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Kelowna, British Columbia: history, population and economy

About Kelowna

Kelowna is a city that was established in 1905. It is located in south-central British Columbia on the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake and has a population of 144,576 people (according to the 2021 census),

Before Kelowna

Settlement in the Okanagan Valley began more than 12,000 years ago with the Silix/Okanagan people, who flourished through hunting, fishing, gathering, and trade. Nowadays, the Okanagan Valley is known as the historic territory of the Okanagan tribe belonging to the Continental Salish. In 1811, a Scottish fur trader was the first non-native person to explore the area. Missionaries arrived in 1859 and built a mission where the city now stands. They planted the first fruit trees a few years later. The Father Pandossy Mission is now a provincial historic site.

By 1861, there was a Hudson's Bay Company trading, and in 1871, a flour mill was built. In 1892, the town's location was defined and it was named Kelowna, the Okanagan word for "grizzly bear. In the year of its incorporation, the population reached 600. Soon after, there were 11 sawmills, 3 fruit packing plants, and 2 canneries. Soon, because of the quality of the land, cattle farms, hayfields, grain fields, and orchards began to multiply. In 1910, Kelowna began to be known as the "Orchard City". The Canadian National Railway came to Kelowna in 1925.


Kelowna experienced dramatic population growth after World War II as a result of a veterans' settlement program. The population reached 13,000 in 1961 and continued to grow rapidly so that 20 years later it was close to 60,000. In the mid-1980s, during the provincial recession, population growth continued, although at a much slower pace. By the end of the century, Kelowna's population had grown to 100,000.

Many things contributed to this growth. The magnificent climate and landscapes are one of the most obvious reasons. After both world wars, there was an upsurge. The opening of communication with the coast via the Hope-Princeton Highway put an end to the life of the small towns of Kelowna, especially when the bridge over Okanagan Lake appeared. Rogers Pass opened the road to the east, and people from the prairie provinces soon discovered the sunny Okanagan Valley. In 1973, the Government of British Columbia decided to merge Kelowna and the surrounding areas, making the city one of the largest in British Columbia, with a population of about 50,000 people.

In 2016, the majority of residents identified themselves as Canadian, British or German. Visible minorities make up 9.5% of the population, with the largest groups coming from South Asia, China, and the Philipines. People identifying themselves as Aboriginal represent 5.5% of the city's residents.


Kelowna is the major marketing, distribution, and health-care center in the central Okanagan Valley. Its extensive territory is home to orchards and vineyards, as well as several wine factories. Other important sectors of the economy are construction, retail, and tourism.


Kelowna was connected to the Coquihalla Highway in 1990, providing a more direct route to the Lower Mainland. The city is located at the east end of the William R. Bennett Bridge, one of the few floating bridges in North America. In 2008, it replaced the Okanagan Lake Bridge (build in 1958). The city is also served by railroads and an international airport.


Kelowna has several theatre companies, a symphony orchestra, and numerous art galleries. Many of these are centered in a six-block area of the downtown core called the Cultural District, where there are also 4 museums that display the development and history of the region.

Okanagan College, which dates back to 1965, offers university and college-level programs as well as adult education courses. A University of British Columbia campus is also located in the city. Kelowna also has its own daily newspaper, the Daily Courier (established in 1904).

With numerous beaches along Okanagan Lake, a sunny climate, many boat launches, and a beautiful harbor serving hundreds of boaters, Kelowna is a popular tourist center.

W.A.C. Bennett began his political career in Kelowna, as did his son, William R. Bennett. Other well-known personalities include golfer Dave Barr, high jumper Duncan McNaughton, and water skier George Athans Jr.

Kelowna Today

Residents of this city enjoy life in one of the largest cities in British Columbia and have access to exceptional educational institutions, wonderful locally-produced wines, and many attractions that have made it one of the best tourist centers. In sunny weather, water lovers flock to the beaches on the lake, and in the winter months ski resorts open here. This is a year-round paradise for adventures!