The OKANAGAN VALLEY was the territory of the Okanagan of the Interior SALISH. From their villages they hunted, fished and gathered edible plants. David Stuart, a Scottish fur trader, was the first non-native to visit the area in 1811. Oblate missionaries arrived in 1859 and built a mission on the present site. They planted the first fruit trees a few years later. The Father Pandosy Mission is now a provincial historic site.
By 1861 the Hudson's Bay Company had established a small trading post and a grain mill was set up in 1871. The townsite was laid out in 1892 and the name was chosen from the Okanagan word meaning "grizzly bear." At incorporation the population was 600 and shortly after there were 11 sawmills, 3 fruit-packing plants and 2 canneries. As the potential of the land became recognized, cattle ranching, hay and grain cultivation, and orchard growing spread; by 1910 Kelowna was gaining fame as "The Orchard City." Canadian National Railway main-line rail service arrived in 1925.
The city's population grew dramatically after World War II partly due to a veteran resettlement program. By 1961 it had reached 13 000 and continued to grow rapidly so that 20 years later it was approaching 60 000. During a province-wide recession in the mid-1980s its population continued to grow but at a much slower rate. By the end of the century its population reached 100 000. Most residents claim Canadian, British, Canadian and German origins. There are also smaller numbers of people of Italian, East Indian, Dutch, Ukrainian, Polish, Aboriginal and French ancestry.
Kelowna is the main marketing and distribution and health-care centre of the central Okanagan Valley. The city's large area contains many orchards and vineyards and several wineries. Other sectors of the economy are forestry, light manufacturing and tourism.
Kelowna was connected to the COQUIHALLA HIGHWAY in 1990, providing a more direct route to the lower mainland. The city sits at the eastern terminus of the Okanagan Lake Bridge (1958), one of the few floating bridges in North America. This bridge will be replaced by a larger floating bridge, the William R. Bennett. The city is also served by rail lines and an international airport.
The city is home to several theatre groups, a symphony orchestra, and numerous art galleries. Many are centered in a 6-block area of the city centre called the Cultural District. The district also includes 4 museums displaying the area's development and history. Okanagan College, dating back to 1965, offers a range of college programs as well as adult education. A campus of the UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA is also located in the city. There is a daily newspaper, the Daily Courier (established in 1904), 2 AM and 4 FM radio stations and 1 television station.
With many beaches on Okanagan Lake, a sunny climate, numerous boat launches and a pretty harbour for hundreds of boat owners, the city is a popular tourist centre.
Parts of the city burned during the massive Okanagan Mountain Park forest fire in 2003. Over 200 homes were lost or damaged and some wineries lost vines to the flames.
W.A.C. BENNETT began his political career in Kelowna, as did his son, William R. BENNETT. Other known personalities include golfer Dave BARR, high jumper Duncan McNAUGHTON and water skier George ATHANS JR.
Author JAMES MARSH
Links to Other Sites
The website for the City of Kelowna in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.
University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus
The website for the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus in Kelowna.
This tasty website offers a basketful of online resources about commercial tree fruit production. Also features information about tree fruit pests and fact sheets for backyard gardeners about varieties of tree fruit that can be grown in BC.
See maps and statistical data for regions and communities throughout British Columbia. A Government of British Columbia website.
BC Geographical Names
Search the BC Geographical Names Information System for historical and geographical data about specific locations in British Columbia.
British Columbia Archives
Explore the fascinating history of BC through online digitized copies of selected government documents, manuscripts, maps, architectural plans, photographs, illustrations, audio and video files, newspapers and much more.
Information about the Kelowna Museum and other local cultural attractions.
The Okanagan Historical Society
The Okanagan Historical Society provides a tour of intersting historical landmarks found in BC's Okanagan Valley.
The website for the Okanagan Symphony, the third largest professional symphony orchestra in British Columbia. Provides a schedule of upcoming concerts and special events.
The website for the innovative boutique company Ballet Kelowna. Check out the profiles of the dancers and founding Artistic Director David LaHay as well as notes about current performances.