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History of Kelowna

First registered as a townsite in August 1892, the City of Kelowna was incorporated in 1905. Meaning “Grizzly Bear” in the language of the Interior Salish people of the area, the little lakeside town that was home to 600 in its early days has grown to be the largest city in the interior of British Columbia.

At the time of incorporation the City was on the cusp of major economic change. The entire Okanagan Valley was shifting from cattle ranching and grain growing to orchards – shifting from ‘extensive’ to ‘intensive’ agriculture. Large and expensive irrigation systems were laid out across the benchlands and valley bottoms, gradually turning the arid landscape from brown to green.

Orchard expansion continued through the First World War and into the 1920s and 1930s accompanied by an equally impressive expansion of packinghouses, canneries, box factories and cold storage buildings. In the 1920s, a new rail system connected Kelowna to the C. P. R. mainline, and in the 1930s new tree fruit marketing systems were put in place. Together, these developments helped secure Kelowna ’s place as “The Orchard City”.

Tourism development was supported by new highway systems in the 1940s and 1950s. Kelowna International Airport’s humble beginnings stretch back to this era as well - in 1947, the grand opening of ‘Ellison Field’ showcased a small terminal building, a 3,000-foot-long grass airstrip and a variety of small aircraft. In 1958 the Okanagan Valley became easily accessible to the west coast with the opening of Okanagan Lake Bridge.

In the 1960s and 1970s the City welcomed the attention of both provincial and federal government programs to help speed the area’s industrial growth. In less than a decade tens of millions of dollars were invested in manufacturing. With that industrial expansion came people and an accompanying growth in surrounding residential areas.

Throughout the last decades of the 20th century the city continued to grow and diversify its economy and to strengthen its cultural, sporting and leisure services in a conscious effort to ensure its residents could enjoy a lifestyle not found anywhere else in Canada.


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