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Okanagan Geology South: Geologic Highlights of the South Okanagan, British Columbia

By Murray A. Roed and Robert J. Fulton, Editors

Review By Wayne Wilson

August 29, 2014

BC Studies no. 185 Spring 2015  | p. 232-33

Guidebooks present risks. Some authors inadvertently lead readers into the minutia that is their passion. Others find themselves indulging in editorial or polemic. Yet others lose their readers in what might be described as a kind of organizational dementia. In this case, the authors of Okanagan Geology South have avoided these pitfalls. Rather, they have crafted a pleasant journey across the time and space of the Okanagan Valley from Summerland south to Osoyoos.

At the outset, Roed and Fulton et al. are clear that this is a “non-technical” review of the bedrock and surficial geology of one of the province’s most distinct landscapes. That said, they have provided a handy though adumbrated glossary and a list of references to offer context and to back up their work. In this way, these technical specialists have given a foundation for unfolding the geological complexity through compelling vignettes and plain language descriptions.

The authors build on an impressive legacy of geological study and research; they open the book with thoughtful reference to the work of G.M. Dawson, Hugh Nasmith, Hugh Bostock, C.C. Kelly, and others. From here they follow a straightforward approach with a chapter on geologic concepts and one that relates those broader concepts and underpinnings to the Okanagan region itself. The substance of the text moves south to north and uses the overlay of settlement landscapes as points of reference. This is a clever and effective strategy for a guidebook. First, the valley itself trends north-south, so this format follows established transportation routes and thereby helps facilitate the authors’ explorations of the geological wonders illustrated. Second, residents and visitors congregate in and move between points of settlement. Roed and Fulton have capitalized on this. They ease the reader from place to place by making ready reference to towns, roads, bedrock features, landscape changes, and geological highlights.

With the local setting and context established at a regional level, Chapters 5 through 9 present a pleasant contrast in the form of thematic explorations. Chapter 5 plumbs the sensational topic of geological hazard that is clearly dominated by all manner of slope failure, landslide, debris torrents, and rock falls, while Chapter 6 examines the region’s thin but exciting brush with mining, especially the hard rock boom-and-bust mining complex represented in the Camp McKinney and Fairview areas.

From the settlement era forward, water has played an increasingly important role up and down the semi-arid Okanagan region. Fully two chapters concern the groundwater and surface water that will invariably inform the rate, form, and direction of settlement and the development in the region in the foreseeable future. Avoiding the political implications of water management decision-making, the authors are nevertheless clear that the area’s hydrological circumstances present a kind of limit to growth for the region.

No guidebook on the Okanagan Valley’s geophysical setting would be complete without a chapter on wine and geology, and this volume offers an overview of the topic, but in the end this discussion reads a little like a tourist guide to a few select wineries. Nevertheless, while the topic of terroir is highly contexualized and surrounded by its own mystique, Roed and Fulton have at least opened this door and recognized the need for more research on the topic.

The authors have employed at least two strategies to make their work as accessible as possible. Throughout the text they have included sidebars to highlight a range of topics and themes that illustrate their points. Perhaps even more important is their willingness to include pertinent historical photographs, maps, and artwork that help reveal their clear passion for what is often glossed over as simply the rocks and dirt of the region.

In 238 pages, Roed and Fulton have successfully distilled a complex, sprawling, and disparate range of data into an eminently accessible volume that is essential reading for everyone from tourism providers and educators to hobby geologists and those who have a curious nature about the world around them. Added to Roed’s 2004 volume on the geology of the northern reaches of the Okanagan Valley (Okanagan Geology, British Columbia), this book completes the picture and does so in a captivating way.

Okanagan Geology South: Geologic Highlights of the South Okanagan, British Columbia
Murray A. Roed and Robert J. Fulton, editors
Kelowna: Okanagan Geology Committee and Sandhill Book Marketing, 2011. 256 pp. $24.95 paper