BC City Guide 2018: Kelowna

The largest city in the Okanagan Valley, Kelowna often wins praise for its natural beauty and geographical attractions. What else would you expect from a place with neighbourhood names like Big White and Lake Country? In fact, it's reasonable to think you've arrived in some kind of Merlot-fuelled paradise when...

Credit: Tourism Kelowna

One of Canada’s sunniest cities, Kelowna is becoming much more than a hot spot for vacationers

The largest city in the Okanagan Valley, Kelowna often wins praise for its natural beauty and geographical attractions. What else would you expect from a place with neighbourhood names like Big White and Lake Country? In fact, it’s reasonable to think you’ve arrived in some kind of Merlot-fuelled paradise when you drop in on the perfectly manicured orchards and fields that overlook Okanagan Lake.

But with its population of some 206,000, Canada’s 10th-busiest airport and two post-secondary schools, Kelowna is far more than a tourist destination.

The city is so appealing that many international students attending UBC Okanagan, the region’s preeminent university, make a home there. About 73 percent of the school’s students come from outside the region (including 16 percent from abroad), and UBCO estimates that almost half stay after graduation. That might have something to do with how steadily Kelowna has added residents. Now the province’s ninth-largest community, the city saw its population grow an impressive 10 percent from 2012 through 2017.  

Some of the Thompson-Okanagan’s biggest companies work in the infrastructure and transport industries, such as KF Aerospace Ltd., the aircraft maintenance giant, one of Kelowna’s largest private employers. The region also keeps 24 percent of B.C.’s agricultural workers busy, according to WorkBC, and Kelowna businesses like BC Tree Fruits Cooperative and Sun-Rype Products Ltd. are a big reason why. But those sectors only account for about 8 percent of the city’s employment, with retail and health care supplying the bulk of jobs.

At the centre of Kelowna’s picturesque downtown is a giant statue of a bear, fitting given the proximity to mountains and forests, and the fact that the city is named after the Interior Salish word for grizzly bear. Downtown is a mixture of new buildings and old factories, sawmills and canneries that have been renovated into museums, retail spaces and pubs. Even newer structures, like the 22-year-old library and 17-year-old arts centre, were designed with a nod to local history.

Kelowna is known for its searing summers, and while that comes with more than 2,000 hours of sunshine and only 23 centimetres of rain a year, it can also mean crippling wildfires. In the past decade, the city has seen 13 blazes of 30 or more hectares. Still, the economy is holding strong, and with the population influx showing no signs of slowing down, Kelowna has become one of the hottest (pun intended) real estate markets in the province.

Population: 206,041
Household age (0-45, 45-64, 64+): 31%, 39%, 30%
University grads: 19.4%
Average household income: $98,260
Average household income under 45: $93,300
Five-year income growth, 2012-17: 19.4%
Five-year population growth: 10%

Average detached home price: $725,000
Average condominium price: $322,189
Average monthly rent for a two-bedroom: $1,151
Average annual household spending on shelter: $21,078

Key industries: Retail and commercial services; construction; health care; professional and financial services; hospitality and tourism
Notable employers: BC Tree Fruits CooperativeInterior Health AuthorityKF Aerospace Ltd.Okanagan CollegeSun-Rype Products Ltd.School District 23UBC Okanagan
Regional unemployment: 7.5% (February)

Total value of building permits issued in 2017: $696,000,000
Change from 2016: 30%
Average processing time for a building permit: n/a
Cost of a business licence: $127-$3,000
Business property tax rate: $14.70 per $1,000 of assessed value
Average office lease rate per sq. ft./year: $18
Average retail lease rate: $12-$40

Major post-secondary institutions: Centre for Arts & TechnologyOkanagan CollegeSprott Shaw CollegeUBC OkanaganVancouver Career College
Major recreational amenities: Prospera Place arena; five museums; nine art galleries; eight parks; two skating rinks; water park; downhill and cross-country skiing
Key annual events: Canadian Culinary Championships; Okanagan Wine Festival (spring and fall); 3×3 Canada Quest, Center of Gravity sport and music festival; Kelowna Dragon Boat Festival; Big White Winter Rally
Average annual household spending on recreation: $5,502
Residents who walk or bike to work: 4.5%