A couple of weeks ago, I went to the BC Studies Conference in Kelowna with my graduate supervisor to deliver a talk and explore Okanagan wine country. Before the conference started, I did a self-guided walking tour of Kelowna’s Cultural District using a brochure I found in the hotel lobby.
I took the express bus from the highway side hotel to the lake front downtown and roughly followed the path suggested by the brochure, starting from the bus exchange.
I was impressed by the variety of museums that Kelowna boasts, and disappointed that I didn’t have time to explore inside any of them. My particular interests would have drawn me to the Okanagan Heritage Museum to see how it presented the history of the city and region. I was also impressed by the local library branch. From what I saw, Kelowna’s library compares well with libraries I’ve seen in other communities. The library building and adjacent parkade architecturally reference the area’s industrial past and subtly blend in with nearby buildings. With large glass, steel and brick facades, and appropriately designed landscaping, I was impressed at how well these new buildings have been integrated into a heritage downtown.
The Waterfront Park and Rotary Marsh gave me a very pleasant view of the lake, as long as I could temporarily forget the adjacent Delta Grand Okanagan Resort, a massive set of buildings set right next to the park. The resort’s windows are positioned to maximize lake views, which also means that they overlook the public space in the park with no visual barriers. From my perspective, this partially privatizes public space by prioritizing the needs of property owners over those of (public) park users. It is also one example of “The Neo-liberal Transformation of the Downtown of Kelowna, BC,” one of the presentations that I saw during the conference. This part of the tour, therefore, was a useful part of contextualizing my conference experience.
Other interesting aspects of my walking tour included my serendipitous discovery of a 1920s era, well-preserved heritage fire hall (not marked on the map), and an incredible amount of public sculpture on display. These laudable aspects of Kelowna’s downtown, along with the plethora of museums and incredible library, helped to reshape my original impression of Kelowna as simply a highway town. I’m now able to appreciate it as a more nuanced city, and hope to have more time to explore there some time in the future.