British Columbia: Canada's Mountain Paradise

Article excerpt

I was waiting for my friends in Guisachan Heritage Park in Kelowna, the orchard capital of British Columbia's Okanagan Valley - labelled by its inhabitants as the 'California of the North'. To pass the time, I began to leaf through a tourist magazine. As I turned the pages, I was intrigued, reading these words written by W. F. Corkle and S. Steffens, describing their home, the Nicola Valley - considered by a number of outdoor enthusiasts as British Columbia's best kept secret:

I dream of your lakes and your rivers Where the eagle and the osprey soar. A fisherman's boat in the distance, Slowly heading for shore. I dream of your beautiful moonlight And the wonderful star in the west. Oh, the beautiful Nicola Valley The home that I'll always love best.

After reading these words, I yearned to explore that valley which had moved its sons to such poetic verse. However, first, I planned to roam for awhile the Okanagan Valley and glory in western Canada's top orchards and wineries.

Soon my friends arrived and we were chatting in one of Kelowna's historic spots about Ogopogo - Lake Okanagan's legendary beast. Jim, a Saskatchewan tourist, piped up, 'I just saw one not long ago.' I could not believe my ears. 'What! You saw Ogopogo?' 'No! No!' Jim burst out in laughter. 'I mean, I just saw a story about this mythical creature of the Okanagan Valley.'

Rivalling the Loch Ness Monster, Ogopogo has been described by some of its spotters as a monstrosity with a horse-like head and a snake-appearing body from 30 to 69 feet long. Known to the Salish Indians as N'haaitk (Demon of the Lake), it was to them a frightening monster. In 1942, the locals christened the beast, Ogopogo.

A tourist gimmick for at least 120 years, it continues to draw visitors from all parts of the world. There is a charming and somewhat comical statue of this legendary monster, romantically believed to be roaming the depths of Lake Okanagan, located on Kelowna's waterfront, luring endless groups of children.

However, Ogopogo is only one of the enticements which draws tourists to British Columbia's Okanagan Valley. Located around a 105 miles long lake which, in parts, is 3280 feet deep, the valley is surrounded by majestic mountains - their sides covered with cedar, fir and pine forests, in places dotted with a desert-like landscape.

The wooded mountains encompass about 200 lakes full of fish. When the snows fall, winter sports come alive. The early flakes make October and November terrific skiing months, hard to beat anywhere in Canada. One of the finest ski spots is the 'Big White Ski Resort' - a 1000 acre skiable area 34 miles from the city.

Below the tree-line, on the shores of the lake, countless orchards and vineyards stretch, in many areas, as far as the eye can see. The landscape, not only the parts cultivated by humans but that created by nature changes, every time one rounds a corner, each sight more breathtaking than the last.

At the heart of this lush valley is nestled the vibrant-sunshine city of Kelowna - called by some 'the summertime Hawaii of Canada' and by others 'the western Garden of Eden'. With a population of about 100,000, it is the largest city in the Okanagan and the commercial hub of that valley.

Kelowna - an Indian word meaning 'female grizzly bear' - is encompassed with fragrant fruit blossoms during summer and, in winter, is transformed into a promised land for skiers. Its balmy climate - one of the driest and sunniest in Canada - is a year-round drawing card and the city can lay claim to the lion's share of the Okanagan beaches. The whole city is bursting with life. The Okanagan's golfing capital, it lays claim to a whole series of golf courses, art galleries, a burgeoning theatrical company, a fine symphony orchestra and a series of museums and historic sites. We decided to begin our exploration at one of these heritage sites - Guisachan Heritage Park.

Guisachan House, designed in Indian colonial bungalow style and around which the Park revolves, was built in 1891 by the Earl and Countess of Aberdeen - from 1893 to 1896 Lord Aberdeen was the Governor General of Canada. …