The Ditch

Engineers inspect “the Ditch,” which, when full in the summer, supplies irrigation water to about 5,200 acres of farm land.

An irrigation canal commonly known as “the Ditch” that helped turn the South Okanagan into an agricultural centre will be marked with a plaque.

Officials in Oliver unveiled the bronze marker this week at Fairview Park to honour the 40-kilometre, 100-year-old concrete-lined canal, which provides water to about 5,200 acres of some of the most productive farm land in B.C.

"It is an amazing piece of infrastructure,” said Mayor Martin Johansen.

“The engineering involved, using the tools that were available years ago is unbelievable. The irrigation canal has provided a sustainable and reliable water source for 100 years, and with continued maintenance and major repairs scheduled to re-route the siphon at Gallagher Lake, the canal will serve the area for many years to come".

The canal project kicked off under the town’s namesake, B.C. premier John Oliver, in 1918, when the provincial government purchased 22,000 acres of land in the South Okanagan and proceeded to develop an irrigation system designed to convert some 8,000 acres of desert land on each side of the Okanagan River into viable agriculture land. The irrigated land was later made available, at a reasonable cost, to soldiers returning from the First World War.

Surveying, mapping and construction, employing 100 to 150 men at times, continued over the next seven years, and when complete, it stretched from Gallagher Lake to the Canada-U.S. border.

After managing the canal for five decades, the B.C. government turned it over to the Oliver and Osoyoos Fruit Growers, which became the South Okanagan Lands Irrigation District in 1972.

In 1990, responsibility for the canal, which is drained each winter, was handed over to the communities of Oliver and Osoyoos.

When the Gallagher Lake portion of the canal was damaged in 2016, then-mayor Ron Hovanes warned that failure to repair it by that spring would have put $140 million worth of crops at risk on 400 agricultural properties.