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Monday, July 14, 2014

5 Fascinating Facts About Kalamalka Lake: Treasure of the Okanagan

#1 One Lake Becomes Two

At one time Kalamalka Lake and Wood Lake were known as a single lake referred to by the Okanagan Indians as “Chilutsus” (Chil-loot-sus) meaning “long lake cut in the middle”.  The isthmus separating the two was called “The Railroad”  which “likely referred to a rail (corduroy) road made by the Okanagan people by cutting and laying down closely intertwined poles or willows to facilitate their crossing of the isthmus.” 

Photo: Lake Country Museum

We recognize this land strip today as part of Oyama with Oyama Road running alongside the shore of Wood Lake and Kaloya Regional Park shoring the Kalamalka side. There was once a creek joining the two lakes until 1908 when a navigational canal was built between the two bodies of water and still exists today. It is said that Wood Lake dropped by four feet when the canal was made until it was finally level with Kalamalka. 

Today Kalamalka Lake is measured as having a maximum length of 16 km, a max width of 3 km and a surface area of 25.7 km squared.  The average depth is 58.5 metres with a max depth of 142 metres. Water from Kalamalka Lake is used to supply drinking water for the city of Vernon. 

#2 The Name

As was just mentioned, the First Nations name for this lake was originally “Chilutsus”. By 1851 though, the White settlers were referring to the northern lake as Long Lake and the southern one as Pelmewash Lake ((thus the name of the new parkway). The name of Pelmewash Lake was later changed to Wood Lake in honour of Thomas Wood, an Eastern Canadian who moved from Vernon and settled there.

So why is the northern lake – the one which we all love so much – now called Kalamalka Lake?  Well, first of all, there is no evidence to suggest that the name means “lake of many colours”. Kalamalka (possibly a form of Kenamaska) was the name of a popular Indian Chief who lived at the northern head of this beautiful lake - it was he for whom this lake was named. In 1892, the main hotel in Vernon was renamed in the Chief’s honour and it seems that there was a push by some business men to have Long Lake renamed as Kalamalka as well. The local radio station was even referring to it as Kalamalka Lake. This was not so much to honour the Chief but probably more for marketing purposes – nonetheless a great name for the lake!  The name change was made official in 1951. 

There is also a theory out there that Kalamalka may be a Hawaiian word and that one of the kanakas (workers brought over from the Hawaiian Islands by the Hudson’s Bay Company) was father to the Chief and named him this after himself or in honour of his Hawaiian heritage. The Polynesian form of the word apparently means “The Sun of America”. This is an intriguing story – and the dates for kanakas coming over do line up. It is worth noting that a kanaka named "Kalemaka" came over from O'ahu in 1845 to work for the HBC. He began in Washington State and then worked in northern B.C. from 1846-48. It is not impossible that he could have fathered a child with an Okanagan Indian woman eventually resulting in the local place name "Kalamalka".  For more information on the origins of the name please read Kalamalka: A Look At the Mysterious Origins of the Name

#3 Chief Kalamalka

In the book British Columbia Place Names (Akrigg) Kay Cronin’s account of this (perhaps somewhat legendary) story of the Chief is quoted:

“In his old age, Kalamalka was very anxious to become a Christian and repeatedly asked Father Le Jacq to baptize him. Each time the good father protested that he could not do so until Kalamalka gave up his … practice of having four wives. Loyal to his wives, Kalamalka produced reasons against putting aside any of them: one was the mother of his oldest son, another was lame from the terrible frost-bite she had suffered once when saving him amid the winter snows, and so the story continued. At length, Father Le Jacq was so moved by the old Indian’s constancy to his wives, along with his tremendous desire to be a Christian (*Though baptism is not a requisite), that he appealed on his behalf to the bishop, only to hear his own ruling repeated – Kalamalka must settle for a single wife.

Coming back sadly from New Westminster, Father Le Jacq received from Kalamalka the tidings that at last he had only one wife. She turned out to be none of the four, but a good looking young woman! The four wives had a held a conference, decided that a new young wife could take over a lot of the work, and had sent the chief to find a new wife while they went into retirement. And so from that day on, Old Kalamalka had one wife but supported all five women, was baptized, and, presumably, was happy.”

#4 The Parks

Kalamalka Lake is home to two provincial parks, a regional park, many beautiful beaches (including the famous Kal Lake Beach with its pier at the north end of the lake) and many gorgeous bays such as Kekuli, Jade, Juniper and Cosens Bays. 

The first provincial park established on the lake was Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park founded in 1975 on what was formerly land belonging to the Coldstream Ranch. Its mission was to “provide opportunities of regional, provincial and national significance, for access to outstanding natural features and significant outdoor recreation opportunities” (Public Advisory Committee 1984). Kal Park, as it is known locally, is home to Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir as well as 432 varieties of vascular plants. It also holds an abundance of wildlife from Western Rattlesnakes to the occasional bear or cougar. Kal Park now encompasses the Kalamalka Lake Protected Area (formed in 2001) and the Couger Canyon Ecolgical Reserve (formed in 1981) and comprises 4209 hectares of land alongside Kalamalka Lake. Kal Park is a local hotspot for hiking, swimming, beach-going and cliff diving. 

Kekuli Bay Provincial Park was established in 1990 on the west side of the lake. It is named for a Native Indian dwelling place called a kekuli. These kekulis were subterranean homes (pit houses) with log roofs. There is archaeological evidence of these and other Okanagan Indian artifacts in both provincial parks. Kal Lake and its parks were also used for combat practice during WW2. “During the war amphibious assaults were practiced on Kalamalka Lake, with the ships launching from Keluli Bay. Guns would be firing as they approached Cosens Bay.”  In addition to this military note, the Canadian Navy launched a mine-sweeping vessel and named it the HCMS Kalamalka in July of 1944. 

#5 The Colours 

Kalamalka Lake is “one of a handful of unique bodies of water known as marl lakes”. In the summer as the lake warms, calcium carbonate, or limestone (left by past glaciers), forms crystals that reflect sunlight. This results in a breathtaking array of blue, green and turquoise colours. When the lake cools in the winter the crystals dissolve and the normal blue colour returns. 

These ever changing colours and hues on the lake, along with its remarkable history and geography, truly solidify it as one of the Okanagan’s most cherished treasures. 

"Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, 
and He would have given you living water.” 
John 4:10

You May Also Like:

8 Fascinating Facts About Mount Robson: Monarch of the Canadian Rockies (B.C.)

7 Fascinating Facts About Okanagan Landing, B.C.

Historic Timeline of Greater Vernon, B.C.

"Kanaka: The Untold Story of Hawaiian Pioneers in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest" Copyright 1995 by Tom Koppel, Whitecap Books

Sources & Further Reading:

Lake Country Museum website:

Blog by Dr. Duane Thompson for the Lake Country Museum:

British Columbia Place Names By G. P. (Philip) V. Akrigg, Helen Akrigg

Leaving Paradise: Indigenous Hawaiians in the Pacific Northwest (University of Hawaii Press, 2006)

Friends of Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park:

Pat Dillon

The Society for the Protection of Kalamalka Lake (SPrKL):


1 comment:

  1. Wow these lakes are so picture perfect. It will make stand up paddleboaring activity more pleasant . SUP Red Deer