The city of Penticton has a rich history that is steeped in First Nation culture as well as roots tied to cattle ranching, the fur trade and the Kettle Valley Railway. This unique combination provides a rich narrative and gives Penticton an interesting historical story.
Geography and Climate
Penticton is in the Okanagan Valley, located in the interior of the province of British Columbia. It is roughly 5 hours from the province’s largest city, Vancouver. The town site covers just over 42 square kilometres at an elevation of 385 metres above sea level.
Penticton boasts a semi-arid climate with hot summers, little precipitation and moderate winters. It has the lowest amount of fog in British Columbia and has the second most days over 30 degrees Celsius. The city enjoys almost 2,000 hours of sunshine annually and is bordered by lakes on both the north and south.
The Origin of the Name
Like many cities and towns in the Okanagan, Penticton is derived from the Okanagan First Nation language. Penticton can be translated as “a place to stay forever”. A short stay in the area and you’ll understand how Penticton got its name.
The Early Years
The city site was first settled by Okanagan First Nations of the Interior Salish language group. These first inhabitants were instrumental in helping European fur-traders navigate the area.
In 1866, Thomas Ellis, a young Irish immigrant became the first European to settle in the area, taking the true meaning of Penticton to heart. Ellis became one of British Columbia’s most successful cattle ranchers. Large sections of Ellis’ ranch were later subdivided. And from this, the original town site of Penticton was born.
By 1908, Penticton had a population of 600 and began to grow at a very fast pace. Fruit trees that Thomas Ellis planted matured and quickly became a key source of revenue for the area.
Due to the rugged terrain, transportation in and out of Penticton was primarily by water. Much of the travelling was done by steamships, such as the S.S. Sicamous. It was the largest and most famous of the paddle wheelers that provided passenger service for Penticton. Steamship service lasted from the early 1900’s until the 1940’s. In 1949, the city of Penticton bought the S.S. Sicamous from the Canadian Pacific Railway to preserve this important part of the city’s history.
The Kettle Valley Railway
In 1910, it was announced that Penticton was to serve as the headquarters for the new Kettle Valley Railway. One of the main reasons why Penticton was chosen was that it was connected to a lake. This meant the railway company could use boats and tugs to complement its rail service.
The purpose of the rail line was to connect the coast with the Kootenays, and bringing economic prosperity to the province. The Kettle Valley Railway definitely secured Penticton’s economic prosperity. It brought the city many jobs and a new residents.
The Kettle Valley Railway provided Penticton with fast and efficient transportation for local orchards, further increasing the economic importance of the orchards to Penticton. The Kettle Valley Railway also brought tourism to Penticton, and allowed the city to grow into a tourist hub for the province.
Post Second World War
This era is viewed as Penticton’s golden age of prosperity and growth. In 1948, with a huge influx of returning veterans, Penticton was incorporated into a city. The 1950’s and 60’s saw many new infrastructure projects such as the channelization of the Okanagan River. During this time, Penticton also enjoyed a construction boom which brought a new city hall, a new community arts building, as well as Penticton’s first major shopping centre.
In 2010, Penticton celebrated its centennial. The city continues to evolve and change with many of the original neighbourhoods being revitalized to capture the charm and essence of small town Penticton. New event centres as well as a renaissance of downtown Penticton were part of the centennial plan.
One of the newest additions to the Penticton economy is the wine industry, which has quickly transformed Penticton and surrounding areas into a top destination for wine tourism.
Even with the new growth and economic opportunities, Penticton remains true to its historical roots. It’s the perfect blend of beautiful weather and stunning scenery for both tourists and residents.