The Thompson-Okanagan in British Columbia is one of the most overrated places in the country. Due to its warm summer weather and wineries it has branded itself as “Canada’s California” but is far from it.
We start with Kelowna.
Kelowna is a small city with a population just over 120,000. It’s very white: only 4.5% of the population is Aboriginal, and the visible minority group has risen to 7.6%.
During my time there, overhearing racial slurs was a nearly daily reality. Bumper stickers containing 88 or SS bolts (white supremacist symbols) were abundant and I saw them in traffic every day.
The small number of Aboriginal people appeared non-existent as most of them lived on a reserve outside of town. I don’t recall ever seeing or meeting a single Black Canadian there, although this seems to have marginally improved if the town’s homemade “rap videos” are any indication. The only time I heard of them (visiting) was when they were being threatened, called epithets, left notes to “go home” or muttered about behind their backs.
A large segment of the population is religious and old-fashioned. These conservative Christians frown upon being gay, being non-religious, being non-Christian, sex before marriage, and basically any ideas or values formed after the 1950s. According to statistics, over 58% of residents claim a religious affiliation – virtually all Christian. Nearly three-quarters of couples are married.
K-Town summed up
Kelowna can be divided into the following groups: hardcore Christians, the wealthy retired, the elderly, rich youth, Hell’s Angels and other criminal elements; the poor and addicted.
Retired & Old
It’s a popular retirement location: nearly 20% of residents are over 65. Catering to the retired and elderly fills a large portion of the city’s employment and funding as they are now the top demographic.
When I lived there it was well known that the Hell’s Angels “ran the town”. At the time other gangs were trying to muscle in. Nearby my quiet home next to a vineyard, an Asian gang member was arrested with an ear inside his pocket he’d kept as a souvenir. Such was life in “peaceful” Kelowna. Matters remain the same today in the city’s underbelly: whether it’s HA members beating a man to death, ongoing legal issues over clubhouses, cocaine smuggling operations, or more, the status quo continues. (In the early 2010s, Kelowna was among the most dangerous cities listed in Canada, but this appears to have improved in recent years.)
One comment said it best when describing Kelowna as “ostentatious luxury next to stark poverty“. It has become a town for the well-to-do. People with money retire there and live comfortably; their children and grandchildren grow up wealthy, not needing to work and treat others with disdain and contempt.
The Okanagan Living Wage report stated: “To make ends meet, a nuclear family in the Okanagan needs to bring in an annual income of just under $70,000.” The living wage is calculated to be $21.00/hour.
As absurd as it seems, anyone earning under that amount can essentially expect to live in poverty or at least uncomfortably as they struggle to make ends meet and survive. While Kelowna may look fun from afar or on vacation, it’s hell for those who aren’t wealthy. They can expect low-paying jobs, no advancement opportunities, serving the rich, and NOT partaking in any of the fun activities on display – which they can’t afford.
For example, despite the living wage, over 49% of residents had an income lower than $27,000. Nearly half that number had an income of less than $12,000. Only 44% worked a full-time job all year.
The city continues to have terrible drug problems: addicts and the homeless congregating downtown, sleeping in beaches and parks, and committing crimes. It’s regularly the number one drug capital in Canada for heroin and cocaine, and among the top of the list for other drugs. In 2017 it was fourth in all of British Columbia for illicit drug deaths.
For all the raving about Kelowna, here is what you get: a small city in the interior with limited employment, absurd living costs, plenty of drugs and crime, a warm summer and a LAKE.
Yes, that’s it. All this hype for two things: a lake and warm summers. The lake is enjoyable, but most people can’t afford to buy or rent a boat to enjoy it. Summer days are hot (which can be terrible in the backlogged, horrendous traffic jams) and the nights are mild, warm, and comfortable – which is great. But that’s it. Its winters are fairly mild, but they still have snow and cold – hardly “California”.
So if you live any place with a relatively mild winter, beside a large lake, you are living the equivalent of K-Town life for a quarter of the cost and hassle. Almost all of Kelowna’s “activities” revolve around the lake, downtown bars and the drug scene (all of which you can find anywhere else). I can say personally that I loathed my time there, and consider its residents among the worst people I’ve ever met, rivaled only by Ottawa.
See: Kelowna Rants (enjoy the videos at the end).
Moving on we come to Vernon, which is about an hour’s drive north from Kelowna.
Vernon is a little dump town with a population of just over 40,000 people. Anecdotally, I can tell you that Vernon actually scares me because not once have I met a normal, well-adjusted person from that place. If ever there was a creepy, little hillbilly town hidden away and filled with inbred rednecks, Vernon is it! Imagine all of the problems of Kelowna, without the one benefit: the lake downtown. The only thing it really has going for it is a nearby ski mountain resort.
Other fun facts according to the last census:
Over 20% of residents are 65 or older. Median age is 47. The last time information was compiled it showed: 4.6% visible minority population; 5.5% Aboriginals; and 90% white. Unsurprisingly, racism is an issue in Vernon too, with lots of proud confederate-flag waving racists. (I’m not sure what confederates in the southern U.S. have to do with a hick town in B.C., but who said it has to make sense?)
Like Kelowna, it is a car town with terrible transit (85% of residents drive); the last stated unemployment rate was nearly 10%; over 17% of families are low-income, and housing is unaffordable for most people (source). I can guarantee things are much worse than is publicly-known, but it’s difficult to get information since it’s a small shit town and it’s rarely compiled.
Drugs and crime continue to spiral. In 2017, small creepy Vernon was listed as one of the top ten most dangerous places in Canada, although this had dropped to 24th by 2018 – still staggering for a city of less than 40,000, compared to the entire country. There were over 300 drug overdoses in 2017 as well.
At last we come to Penticton:
It’s about an hour’s drive south of Kelowna, and has a population of just over 40,000 people. Over a quarter of its residents are aged 64 or older. We have the same story as before: 9% unemployment rate; over 70% of couples are married; employment is crap: most jobs are low skill and pay minimum wage, farm workers make barely above that. Again: 80% of residents drive; almost 19% are “low-income”, the ‘visible minority’ and Aboriginal populations combined total 11.5%, and 90% of the population is white.
Penticton is a cute little town with some nice beaches by the lake. You can stand on a hill and basically see the entire town from start to finish. Its residents are marginally better than Kelowna and Vernon. However, crime has begun to increase and was the highest in the Okanagan Valley in 2017. It’s listed in the top 20 most dangerous places in Canada, again.
So this is the Okanagan in a nutshell. Sure, there are plenty of other little shit towns sprinkled around, but they’re so small they aren’t worth writing about, and nobody who requires employment or has a family is going to move there due to lack of resources. It’s simply the same people who were born and raised there who stay and will die there. End of.
Canada’s “California”? Hardly (unless you mean the drug trafficking and crime) !
The Okanagan is white, expensive, and over-hyped. If you move there expect to be broke, struggling, hurting for work, and treated like human trash by the rich scumbags who have retired there. You can’t even enjoy the ‘benefits’ of small city living because the place is chalk full of bikers, various warring gangs, drug trafficking and more. God forbid you aren’t white – you will be a virtual pariah. The same goes for being non-religious (if your social group doesn’t include bikers and drug traffickers). You will basically have the worst of every world and have settled for it all because of a lake. Enjoy!