Al­ber­tans drawn to North Okana­gan

Wine, weather and wa­ter key el­e­ments to at­trac­tion of the Bri­tish Columbia re­gion

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Recreation & Investment Properties - BARB LIV­ING­STONE

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.

Cal­gary Herald/Files

The ma­jor­ity of Bri­tish Columbia’s winer­ies are in the Okana­gan, in­clud­ing this vine­yard near Kelowna. Al­ber­tans are re­dis­cov­er­ing the re­gion.

Barb Liv­ing­stone

Sparkling Hill well­ness re­sort, which over­looks Lake Okana­gan in Ver­non, B.C., is fes­tooned with 3.5 mil­lion Swarovski crys­tals.

Lisa Monforton/Cal­gary Herald

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.

Andrew Pen­ner

Ver­non has highly rated golf cour­ses, in­clud­ing Preda­tor Ridge. It’s less than seven hours from Cal­gary.

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