Kelowna, with a city population of 122,000 and a regional population of nearly 180,000, is located north-east of Okanagan Lake in the southern interior of British Columbia. It is the third largest metropolitan area in the province and the largest in the interior, the home of Okanagan College with over 5,000 students, and of the University of British Columbia Okanagan with over 8,000 students. The regional hospital includes a cancer centre and a newly opened cardiac wing. The new International Airport has direct flights to many cities in eastern Canada and the United States.
Kelowna thrives on year-round tourism: boating, golfing, fishing, hiking and biking in the summer; alpine and cross-country skiing in the winter. Vineyards have been planted throughout the area and a host of wineries produce world-class wines. Now known as the Napa Valley of Canada, many wineries welcome visitors to wine tastings and gourmet restaurants offering splendid views over the lake. At the heart of one of the most prolific fruit-growing regions in the province, it is the home of SunRype, the popular manufacturer of fruit bars and juices. Also Whitewater Composites, which has become the world’s largest supplier of fibreglass attractions for the water park and theme park industry.
With a mild, dry climate, panoramic views of the water, and ready access to the out-of-doors, retirees from across western Canada have settled in Kelowna, making it one of the fastest growing cities on the continent. The snow fall which brought Kelowna into the headlines a few weeks ago was a 40-year novelty. In the valley, the temperatures have gone up and down since, and the snow has greatly dissipated. In the mountains above the valley, the snow remains crisp, clean, deep on the ground, and inviting.
My cousins came to Kelowna from the coast years ago. On Thursday, Don and Jan took me along to share one of their favourite winter pastimes. About a half hour from home, we are on a remote mountain path high above the valley, snowshoeing and skiing along a trail through a heavy forest. The trees are laden with snow. There are fresh tracks of moose, rabbits and deer in the snow, and torn tufts of deer hair, evidence of an animal felled by a predator.
Eventually we reach a favourite spot where they can build a fire and have a winter wiener roast in the woods. Skilled outdoorspeople, they dig a three-foot hole near a fallen tree where I can sit. (Note that the big city photographer sits because she has no practical skills to give). Don and Jan gather dead branches from nearby willow trees, cut them up into manageable lengths, pile the branches into the hole, light their homemade firelighters (cardboard strips dipped in melted candle wax), and set ablaze a fire. It warms us and cooks our wieners. With hot chocolate from a thermos, mandarin oranges, homemade whole-wheat buns and all the trimmings, hot dogs never tasted so good. What a wonderful way to spend a winter afternoon. In case you are wondering, such open fires are permitted in the woods only in the winter. Come summer, strict fire regulations apply.