Kelowna's culture and history begins with First Nations inhabitance.
They used the land for hunting and gathering thousands of years ago, long before Hudson Bay Company fur traders trekked the Brigade Trail through the Okanagan Valley. Since then, Kelowna has continued to evolve from a Gold Rush thoroughfare to a settled farm and orchard town to a cultural centre in the Thompson Okanagan region.
Explore Kelowna's history today at the Okanagan Heritage Museum and the Okanagan Military Museum. Kelowna museums also sponsor summer lecture tours of the Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) Trestles.
The Westbank First Nation (WFN), one of seven member bands of the Okanagan Nation Alliance, is an integral part of the greater Kelowna community. Fully self-governing since 2005, the WFN has developed a vibrant commercial centre 13km/8mi west of Kelowna adjacent to the municipality of West Kelowna. Members of the band own and operate attractions such as 19 Greens (mini-golf), Two Eagles Golf Course, and Family Go-Karts. See First Nations artifacts at the Sncewips (sen-ch-wee-ps) Heritage Museum, located in Estates Square off Old Okanagan Highway in Westbank.
Fur traders regularly trekked through the Okanagan Valley beginning in the early 1800s, but the first European settlement was not established in Kelowna until 1860. Visit the Father Pandosy Mission to see some of the original buildings and learn about the work of the Oblate missionaries.
In 1862, the Cariboo Gold Rush sparked a significant growth in settlement. Initially miners passed through the area on their way north, followed by cattlemen driving beef on the hoof from the US to the mining camps in British Columbia. Enterprising individuals saw potential in the region's abundant bunchgrass and accessible water, and decided it would be more profitable to ranch cattle than drive them.
Farm and Orchard Industry
In the 1890s, the fruit industry began to flourish when Lord Aberdeen (later Governor-General of Canada) and his wife purchased a tract of land near the mission and planted extensive orchards. History buffs can dine in the Aberdeen's colonial bungalow turned restaurant, Guisachan House. Learn more about the fruit-growing industry at the BC Orchard Industry Museum, located in one of Kelowna's first packinghouses.
Kelowna Arts and Culture
Kelowna supports a vibrant arts community concentrated in the six-block downtown Cultural District. Get an idea of the local creative community at the Kelowna Art Gallery, which also houses travelling exhibits, or at one of many private galleries and studios around the city. Pick up a brochure and take a self-guided tour of Kelowna's extensive public art collection.
Join an enthusiastic local audience for a performance by the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra at the Kelowna Community Theatre, or bring a lawn chair and settle in for music in the park or Shakespeare at a local winery. Take in a dinner and performance at the Rotary Centre for the Arts, or a headline performance at Prospera Place.
Pick up museum, historic sites, maps, and gallery brochures at the Kelowna Visitor Centre.