History, Arts & Culture

With a long, rich history, a vibrant arts community and many cultural traditions, activities and amenities, Osoyoos has much to explore and discover. Our cultural arts and history are best experienced firsthand with a visit to our local museum.  A visit to our arts centre, attendance at a live sporting event or one of our musical performances will give you some wonderful local cultural flavour. Of course, if you lean to even more passive pursuits, you can always spend time relaxing on the beach or by a cosy fire depending on the season, enjoying a fine local wine and working your way through the bestseller book lists.

First Nations, Ancient Traditions

Okanagan Lake and the Okanagan River served as traditional transportation routes of the Syilx or Okanagan people and their traditional boundaries encompass this area. Local excavations and pictographs found in the region reveal a prospering culture dating back thousands of years. They lived a seminomadic hunter-gather lifestyle, living on deer, salmon, rabbits and other wild meat as well as roots, berries and various plants. Smoked Chinook and sockeye salmon, dried berries and roots served as winter supplies. Traces of winter camps still dot the valley. A versatile people, certain plants served as medicine, cottonwood trees made ideal canoes and home construction utilized traditional materials. Generations travelled widely by horse and canoe throughout the region trading with First Nations neighbours. The natural ford at Osoyoos Lake, used as an ancient crossing place and a significant fishing spot for the Syilx people, is now bridged by Highway 3.  The Osoyoos Indian Band, one of seven member bands in the Okanagan Nation, has a proud and independent history in the Osoyoos and Oliver area. The band continues to play an integral role in the community, adding not only an invaluable richness of heritage, culture and arts but also economic influence, operating several successful businesses. Learn more about the Syilx culture, legends and people through interactive activities and programs with a visit to Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, and see actual artifacts at the local museum.

Where to Visit

Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre

This state-of-the-art interpretive centre is an architectural marvel, sensitively constructed into a hillside at Nk’Mip Resort. Extensive indoor and outdoor exhibit galleries create a fun, interactive learning environment with hands-on displays, education stations and two multi-media theatre experiences. You will discover indoor and outdoor nature and cultural exhibits that showcase desert ecology and wildlife and the history of the Osoyoos Indian Band. You can even get a close look at a rattlesnake or sign up for a hike/rapelling excursion in the desert. Complete your visit by stopping in Coyote’s Gifts to shop for unique Aboriginal crafts, jewellery and giftware.

Osoyoos Desert Centre

At the Osoyoos Desert Centre, you can experience the beauty of Canada’s special desert. The 67-acre nature interpretive facility, a registered part of the North American Bluebird Trail, offers guided and self-guided tours through the desert along its spectacular 1.5- kilometre wooden boardwalk. There’s also an indoor interpretive centre, with hands-on exhibits and fun facts to discover about the local ecology and wildlife,  and a native plant demonstration garden to explore. Trained interpretive staff and friendly volunteers are on hand to share information, answer questions, and explain what’s being done to save the unique desert habitat. Desert Centre admissions are used to support the habitat restoration, conservation and education efforts of the Osoyoos Desert Society, a nonprofit society dedicated to saving British Columbia’s biologically-rich habitats. The Desert Centre, located three kilometres north of Osoyoos, is open annually from late April through early October, and features special events like the lovely annual Romancing the Desert fundraising gala.

Osoyoos Arts Centre

Osoyoos’s dramatic surroundings, unique flora and fauna and a vivid history entice and inspire the artistic senses. Opportunities abound to view, experience and even participate in the local art scene. Established in 1981, the Osoyoos & District Arts Council helps coordinate the work and programs of local artists and cultural associations with the goal of stimulating and encouraging the development of cultural projects and activities. The organization hosts a bi-annual fundraiser featuring entertainment, food and auctions. It also offers children’s art classes, holds events to celebrate B.C. Arts & Culture Week each spring and participates in the annual Nk’Mip Festival of Trees. Its members include quilters, actors, painters, potters, musicians, photographers, writers and wood carvers. View original art by local artists and artisans at the Osoyoos Arts Centre. Open year-round, the gallery features annual shows including People’s Choice in January, Young Artists in April and Potters and Artists on Main throughout the year.

Osoyoos Museum & Archives

Here’s where you’ll learn about the valley’s first non-native settlers 200 years ago. Exhibits and collections trace the impact that successive waves of traders, farmers, ranchers, builders, and vintners had on the original environment and their relationships with the First Nations People had on what we are today. You’ll be able to see how the city grew from a customs post near the US/Canada border to a 21st Century town. The museum is conveniently located at the foot of Main Street and is open all year.

Haynes Ranch House

The old Haynes Ranch House, a local heritage site, is a must-see location for photographers and history buffs. It was constructed in 1882 and its main house, bunkhouse, and barn still stand. John Carmichael Haynes was an early settler, colonial official, judge, and customs officer in early Osoyoos. While the buildings are off-limits for interior exploration, you’re free to take exterior photos.