Kelowna, BC, incorporated as a city in 1905, population 117 312 (2011c), 107 035 (2006c). The City of Kelowna is located in south-central British Columbia on the east shore of OKANAGAN LAKE.

Kelowna, BC, incorporated as a city in 1905, population 117 312 (2011c), 107 035 (2006c). The City of Kelowna is located in south-central British Columbia on the east shore of OKANAGAN LAKE.

Settlement and Development

Kelowna Beach
Early 20th century, photo by G.H.E. Hudson (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-21047).

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.

Cultural Life

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.

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