The Spirit of Kelowna: 7 People, Places and Things You Shouldn’t Miss

After a disastrous fire 10 years ago, the city of Kelowna is flourishing, with breathtaking wineries, bountiful markets and world-class cruises, and more

Credit: Flickr / RobertCiavarro

Ten years after a devastating fire, the city of Kelowna has more to offer than ever

Ten years ago, a lightning strike sparked the devastating Okanagan Mountain Park Fire that over several weeks destroyed 239 homes and businesses and burned thousands of hectares.

Today, while the landscape southeast of the city may be charred and the memories of 27,000 evacuations are still fresh, the most tangible proof of the tragedy is a glowing sense of community pride.

From the ashes of the fire has arisen a collection of fantastic experiences, places, and representatives for the city of Kelowna.

Credit: Diane Selkirk

Myra Canyon with Monashee Adventures

From trestle six of the Myra Canyon portion of the Kettle Valley Railway, Ed Kruger of Monashee Adventures Tours will regale you with a boisterous retelling of the region’s history while pointing out landmarks in the miniature city below. But when it comes to talking about the 2003 fire, he becomes subdued:

“So much was gone.” Twelve of the historic trestles, which had been lovingly maintained by volunteers, had been destroyed, and only community resolve and a wide-spread flood of support saw them rebuilt.

Kruger’s newest offering, a deluxe half-day pedicab tour across the trestles, reflects his devotion to the engineering marvel, “I want everyone to see this, from grandparents, to little kids.”

Credit: Wines of British Columbia

Kalala Winery

Karnail Singh Sidhu of Kalala Organic Estate Winery is part of the optimist wave of vineyard workers turned vineyard owners who are well-represented in the regions wine awards.

When the fires were threatening Summerhill Pyramid Winery, Sidhu, a then employee, made his way past the barricades to hose down the property.

“We only lost the old pyramid, but I never liked that building.”

Today he uses the skills developed at Summerhill to produce his own award-winning offerings in his small production winery.

Credit: Diane Selkirk

Paynter’s Market

It was the peaches and apples that first put Kelowna on the map and at Paynter’s Fruit Market those peaches and apples are now being grown by Jennay Oliver, an energetic fourth-generation farmer who spends her days off working as a volunteer fire-fighter.

“We all have to take care of each other,” she explains. Oliver encourages customers to get out in the orchards themselves and pick their own perfect peaches – straight from the tree and still warm from the sun. Peaches are still arguably the best part of Kelowna.

Credit: Diane Selkirk

Go with the Wind Cruises

From the middle of Lake Okanagan, Captain Al of Go with the Wind Cruises can show you exactly where the lightning that sparked the fire hit in 2003.

“It was 2 am, but I was sailing. It was such a lovely night.”

The two-hour cruise doesn’t focus on destruction though. Instead, as you sail past landmarks and lovely homes, Captain Al fills you in on the changes to the lakeshore and he points out things you shouldn’t miss.

“Look at the osprey! It just got a fish.”

Credit: Smack DAB

Smack DAB Restaurant and Patio

A restaurant that focuses on beer, in wine country, seems a bit cheeky, but Smack DAB in Manteo Resort radiates casual fun. From the patio, which may be the best in Kelowna, you can see more than one charred fire site, but the real focus is on the kite surfing beach directly in front.

On a breezy night, up to a dozen colourful kites might fill the sky while the surfers perform Cirque du Soleil-worthy tricks. Over a beer sampler and a great dinner, Kelowna feels more like a champion than a survivor.

Credit: Diane Selkirk

Function Junction for Double Cross

The velvety-iced cider from Double Cross Cidery at Function Junction recently won a coveted award, but not too many years ago that orchard was also at risk as fire scorched the orchard’s perimeter. But Glen Cross, whose family has been farming in the region since 1884, doesn’t waste time thinking of what could have been. Instead, he stays focused on giving visitors a great experience at the pretty farm.

Credit: Tourism Kelowna

The Spirit of Kelowna

“We came together.”
“There were more heroes than anyone could count.”
“Even as people lost everything they had, they still helped others.”
“We reinvented ourselves.”

6 Things in Kelowna You Can’t Miss