Photo by Darren Hull

There was a time when a large part of what is now south-central British Columbia was the territory of the Okanagan First Nation, but after the arrival of Europeans, Indigenous residents were pushed onto much smaller pieces of land. In 1877, one particular group, the Osoyoos Indian Band, was forced to settle on a 32,000-acre reserve on the shores of Osoyoos Lake in the South Okanagan. There, they made a series of wise choices with the goal of creating a thriving and self-sustaining local economy. Among their accomplishments is Spirit Ridge Resort, now part of the exclusive Unbound Collection by Hyatt.

In 1988, the Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation (OIBDC) was created and, with the leadership of Chief Clarence Louie, the Osoyoos have stepped up their entrepreneurial achievements to the point where the band is financially independent, with virtually no unemployment. Their holdings include the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, which showcases and preserves cultural and natural features of the area; a golf course; a racetrack designed by Jacques Villeneuve, and 51 per cent of Nk’Mip Cellars and Nk’Mip Vineyards (the rest is held by Arterra Wines Canada, which has taken over from Constellation Brands Inc.)

In the midst of these attractions, Spirit Ridge Resort (opened in 2006) and its associated Nk’Mip Conference Centre are located high above lake level, with a sweeping view of an astonishing landscape. Once partly band-owned, it was developed and managed by Bellstar before being taken over recently by its owners’ association.

With its unique location, it’s no wonder that, in late 2017, Spirit Ridge was welcomed into The Unbound Collection by Hyatt — a unique group of “story-worthy” locations that launched in March 2016 — becoming just the sixth property in the world (and the first in Canada) to join the brand, which includes such distinctive properties as The Confidante Miami Beach, the Hôtel du Louvre in Paris and Carmelo Resort and Spa in Uruguay.

“Spirit Ridge chose to join the Hyatt family, operating under The Unbound Collection by Hyatt brand, because the resort still has the ability to maintain its independence and distinct character as Spirit Ridge and still tie back to the incredible history of the area,” says a Hyatt spokesperson. “At the same time, Hyatt brings dedicated sales capabilities, global relationships and integration into the award-winning customer-loyalty program, World of Hyatt, to the table. This provides added value for our guests and customers.”

“When Hyatt was launching The Unbound Collection, it was looking for signature properties in Canada and I know that Spirit Ridge was at the top of its list,” says Spirit Ridge executive director and general manager Daniel Bibby. “We’re very excited to be joining Hyatt at this exciting time in the tourism industry. What I love is that Hyatt is a well-known luxury brand, but The Unbound Collection allows us to be a little more unique in what we offer.”

The target demographic, notes Hyatt’s spokesperson, is the “modern traveller looking for story-worthy and shareable experiences. They want to stay at unique and authentic hotels, but also want the reassurance that comes with a globally recognized and respected brand. Visitors to Spirit Ridge are curious and social and look to explore unique and authentic stories though experiences when they travel.” The starting average rate for a one-bedroom condo with two queen beds (plus pullout bed) is $349 per night during peak season and $129 per night in the off-season.

As part of its agreement with Hyatt, the resort is currently undergoing a $5.2-million renovation that will touch most parts of the complex — without an interruption in operations. “We’ve done phase one of our renovations this year; because the resort is spread over many acres, we’re doing one building per year,” Bibby says. The first to undergo updates was the 64-unit Desert-Suites building.

In total, Spirit Ridge consists of 226 quarter-shared-owned condominium suites distributed through several different buildings with two pool areas, three dining areas, spa and fitness facilities and the stand-alone business centre. The buildings are decorated in a Southwestern theme.

“We’re on the northernmost part of the Sonoran Desert, Canada’s only desert — the hottest destination in Canada,” says Bibby.

The resort has the rare advantage of being located in one of Canada’s VQA-wine regions. The Okanagan area is second in importance only to Niagara and still growing. As Bibby notes, “we have an additional 40 wineries in this immediate area. We work closely with all of those. Guests can hop on a tour right outside our door and be transported into these little micro-areas where some of the best wines in the country are made.”

There are also hiking and horseback-riding trails around the resort, as well as interpretive programs offered through the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, and guests can explore cultural artifacts, such as a pit house or tepee representing the traditions and history of the Syilx/Okanagan Nation. The golf course and racetrack present further opportunities for recreation, plus guests can shuttle from the resort to a private beach on Osoyoos Lake, where they will find a Mexican-inspired cantina serving margaritas and snacks.

“One of the magical pieces of Osoyoos is that you have a desert climate; you also have mountains and Osoyoos Lake [creating] this magical combination,” Bibby says. “Guests could go out and pick merlot or cabernet sauvignon [grapes] right off the vine and go into the winery and taste the wines.”

The spa and foodservice offerings draw as much as possible from the local terroir. For example, the Solterra Desert Spa, located onsite, specializes in treatments using local indigenous products, such as desert sage and lavender. The main dining room and the seasonal outdoor-patio restaurant at Nk’Mip Cellars likewise reflect the local environment in their menus, using some of the same plants, along with cedar and balsam, in a culinary application — as well as the local Okanagan wines, of course. In addition, “there’s a salmon that comes from Lake Osoyoos that the Indian band helps to harvest,” Bibby says, as well as high-quality fruit fresh from nearby orchards.

Currently named Mica, the main dining room is being redesigned to what Bibby refers to as a “vineyard-to-table” concept for 2019. “We’re going to do some small renovations in January and reopen with the new concept. It’s pretty exciting right now; we’re going to take the operation to the next level,” he says. “Our intent is to focus on local product done in a very authentic style, utilizing some of the First Nations culture and starting to use products from the vineyards, like smoking meats with dried vines. The grape-must can [also] be dried and ground down to be used in some of the breads and flatbreads.”

Overall, the experience of Spirit Ridge is “very authentic, very experiential in nature and story worthy. Guests will want to tell their story of the adventures they have had. They’ve tapped into a need. People want more than an average hotel stay; they want something that’s experience-worthy and shareable,” he says.

“Everything about Spirit Ridge is all about experiential and authentic,” Bibby adds. “It’s an opportunity to take in so many different experiences; guests don’t have to go anywhere else.”

Written by Sarah B. Hood


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