Morning sunlight shines on McIntrye Bluff at the south end of Vaseux Lake. The cliff is now officially known by its Syilx name, Nʕaylintn. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Oliver, located in the heart of wine country, justifiably claims the title of “Canada’s Wine Capital.” Yet most of the grapes are grown, and wine is produced, in the surrounding rural area – Electoral Area C of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS).

Area C, with a population of roughly 4,000, is home to such leading wine sub regions as the Golden Mile Bench, and the Black Sage Bench, as well as an assortment of wineries to the north of Oliver.

Vineyards of the Black Sage Bench, one of Area C’s leading wine sub regions, are seen from Phanton Creek Estates winery. (Richard McGuire Photo)

The Golden Mile Bench, BC’s first sub-geographical indication (sub-GI or sub region) is located on the western side of the Okanagan Valley to the south of Oliver. Its west-side location means it catches the morning sunshine but is shaded from the late afternoon sun.

The Black Sage Bench, on the east side of the valley, benefits from the long, hot afternoons that are ideally suited to red wine varieties. It is warmer than the neighbouring Golden Mile Bench, about 6 km away, and its soil is sandier and less complex.

Among the dozens of wineries in the Oliver area, some of the Black Sage wineries include Le Vieux Pin, Phantom Creek, Burrowing Owl, Black Hills, Desert Hills, Bartier Bros. and more. Several of these are located on Ryegrass Road, which parallels Black Sage.

The Golden Mile includes such wineries as Tinhorn Creek, Hester Creek, Gehringer Brothers, Road 13, Rust Wine, Culmina, Castoro de Oro, CC Jensch, Checkmate, Maverick, Gold Hill, and others.

The sunshine and soils between Osoyoos and Oliver in Area C produce grapes for some wonderful red wines. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Area C, however, has a variety of geography, extending beyond the vineyards of the valley. At its northern edge, McIntyre Bluff, now known by its Syilx name nʕaylintn (pronounced nye-lin-tin), towers over Vaseux Lake and provides spectacular views to those hardy enough to climb it.

Willowbrook Road, which runs parallel but west of the Okanagan Valley, is several hundred metres higher in elevation, giving it a cooler microclimate, and a landscape marked more by ponderosa pines than grapevines.

The rural community of Willowbrook has an active volunteer fire department, pictured here, as well as a community society. (Richard McGuire Photo)

There are no sizeable towns within Area C itself, but Willowbrook and Gallagher Lake are the most noteworthy rural communities.

Willowbrook has an active community society and volunteer fire department. Its properties range from acreages to small farms.

Gallagher Lake includes the private Gallagher Lake Resort, with a campsite, cabins, and RV resort. There are also some commercial enterprises along Highway 97 including Dubh Glas Distillery, Happy Days Vintage Shop, Pine Bluff Motel, Gallagher Lake Auto Body, and the currently closed Ye Olde Welcome Inn.

Several housing subdivisions, including Deer Park Estates, and Gallagher Lake Village Park, are also located west of the highway.

The International Hike and Bike Trail, which follows the Okanagan Channel between Oliver and Osoyoos, is popular for cyclists of all ages on a mild day in early December. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Area C offers a number of opportunities for outdoor recreation.

The International Hike and Bike Trail runs 18.4 km along the Okanagan River from the north end of Osoyoos Lake to the McAlpine Bridge on Highway 97 north of Oliver. It is open to non-motorized travel such as hiking, cycling, and horseback riding.

Most of the trail is in Area C, although portions run through Area A, Osoyoos Indian Band land, and the Town of Oliver.

There is a small parking lot west of the bridge at Road 22, and parking is also available at the Oliver Visitor Centre, which is next to the trail.

The southern portion of the trail is gravel, but the portion north of Road 9 and through Oliver is paved. It’s mostly flat, and it offers views of the river and farm country. Some cyclists do a loop including Black Sage Road or Ryegrass Road, taking in some of the wineries along the way.

McIntyre Bluff (nʕaylintn) is a challenging climb best avoided during hot summer afternoons. The trip is roughly 7 km round trip and can take three to four hours. It used to be possible to hike from Covert Farms, but that access was closed, and instead people approached the bluff from the Willowbrook area. It’s best to inquire locally, as access may have changed again.

A heritage plaque marks the location of the Fairview ghost town, which was a thriving mining town at the turn of the 20th century. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Another hike with a view is the Golden Mile Stamp Mill Trail, which runs about 7.7 km return. It starts at Tinhorn Creek Winery, from where it climbs through vineyards to viewpoints. There is a side trail (left fork) to the remains of an old stamp mill used for crushing ore to extract gold.

Not far away are the remnants of the briefly prosperous gold mining town of Fairview, which saw its peak around the turn of the 20th century. Today, little remains other than information signs and a few building foundations, and remains of a cemetery.

Mining at Fairview started after a prospector named “One-Armed Reed” discovered gold there in 1887, and by 1893, Fairview claimed to be “the largest city north of San Francisco.”

The distinctive Fairview Hotel, with three stories and a tower, was built in 1897. It lasted only five years before burning down in 1902. With gold becoming exhausted, the town went into decline and by 1919, it was a ghost town.

The old jail from the gold mining town of Fairview is now located at the Oliver and District Museum. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Today, two of its buildings survive in new locations. The “Blasted Church” was disassembled by loosening the nails with dynamite, so that it could be moved to Okanagan Falls. Today it is the United Church. And the old Fairview jail can now be visited at the Oliver and District Museum.

Today Fairview is better known for Fairview Mountain Golf Course, an 18-hole course that shares the “fair” views that gave the old gold town its name.

Area C is also home to the SORCO Raptor Rehab Centre, which takes in and rehabilitates injured and orphaned birds of prey, especially owls. The centre is located north of Gallagher Lake off Highway 97. Visiting is only permitted on the annual open house day, which was held in May 2023 after the event was cancelled throughout the Covid pandemic. SORCO also conducts public education about raptors.