Film footage from Osoyoos in 1962 shows the Okanagan has long been popular with tourists

Historic Okanagan summer

You just can't beat summertime in the Okanagan.

And Vernon videographer and historian Francois Arseneault has footage from 1962 that proves it.

The journey begins along the Hope-Princeton Highway which was just 13 years old at the time and was a popular five-hour drive through some captivating scenery in the Coast Mountains and into the semi-arid Similkameen.

Roadside lunches were a common practice with families having a mid-day meal among the splendour of the region.

“Meanwhile, the Trans Canada over the Rogers pass was brand new having just opened in July, the Okanagan Valley was just being discovered by Albertans as well as folks from the Lower Mainland. In 1962, Osoyoos was still essentially a village with a population just over 1,000 people bordering Washington State,” Arseneault said.

“Osoyoos, it almost sounds exotic, well if you lived in Vancouver 60 plus years ago, it was. However, the origin of the name Osoyoos was the word "soo-yoos" meaning "narrowing of the waters" in Sylix. The "O-" prefix is not Indigenous in origin and was attached by settler-promoters wanting to harmonize the name with other place names beginning with O in the Okanagan region.”

Families from the Lower Mainland and Alberta came to the region for summer vacations, camping on the beach and enjoying the warm water of Osoyoos lake - the warmest lake in Canada.

“The thin narrow isthmus is a notable feature on the lake, at 906 feet above sea level, the lake's elevation marks the lowest point in Canada of the Okanagan Valley,” Arseneault said. “During the summer, the southern Okanagan is on average one of the hottest areas in Canada during the day, one of the few places in Canada where the average high is above 30C. Temperatures exceed 35 C on average 17 days per summer, sometimes topping 38° (100F).”

The vacationing family then makes a stop at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory research facility, which was completed in 1960 and offered tours to the public.

Arseneault said the site houses four radio telescopes: an interferometric radio telescope, a 26-m single-dish antenna, a solar flux monitor and the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) — as well as support engineering laboratories “and is still worth a visit these days and will satisfy any budding young scientist in your family.”

“Although the fruit-growing possibilities were noticed by early settlers, the first commercial orchard in the area was not established until 1907, growing cherries, apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums, pears and apples,” he said.

“Osoyoos Orchard Limited was formed in 1920 and an irrigation project was planned which finally brought water to the west bench via 'The Ditch' in 1927. The former shrub-steppe environment was transformed into a lush agricultural belt and Osoyoos promoted the earliest fruit in Canada.”

Agriculture is a major component of the local economy, as is evident by the abundant produce stands along Highways 3 and 97, and the numerous commercial orchards surrounding the town.

“With the growing popularity of viticulture, some of these orchards are being converted to vineyards, as the area is a major wine-producing region of Canada. After clearing of mainly sagebrush, parcels of bench land have been replanted for viticulture,” Arseneault said.

Arseneault is always looking for more information on the vintage footage he digs up, and he encourages people to add their input in the comments section on his Youtube page.

Arseneault has an extensive collection of vintage footage, and he is looking for more.

Anyone who may have old 16 mm or 8 mm film footage of the Vernon and Okanagan area is invited to email Arseneault at [email protected].

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