OLIVER

BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA

The Town of Oliver promotes itself as “Canada’s Wine Capital.” To its north and south in the Okanagan Valley, its many wineries produce reds and whites that regularly win international awards.

Indeed, wine is at the heart of many Oliver festivals, including the hugely popular Festival of the Grape in early October.

There are at least 40 wineries in the Oliver area, including dozens along the Golden Mile Bench and Black Sage Bench to the south. The hot summer days and cool nights are ideal for producing numerous popular red and white varietals, along with interesting blends.

Town of Oliver - Area C
The municipal hall in Oliver faces a garden and a cenotaph. (Richard McGuire Photo)

But Oliver offers much more than wine. It’s also a centre for retail and service businesses and is home to numerous provincial government services ranging from a hospital to a penitentiary.

Incorporated as a village in 1945 and as a town in 1990, Oliver had a population of 5,094 in the 2021 national census. Its central location in the South Okanagan makes it a draw for people from other surrounding communities.

Oliver is surrounded by Electoral Area C of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS) and it abuts the territory of the Osoyoos Indian Band.

Provincial role

Due to its central location in the South Okanagan, Oliver has historically benefitted from provincial largesse.

In the 1920s, Premier “Honest John” Oliver, for whom the town is named, brought a major irrigation and settlement project to the area. The South Okanagan Lands Project turned the dry and barren desert to a sea of green farms and orchards, bringing in water through a gravity-fed aqueduct system popularly known as “The Ditch.”

This allowed Oliver, established in 1921, to flourish as a settlement for unemployed World War I veterans. By this time, the earlier mining town of Fairview to the immediate west had all but died out. By 1922, Oliver received electricity, and the following year it got a station on the Okanagan spur line of the Kettle Valley Railway (KVR), later allowing fruit from the area to reach international markets.

The provincial government ran the South Okanagan Lands Project for more than 40 years, until 1964 when the Oliver/Osoyoos Fruit Growers’ Association took over the region’s irrigation as the South Okanagan Lands Irrigation District.

 

Children play on the water of Tuc-el-nuit Lake at Rotary Beach in Oliver. In the background is McIntyre Bluff (Nʕaylintn) (Richard McGuire Photo)

Today, the provincial government role is evident in a number of Oliver’s facilities and amenities.

The South Okanagan General Hospital (SOGH) is a Level 1 Community Hospital providing an emergency department, as well as outpatient ambulatory services and acute care. It is the only such facility south of Penticton.

The Okanagan Correctional Centre is a 378-cell, high-security facility located seven kilometres north of Oliver in the Osoyoos Indian Band’s Senkulmen Business Park. It opened in 2017 and is a major regional employer.

Service BC has an Oliver location at 5917 Airport Street that provides many provincial government services ranging from income and disability support to ID verification and hunting and fishing licenses.

Southern Okanagan Secondary School (SOSS), rebuilt in 2014, is a state-of-the-art high school under School District 53 Okanagan Similkameen. SD 53 itself is based in Oliver, from where it serves schools throughout the South Okanagan and the Similkameen.

Adjoining SOSS is the Frank Venables Theatre, a 400-seat, state-of-the-art community theatre, which opened at the same time as the rebuilt school. It provides use to the school and community and also serves as a venue for professional touring shows ranging from theatre to concerts.

Oliver is also home to an Okanagan College education centre offering rotational training and courses in conjunction with its other campuses.

The YouLearn distance and continuing education program is based in Oliver and provides courses for upgrading education at the K-7 and high school levels, including for adult learners.

The provincial government also operates a BC Cannabis Store at Southwinds Crossing Shopping Centre, the only one in the Okanagan-Similkameen south of Penticton. 

Main Street in Oliver is lined with family-run businesses, especially the pedestrian-friendly stretch north of Fairview Road. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Retail and shopping

Oliver offers a variety of retail shopping, both in shopping plazas and in the largely independent businesses on Main Street.

Southwinds Crossing at the south end of town includes a Canadian Tire store, Mark’s (formerly Mark’s Work Wearhouse), Buy-Low Foods, Tim Horton’s, a private liquor store, a government-owned BC Cannabis Store, a Bosley’s pet supplies store, and more.

Oliver Place Mall on Highway 97 between Similkameen Avenue and Co-op Avenue is another shopping plaza. It is anchored by a No Frills supermarket, and also includes Shoppers Drug Mart, the Bargain! Shop, A&W, and more. It is the new location of the Okanagan Regional Library.

Numerous standalone independent businesses also line Main Street, especially the pedestrian-friendly stretch north of Fairview Road.

Airport

Oliver Municipal Airport is a smaller airport close to Oliver’s downtown. It is jointly maintained by Oliver Public Works and by the South Okanagan Flying Club.

No regularly scheduled commercial flights use Oliver’s airport, and for those services it is necessary to travel 37 km to Penticton Regional Airport, or 116 km to Kelowna International Airport.

Nonetheless, Oliver Municipal Airport is home to the Okanagan-Kootenay Air Cadet Gliding Program, Atom Helicopters, Transwest Helicopters, Oliver-Osoyoos Search and Rescue, and Oliver Fire Department, as well as air shows and use by private aviation.

The airport is located at 5811 Airport Street in Oliver, at an elevation of 350 metres (1,100 feet).

In 2021, the main asphalt runway was extended to 1,000 metres (3,300 feet). There are two smaller gravel runways of 790 m and 930 m lengths.

 

South Okanagan General Hospital is a Level 1 Community Hospital providing an emergency department, as well as outpatient ambulatory services and acute care. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Parks and Recreation

Oliver is endowed with numerous parks and recreation facilities.

The Oliver Community Centre complex includes a community hall, arena, outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts, curling rink, and a park. It is located on McKinney Road and Park Drive, just west of South Okanagan General Hospital.

There are four major parks including the Oliver Community Park (at the Community Centre), Lions Park (between Highway 97 and the Okanagan River, to the north of downtown), Kinsmen Spray Park (south of Fairview Road and west of the Okanagan River), and Rotary Beach (southwest on the shore of Tuc-el-nuit Lake).

Smaller parks include Triangle Park (at Main Street and Fairview Road), Kiwanis Park (east of the Okanagan River and north of Fairview Road), and the grounds of the Municipal Hall.

Area 27

Southeast of Oliver on Osoyoos Indian Band lands is the Area 27 Motorsports Park.

This is a membership-based, luxury motorsports club with a 4.83 km world-class circuit.

Academy 27 offers one-on-one coaching from motorsport professionals to help drivers refine their skills.

The Frank Venables Theatre, a 400-seat, state-of-the-art community theatre, opened at the same time as the adjoining rebuilt Southern Okanagan Secondary School. It provides use to the school and community and also serves as a venue for professional touring shows ranging from theatre to concerts. (Richard McGuire Photo)
Oliver & District Museum is just a block up School Avenue from Main Street. It is housed in the old provincial police building from the 1920s. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Oliver Business Stories

Many people have moved to Oliver with the idea of starting a business in mind. Others, already living here, have also seen a need and taken the plunge. Please visit our Stories page and read about some of the people who have started businesses in Oliver and elsewhere in the South Okanagan.

Brew chief Sid Ruhland pours a pint. (Richard McGuire Photo)