Albertans drawn to North Okanagan
Wine, weather and water key elements to attraction of the British Columbia region
The northern Okanagan has all three of the requisite “Ws” of tourism and second-home ownership that Albertans tend to seek: Wine, weather and water. Stretching from Vernon south through Peachland, the area also offers some of B.C.’s best golf courses, two of its biggest and well-known ski resorts (Vernon’s Silver Star and Kelowna’s Big White), along with popular sandy beaches on warm-water lakes. Then there’s the largest wellness resort in Canada, Sparkling Hill, which is festooned with 3.5 million Swarovski crystals worth $10 million and overlooks Lake Okanagan near Vernon. There’s a robust selection of wellknown, award-winning wineries, many of them with restaurants overlooking spectacular lake vistas.
“Our real estate sales were up 76 per cent in May over last year,” says Kevin Poole, manager of economic development and tourism for the City of Vernon.
Vernon, whose latest marketing campaign into the Alberta market asks the question, “Wouldn’t you rather be in shorts?” is less than a seven-hour drive from Calgary.
“Some of that (the real estate sales resurgence) is attributed to the Alberta market coming back,” Poole says. Calgarians and other Albertans have been vacationing and investing in the north Okanagan for decades, but that has jumped with the May launch of direct daily WestJet flights from Fort McMurray into the Kelowna airport, just 25 minutes from Vernon.
“We were at the Global Petroleum Show in Calgary and a lot of Albertans came up to us who already have a place in the Okanagan or are looking for an investment opportunity,” says Poole.
Darcy Griffiths, president of the Okanagan Mainline Real Estate Board, says Albertans — who make up about 24 per cent of the real estate market — are “absolutely” coming back, after years where the high Canadian dollar and the U.S. recession saw them buying second homes in Arizona.
“This spring, we saw them coming back. The ones who bought in the U.S. have already done it and, despite recessionary times, the boomers fared fairly well.”
Griffiths says the North Okanagan has returned to a balanced market, which sees prices from $150,000 for a cottage on Lake Okanagan (on leased land) to $4-million homes.
“There is a lot more activity in the number of homes and prices are stable; we don’t see them skyrocketing.”
Griffiths says there is a variety of product throughout the Okanagan, from condos and villas to estate homes, appealing to buyers who enjoy the four distinct seasons and the natural beauty of the Okanagan.
Vernon, with its highly rated golf courses at Predator Ridge and The Rise, and the Sparkling Hill wellness resort, also has hidden gems like Canada’s only wild tea plantation, Planet Bee honey farm and meadery, Okanagan Spirits — which turns local fruit into internationally awardwinning distilled offerings — and cider tastings at the just-opened BX Press Cidery.
Travelling from Vernon to Kelowna, 55 kilometres south, a traveller passes through the Lake Country district and the community of Winfield, where new wineries are springing up in the plush farmland. The “Scenic Sip” wine trail includes 50th Parallel, Ex Nihilo, Gray Monk, Arrowleaf and Intrigue. That is just the start of wine tastings, since in the area surrounding Kelowna and leading into Westbank, there are 29 wineries including Quail’s Gate, Mission Hill, Summerhill Pyramid and Mt. Boucherie.
Ellen Walker-Matthews of the Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA) says Okanagan operators saw Albertans come back to their area last year — even though there had been concerns flood-weary Calgarians would stay at home — and are very positive about the strength of this summer’s bookings. She says Calgary is a big market for the Okanagan partly because of all the connecting flights to Kelowna, for residents from Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Red Deer and Medicine Hat.
In Kelowna, the largest city in the Okanagan with a population of 115,000, Calgary visitors can fly directly into its airport (the 10th busiest in the country) and choose from some 20 golf courses. Sandy beaches, including one in the heart of the city, populate parks around Kelowna, where you can see boaters, swimmers, and wind- and kite-surfers on the 110-kilometre Okanagan Lake. Just this May, the city reopened its main street after $14 million and two years of major upgrades. Visitors will now find expanded outdoor retail and cafe space, widened sidewalks for pedestrians and new street furniture, along with new parkades and a public pier, where boat owners can leave their watercraft while visiting restaurants, retailers and galleries which grace the downtown waterfront.
The majority of British Columbia’s wineries are in the Okanagan, including this vineyard near Kelowna. Albertans are rediscovering the region.
Sparkling Hill wellness resort, which overlooks Lake Okanagan in Vernon, B.C., is festooned with 3.5 million Swarovski crystals.
At Auntie May’s Deep Dish Cafe at Davison Orchards near Vernon, you can order up an “applelanche” an apple juice beverage served like a slushie.
Vernon has highly rated golf courses, including Predator Ridge. It’s less than seven hours from Calgary.