The history and cultural traditions of the Armstrong Spallumcheen area reach back many thousand years through the heritage of the Splatsin and Okanagan First Nation, a branch of the Interior Salish. There are no specific First Nations attractions in the area, but look for artifacts at Historic O'Keefe Ranch and the Armstrong Spallumcheen Museum and Art Gallery.
The name Spallumcheen comes from a First Nations word that means "beautiful valley." When fur traders first came through the area in the early 1800s, they found the Splatsin and Okanagan people long established as successful hunter gatherers. Today the Splatsin and Okanagan people are an integral part of the local community.
The fur traders trekking the Hudson's Bay Company Brigade Trail followed the waterways that flow throughout the area. A pullout on Highway 97 1.6km/1mi northeast of Armstrong on the shore of Fortune Creek in Spallumcheen marks the Okanagan Great Divide. The divide is the point that separates waters flowing north into Shuswap Lake, the Thompson River and on to the Fraser River from waters flowing south through the Okanagan into the Columbia River.
The Cariboo Gold Rush of the 1860s launched European settlement around Armstrong and Spallumcheen. Miners and missionaries passed through heading north, followed by cattlemen who began driving cattle from south of the border to the mining camps.
In 1892, the Shuswap & Okanagan railway was developed, with the financial assistance of E.C.Heaton Armstrong, a colorful character for whom the community of Armstrong is named. The railway still runs through the center of town - stop by the Armstrong Spirit Square on Pleasant Valley Blvd, where a replica of a train platform was built using local timbers. There is a display that features some great information about the community and it's railway history including loading docks where fresh vegetables and other agricultural products were prepared and shipped throughout Canada.
Adventurous men like Cornelius O'Keefe saw potential in the region's abundant bunchgrass and accessible water and decided it would be more profitable to ranch cattle than drive them. Learn about the early ranching days at Historic O'Keefe Ranch, 14km/9mi southwest of Armstrong.
The first settlement was Landsdowne, on the bench above where Armstrong is now situated. When the Shuswap & Okanagan Railway came through connecting Sicamous and Vernon in 1892, it soon became clear the Armstrong station would be the commercial centre and Landsdowne slowly disappeared as residents relocated to the new townsite the next year. Many buildings, including St.James Anglican Church, were moved to the community of Armstrong, no small feat in those days. The Lansdowne Cemetery is still there having served numerous settlements in the North Okanagan for over 100 years. The cemetary can be accessed from Highway 97A - ask for directions at the Visitor Centre.
The Township of Spallumcheen was incorporated in 1892. Innovative farmers drained swamplands and exposed fertile black soil ideal for vegetable production, which attracted many, including Chinese immigrants beginning in 1907. Along with the berries, potatoes and turnips already being cultivated, they began growing celery, lettuce and cabbage giving Armstrong the nickname "Celery City". After WWI, Armstrong became one of the largest asparagus growing centres in Canada. You can still see the fields and purchase fresh stalks at one of the farmgate stands - Armstrong Asparagus Farm has a display that tells the story - from how it is grown to how it is harvested - through a series of story boards and equipment.
The better-drained benchlands and drier areas of the valley were excellent for grains, hay and pasture. Along with poultry and hog production, the area came to be known for dairy farming. A creamery was established early on and Armstrong became know as the home of Armstrong Cheese. The original cheese plant has closed, but the tradition continues at The Village Cheese Co. - see the handcrafting of artisanal cheeses and taste the many varieties firsthand.
After WWII, many Dutch immigrants came to the area and you can still see many dairy farms dotting the fertile valley. Today, Armstrong Spallumcheen welcomes other immigrants - and has become home to many who have started a new life here and brought new ideas to the community - Chocoliro Finest Chocolate is a great example of the entrepreneurship shown by new immigrants.