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In the North Okanagan, Art ‘Is In the Earth and Water & Sky’

Cultural heritage and outdoor pleasures mingle to create a destination that stimulates creativity and inspires physical pursuits.

— By Adrian Brijbassi

The Vibe Artisan Market in Vernon features a collection of entirely regionally made products. ( photo)

For a sense of what the North Okanagan is all about, a visitor should get into The Vibe. The aptly named artisan market provides an always-current selection of artwork, crafts, clothing, and decor items that are entirely made by regional artists, with more than half of them coming from Vernon, the largest municipality in the North Okanagan. The items are carefully curated by Gail Sweeny, who is also one of the 75 artists featured in the store.

While many communities have similar cooperative concepts, The Vibe leans on Sweeny’s decades of retail experience to present a pleasant shopping experience. The items aren’t crammed together, giving an orderly feel that is easy for browsing. The walls and shelves have a consistent aesthetic that weaves in the outdoors, Indigenous heritage, holistic appreciation, and distinct materials and ingredients of the area. Much of it retains nature’s hew — like the wood table that greeted me when I entered. Its base was gnawed by beavers and its top coloured with deep blue resin to resemble the lakes of the region. 

Fat biking is one of the exhilarating activities that visitors to SilverStar Mountain Resort can enjoy. (SilverStar Mountain Resort photo)

“As far as Vernon being artistic goes, it is in the earth and water and sky. You can’t help it if you’re an artist or appreciate art, you will feel it. It’s something that just exists here,” Gail Sweeny says. “That’s really what the Okanagan is all about.”

The Vibe Artisan Market is on 30th Avenue, one of the main streets of Vernon’s downtown that has eclectic retail and antique shops, a historic theatre, outstanding places to dine, and even a speakeasy-esque bagel shop located at the rear of a clothing store for toddlers. Though the demographic of Vernon is older, there is youthful exuberance thanks to its arts, culinary scene, and shops like Dogwood Records, which opened in 2019 and has earned an enthusiastic following throughout the Okanagan Valley for its curated vinyl collection and lack of pretentiousness in its business and musical tastes. You will find gems of just about any genre in the tight, two-level shop accessed through a black door pressed against a brick wall that wouldn’t look out of place in a Pink Floyd video.

Andy Lorne Moorhouse has reason to be overjoyed — his Dogwood Records is a hit with music lovers. ( photo)

If downtown Vernon helps you connect with the sense of the North Okanagan’s artistic charm, the region’s shining attraction, SilverStar Mountain Resort, allows you to embrace its source of inspiration — the glorious outdoors. Located 20 kilometres (13 miles) northeast of downtown Vernon, Silver Star is a village that is a magnet for skiers and snowboarders who want incredible powder without the massive crowds or hefty price tags of some other mountains in British Columbia. Silver Star has 3,282 acres of skiable terrain and 132 runs, and has developed its hills to accommodate beginners and experts who want to challenge themselves on double-black-diamond runs. It’s not just for thrill-seekers, though. One of the best traits about Silver Star is its variety of activities, including a number of pursuits that are respectful of gravity. With 105 kilometres (67 miles) of Nordic trails on the Monashee Mountains, Silver Star features Canada’s largest daily groomed cross-country system for skiers. Snowshoers will adore traipsing in the forest of soaring spruce and fir trees and cyclists can cruise through the wintry trails on fat bikes (which have extra large tires to help riders to stay upright on the ice and snow). Pack your ice skates to zip around the outdoor rink at Brewer’s Pond that curves past a snowy island of conifers adjacent to the FireLight Lodge.

When all that activity is done, there’s no doubt your soul will feel nourished and you will, as Sweeny says, just feel it — the North Okanagan and the boundless appeal of the place.

Getting There:

Although Vernon has its own regional airport that is only a six-minute drive from the city’s downtown, it is small and doesn’t have flights from the major carriers. Most air travellers go to Kelowna in the Central Okanagan and drive 30 minutes north along Highway 97 to reach Vernon. Silver Star is about 50 minutes from the Kelowna airport.

Road-trippers can drive 440 kilometres (275 miles) east along the Trans-Canada Highway from downtown Vancouver to Vernon (approximately five hours) or, if coming through the Rocky Mountains from Calgary, the drive is 550 kilometres (340 miles), or a little less than seven hours. Find out more here.

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Where to Stay:

Silver Star is graced with exceptional and diverse accommodations choices. There are townhouses and luxury suites that are ideal for week-long stays, condominium-style options, ski-in and ski-out lodges, and the no-frills, all-fun Bulldog, where prices are consistently $169 per night. Visit the Lodging section of the Destination Silver Star website to peruse your options.  

The snowy village of SilverStar Mountain is a short drive from downtown Vernon. ( photo)

Where to Dine: 

From a coffee shop that spins into a wine bar at night to an authentic southern BBQ restaurant, and even an underground speakeasy, the North Okanagan is a delightful destination for foodies. Read about the dining highlights in downtown Vernon and at Silver Star.

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