Our History

Penticton, from the Interior Salish word snpintktn, is commonly translated as "a place to stay forever," or more accurately, “a place where people live year-round.” For over 7,000 years, Penticton has been home to the Syilx First Peoples, who were instrumental in helping the first European fur traders travel through the Okanagan in the early 1800s.

A young Irish immigrant named Thomas Ellis took the meaning of snpintktn to heart and in 1865 became the first European to settle in Penticton. Becoming one of the province's most successful cattle ranchers, Ellis acquired territory that stretched from Naramata all the way south to the American border. When he retired in 1892, Ellis sold off a large portion of his property to developers who laid out a small townsite at the foot of Okanagan Lake. Penticton had been born.

Development in the early years was slow and things only began to really pick up in 1905, when the South Okanagan Land Company subdivided another large section of the Ellis holdings. The original townsite, which lay mostly to the east of Penticton Creek, was linked up to the new one by Smith Street (later renamed Front Street), which was the heart of the small town in its earliest days. By 1908, with a population of six hundred, Penticton was incorporated and growth continued at a faster pace than ever.

Due to the difficulties of land travel due to the rugged local terrain, early transportation in and out of Penticton was primarily by water on Okanagan Lake, which runs from Vernon in the north to its southern tip at Penticton. Much of this travel was aboard steamships like the S.S. Sicamous. Although not the first, the Sicamous was the largest and most famous sternwheeler to grace Okanagan Lake. Known as the “Queen of the Lake,” she was built in Port Harbor, Ontario and assembled at Okanagan Landing for her maiden voyage on July 1st, 1914. Many local servicemen heading for the First World War began their journey aboard the Sicamous. With her passenger service discontinued in 1935, the Sicamous worked for two seasons hauling freight before being retired completely. In 1949, the City of Penticton purchased the ship from the Canadian Pacific Railway in order to preserve this important relic of the age of the lake steamships.

In 1910 an announcement was made that Penticton would serve as the headquarters for the new Kettle Valley Railway, the rail line that would finally link the transportation of the coast to the wealth of the Kootenays. This decision secured Penticton's economic future; the arrival of the railway brought many jobs and the town's population more than doubled by the time the line was finished. The railway also provided fast and efficient transportation for local products, greatly boosting the burgeoning orchard industry by opening up distant markets to high-quality Okanagan fruit. The KVR also allowed tourists to visit an area that had long been isolated from the rest of the province, enabling Penticton to become a tourist destination.

Following the end of the Second World War, Penticton entered into a golden age of growth and prosperity. A flood of returning veterans led to a post-war population boom and in 1948 Penticton was incorporated as a city. The 1950s and 1960s were busy decades of construction and large infrastructure projects. The channelization of the Okanagan River and numerous construction projects - including a new city hall, a community arts building, and Penticton's first major shopping centre - changed the face of the young city forever. In March 1955 the city achieved international fame when the Penticton Vees hockey team brought home the World Cup after defeating the Soviet Union 5-0.

Celebrating its Centennial in 2010, Penticton continues to change: old neighborhoods are being revitalized as the charm of small-town life returns to downtown; the new South Okanagan Events Centre brings conventions, sporting events, and performances of all kinds; and, most significantly, the growth of the local wine industry is rapidly turning Penticton into a top destination for wine tourism. The city now has a population of approximately 33,000 and continues to grow. Yet in spite of all this change, at heart Penticton remains the same. It is still the perfect place for an affordable family vacation, where parents and children together can relax on the beach, float down the river channel, or spend a day picking fruit at local orchards. It is still a place of breath-taking scenery, beautiful weather, and an abundance of outdoor activities.

Whether you're looking for a beach where you can go for a swim and work on your tan, a mountain trail where you can ride a bike while taking in the view, or a patio where you can sip wine after a relaxing game of golf, Penticton has something for you, come for a visit and stay forever.