Friday, June 16, 2006

Osoyoos, British Columbia: Unusual name for a fun little Canadian town

Nk'Mip Resort in British Columbia
Photo by Sue Frause

It's easy to bypass a town when you're on the way to somewhere else. But more and more I find it fun to get out of the car and do some exploring by foot. You meet the nicest people that way.

Take the small town of Osoyoos in British Columbia. Located just north of the US border at Oroville, Washington, the town is at the southernmost tip of the Okanagan Valley in the middle of Canada's only true desert. We're talking orchards and grapes and lots and lots of yummy wine. It's also right on Lake Osoyoos, the warmest freshwater lake in Canada.

Driving along Lakeshore Drive (formerly called "Campground Row"), some of the camping areas are a throwback to times gone by. Waltons Mountain Resort is a family RV/campground smack dab in the middle of a cherry orchard and right across the street from a sandy beach.

I stayed at Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa, situated between agricultural vineyards and Canada's only desert, on the 200-acre Nk'Mip Resort (pronounced in-ka-meep). It's also home to Nk'Mip Cellars, North America's first aboriginal owned and operated winery. The accommodations are lovely and there's also a nine-hole golf course that even I could play on. A spa will be opening later this year along with a restaurant. Currently you can enjoy lunch at Nk'Mip Cellars; dine alfresco and enjoy a view of the vineyards sloping down to Lake Osoyoos.

On June 15, 2006 the Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre opened. Plan to spend a morning or afternoon exploring the $9-million interpretive center. Outside are 50 acres of self-guided trails in the Great Basin Desert. It's a real gem in the desert, and like the rest of the Nk'Mip Resort, owned and operated by the Osoyoos Indian Band.

One lazy afternoon I stopped by the Osoyoos Museum located in downtown Osoyoos. It was pretty quiet, and three young lads (OK, they were senior citizens, but full of vim and vinegar) were holding down the fort. Don Chadderton was more than happy to give my friends and me a tour of the former 1954-curling rink. The museum boasts that it has the best small-town collection in BC, with exhibits ranging from military and natural history to pioneer life in the Okanogan. Stop by, Don and the fellas will be happy to see you!

Having been raised in the lumber and hardware business (both my grandfather and father were former lumber/hardware store owners), I can't miss a good hardware store in a small town. And the word on the street is that Home Hardware is a classic. The store has been operating since 1942, and for the past 21 years it's been owned and operated by Larry and Frances Sologuk. Frances, a self-described Italian "foodie," is a former schoolteacher and she and her hubby have lovingly transformed their store into something special.

There's a small train running overhead, old gas pumps, and a collection of antique tools that customers bring in to be displayed on the walls. Call it a "museum in a hardware store." Spread out on six levels, you'll find 130,00 items, most of them for sale. But don't plan on purchasing the original jail cell door that's from Camp McKinney (an old gold mine near Mt. Baldy).

The store has a killer gourmet section ("Hey, do you know how to make wasabi peas?" a customer asks Frances) along with wine tastings and cooking classes hosted by chefs and authors. There's even a "paint bar" for all your interior and exterior paint needs. But at this paint bar, they ask you: "Would you like your paint shaken or stirred?" Frances is happy to give tours, and even school groups make a pilgrimage to this unique hardware store.

The Soluguks are dynamos in the community, and on July 22 and August 12 they'll be putting on their annual Home Hardware Street Dance.

About five miles west of Osoyoos on Highway 3 is Spotted Lake. Known as Kliluk to the First Nations of the Okanagan, the lake is sacred and each of the 365 rings is believed to have healing powers. The rings are a rare natural phenomenon and a result of the large concentration of minerals. In the late summer, Spotted Lake dries out leaving mud formations in white, yellow, green and blue circles.

Continuing on Highway 3 you'll find the goofy little town of Keremeos, located in the Similkameen Valley. This isn't exactly a destination town, but that in itself can be charming. My friend Bill and I stopped by several antique stores, the best being Berg's Ox Yoke. The owner, a former resident of Vancouver Island, has amassed a wide collection of "stuff," and we both ended up buying trinkets to take home.

For me, a book of 1922 miniature black & white postcards of scenes from Seattle and for Bill, a lighter from his hometown of Bridgewater, Nova Scotia!

As I paid for my postcards, I picked up a brochure on Sunrise Cactus Gardens in Keremeos.

"Visit the Largest Cactus Gardens in Canada!" it exclaimed.

Next time, next time.