History of Osoyoos

Plaque of Osoyoos History

The name Osoyoos is derived from the Syilx (Okanagan Indian) word soo-yoos , referring to  the narrows formed by two spits across the lake. Aboriginal people have lived here for thousands of years, as evidenced by rock art and an oral tradition explaining their history before Europeans arrived to the valley in 1811.

The Story of OsoyoosThe first Europeans to Osoyoos were fur traders working for the Pacific Fur Company, an American enterprise. They ventured up the Okanagan River to Osoyoos Lake and farther north.  After the Hudson’s Bay Company took over the fur trade in 1821, the Okanagan Valley became a major trade route for supplies to inland forts of British Columbia and furs that were shipped south to the Columbia River and the Pacific to European and Asian markets.  The final H.B.C. brigade in 1860 was the end of an era, as gold rushes transformed the economy of the new colony of British Columbia.

Thousands of miners heading to the goldfields and drovers with large herds of livestock crossed the 49th parallel after 1858. A custom house was built in Osoyoos in 1861 with John Carmichael Haynes the tax collector.  Haynes was also the first pioneer settler who obtained land along the Okanagan River north of Osoyoos that had been part of the Joint Indian Reserve Commission Osoyoos Indian Reserve in 1877.

Although the fruit-growing possibilities were noticed by the early settlers, it was not until 1907 when the first commercial orchard in the area was established, growing cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, and apples.  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.”  It was not until the 1960s that grape-growing became established on a large scale. Today, vineyards are a major feature of the landscape.

Osoyoos was incorporated as a Village on January 14, 1946 and became a Town on June 30, 1983. Today, with a population of about 5,000, agriculture and tourism are the community’s largest economic sectors.  Osoyoos’ motto today is “Canada’s warmest welcome.” Indeed, Osoyoos has been welcoming visitors for over 200 years.

Video “Different Melons”: Osoyoos, B.C. (ca. 1945)
Royal British Columbia Museum, British Columbia Archives