Celebrating 75 Years

Incorporated 75 Years | 1945 – 2020

On December 31, 2020 the Town of Oliver will celebrate its 75th year of incorporation.  Take a moment and read about Oliver’s History and look at the Mayors’ images since 1945.

This webpage will be dedicated to identifying the Town’s milestones and stories.  We would love to hear from you to share your stories, and see images of our past.  Please share https://oliver.ca/contact-us/

What do a one-armed gold miner, an honest politician, the world’s largest cherry pie and some of the best wines in the world have in common? Oliver, BC.

Aboriginal people occupied the territory in which Oliver lies when settlement by Europeans began in the 19th century. Osoyoos Indian Reserve No. 1 stretches from Gallagher Lake area to Osoyoos and adjoins the Town’s eastern boundary.

The Inkameep Indians, sometimes called the Osoyoos Band, migrated here and settled on the east side of Osoyoos Lake. The tribe’s name comes from a phrase which means “the base of bottom” – attesting to their residence on low lands and plateaus.

The first European activity in the area was gold mining, with the staking of the first claim in 1887, and the establishment of the Town of Fairview in 1890 on the benches above Oliver to the west. Folklore has it that a one armed gold prospector named Reid discovered gold in this area, and the Town of Fairview (located just outside what is now known as Oliver) became home to gold miners, ranchers and businessmen. Fairview was one of B.C.’s largest towns at the turn of the century. The gold rush died and sadly, so did Fairview, with Oliver springing up in its wake.

Fairview’s life was short; the post office was closed in 1926. One of the few remaining buildings from the town, the Fairview Jail, has been moved to the Oliver museum site.

Following the First World War, BC’s premier, known as “Honest” John Oliver, envisioned an irrigation canal, which would bring this dry Sonora Desert region to life. The South Okanagan Lands Project was born, creating jobs and long term opportunities for veterans returning from World War I. The original townsite of Oliver was surveyed in 1921. Completed in 1923, the concrete irrigation canal (locally known as “the ditch”) soon transformed this desert region into lush orchards and farms.

The airport, built just prior to the Second World War, initially served the entire region south of Penticton.

Oliver, along with Osoyoos to the south, experienced rapid growth after the Second World War, with an influx of agricultural settlers, including many of Portuguese and German origin.

Home to 11 local wineries and many vineyards, Oliver now calls itself “The Capital of Wine Country”. The Festival of the Grape is fast becoming a ‘must attend’ during the Okanagan’s Fall Wine Festival.

A thumbnail history of Oliver is presented below.

1812 – 1849

Fur Brigade Trail: 300 animal pack train transports furs from Kamloops area to Fort Okanogan at the junction of Okanagan River and Columbia River in Southern Washington. Fur Brigade Trail passes through what was to become Oliver.

1869

One-armed Reed and partner Ryan pan for gold in the mountain creeks on the west side of the South Okanagan Valley. Some gold is found but Reed and Ryan move on.

1887

Prospectors stake gold mining claims in the mountains on both sides of the South Okanagan Valley above what was to become Oliver.

1888

Small mining towns start to form; Camp McKinney on the east side of the valley and Fairview on the west side.

1890 – 1902

Mining activity expands in both areas with Fairview being the more active of the two. Fairview’s population grows to near 600 – Camp McKinney’s to near 250.

1897

A large three story hotel, The Fairview Hotel, (called the Big Teepee by natives in the area) is built in Fairview. It was reputed to be the largest and most well appointed hotel in the interior of BC.

1902 – 1906

Fairview Hotel burns down, gold in Fairview area and Camp McKinney starts to peter out. Both town sites start to diminish in size.

1902 – 1917

Minimum amount of mining activity keeps both mining communities barely alive.

1918

Provincial Government purchases 22,000 acres of land in the South Okanagan and proceeds to develop an irrigation system designed to convert some 8,000 acres of desert land, on each side of the Okanagan river, into viable agricultural land and make the land available, at a reasonable cost, to the returning soldiers from World War I. The Premier of the Province at the time was “Honest John Oliver”. Hence, the origin of the name of the Town of Oliver.

1918 – 1925

Construction of the Irrigation System known as the “Ditch” takes place. The overall length of the Ditch was some 25 miles including a large 7 foot diameter wood stave siphon, almost three quarters of a mile in length that transported irrigation water from one side of the valley to the other.

1919

The village of Oliver is beginning to be established with some of the home and business buildings being constructed from lumber salvaged from the fast disappearing Town of Fairview.

1926 – 1936

Population of Oliver grown from 500 to 1,800. Many orchards are planted and ground crops in the form of tobacco, tomatoes and cantaloupes and helping bolster the economy. Oliver becomes known as the Cantaloupe Capital of Canada.

1936 – 1946

Large Sawmill, including a box plant, develops in Oliver area providing major employment for the community. A number of fruit packing houses and canneries are operating and BC Fruit Processors, the forerunner to The SunRype Corp., was formed.

1945

Oliver is incorporated into a village.

1948

Large high school (existing South Okanagan Secondary School) is constructed in Oliver.

1949 – 1958

Okanagan River from Okanagan Falls to Osoyoos is reconfigured into a canal with dams and drop structures to facilitate lake level and flood control during spring run-off periods.

1960 – 1970

Ted Trump establishes plant in Oliver to develop and manufacture articulated hydraulic equipment to facilitate fruit picking and tree pruning. “The Girette” and other locally developed and manufactured “Kangaroo” has revolutionized the Orchard Industry.

1960’s

Major influx of Portuguese immigrants to the Valley, soon to become established as orchardists.

1971

Large RV manufacturer purchases Trump facilities and is still established as a major employer in Oliver.

1979 – 1990

Oliver grows in size and attracts retirees due to the quiet life style and good weather. Wine Grape Vineyards start to materialize.

1992

Major vineyards are planted and a number of associate wineries are developed. Oliver area boasts 9 local wineries.

1996

Oliver celebrates its 75th anniversary as a community.

Today

The population inside Oliver is close to 4,800. Agriculture is the main industry in the area now. The “Ditch” is still supplying irrigation water to the farms, orchard and vineyards in the valley. Oliver continues to be one of ‘the’ places to retire in Canada. With the recent drop in the Canadian dollar, ‘snowbirds’ from northern BC and other western provinces are making the Oliver area their winter destination. The cultural profile of the community includes members of the Osoyoos Indian Band, Portuguese, East Indian, German, Russian, Chinese and persons who have relocated here from all parts of Canada. Oliver and its businesses also serve a surrounding rural area of some 4,500 people bringing the total community population to around 9,300.

Town of Oliver Coat of Arms

Oliver was granted its coat of arms and flag by the Chief Herald of Canada in 1994. They are a unique expression of the Town of Oliver’s natural and historic heritage.

The shield is centred on the central facets of Oliver’s geography and history. The green represents the land brought to life by the waters of the South Okanagan Irrigation Project, the wavy blue on gold symbolizing the great channel running across the gold of the dry lands. The sun represents the other essential ingredient in growth as well as a vital element in Oliver’s quality of life. The apple and horseshoe motif recalls one of the Town’s earlier emblems, honouring the first orchards and the horsepower which was central to early agriculture and transport. The miner’s pick and shovel recall the mining activities in the nearby hills that immediately preceded establishment of the present townsite.

Above the shield is the crest.  The foundation element of the Oliver crest is the mural coronet, the traditional heraldic symbol for a municipality. Rising up out of the coronet, is the head of a Salish woman, in profile. She wears a special crown composed of a gold circle set with two eagle wings each coloured, diagonally, gold and red.  Here it is made distinctive to Oliver by colouring the stones gold and setting a frieze of grape leaves around the centre of the crown.  The grape leaves symbolize the newest major product of the region and the continuing prosperity flowing from irrigation.  The head of the Salish woman has several meanings; it refers to the other name of McIntyre Bluff, and honours Oliver’s natural heritage, and the Salish First Peoples, and their Valley homeland. The red and gold eagle wings in her coronet are taken from a key element in the Scottish coat of arms for McIntyre and therefore honour Peter McIntyre, namesake of the Bluff and first orchardist near Oliver.

 

The Compartment on which the shield rests and the Supporters sand consists of a section of local fields as they would have appeared before irrigation, set with sage plants in natural colours. Below the fields are stylized wavy bands of blue and white representing the waters of the irrigation project.  On the left side is a California big horn sheep with a body in gold and horns and antlers of green.  Around the sheep’s neck is a collar made of the Okanagan Tartan. On the right side is a gold mare with a mane and hooves of green wearing a similar collar.  The sheep symbolizes Oliver’s special natural setting with the mare honouring the early pioneers. The Okanagan tartan collars make them distinctive, in heraldry, to Oliver, and also refer to domestic arts and the ingenuity of citizens in terms of shaping the community.

“Borne of the Waters Blest by the Sun” is a motto combining a salute to Oliver’s beginnings and one of its greatest attractions, the sunny climate.

Learn more about Oliver’s History by visiting the Museum at 474 School Ave or the Archive’s Building at 430 Fairview Rd or take a walk around Oliver – www.oliverheritage.ca/walkingtour.

Click on image below for the Oliver & District Heritage Society Website.

 


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