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Home / Thompson Okanagan / South Okanagan / Penticton


A Step Back in Time

Pen-tic-ton, as translated by the local Salish Native Americans, means "a place to live forever" (the commonly accepted translation) or "a place to live year-round".

Tom Ellis, the first non-Native settler in the area, took the meaning to heart and settled here in 1865. Ellis, from England, planned the formulation of the new town. In 1892, a townsite was laid out around the Smith Street area. The street is now called Front Street, home to many unique stores and boutiques.

Smith Street was named after C.S. Smith, who owned a sawmill and supplied much of the lumber used to construct the original buildings. This was home to many buildings that no longer exist, but which then housed the businesses of the day: livery barns, blacksmiths, barbershops, bakershops, hotels, etc. A strange, little known fact, was that some of the older, wooden buildings were built on skids and could be moved to a new location by simply hitching them up to a team of horses and dragging them away.

By 1907, Penticton had grown to the bountiful size of 600 residents, and was officially recognized by the British Columbia Government as a municipal district. In the teens, the building of the Kettle Valley Railroad increased the population to around 1500 people. By 1921 the city was 4,000 strong, but it took until 1948 for Penticton to gain City Status.

The early days were difficult for road travel, but with the proliferation of the automobile and the constant increase in population, road-building was in full force by the 1920s. Prior to this, travel was done primarily by water, up and down the Okanagan Lake, which runs from Vernon in the north to its southern tip at Penticton. Much of this travel was aboard the S.S. Sicamous. Although not the first stern-wheeler to grace Okanagan Lake (but probably the most famous), the S.S. Sicamous was known as the Queen of the Lake. She was built in Port Harbor in Ontario and assembled in Okanagan Landing for her maiden voyage on July 1st (Canada's birthday) in 1914. Many of the servicemen heading for WWI began their journey aboard the S.S Sicamous. Demoted to carrying freight in 1935, she was then retired two fruit seasons later. Penticton purchased her from Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1949 for $1.

There have been many historic moments throughout the years. In 1911, Wade's General Store, owned and built by founder Tom Ellis' brother-in-law A.H. Wade, burnt down, never to be replaced. In 1917, women received the well-deserved right to vote. Alcohol became illegal in B.C. In 1922, Dave Riordan was in high spirits after the completion of his new home. In 1942, most of the city was submerged by a spring flood. In December 1950, Penticton was shocked by a plane crash. In March 1955, the Penticton Vee's hockey team brought home the World Cup after defeating the U.S.S.R 5-0.

Many changes have come to Penticton. The city now has a population of approximately 33,000 and continues to grow. Still, if you listen hard on a quiet night, you can almost hear the horn of one of the old steamwheelers, announcing its arrival on the beach.


Penticton is located 63 km (39 mi) north of Osoyoos and 72 km (45 mi) south of Kelowna on a part of Hwy 97 designated as the "Wine Route".

Penticton Regional Airport is serviced by Air Canada Jazz which offers daily scheduled flights, with connecting flights to Canadian and international destinations. Helicopter charters are also available. The Kelowna International Airport (60 minutes away from Penticton) is serviced by additional national airlines, including WestJet, and offers direct flights from major Canadian and American destinations.

Penticton is serviced by Greyhound Bus Lines.

Things to See and Do
  • The Art Gallery of the South Okanagan

The handsome cedar structure standing on the shores of Lake Okanagan, in Penticton, is the result of the hard work of many volunteers. Over the years, the Gallery has developed from a one-room display space in the Library / Museum Building. The first art exhibitions were organized during the late 1950s, and eventually the Penticton Art Gallery was formed. It became the Art Gallery of the South Okanagan in 1985, and offers 3,000 square feet of exhibition space. The exhibition program seeks to offer to the people of Penticton, the south Okanagan Valley, and visitors to the area a wide variety of exhibitions of fine and decorative art from regional, provincial, and national sources. 

  • S.S. Sicamous

Walk onboard this restored paddlewheel vessel on the sPenticton - SS Sicamous Sternwheeler - Tourism BC-Don Weixlhores of Okanagan Lake. Built in 1914 for the Canadian Pacific Railway and British Columbia Lake and River Service, the S.S. Sicamous was in operation until 1936. 

  • Okanagan Lake Provincial Park

Beautiful, sandy/pebbly beaches surrounded by ponderosa pine and sagebrush make this park the perfect spot for swimming and water activities. The landscape across the lake, from beach to skyline, is part of Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park, accessible by boat or by driving back through Kelowna.  

  • Penticton Museum and Archives

Experience the tumultuous lives of the gold seekers and railway men and envision the sternwheelers that ran up and down the waterways of the Okanagan. Explore the fine displays of pioneer life, natural history, military artifacts, and First Nations collections. The extensive archives are available for researchers of local and regional history.

  • Apex Mountain Resort

It requires equal amounts of action and ambience for a mountain to become a world-class destination. At Apex, it's the varied terrain, first-rate amenities, and friendly atmosphere that keeps people coming every year. Located a short 30-minute drive from Penticton, this full service resort offers activities for all members of your family. In addition to exceptional downhill and cross-country skiing, Apex has a tube park, snowshoe trails, sleigh rides, and snowmobile tours.  

  • Kettle Valley Railway Trail

Stretching along 500 km (310 mi) of scenic gravel track, the gentle 2.2% grade into Penticton travels through vineyards, orchards, and wineries, and offers unparalleled views of Okanagan Lake. This historic former railway is shared by the Trans-Canada Trail and is ideal for walking or cycling. Guided day/overnight excursions are also available.

  • Rock Climbing

You don't have to be a climber to appreciate Penticton's Skaha Bluffs. What's not to like? The eighty-meter tall cliffs are impressive on their own. The fact that they tower over stunning views of Skaha Lake, emerald orchards, vineyards, and the golden rafting grasslands to the west is a bonus. For thousands of years humans beings have experienced the face of the Bluffs' radiant beauty- dawn-tinted at first light and flushed scarlet at sunset. Born two billion years ago, these rocks stood at the western margin of continental North America and literally witnessed the creation of this chunk of land we call British Columbia. Today, they are one of the province's favourite playgrounds for a growing collection of climbing enthusiasts.  

  • Mountain Biking

Whether you prefer a challenging technical ride to a leasurely spin on the Kettle Valley Railway or a gnarly downhill descent to the paved Channel Park pathway, you're sure to find trails to satisfy your skill and comfort level in and around Penticton. Visit the Wine Country Visitor Centre for trail maps and information about bike rentals.

  • Visit Penticton's Wineries

Featuring unique architectural styles, there are some 60 wineries surrounded by more than 2,000 hectares of vineyards within the valley's picturesque landscape. Drive north of Penticton along the east side of Lake Okanagan to Naramata and sample award wines while taking in the breathtaking scenery of the vines as they stretch down to the lakeshore below. Stay a while and enjoy a delicious lunch prepared from local foods by one of the many well-known chefs who have made the Okanagan their home. Head south to Oliver, or north to Summerland, for more wineries. Tour a vineyard to learn about grape growing and harvesting. Enjoy one of the four annual Okanagan Wine Festivals held throughout the valley in spring, summer, fall and winter.

  • Golfing

Gently rolling golden hills, punctuated by the rich green hues of scrub and Ponderosa pines; dramatic cliffs and dry gulches; gentle streams running through meadows; stately willows bending low near the water's edge; cacti and tumbleweeds defining the desert's reach are all simply part of the golf experience here in Canada's sunniest climate. From challenging, full-length courses to comfortable short layouts, all the area's courses take full advantage of the spectacular and unique surroundings to provide a memorable golfing experience that can be enjoyed by beginning and accomplished players alike.

  • Okanagan Spring Wine Festival

The Okanagan Spring Wine Festival is a perfect marriage of wine and culinary tourism. For the first ten days in May each year, it offers a tantalizing experience for anyone who loves amazing wine accompanied by fine cuisine. Visitors can choose an incredible 100+ events throughout Okanagan Wine Country at a time of year when it is absolutely delightful to savour Spring in the warm sunshine and appreciate stunning views. The Okanagan Spring Wine Festival has been described as "one of Canada's best small festivals" and it is no wonder that its success continues to grow. Four wine festivals are held throughout the Okanagan Valley each year - spring, summer, fall and winter.

  • Penticton Jazz Festival

Penticton hosts the "best jazz festival in the northwest" at the annual Pentastic Jazz Festival. Held over three days in September the festival showcases world class jazz to entertain and excite music lovers of all ages. Top bands from Canada and the USA play Acoustic Swing, Big Band Era, Bad Boys of Dixieland, Traditional Cajun, & Zydeco.

Nearby Communities
Contact Information

Penticton & Wine Country Tourism
Web: www.tourismpenticton.com


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Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia

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