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Annette Antoniak is the Economic Development Officer for RDOS.  (Photo:  Devon Brooks)
Annette Antoniak is the Economic Development Officer for RDOS. (Photo: Devon Brooks)

Who speaks for Okanagan Falls?

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Written by Devon Brooks

Until lately it seems almost no one speaks for Okanagan Falls or at least they say very little. Okanagan Falls is an unincorporated rural community, and as such, it falls under the auspices of the Regional District Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS) and the provincial government in Victoria.

A search online for Okanagan Falls comes up with a number of tourist listings while the provincial government restricts its references to notes about environmental concerns and recreation opportunities.

The South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce’s community profile is a single line about the Okanagan Falls’ economy: “The community was founded on agriculture and today provides fresh fruits and vegetables, delicious dried fruits and award winning wines.”

The RDOS has an ‘Economic Development’ page on Okanagan Falls that notes the population of Penticton, the pretty environment and the vital information that Okanagan Falls lies in the northern extension of the Colorado River basin.

The Colorado River?

That they have mistaken the Colorado River for the Columbia River is as good a symbol as any of the general neglect that Okanagan Falls has experienced.
The only major employer in town, Weyerhaeuser, has shut down, fruit farming is on the ropes, ranching is providing poor returns, land development during the past decade, for the most part, bypassed this community despite its spectacular setting, and there is no real government agency that has stepped up to the plate to revive the battered economy.

Perhaps that is changing.

Annette Antoniak is the Economic Development Officer for RDOS, Electoral Area D and she is in a new small office in the town’s commercial plaza so people have a more direct venue to communicate either complaints or find out about opportunities.

For her part, Antoniak believes that encouraging individuals to set up their own business provides the best chance. “We’re trying to encourage people to become entrepreneurs.” She acknowledges that developing the rural community depends on a change in attitude. At least some people prefer it small, and see no problem with it functioning as a bedroom community for Penticton.
Unfortunately her office has little to work with. “We have very little budget, but we try to leverage everything we do.”

If development along the main street of Okanagan Falls has been spotty, Antoniak is hoping that will change. She says, “We’re trying to lay a foundation for investors.”

There is some preliminary talk going on to redevelop the Weyerhaueser site into an industrial park of some kind. Antoniak names Ron Bell, Jim Morrison and Larry Lund, three prominent Penticton business men, as the names behind the negotiations.

Antoniak is optimistic things can be turned around. “The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that this town is absolutely ripe for development. It just needs to find its identity.”

There are trial balloons going up about the idea of incorporation. That way people would have a direct say in providing the community with direction, and possibly creating jobs, opportunities and growth in a small village that has been too often forgotten by the bureaucrats in the past.

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