Okanagan Retrospective: Naramata
Before it was “Naramata”, it was “Brighton Beach”. Before it was “Brighton Beach”, it was “9 Mile Point”. The transition of names was a result of the original founder, John Moore Robinson, who arrived in Naramata as a prospector. The city is known for its bountiful fruit-growers and the many boutique wineries that cover the land with gorgeous grapevines and rows of trellises. Fruit has been an economic driver for Naramata, and given the number of quality wines being produced in the area, it has become a favourite destination for wine tours in the Okanagan.
The Early History of Naramata
John Moore Robinson located to the area in the late 1800s, following his work as a teacher in Ontario and as an editor and writer for the “Brandon Times” of Manitoba. The original name of Naramata, “9 Mile Point”, referred to its location as 9 miles from Penticton, and the land forming a point into the Lake it touches. Robinson toyed around with a few other names for the area, including “Brighton Beach” as a reference to the beach by the same name in New York City which he spent much of his time during a period of his education there. The actual origin of the name “Naramata” is foggy at best – the official record was stated by Robinson as having been provided by the town’s medium, who claimed to have conversed with an “Indian Chief”, who apparently had described his wife, whose name was “Narramattah”, which the medium interpreted to mean the “smile of Manitou”. This recollection was advertised by Robinson, but it competes with varying accounts of the true origin today, so there is no definite answer to this question.
Expansion and Growth of the Okanagan Valley
In 1915, the Kettle Valley Railway was finished construction, allowing Okanagan residents a far more convenient means to reach the outside world, or other parts of the Valley. To provide the expanding fruit-growing orchards with an irrigation system, the ever-entrepreneurial John Moore Robinson established the “Naramata Irrigation Company”, which created a dam in the lake to supply water to the thirsty crops. The channels and aqueducts were built out of wood, as pipe was far more expensive at the time. This meant the work to construct the irrigation system was incredibly taxing on the workers. After its construction, orchardists would pay for a line to feed their crops. The Naramata Irrigation Company continued on until 1921, when it transitioned into the Naramata Irrigation District, which still exists today!
Naramata’s history is rich with the culture of Canada, and the many who migrated from the UK and other parts of Europe. Seeing the potential for orchards in the region, John Moore Robinson and other early settlers in the area are to thank for the massive growth in both tourists to the area, and the many exports produced locally. Connecting Peachland, Summerland, and Naramata to the other townships in the Valley provided a channel to bring in more people and further create the Okanagan identity and trademark wineries. Naramata was the second city in Canada to receive the Cittaslow designation, which is an economic movement encouraging cities to adopt a more slow-paced lifestyle that favours locally-grown, sustainable food for the population, offering their designation to those that are successful with implementing or maintaining this culture, across the globe. With the large swath of wineries to choose from, tourists enjoy the many tastes of the local producers found here, with a particular interest in the wine!