By Dave Carpenter
With three large water bodies within its boundaries: Okanagan Lake, Wood Lake and Kalamalka Lake, it’s no surprise where the District of Lake Country got its name.
At the north end of Kelowna, the District of Lake Country has a lot going for it right out of the gates: dry, mild-to-warm weather from around March through October, stunning lakes and recreational facilities, a thriving art community, beautiful fruit orchards, world-class vineyards and a population just big enough to have all the amenities that you’d find in a city within striking distance.
In fact, the District of Lake Country is one of the fastest-growing municipalities in the province.
“Growth in the community really took off beginning in 2014 with an estimated 5.7 per cent growth year-over-year,” says District of Lake Country Mayor, James Baker. “2015 showed an even higher growth rate of 7.6 per cent. In 2020, the population is sitting at over 15,000, which is an approximate 50 per cent increase from 2010.”
District of Lake Country’s Beginnings
Lake Country was incorporated on May 2, 1995, and has four distinct neighbourhoods: Carr’s Landing, Oyama, Winfield and Okanagan Centre.
“Each neighbourhood brings a uniqueness to the community. We are one of the only municipalities in the province of BC to use the ward system,” Baker says. “One council member is elected from each of the neighbourhood wards and eligible voters elect the Mayor and two council members at large.”
A Vacation Paradise, Including Wine Lovers
Lake Country is one of the most popular vacation destinations in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.
“If you vacationed in the area when you were a child, maybe on a family holiday – you no doubt have fond memories of warm sunshine, beaches and abundant orchards, maybe you were caught picking cherries or apples from one of the many trees,” Mayor Baker recalls. Baker believes that these unique experiences keep people visiting the district year after year, with many deciding to relocate to Lake Country to enjoy the lifestyle on a permanent basis.
“It is one of the most attractive communities in Canada where you can maintain an active, healthy lifestyle and truly live, work and play year round,” Baker adds.
Lake Country’s milder, drier temperature has also made the area a destination for wine lovers. With seven wineries in the area – many of which have won international awards – the community sees visitors returning year-after-year while taking in the Okanagan’s culinary and live-entertainment offerings.
Lake Country’s Agriculture Roots Hold Strong
Agriculture and farming remain vital to the entire community, according to Mayor Baker.
“When you tour Lake Country, you quickly notice many farms, both big and small, selling their produce, in addition to the weekly farmers market that is very popular with locals and tourists,” Baker says. “If your goal is to eat sustainably and you value the farm-to-table concept, you can easily accomplish this while living in Lake Country.”
For the active, Lake Country also has excellent hiking and biking trails, with stunning views along with Spion Kop, Pelmewash Parkway and Okanagan Rail Trail.
Strategically Positioned near Bigger Cities
Also crucial to Lake Country’s decades-long boom is the district’s close proximity to bigger-city amenities. So, while Lake Country has a small-town atmosphere, it’s centrally located between Vernon and Kelowna, with two hospitals, an international airport, higher learning institutions like UBC and Okanagan College, as well as Silver Star and Big White ski resorts within reach.
“If you do not feel like leaving Lake Country – that’s okay because we have everything you need right here. From medical providers to retail, restaurants, art and entertainment, we have you covered,” Baker adds.
Changing Demographics Lead to New Infrastructure and Thriving Economy
While community members in their 50s comprise the biggest demographic within the community, Mayor Baker has seen a distinct rise in young families relocating to Lake Country, leading to new infrastructure and amenity needs within the municipality. Lake Country now has three elementary schools, one of which offers French immersion and a middle school under construction that’s expected to open in September 2021, along with a high school.
“Daycare and after school care within the community also continue to expand, with new spots for a variety of ages opening in the coming months,” Mayor Baker says.
Lake Country also has a thriving art community, which further helps drive the district’s economy, according to Mayor Baker. Baker says the district’s annual art walk attracts over 30,000 visitors to the three-day event. “Home-based businesses continue to flourish at a rapid rate within the community as well,” he adds.
New Firehall and Activity Facility Vital Additions to The District
On Mayor Baker’s watch, work on two of the largest, most vital construction projects in the District’s history continue: A new $9-million town firehall, started in August, 2020 and scheduled for completion in March, 2022, as well as the district’s Multi-Generational Activity Centre (MAC), breaking ground this past summer and funded through a $5-Million Federal Gas Tax grant.
Due to the municipality’s substantial population growth in recent years, Baker says public safety has become a primary concern and as a result additional RCMP members have been requested for the Lake Country detachment. “It is vital to have a proper facility within our growing community to accommodate the needs of our first responders,” Baker says. “Our paid-on-call firefighters respond to fires, medical emergencies, motor vehicle accidents, ice rescue and marine rescue.”
The siting of the new Multi-Generational Activity Facility will allow for inter-generational programming between youth and seniors. According to Mayor Baker, the facility will provide a permanent home for the Lake Country Boys and Girls Club in a centrally located, accessible location. “The increase in community space overall will provide a place for complementary activities and groups, build on the offerings of the recreation complex and ensure families in Lake Country have the support they need,” Baker says.
As Mayor Baker looks toward Lake Country’s future over the next 3-5 years, he sees attracting commercial and light industrial businesses to the area as key to its long-term development.
According to Baker, municipalities like Lake Country have a limited tax base and rely on residential property tax increases each year to keep up with infrastructure projects and other community needs. “Council recently approved rezoning properties within the community as a key step towards attracting commercial and light industrial businesses to the community,” Baker says, which provides more jobs and contributes up to five-times more tax dollars when compared to residential taxation.