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6 Ways to Make Your Indigenous Vacay in the Okanagan More Meaningful

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Autumn has arrived in Osyoos with a flourish of stunning colours. (Photo courtesy of Destination Osyoos)

The drive from Vancouver into the South Okanagan Valley is one of the most breathtaking in Canada. It shuttles you through Manning Provincial Park and between the peaks of the Cascade Mountains, delivering you to the heart of British Columbia’s picturesque desert landscape, teeming with vineyards, lakes, and never-ending views. The Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) has provided stewardship of the land for millennia and helped build what is now one of the province’s finest travel destinations.

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The sculptures of Smoker Marchand are one of the attractions at Spirit Ridge Resort and the NK’Mip Desert Cultural Centre. (Photo courtesy of Milk Creative Communications)

The fall is an ideal time to visit. The season presents the region’s colours and colourful character in full splendour. Not only is the landscape at its optimum beauty but the towns of Oliver and Osoyoos are energized by harvest activities, several of which are tied to Indigenous heritage. 

Here are ways to discover the depth of experiences in the South Okanagan this fall and to immerse yourself in the culture of the regions as generations before have done.

Find Enrichment at the NK’Mip Desert Cultural Centre: Inside and out, this heritage museum offers opportunities to understand the South Okanagan better than any other facility in the valley. The interactive displays and exhibits detail the OIB’s history, including how its members have used plants from the area for medicine and inventive tools. The NK’Mip Desert Cultural Centre also has more than 1.5 kilometres of trails to explore, featuring strolls to a traditional pit house and sweat lodge, and close-up views of the unique metal sculptures of artist Smoker Marchand.

Savour Indigenous Food and Wine: The Bear, The Fish, The Root and The Berry launched in April and is garnering rave reviews under executive chef Murray McDonald.  McDonald named the restaurant after the Four Food Chiefs, the symbols of sustenance for the OIB. He regularly teams with senior winemaker Randy Picton and his protege Justin Hall at their award-winning NK’Mip Cellars to provide a superb culinary experience at Spirit Ridge Resort — Unbound Collection by Hyatt. The winemaking team returns the favour by making sure Spirit Ridge is stocked with their finest vintages and varietals. 

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Fall in Oliver and Osyoos means harvest season and an ideal time to enjoy fine wine like those pouring at NK’Mip Cellars. (Photo courtesy of Jon Adrian)

NK’Mip Cellars also participates in some of the wine-focused fall festivals in Oliver and Osoyoos. Notably, the Festival of the Grape features dozens of wineries pouring choice wines for the public, along with live entertainment, an art show, and the not-to-be-missed grape stomp. Strip off your shoes and socks, roll up your pantlegs, and start crushing grapes the very, very old-fashioned way.

Saddle Up On a Horse: Graceful equines have been an integral part of Indigenous life in Western Canada for more than three centuries. Horses have helped OIB communities survive, aiding them in moving to higher ground during floods and in taming the land for irrigation and farming. So, a horseback ride in these parts is as much about culture as it is giddy holiday fun.

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Riders take to the trails in Osoyoos with horses raised on traditional Indigenous territory. (Nic Amaya photo for Vacay.ca)

To get saddled up, visit Indian Grove Stables at Spirit Ridge Resort.

Tee Off in Front of a Legend: Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the NK’Mip Desert Canyon Golf Course is keeping your eyes off of the scenery. The 18-hole course faces directly at n’aylintn, the massive granite monolith that is one of the South Okanagan’s most recognizable landmarks.

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NK’Mip Desert Canyon Golf Course includes sweeping views of the peak called n’aylintn. (Adrian Brijbassi file photo for Vacay.ca)

A round of golf on this course owned by the OIB offers more than exercise and a test of your skill — it gives you plenty of opportunities for memorable snapshots.

Photograph the Fall Colours: Speaking of cameras, be sure to keep yours handy when you meander through this area rich with flora and fauna. Eye candy awaits in the form of lush autumn colours that splash like paint through the vineyards and along the lakes. Head to the top of Anarchist Mountain for a spectacular view of Osoyoos and its landscape.

Feel the Spiritual Energy: Take it from chef McDonald, a native Newfoundlander who recently relocated to Osoyoos. The desert is full of spirituality that you will want to tap into when you stay at Spirit Ridge Resort. “You get this feeling that comes over you when you first drive up this road. This spiritualness. It’s a special place,” McDonald says, noting Spirit Ridge’s abundance of activities that add to its appeal. “You come to one resort area and you have multiple restaurants, you have a winery, you have a cultural centre, you have a golf course, all within, I can literally, reach out and knock on the winery. They have all that in one little area, and it just makes it that much more of a magical, cool thing.”

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KX Ansulaxw of the Osoyoos Indian Band performs a traditional song during a sage ceremony at Spirit Ridge Resort. (Adrian Brijbassi file photo for Vacay.ca)

MORE ABOUT VISITING SOUTH OKANAGAN

Where to Stay: Spirit Ridge Resort, Unbound Collection by Hyatt.
Location: 1200 Rancher Creek Road, Osoyoos, BC (see map below).
Website: spiritridge.hyatt.com. Telephone: 250-495-5445.
Room Rates: A search on the property’s booking engine returned a nightly rate of $165 for an October weekend. In addition, the property is offering 100 resort credits when a guest books three nights or more.

2019 FOOD & WINE EXPERIENCES IN SOUTH OKANAGAN

Upcoming fall culinary events in Oliver and Osoyoos include:

Cask and Keg: On October 5 at Oliver Community Park, the region celebrates breweries, distilleries and cideries.

Garlic Festival at Hester Creek: A culinary feast will be held on October 5 at this Italy-inspired winery with many accolades to its name.

Crush Party at Oliver Twist: Join the annual harvest party, taking place on October 5, at this fun-loving property.

Festival of the Grape: The annual wine stomp is filled with laughter and cheer, and takes place on October 6 this year.

Note: This article is the third in an expanded content series focusing on travel to Osoyoos and the Oliver. It was created in partnership with Destination BC, the Osoyoos Indian Band, Arterra Wines Canada, Spirit Ridge Resort – Unbound Collection by Hyatt, Destination Osoyoos, and the Oliver Tourism Association. Read the first two entries on the language of the Silyx people here and executive chef Murray McDonald’s take on Indigenous cuisine.

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Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and VacayNetwork.com. He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and Vacay.ca co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world.