One of the biggest joys of exploring anywhere in British Columbia is picking up echoes of the past, and Kelowna is no different.
The same breadbasket of natural bounty responsible for some of Canada’s most influential wineries and farm-to-table restaurants has long sustained humanity here. Estimates trace the Sylix people of the Okanagan First Nation back over 6,000 years. They carved their niche here millennia before the first grapevines were planted, thriving in equilibrium with nature.
Today, the Sylix First Nation continue stewardship of these life-giving lands, honouring the natural laws of the tmixw, which means ‘that which gives us life.’ However, Kelowna did not get its name until the arrival of European missionaries in 1859.
The story goes that, in 1905, when the city was just 600-strong, an early settler named August Gillard crawled out from an underground shelter in time to hear the calls of a passing group of First Nation people. “Kim-ach-touch,” they called out, which meant brown bear. Thus, the city got its name. Over time, ease of pronunciation caused the slow shift to Kelowna, meaning grizzly bear, but the city still retains its primal roots.
With settlers came the bloom of Kelowna’s famed orchards, which before long gave rise to the vineyards that put the Okanagan on the international wine stage. You can find out more about this fascinating process in one of Kelowna’s many museums, which we will cover in detail further down the page.
More recently, Kelowna has become one of the most rapidly growing cities in Canada – and who could blame folks for flocking here? The city and its surroundings have even drawn the eyes of the film industry, backdropping multiple international and arthouse movies.