Kelowna, British Columbia
Great Public Space
Stuart Park is Kelowna’s downtown civic park. It is an active place where the community gathers for a wide range of formal and informal events, where the community honours its leaders and engages its citizens. The park reflects the community’s heritage, its grasslands, forested hillsides and agricultural landscapes, the lake and the history of the site. The park is designed to serve the needs of citizens, today and in the future.Key features include:
• A grand public promenade on the Stuart Park waterfront providing 380 metres of walkway connecting City Park to Waterfront Park as part of a continuous 2.3 km scenic stroll along the lake
• A functioning riparian ecosystem along the edge of the lake where there was once a retaining wall and a parking lot
• A civic plaza that features a winter ice rink and a serviced year-round venue for community gatherings and events from buskers to 1500-seat performances to 5,500-person outdoor events like New Year’s Eve and Canada Day family celebrations
• A raised central area that functions as a serviced stage for the civic plaza, provides informal seating and is the site of a major public art piece, “the Bear”
• An enhanced streetscape for Water Street defining it as a civic street and including recognition for citizens of the annual community leadership awards
• An urban tree ‘orchard’ that pays homage to the community’s agricultural roots
• Situated across the road from the Kelowna Community Theatre, Kelowna City Hall and links Okanagan Lake to Kelowna’s Cultural District
The downtown waterfront, and Stuart Park in particular, has year-round appeal for all Kelowna’s citizens. It is a major attraction for visitors to our community. Stuart Park is an ideal venue for a variety of events, performances and ceremonies to attract the interest of our regional and provincial neighbours. The park’s location on the waterfront maximizes the visual and recreational appeal of Okanagan Lake.
Whether it is partaking in a winter evening of free ice skating and hot chocolate, enjoying a jazz ensemble with a colleague at lunch in the summer, wandering across the road after taking in a theatre performance, or simply going for a waterfront stroll with visiting relatives, Stuart Park is a landmark that symbolizes the City of Kelowna’s attractive, active and culturally refined lifestyle.
Events and Festivals
Stuart Park is a central location that offers year-round, free, active programs that are accessible to all residents and visitors to Kelowna. The space can also be booked for fundraisers, non-profit events and wedding ceremonies.Programs include National Aboriginal Days Celebration, Okanagan’s largest Yoga Class, Hanukkah / Menorah lighting ceremony, Downtown light-up, New York New Years Eve and Canada Day Celebrations, among many others. This year also saw the introduction of Pianos in the Park, a program that saw five pianos placed in public spaces through downtown, including on the Stuart Park promenade. The free pianos have proven to be a huge draw for players as well as for passerby’s, including an impromptu performance by Steven Tyler when he was visiting Kelowna on the Aerosmith tour.
Dancing in the Park first took place in 2011 as part of a City initiative to promote healthy, active living and provides free dance lessons to members of the community. The program takes place on the Stuart Park Plaza and runs every Wednesday in July and August. Zumba, hip hop and country are just some of the many dance styles featured every year with participation ranging from 150 – 250 participants each night.
In the winter, the plaza is flooded and lit for the popular, free, public skating from December 1 to March 1 (weather permitting). Skaters are out all winter from early morning until after dark daily all season. The free public skating was so well-received in the first year of operation that the rink hours were extended to 8 a.m. – 11 p.m. daily. In subsequent years food truck concession, skate rentals and a live web cam, to confirm the rinks status, have been added for the convenience of users.
The Stuart Park location has always been at the heart of the civic and cultural districts and over the years has housed a court house, a senior’s centre and even the city’s Yacht Club. The park is its final and most widely appreciated use.
In 1949, part of the land was purchased by the province for a provincial court house. In 1951 the yacht club negotiated a lease with the City to house their clubhouse on the site. A new breakwater was negotiated with the Federal government and the yacht club began to provide moorage behind it. The clubhouse was expanded and renovated in 1965 and again in 1986.In 1996 the City of Kelowna purchased the old Court house property with the intent to remove the former law courts building and replace it with a civic plaza that would open up views of the lake, provide additional public space and enhance public access to the waterfront.
The Stuart Park area was seen as the last portion of undeveloped property at the hub of the City’s business, governance and cultural districts and represented an opportunity to be the crowning jewel in the string of significant urban parks along Kelowna’s waterfront. The land was dedicated as future public parkland, to be named after long-time mayor James Stuart who dedicated more than 31 years to the community.
In 2009, the yacht club negotiated to purchase a new site adjacent to the planned Stuart Park expansion. The old building was demolished allowing the final phase of development of Stuart Park. A brand new clubhouse was opened adjacent to the park, offering moorage for more than 1,000 boats.
The downtown waterfront, which stretches out to the north and south of Stuart Park, represents about 2 km of the City’s 32 km frontage along Okanagan Lake. The 380 metres of Stuart Park’s water frontage provides a vital central connection in attracting locals and visitors alike and this small area is the most extensively utilized portion of the City’s waterfront.
The park is designed to showcase quality urban waterfront park development, create a focal point for the City’s civic and Cultural District and provide environmental and fisheries benefits for the site. The park follows the tradition of urban design to connect important public spaces, like City Hall and the new Court House, with open public space and visual linkages.
Waterfronts and the activities they support are highly visible features and irresistible human attractions. The development of Stuart Park has produced a strong civic anchor and physical landmark that is an enduring source of pride and activity for the citizens of Kelowna. It is both physically and symbolically located at the heart of the downtown and the waterfront. Its pivotal location acts as a hub for, or transition between, several distinct and important districts, including the waterfront promenade, urban downtown, civic precinct and cultural district. It is also immediately adjacent to the Kelowna Yacht Club with a busy waterfront restaurant franchise that draws boaters and diners to the area.The Stuart Park design addresses the following:
• civic and tourism attraction, with landmark appeal
• an “urban” form and character to the open space
• focal point of activity, with linkages to other downtown amenities
• hard surfaced spaces to support a range of activities, both organized and casual
• opportunity for public art
• natural and cultural history of the community
• venue for performances, events and ceremonies
• visual relationship and physical connections to Okanagan Lake
• visual relationship and physical connections to adjacent land uses & activities
• symbolic and physical connection to City Hall
• pedestrian and bicycle circulation along the lake (e.g. seawall walk or boardwalk)
• year round use (e.g., outdoor winter ice rink with ice plant; summer shade)
• crime prevention through environmental design
Stuart Park is designed to be environmentally sustainable with an ecological approach that results in a net gain to the environment. The shoreline features new plant and insect habitat critical to the riparian ecosystem downtown. These enhancements also allow for viewing of the lake activity and marina from the public promenade and provide opportunities for the pubic to access the water’s edge.
The first phase of the park began construction in 2009 and featured a waterfront promenade, ‘urban orchard’, water feature and a plaza used in the winter for free public skating surface.
A small ‘mountain’ is located in the center of the park just south of the civic plaza and in line with the front doors of City Hall. This feature, representative of Kelowna’s hilly setting, is designed to be an accessible performance platform for the civic plaza, the setting for a major piece of public art and to provide an elevated vantage point with panoramic views of the Okanagan Lake. Two accessible washrooms with storage space under the feature and potable drinking water fountains sized to be suitable for adults, wheelchairs, children and dogs provide important support services to the public and events in the park.The public art piece on the elevated area of the park is illuminated at night and provides a striking focal point on the waterfront. Named ‘The Bear’ the piece is a tribute to Kelowna’s settlement on the shores of Okanagan Lake. A steel frame encloses symbols that represent periods of Kelowna’s history, and Kelowna in the Okanagan First Nation language, Syilx, means Grizzly Bear.
An ‘urban orchard’ in the green space along the north edge of the park is representative of the agricultural heritage of the community and is comprised of a small gallery of trees which also includes a water feature, park signage at the corner of Water Street and Queensway Avenue. The main walkway into the park honours Kelowna’s top citizens with plaques annually updated with the names of the winners of the Civic Awards.
Phase two of the park was recently completed in summer 2015. It includes an extended waterfront promenade and riparian area. It also includes more open greenspace, pedestrian amenities and a gas fire pit to warm the skaters in winter.
With completion of the second phase of the Stuart Park promenade the public now enjoys a continuous 2.3 km access along a tree-lined, furnished and lit public promenade along Kelowna’s waterfront, from the bridge to the foot of downtown’s main street and north to Waterfront Park and Rotary Marsh.
The park is centrally located in downtown Kelowna and creates a focal point for the City’s civic and Cultural District.Stuart Park is an open plaza and greenspace bordered on one side by the lake and a 7.0 metre wide multi-use promenade, and on its other sides by sidewalk-lined streets.
With two parkades and city-owned parking lots free on evenings and weekends there is plenty of parking within a 5-minute walk of the park. Shared pathways, and on-road bike lanes link directly to the waterfront promenade offering active transportation opportunities from most of Kelowna’s neighbourhoods in less than 30 minutes. Kelowna’s central transit exchange is located less than a block from the park with fast, comfortable RapidBus service connecting downtown all the way to the University of British Columbia Okanagan and West Kelowna.
The main public spaces of the park, the promenade and plaza, are designed to provide smooth travel for wheelchair and scooter users and the two washrooms in the park are wheelchair accessible. The popular promenade is designed for the visually impaired, with visual, auditory and textural ‘shorelines’ to aide navigation. Natural wood tables fixed around the perimeter of the plaza have benches on only one side to allow for wheelchairs, scooters or strollers to be pulled up close.
Stuart Park appeals to all ages with amenities to help people young and old and of all abilities, feel welcome.Two unisex washrooms are available, dogs are permitted on leash and smoking is prohibited, as it is in all City of Kelowna parks.
Three potable drinking water fountains are sized to be suitable for adults, wheelchairs, children and dogs.
Whether for events, socializing, lunch, viewpoints or resting, the space was designed with intention to be a gathering place, waterfront connection, and to provide active and passive recreation opportunities and a civic centre for residents of every age and ability.