Who knew Kelowna once had a vibrant Chinatown, filled with groceries, laundries and merchant shops? Or that the Okanagan Valley is the most bio-diverse region in Canada? These are but two fascinating facts gleaned at the Okanagan Heritage Museum during a recent visit. My kids, both teenagers, loved the displays, too, from the jars of spices inside a replica Chinese grocery, to the collection of taxidermy animals that demonstrate the range of what can live here.

Chinese Grocery Store - Okanagan Heritage Museum

Okanagan Heritage Museum 

Our family of four finally toured the museum, which tells Kelowna’s geological, Indigenous and more modern history, during a downtown day trip. The idea was to explore the Cultural District, including the museum, the city’s collection of outdoor public art, and the art gallery, by making it more about fun and exploration than culture and education.

After the museum, we popped into Mad Mango Café for to-go smoothies, then headed down Bernard Ave. to the towering Spirit of Sail sculpture. Not only does this distinctive artwork beckon residents to the shore of Okanagan Lake, but it is also along the waterfront boardwalk, a 2.2-km family-friendly path that extends from the William R. Bennett Bridge Pedestrian Tunnel in City Park, North to the Rotary Marsh Park.

The Bear Sculpture

'Bear' at Stuart Park

Kelowna boasts over 40 pieces of public art on display downtown, ranging from vibrant murals to captivating sculptures that both beautify the city and help to tell its story. Quite a few of the pieces are located along this popular pathway, including a cartoon version of Ogopogo in Kerry Park, and the iconic Bear in Stuart Park as you walk north. This blue steel-frame bruin nods to the lake’s importance as a shipping corridor and tourist draw, and it explains the city’s name — “Kelowna” is the English translation of the Indigenous syilx word for female grizzly bear.

We watched the ice skaters in Stuart Park for a spell and then continued toward Waterfront Park, a well-manicured green space that sits between the Delta Grand Okanagan Resort and its lagoon, and Okanagan Lake. Here, numerous trails lead to rock and waterfall features, and we spotted various species of ducks nibbling on the grass.

Waterfront Park (MF) (2)

Waterfront Park. Photo by: Matt Ferguson Photography

At last, our family’s favourite sculpture came into view: On the Beach, a cluster of chubby bronze sunbathers located at the south end of Tugboat Beach. (Another personal fave is Running Man, the whimsical sculpture of three businessmen in a hurry carrying briefcases, located on the Queensway across from the Okanagan Heritage Museum.)

We also stopped to ponder Rhapsody, the well-known sculpture of the three cavorting dolphins across from Prospera Place. Since Okanagan Lake isn’t home to dolphins, wouldn’t a sculpture with swimming kokanee salmon make more sense, my kids wondered?

Group of Seven Exhibition at the Kelowna Art Gallery

Northern Pine Exhibition at the Kelowna Art Gallery

The last stop on our cultural tour was the Kelowna Art Gallery. We regularly pop in when we’re downtown, especially in the spring when the gallery features artwork by high school students from around town. 

Despite all the cool creativity on display around town, our family’s (as in, the teens’) main takeaway from the day was: Wouldn’t it be cool if Kelowna still had a Chinatown? Indeed.