits of farming equipment that line the museum yards, including the first "Kangaroo", made locally for pruning tress and picking the delectable fruits.
The museum is located in the former Provincial Police building, which became the branch headquarters of the R.C.M.P. in 1950, after policing responsibilities were turned over by the province to the RCMP. The building served as the offices of the RCMP and as the residence of the senior officer, as it did for the provincial policemen. The building was turned over to the Village of Oliver in 1980.
Haynes Ranch is one of the old area ranches, although it no longer operates. Some of the original buildings are still there, old and worn. The buildings can be found on the historic Haynes Ranch site, at the top of Road 22.
The site can be accessed from the Oliver-Osoyoos Highway, by turning off on Road 22, and driving across Haynes Meadows and across the bridge over the Okanagan River, or by driving out from Oliver along Black Sage Road.
Oliver calls itself the Wine Capital of Canada. Tour the wineries of Black Sage Road and the Golden Mile and taste the effect of different soil conditions and winemaking styles. Experience amazing award winning wines and stunning local foods prepared by some of the best chefs.
The local Cross-Country Ski Club, affiliated with Cross-Country BC, has prepared three trails at Km 27 on McKinney Road on the way to Mount Baldy. These basic loops provide levels of challenge for beginner, intermediate, and expert skiers. Trails are kept groomed by the club and are open to the public. At this level, there is a good snowpack for skiing from early to late in the season. A set of maps at the beginning of the trail indicate the route to new skiers. A donation box is available for skiers wishing to contribute towards upkeep on the trails.
If you have brought your rod with you on vacation, you're in luck. There are many spots in the area to dip your line into and with a little luck, take home dinner.
You can troll for trout on Sawmill Lake using single barbless artificial flies. There is also a bait ban and catch-and-release restriction (this is a no-kill fishery). The lake is regularly stocked and some trophy-sized fish hide in its waters. The local sportsmen's association installed aerators to prevent winter kill, and the group also maintains a picnic area on the lakeshore. Sawmill Lake is located west of Oliver off White Lake Road.
Madden Lake is also a good place to catch trout. It is regularly stocked with rainbows and the B.C. Forest Service has set up a small picnic area on the shore. Anglers can get to Madden Lake, which is located about 10 kilometers west of Oliver, by taking the turnoff from the road between Oliver and Keremeos. A truck is recommended for a trip to Madden Lake.
Outdoor enthusiasts will find a variety of trails that appeal to hikers and mountain cyclists alike, from the leisurely Bicycling and Hiking Trail along the Okanagan River dike, to the challenging hikes of Mount Baldy and McIntyre Bluff.
Of course, even a leisurely hike in the hot summer sun of the South Okanagan valley can be challenging, so be sure to dress appropriately, wear sunscreen, and carry ample drinking water. Watch carefully for cactus and snakes, and enjoy your off-road experience!
The Wine Capital of Canada
Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia