Oliver BC is known as the Wine Capital of Canada, and for good reason. This town of under 5000 is surrounded by at least 20 wineries that make the juiciest red wines north of the 49th Parallel. Where once there were orchards and cantaloupe patches, now there are sprawling vineyards lining this South Okanagan valley floor. And it is a verdant valley in the middle of a desert with a river running through it.
What I love about Oliver is that it feels a lot like our former hometown of Forestville, California. It’s why my husband Bill and I invested in a rental property there and have a reason to drive 4.5 hours from Vancouver to visit.
Originally, we looked in Penticton, but when I saw this house online – on my birthday no less – I said, “Honey, we have got to get to Oliver to see that place.” In one day we fell in love with our home and put in an offer. We took possession on November 2. Since then, we’ve been on a journey of discovery to learn about the town where we have recently stuck one foot.
The first thing we learned is that Oliver is a town where everybody knows everybody.
The former owners of our house, the Bourgeaults, were fairly prominent in the community. Mr Bourgeault was a shop teacher at the high school and had served on the city council. A year or so ago, they subdivided their already large lot on Fairview Rd, and sold it to Mr Bourgeault’s former student, Kirk, who is now finishing a 3000 foot home next door. From him, I’m looking forward to hearing stories about the folks who lived in our house for 50 years.
To find tenants, our real estate agent Vickie Huffman at ReMax gave us to property manager Nita Nuefield at Royal LePage. Nita didn’t need to advertise; she already knew Dean and Lisa Ecklund – of D&L’s New, Used and Pawn on Main Street – were looking to move closer to their store. They loved our place, so they and their 5 kids are moving in soon. One upside is, if any of the appliances go out, we’ll just get replacements from their amazing store.
The second thing we learned is that you can’t expect to dine out in Oliver after 8pm. Exceptions are Savvios Greek Restaurant – good but pricey – and Ye Olde Welcome Inn Pub on Hwy 97 near Gallagher Lake, which we haven’t tried yet. Otherwise, you have to sit down by 7:30 or go hungry.
After we finished painting walls one night in early January, we hit the Firehouse Bistro for some upscale pub grub just before 8 only to find the kitchen closed. However, we were able to squeeze out bowls of delicious mushroom soup and pints of yummy Tin Whistle IPA. But those were just starters.
Still hungry, we hurried down to Murphy’s Pub, but their kitchen had just closed as well. Desperate for more food – since we didn’t have much to cook with at the house – we walked up Main Street and noticed that, although looking dark and closed, the Oliver Garden Chinese restaurant was still open, but closing fast. Inside, Francis had her chef husband whip up some almond chicken to go, and after a long conversation about MSG, we left with dinner in hand and a promise to return.We came back two nights later and Francis filled us in on her opinions about guns, Americans, Obama, the lockout, food distribution and more. She is a bubbling font of local news and information, so we’ll definitely be back there for more fill ups.
Another thing we learned is that Oliver is a town with a colorful history, and artifacts lay everywhere. We inherited an antique piano along with the house, and it turned out to be a famous piano that entertained troops during WWII, and had possibly entertained miners in the obsolete village of Fairview back in the 1920’s. We learned that from Vickie as well as from Bruce Fuller at Rustico Winery – a museum in itself – but we have yet to get positive identification of the piano from Agnes, whose mother owned it 90 years ago. More on that after we meet her.
On a recent solo trip, I learned that from our house we can be at Tinhorn Creek Winery inside of 10 minutes. It’s even closer than Fairview Cellars, right up our street. Back in July, when we put in the house offer, we drove up to Tinhorn and promptly joined their Crush Club, because why not? We love Sandra Oldfield’s wine, and now we can pick up our shipments and we get discounts when we purchase. We’ve already been to one concert in 2012 and intend to attend more this year. This is the first wine club we’ve ever belonged to and it seemed a great way to dip our toes in the community just a little more.
Oliver is a town with a rich history and a bright future and we’re looking forward to learning more about it on upcoming visits. By the time the Wine Bloggers Conference rolls into town in June, we will hopefully be less the out-of-towners and more the townies. Or should I say, Oliverians?