The Okanagan (/kəˈnɑːɡən/),[1] also known as the Okanagan Valley and sometimes as the Okanagan Country, is a region in the Canadian province of British Columbia defined by the basin of Okanagan Lake and the Canadian portion of the Okanagan River. It is part of the Okanagan Country, extending into the United States as Okanogan County in north-central Washington. According to the 2016 Canadian census, the region's population is 362,258. The primary city is Kelowna.

The region is known for its dry, sunny climate, dry landscapes and lakeshore communities and particular lifestyle.[2] The economy is retirement and commercial-recreation based, with outdoor activities such as boating and watersports, skiing and hiking. Agriculture has been focused primarily on fruit orchards, with a recent shift in focus to vineyards and wine.

The region stretches northwards via the Spallumcheen Valley to connect to Sicamous in the Shuswap Country, and reaches south of the Canada–United States border, where it continues as Okanagan Country. The Okanagan as a region is sometimes described as including the Boundary, Similkameen and Shuswap regions, though this is because of proximity and historic and commercial ties with those areas.

Name origin

The name is derived from the Okanagan language place name ukʷnaqín.[3] An alternate explanation from Washington proposes "People living where you can see the top", ostensibly of Chopaka Peak in the Lower Similkameen.[4]


The Okanagan Valley is home to the okanagan, commonly known as the Okanagan people, an Interior Salish people who live in the valley from the head of Okanagan Lake downstream to near the river's confluence with the Columbia River in present-day Washington, as well as in the neighbouring Similkameen Valley and the Upper Nicola to the north of that, though the whole of their traditional territory encompasses the entire Columbia River watershed and includes areas east of the Okanogan River in Washington, i.e. the Colville Reservation. At the height of Okanagan culture, about 40,000 years ago, it is estimated that 12 million people lived in this valley and surrounding areas. The Okanagan people employed an adaptive strategy, moving within traditional areas throughout the year to fish, hunt, or collect food, while in the winter months, they lived in semi-permanent villages of kekulis, a type of cave.[5] Today the member bands of the Okanagan Nation Alliance are sovereign nations, with vibrant natural resource and tourism based economies. Their annual August gathering near Vernon is a celebration of the continuance of Syilx life and culture.

In 1826 the first non-natives came to the Okanagan Valley, in the form of a fur trading expedition voyaging north out of Fort Okanogan, an Atlantic Fur Company outpost at the confluence of the Okanogan and Columbia Rivers. Within fifteen years, fur traders established, known as the Brigade Trail via the Cariboo Plateau and Thompson Country to Fort Kamloops and through the Okanagan, from Fort Alexandria at the southern end of the New Caledonia fur district in the Central Interior to the north, to Fort Vancouver, the HBC's headquarters in the Columbia Department, for passing furs between New Caledonia and the Columbia River for shipment to the Pacific. The trade route lasted until 1846, when the Oregon Treaty laid down the border between British North America and the United States west of the Rocky Mountains on the 49th parallel. The new border cut across the valley, bisecting Osoyoos Lake. To avoid paying tariffs, British traders forged a newer route that bypassed Fort Okanogan via the Fraser Canyon from Spuzzum up over the Cascade Mountains, then via the Nicola, Coldwater and Fraser rivers to Fort Langley instead of to Fort Vancouver, which had come into being in American territory. The Okanagan Valley did not see many more outsiders for a decade afterward.

In 1859, the first European settlement was established when Father Charles Pandosy led the making of an Oblate mission at Okanagan Mission, now a neighbourhood of Kelowna. The Fraser Canyon Gold Rush of 1858 eventually encouraged more settlement as some prospectors from the United States took the Okanagan Trail route on their way to the Fraser Canyon, although at the height of the rush the American adventurers who used the route did not settle because of outright hostilities from the Syilx, whom a few of the parties traversing the trail had harassed and brutalized. A few staked claims around the South Okanagan and Similkameen valleys and found gold and copper in places, with another trail from Fort Hope to newer goldfields at Rock Creek and Wild Horse Creek in the East Kootenay, skirting the US border and crossing Osoyoos Lake at Osoyoos, which was a customs post and also the location of the gold commissioner's office. The Dewdney Trail, surveyed and built by Edgar Dewdney, was constructed to prevent trade in the region from going north-south instead of remaining firmly under British control, and also for military mobility purposes should the need arise. In the decades following the gold rushes, ranchers, mostly on military land grants, came to settle on Okanagan Lake; notable ones included the Coldstream Ranch near Vernon, the Ellis Ranch, which formed the basis of the City of Penticton once subdivided, and the Richter Ranch, which continues in operation today, in the mountains between the Town of Oliver and the Village of Keremeos in the Similkameen.

A mining industry began in the southern Okanagan region, with Fairview, now an empty benchland on the western side of Oliver, the best-known and largest of the boomtowns created in the later part of the 19th Century. More farmers, as well as a small service industry, came to meet the needs of the miners.

Fruit production is a hallmark of the Okanagan Valley today, but the industry began with difficulty. Commercial orcharding of apples was first tried there in 1892, but a series of setbacks prevented the major success of commercial fruit crops until the 1920s.

Until the 1930s, the demand for shipping fruit and other goods did drive a need for ongoing operations of the sternwheeler steamboats that serviced Okanagan Lake, operated by a subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway, linking the Southern Mainline with the original transcontinental mainline at Sicamous: the SS Aberdeen from 1886 and then the SS Sicamous and SS Naramata from 1914, and others. The Sicamous and Naramata survive as a tourist attraction on Okanagan Beach on the north side of Penticton, the Sicamous serving both as a museum and also an event facility. Other steamboats operated on Skaha Lake to the south of that city. The club lounge and wheelhouse, without any keel or hull, of the SS Okanagan are in the same park as the Sicamous and Naramata.

While the last half-century has grown several resource-based enterprises in the region, primarily forestry, though mining had played an important role in earlier times. The fastest-growing industries in the Okanagan today are real estate, tourism accommodations and services, and retirement-driven real estate development as well as the ripping up of orchards and their replacement by wineries and vinyards. Favoured by its sunny climate, lakes, and winery attractions, the valley has become a popular destination for vacationers and retirees. The area also attracts seasonal fruit-picking labourers, primarily from Quebec and Mexico.[6][7]


Like much of Southern British Columbia, the Okanagan receives a mild climate, although the Okanagan is considerably drier than many other areas. It is located roughly between the temperate rainforests of coastal British Columbia, and the world's only temperate forest inland, on the western slopes of the Columbia mountains. Most of the Okanagan lies within the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains to the southwest. Areas in the north end of the valley receive more precipitation and cooler temperatures than areas to the south. Generally, Kelowna is the transition zone between the drier south and the wetter north. Vegetation also ranges from cactus and sagebrush in the south, to Cedar and Hemlock trees in the North. The Okanagan Valley receives hot summers and moderately cold winters, although the latter are extremely mild by Canadian standards; south of and including the city of Kelowna, no month of the year has an average high temperature that is below freezing (0 °C). Areas near Osoyoos and Oliver claim to be Canada's only desert, though they are really shrub-steppe and only semi-arid, and other parts of BC have similar climates and vegetation. Daytime highs in that region occasionally surpass 40 °C in the summer months.

Between 2000BC and 1900AD, the climate and vegetation of the Okanagan had changed little. However, historical records from the Pacific Agrifood Research Station in Summerland indicate that the Okanagan climate had warmed by about 1 °C between 1908 and 1994.[8]


The area was occupied by Pleistocene glaciation, and a widespread mantle of glacial drift covers the underlying bedrock. At the end of the Pleistocene, marginal lakes formed along the sides of the melting ice lobe and streams deposited their loads in them as deltas and accumulations of silt. These accumulations now form the white cliffs which are particularly prominent along the southern end of Okanagan Lake.[9]

Geographic features include:

Major highways

Provincial parks

Adjacent regions


All statistical figures are based on the Canada 2011 Census and British Columbia Ministry of Communities, Sport and Cultural Development.[10][11]


Municipalities in the Okanagan
Name Type Regional district Population
Area (2011) Density (2011)
Armstrong City North Okanagan 5,114 5.24 km2 (2.0 sq mi) 920 1913
Coldstream District North Okanagan 10,648 67.25 km2 (26.0 sq mi) 155.6 1906
Enderby City North Okanagan 2,964 4.26 km2 (1.6 sq mi) 690 1905
Kelowna City Central Okanagan 127,380 211.82 km2 (81.8 sq mi) 553.8 1905
Lake Country District Central Okanagan 12,922 122.19 km2 (47.2 sq mi) 95.8 1995
Lumby Village North Okanagan 1,833 5.27 km2 (2.0 sq mi) 301.6 1955
Oliver Town Okanagan-Similkameen 4,928 4.88 km2 (1.9 sq mi) 990 1945
Osoyoos Town Okanagan-Similkameen 5,085 8.76 km2 (3.4 sq mi) 553.1 1946
Peachland District Central Okanagan 5,428 15.75 km2 (6.1 sq mi) 330.2 1909
Penticton City Okanagan-Similkameen 33,761 42.10 km2 (16.3 sq mi) 780.9 1908
Spallumcheen District North Okanagan 5,106 255.77 km2 (98.8 sq mi) 19.8 1892
Summerland District Okanagan-Similkameen 11,615 74.06 km2 (28.6 sq mi) 152.3 1906
Vernon City North Okanagan 40,116 95.76 km2 (37.0 sq mi) 398.4 1892
West Kelowna City Central Okanagan 32,655 123.51 km2 (47.7 sq mi) 250.1 2007

Statistics Canada. 2017. Armstrong, CY [Census subdivision], British Columbia and Okanagan, RD [Census division], British Columbia (table). Census Profile. 2016 Census. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-316-X2016001. Ottawa. Released February 8, 2017. http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/prof/index.cfm?Lang=E (accessed April 16, 2017).

Designated places

Designated places in the Okanagan
Name Regional district Population
Area (2011) Density (2011)
Kaleden Okanagan-Similkameen 1,224 4.32 km2 (1.7 sq mi) 283.6
Naramata Okanagan-Similkameen 1,647 7.99 km2 (3.1 sq mi) 206.2
Olalla Okanagan-Similkameen 401 0.49 km2 (0.2 sq mi) 826.3

Unincorporated communities

North Okanagan

Central Okanagan

South Okanagan

Indian reserves

The Indian reserves of the Okanagan first peoples also form identifiable communities:

The Osoyoos and Westbank Indian Reserves have large non-native populations because of band-governed residential and commercial development on their lands. The Osoyoos Indian Reserve leases large swathes of land to commercial vinyard developments and is where 40% of wine grapes used in the Okanagan come from.


The population of the region was 362,258 as of the 2016 Canadian federal census. The three regional districts within the Okanagan and their populations were: Central Okanagan (194,822), North Okanagan (83,022) and Okanagan-Similkameen (84,354).


Ice hockey is a popular sport in the region with WHL team Kelowna Rockets playing in the region's most populated city. The Jr. A teams are the Vernon Vipers, Westside Warriors and the Penticton Vees of the BCHL. Penticton were the 2012 national Jr. A champions, after they ousted the Woodstock Slammers for the title. Jr. B sides Kelowna Chiefs, Summerland Steam, Osoyoos Coyotes and North Okanagan Knights play in the KIJHL, Osoyoos having won the 2010/11 KIJHL season. Penticton and Summerland are both home to Chicago Blackhawks Defenceman Duncan Keith.

The area has been host to multiple junior hockey championships, including the Memorial Cup in Kelowna in 2004 and RBC Cup in Vernon in 1990 (then called the Centennial Cup) and 2014.

Kelowna is home to junior Canadian football team Okanagan Sun, and Jr. Baseball team Kelowna Falcons, including the UBC Okanagan Heat university program.

Agricultural Labour

The continued growth and operation of the agricultural industry in the Okanagan absolutely depends on the employment of temporary migrant workers.[12]

In 2009, there were 3,000 Mexican migrant labourers working in the Okanagan.[12]

See Racialization, Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program and Racialization of Labour in the Okanagan.

See also


  1. OHK-ə-NAH-gən.
  2. The Main Report of the Consultative Board. Canada - British Columbia Okanagan Basin Agreement (PDF) (Report). Victoria, British Columbia: British Columbia Water Resources Service. March 1974. p. 11. Retrieved 2015-10-25. the region is both scenically attractive and climatically desirable, and has consequently experienced a rapidly expanding resident and tourist population growth
  3. Bright, William (2004). Native American placenames of the United States. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 346. ISBN 978-0-8061-3598-4. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  4. Tales of the Okanogans: Collected by Mourning Dove; Hines, Donald M. ed, Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield Washington, 1976; ISBN 0-87770-173-3; p. 15. (Footnote prepared by L.V. McWhorter and Dean Guie, possibly with material supplied by Mourning Dove.)
  5. John D. Greenough, Murray A. Roed, ed. (2004). Okanagan Geology. Kelowna Geology Committee. pp. 71–83. ISBN 0-9699795-2-5.
  6. O'Donoghue, Annie (2001). "Okanagan Dreams". Documentary. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2009-03-23.
  8. Ian R. Walker (2004). "Chapter 6: Climate Change, the last 15000 years in the Okanagan". In John D. Greenough, Murray A. Roed (ed.). Okanagan Geology. Kelowna Geology Committee. pp. 51–62. ISBN 0-9699795-2-5.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  9. Stuart S. Holland (1976). Landforms of British Columbia: A Physiographic Outline, Bulletin 48 (PDF) (Report). Province of British Columbia. pp. 74–75. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
  10. "Population and dwelling counts, for Canada, provinces and territories, and census subdivisions (municipalities), 2011 and 2006 censuses (British Columbia)". Statistics Canada. May 28, 2012. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  11. "British Columbia Regional Districts, Municipalities, Corporate Name, Date of Incorporation and Postal Address" (XLS). British Columbia Ministry of Communities, Sport and Cultural Development. Retrieved December 8, 2012.
  12. Tomic, Patricia, Ricardo Trumper & Luis L. M. Aguiar. “Housing Regulations and Living Conditions of Mexican Migrant Workers in the Okanagan Valley, BC.” Canadian Issues. 78. Link (accessed April 5, 2011).

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