Okanagan-Shuswap History - Pacific Trade Boom

O'Keefe historic Ranch near Vernon In the 1860s Cornelius O'Keefe was driving cattle all the way from Oregon to the Cariboo to provide beef for gold-seekers. By 1867, he had bought land and breeding stock and went on to become the Northern Okanagan's leading cattle baron. The area between the Okanagan and Shuswap lakes is not warm enough for tree fruit, and the higher elevations are suited only for growing trees or cattle-grazing grass.

Tom Ellis planted the first Okanagan orchard in 1874 near Penticton soon after the Indians were moved to a reservation. In 1891 Scottish-born Lord Aberdeen and his wife bought 5,367 hectares from George Vernon, renamed it Coldstream Ranch, and made it into one of the largest producers of fruit in the British Empire. John Moore (JM) Robinson, an unhappy prairie farmerand former editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, set up irrigation and lured settlers into fruit farming in the communities of Peachland, Summerland and Naramata. By 1900 the Okanagan had over 1 million fruit trees growing. As a land developer, he helped settle many Manitobans in the area. The Kelowna area's cash crop used to be tobacco, but after the post-First World War slump, those farmers switched to fruit. The Okanagan now grows about 1/3 of all of Canada's apples. Kelowna, with a handy steamboat ferry dock in the middle of the Okanagan, grew by the turn of the century to have 11 sawmills, three fruit-packing plants, and two canneries.

O'Keefe historic Ranch near Vernon In 1958, the (then) world's longest floating bridge was built, joining the west shore and east shores of the Okanagan at Kelowna by highway. This made access to all parts of the valley much easier. I n the mid-1980s the Coquihalla Highway was built to speed traffic along the Transportation-Canada Highway. While it was feared that tourist traffic would bypass the Okanagan, the Coquihala Connector through Merritt, made it easier for Vancouver residents to get to the Okanagan, increasing tourism. The Okanagan now has several ski resorts, with several just to the north at Kamloops, Salmon Arm and Revelstoke. The area also has over 50 golf courses and a number of airports for national and regional carriers.

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