West Kelowna: The name that divided a community - InfoNews

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West Kelowna: The name that divided a community

West Kelowna.
August 18, 2019 - 12:00 PM

KELOWNA - When popular B.C. band We Are The City made a community callout last week, they brushed up against what was once this region’s most sensitive subject.

“Westbank (West Kelowna for you newcomers) Does anyone out there want to be in a music video? We're shooting Monday night.”

Monday came and went, but the long-time sticking point they obliquely referenced appears here to stay on billboards or at the very least roll by on well-worn bumper stickers.

For those newcomers — which accounts for roughly 25 per cent of West Kelowna’s 35,000 residents — the name chosen by referendum 10 years ago this year wasn’t well loved by all.

The stage for community division over the name was actually set by a referendum two years earlier that revealed the deep divisions among the city and its neighbourhoods. In a nearly even split, voters narrowly chose to incorporate as an independent municipality in 2007 instead of joining the City of Kelowna.

When it came time to choose a name, 150 different choices were offered. According to an Aug 22, 2008, Kelowna Daily Courier article, they included "Tuscany, Whoville, Stripmallville, Buttbank and Del Boca Vista, which Seinfeldphiles will recall was the name of the retirement complex where Jerry's doddering parents lived."

Other, more sensible options, included Westbank, Westlake, Okanagan Hills and, of course, West Kelowna.

In the end, 82 per cent of residents opted to change from the name Westside; and 48 per cent chose West Kelowna as the new name. That seemed to galvanize many people who live in the neighbourhood long known as Westbank in opposition and they have remained vocal and visual ever since. You can often see 'I heart Westbank' stickers on vehicles and signs and frequent opposition to using West Kelowna for local messages, buildings and team names.

The province made the change official by amending the Letters Patent Jan. 29, 2009.

Of course, the people who voted to have the newly minted town — later city — keep a more familiar moniker.

“I was sitting on council at that time,” West Kelowna mayor Gord Milsom said.

“We knew it would be a close vote between Westbank and West Kelowna.”

Both names had obvious appeal. The West Kelowna option tied into the cachet of Kelowna, which was already established as a well known tourism destination, although Kelowna representatives didn’t feel too fondly about the idea.
Then Mayor Sharon Shepherd told the Daily Courier in a 2008 interview she would have liked Kelowna off the agenda. 

"Maybe I'm just feeling grumpy, but we could have all been one city. And now, for them to turn around and utilize our name, that wouldn't seem to make sense to me," Shepherd said.

"But I'd be very surprised if they want to use West Kelowna anyway. There seemed to be quite a problem with Kelowna for a number of people over there."

Milsom always preferred the name West Kelowna, he said tentatively Monday, though he saw the appeal of Westbank and is glad that it’s still held out as an important part of the community.

“I am pleased that the name Westbank is still used in many ways and still remembered,” Milsom said.

“Westbank, even though it was unincorporated, has been around for 100 years and there were fur traders and first pioneers to this area, aside from First Nation whose traditional territories we’re in.:

He said he’s pleased there are those who protect the name so that newcomers and longtime residents alike can reflect on the area’s history.

And, he said, the name gave the new community something to build on.

“It was important to have a permanent name and build that identity,” he said.

“That’s what we’ve done. West Kelowna is the12th best place to live in in the country and second in the province. It’s a strong name and a beautiful community… since (incorporation) we’ve been able to enhance the services and amenities within our community and It looks different over the last 12 years.

West Kelowna has walkways, new parks a wine route, new police station and a multi-sports facility. All things that westside never would have had and Westbank never did. And, Milsom said proudly, it’s been done while keeping taxes at a reasonable rate.

“We’ve grown, quite a bit and we’re just getting going,” he said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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