Crowsnest Highway
    Back to Top

Castlegar, B.C. : History Printer Friendly Version

by DMWilson
With thanks to Christine Faminoff, Judy Rak, Ron Welwood, Dave MacLeod, Chris D’arcy, Deb McIntosh, Lou Lynn, Dr. John Hall, Dianne Hunter, Marlene Krueckl, Stan Anderson, Jack McDonald, Edward Affleck, Art Downs, H.E. White, H.O. Slaymaker, Lana Rodlie, John Fahey, and, especially, John Mansbridge, Larry Ewashen and Walter Volovsek.
posted 2002
revised 2007/12/05

The Columbia River Treaty
Sproat’s Landing and Robson
Castlegar, continued
Steamboats on the Columbia
Castlegar, conclusion
Bombi Summit
Daniel Chase Corbin and the Cross-boundary Railways


        Rather sail across the Kinnaird Bridge on the No.3, travellers who want to explore Castlegar edge off the Highway at the Overpass and halt at the traffic lights controlling access to busy No.22. This short jab of a highway undulates south along the Columbia’s right bank 26 kilometres to Trail and onward to the Boundary ten kilometres beyond. Northwards it turns into Castlegar’s Columbia Avenue. This was the original Crowsnest Highway, and the Trans-Provincial “A” route before it. On the 1958 edition of The H.M. Goushá Company’s road map of B.C., the No.3 is shown as having come in from the East Kootenays to cross the Columbia in downtown Castlegar and head south down to Trail whence it climbed to Rossland and worked its “improved” way through the Rossland Range to Christina Lake. By the time Grant-Mann Lithographers had published their 1964 map, designations had changed. With the Paulson-Blueberry/Bonanza climb completed, and the “Kootenay Skyway” between the Salmo and Creston valleys, as well, the No. 3 now ran down the Columbia from Castlegar to Trail, but then headed eastward up what had been the 3A from Trail to Salmo, and then south to the Skyway. 3A was now the old Trans-Provincial “A” up through Nelson and on to Creston just the way it does yet, the 3B an “improved” road running from Nancy Greene Park to Rossland and Trail.
        From well south of the Overpass and continuing a couple of kilometres toward the old core of the City, Columbia Avenue—main street Castlegar—is an unprepossessing jumble of fast-food drive-ins, gas bars, hastily constructed strip-malls and occasional motel. Until the Kootenay Skyway between Salmo and Creston was completed in 1964, this was the Crowsnest Highway, heading for the River ferry in downtown Castlegar after having fought its way over the Rossland Range on the Cascade Highway to get to Rossland and Trail. Geography and economics dictated the Crowsnest Highway bridge the Columbia at Kinnaird, and when the span was completed in 1965 traffic began by-passing Castlegar. To recapture trade, the Town’s aggressive businesses relocated along Columbia, dragging Castlegar out of its formerly compact core and stretching it out upon the narrow terrace above the River’s west bank. When Castlegar and Kinnaird finally touched, a union was arranged and the City of Castlegar came into being on March 1st, 1974.
        For the railroad aficionado, Columbia Avenue might hold a special treat. Only at Hope and at Grand Forks has the Highway seen the operation of living trains, and then only at a distance. But not 200 metres north from the Overpass, Columbia bumps the Highway across real working train tracks. Protected by automatic gates and bells and flashing lights, twice a day a couple of General Motors locomotives in CPR livery trundle a train across Columbia Avenue, in the late morning around heading down to Trail, returning Cranbrook-bound about 1530 hours. Laid down in the summer of 1897, this section of the original Columbia and Western Railway was the last project that the industrious F.A. Heinze completed in B.C.
        Columbia Avenue follows the old C&W for two kilometres into Castlegar North (433m). This is old Castlegar, mostly residential with homes ranging in age from a few months to darn near a hundred years settled on a grid of quiet streets. The commercial area on Columbia and a few cross streets has nearly recovered from the near-death experience it suffered after the Kinnaird Bridge was built. Huddled around the railway station, the central business district was, to dust off an old phrase, deader ’n a door-nail by the early 1990s.
        It’s different now, though. According to the plaque set into a tiny plinth in a small park carved from the parking lot of the Marlane Hotel, the recovery of Castlegar’s core began on September 10th, 1993. A bridge was already being built across the Columbia close to where the ferry used to operate, and now provincial money was earmarked for the resuscitation of the downtown. The bridge was opened in 1994 and since then the Downtown is a neighbourhood resurrected. No longer at the dead-end of a long drive, its formerly somnolent streets hustle with activity. Old restaurants have come out of hibernation, and new ones have opened. The urinals in the men’s room of the Marlane’s bar see much more action, and a few rustic boutiques which were formerly run more as a hobby than as an enterprise, are now little gold mines.
        Looking, however, at the facades one sees that Age has not been greatly venerated in Castlegar; the antiquarian’s twin nemeses, Renovation and Reconstruction, have taken their toll. Visitors resort to the Railway for sites of interest.

        Castlegar was a major junction point on the CPR’s Southern Mainline. Since the spring of 1891, the Company’s Columbia and Kootenay Railway (C&K) had run up to Nelson from the steamboat docks on the far bank of the Columbia. In the autumn of 1897 F.A. Heinze brought his Columbia and Western up the River from Trail to Robson West, a couple of miles upstream from what is now Castlegar. CP bought Heinze out in February of 1898 and connected the C&K to the C&W by barge service until it finished a bridge across the River in 1902. By that time the Company had extended the C&W to Midway, and had linked the C&K to its Mainline at Medicine Hat in the Alberta District of the North-West Territories. Those accomplishments made Castlegar’s wye a major intersection, and the completion of the Kettle River Railway through to the Mainline on the Fraser in 1915 dramatically increased traffic. Today, since the abandonments of 1991, the C&W westbound is merely a seldom-used three mile-long spur out to the mills by the Keenleyside Dam.
        Downtown by the Wye, at the bottom of Third Street, CP’s two-storey station is now Castlegar’s museum. Raised during the summer of 1907 following a February fire which consumed the Company’s original 1902 structure, the station was purchased by the City of Castlegar in 1987 and removed to City property outside the Wye where it had stood for 80 years. Kept open for long hours by the Castlegar and District Heritage Society, what this museum lacks in the sophistication that adequate funding would bring, it makes up for with its enthusiastic staff and heaps of curios to ponder: a wood-stoved kitchen with pantry full of old spice boxes and canned goods, a litter of railway tools, a lovingly restored 1929 Harley Davidson “pea-shooter,” a hard-hatted diving suit. Beside it, an end-of-the-nineteenth century jailhouse is home to a family of wary cats who live around and under the buildings, making their living off visitors and in the Yards. In the Yards, things are kind of quiet since the C&W’s trackage to Midway was yanked in 1991. Other than an old caboose, a small assortment of cars awaiting dispatch and a few heaps of sharp-edged junk, there is little to see. Except, of course, for the Bridge.
        Railroad buffs must experience this magnificent old structure. From the Station, no barrier but a No Trespassing sign prevents a pedestrian from walking down the right-of-way, beneath the overpass that has carried Columbia Avenue over the tracks since 1957, and on a hundred metres or so to CP’s Castlegar Bridge. Alternatively, the bikie goes back up Third, turns left on Tenth Avenue and left again onto the stub-tail of First Street, to the end to overlook the Railway cut down which a rough but cyclable trail angles to the Bridge on the right. Pleasing beyond expression is the walkway that is cantilevered out from the downstream side of the Bridge. Access to either end of the walkway thoughtfully involves no stairs, and the creaking wooden deck of the catwalk is easily wide enough for a loaded mountain bike to be herded across to the Pass Creek Park and Regional Campground on the far side. This walk is one of the most memorable experiences of Castlegar, especially if one is caught admiring the acrobatics of the swallows when the daily train booms onto the Bridge, shivering the old timbers and shaking the catwalk, 6,000 horsepower throbbing by not two feet away on the other side of the fence.
        The Columbia River Bridge Company was federally incorporated by 60-61 Victoria Chapter 66, “An Act to incorporate the Columbia River Bridge Company,” assented to on June 29th, 1897, the year that Heinze ran his C&W up to Robson West.1 It wasn’t, however, until 1900 that work started on the Bridge. Opened for traffic on March 20th, 1902, it was Castlegar’s first and, for more than sixty years, only bridge. A hair more than 700 feet long, it consists of two steel through-truss spans, a centrally pivoted plate-girder swing-span and three short plate-girder spans all resting on six massive masonry piers. Huge, creosote-stinky, oil blackened balks carry two sets of shiny rails 20 or 25 feet above the Columbia. Pausing at mid-bridge, the late afternoon sun shafting through the nigrosine triangles of ironwork, squadrons of Violet-Green Swallows swooping and darting in a versicoloured swirl between the spans and the waters of the wide Columbia flowing purposefully eastward toward the Pacific.
        Along the River’s southern terrace upstream from the end of the Bridge one can trace the railbed of the Columbia and Western, which the CPR began pushing westward from here in June of 1898. Only about five kilometres of the C&W remains active, ending at a siding called “Kraft” where stand the foundation of the City’s economy; the mills of the Pope and Talbot Lumber Company and the Celgar Pulp Company. Though separate now, the two mills were intimately associated when they were constructed to process timber standing on the enormous Tree Farm Licence No. 23 which comprised most of the Canadian Columbia Basin. Both mills were established by the Celgar, Limited, subsidiary of the Celanese Corporation of America, the pulp mill, the first one in the Interior, being completed in 1960 after a year’s construction. It output but 450 tonnes per day. The entire operation was taken over in 1979 by B.C. Timber, part of the ill-fated B.C. Resources Investment Corporation, a provincial government initiative in the late ’70s that attempted to make mini-capitalists out of every citizen of the province by issuing them each five shares in BCRIC. B.C. Timber became Westar and sold the plant’s sawmill to Pope & Talbot. The pulp mill fell to a consortium called the Celgar Pulp Company managed by Consolidated-Bathurst which rebuilt it to produce 1200 tonnes per day and began a program of upgrading to meet tough environmental standards: $700 millions were spent by Bathurst and its managerial successor, Stone Consolidated, which allowed the concern to slip into receivership in 1998. It was run on a day-to-day basis by its workers and a bureaucracy of interested parties called Celgar Pulp Company as buyers were being woo’d. The efforts bore fruit in November of 2004 when Mercer International agreed to buy the concern for US$210 million, renaming it Zellstoff Celgar. Though the plant still shreds whole trees floated to its doorstep on the Columbia, it gets most of its fibre from “residual” chips hauled to it from far and wide by the bane of the bikie, the vortex-spawning chip-truck. The plant cools its processes with river water, returning it warm to the Columbia where, on crisp winter mornings, it causes a blanket of condensation to form which flows with the River as far downstream as Trail. Lana Rodlie of the Trail Times reports that it’s quite a beautiful phenomenon.

The Columbia River Treaty        

        Just beyond the Mills, B.C. Hydro’s Hugh Keenleyside Dam sprawls grey-faced across the River. Completed of earth fill and concrete in 1965, it is a creature of the controversial Columbia River Treaty which was jointly ratified by B.C.’s premier W.A.C. Bennett, Canadian prime minister L.B. Pearson, and president L.B. Johnson of the U.S. on September 16th, 1964.
        In 1942 the Americans had completed their Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia, and a year later the Bonneville Dam downstream was finished. With other dams planned for the River, it became a concern of both Canada and the U.S. that the stream’s potential for both irrigation and power generation be optimally utilized. To this end, writes J.D. McDonald in Storm Over High Arrow (self-published with the Rotary Club of Rossland, no date), in 1944 an International Joint Commission was established. Fifteen years later the Commission tabled a report which recommended the construction of several dams on the Canadian portion of the Columbia-Kootenay River system to control the flow of water into the U.S. Because the dams would benefit mainly them, the Americans offered to pay construction costs. Even as the document’s finer points were being negotiated, on January 17, 1961, prime minister John George Diefenbaker and his admired friend, the American president Dwight David Eisenhower, met in Washington, D.C., and signed the Draft Treaty of the agreement.
        At the time the Arrow Lakes, arcing northward in a graceful, two hundred mile-long bow between the Christinas and the Valkyr Range, were natural remnants of the last ice-age. Since the turn of the twentieth century the terraces and grassy shoresides of the Lakes had become the homesteads of farming families and tiny communities accumulated where a paddlewheeler could nose onto the beach. Studies carried out by the B.C Department of Agriculture while the Joint Commission was conducting its investigations rated the Columbia’s valley between the Boundary and the top of the Arrows as the province’s third most important arable region. The recommendation was that it should be preserved.
        Canada, however, had already agreed to dam the Columbia. There were several places where this could be accomplished, but no matter where, a large reservoir had to be established either on the Arrows or further east, in the Rocky Mountain Trench. On July 8th, 1963, Ottawa transferred the responsibility for constructing the infrastructure on the Canadian side to the B.C. government which had recently created a new Crown corporation, B.C. Hydro. In complex and obscured negotiations, it was decided that the Arrow Lakes would be sacrificed to American interests by the construction of what was dubbed the High Arrow Dam at Castlegar to control down-stream flooding by impounding 7.1 million acre-feet of water, raising the level of Arrow Lakes fully forty feet above normal high water levels, drowning 20,000 acres of fields and pastures and orchards, and displacing 2,000 people with scant compensation. Further souring the situation, to protect the price of power generated from premier “Wacky” Bennett’s pet Portage Mountain hydro-electric mega-project then being built in the Peace River district of central B.C., Hydro decided that no electricity would be generated at High Arrow.
        Opposition parties condemned the Treaty and rallies were held decrying the location of the Columbia dams. Protesters’ hopes that the deal would be scuttled rose when Pearson’s Liberals gained power in Ottawa in July of 1963 and studies found that bedrock under the High Arrow site was buried under unplumbed fathoms of glacial gravel. Eventually tripling the Dam’s cost to $150 million Canadian, the Italian “clay blanket” method of sealing the riverbottom was employed while in Ottawa the blustering Liberals did nothing to endanger the project. On October 10, 1968, the 52 metre-tall dam, now named after B.C. Hydro’s first chairman, Hugh Keenleyside, was declared operational and its floodgates closed. The valley behind it was soon drowned.
        A sense of injustice about the whole affair has lingered over the years, and in the early 1990s the government of premier Mike Harcourt addressed the issue. With electricity in high demand, the province formed its wholly-owned Columbia Power Corporation (CPC) to buy the nearby Brilliant Dam, partake in the modernization of several more, and utilize the Columbia’s 1150m3/second flow at Castlegar by building a power generation facility at Keenleyside. While negotiations were ongoing, the province created the Columbia Basin Trust on July 6th, 1995. Its one share assigned to the Minister of Finance and Corporate affairs, and with a board of eighteen directors resident in the basin and appointed by the government and other interest groups, the Trust is designed to partner with CPC and equitably dispense income derived from future operations to persons treated unfairly under the provisions of the Columbia River Treaty. With a provincial grant and moneys coming from the operation of other facilities, the CPC is installing a 170 megawatt generating station at Keenleyside.

        Downstream from the Dam and across the River from the mills the small dormitory settlement of Robson huddles beneath the rocky prominence of Lion Head. From 1893 until the Railway’s bridge was complete, Robson’s long-gone docks rolled freight cars on and off the riverboats and barges which linked the Columbia and Kootenay Railway with CP’s Mainline at Revelstoke near the northern end of Upper Arrow Lake. Closer, Pass Creek wanders down from the north to merge into the Columbia and form a gravel-based delta which both the saviour of Downtown, the 1994 concrete-decked Castlegar-Robson Bridge, and the Railway Bridge use to carry their northern abutments. In the delta at the north end of the Railway bridge is a little gravel pit and downstream from it a bit are the City’s sewage lagoons.
        Down the River from the south end of the bridge, on the modest heights of the Columbia’s right bank, Old Castlegar has gathered itself behind a light screen of cottonwoods. About a half mile away easterly, the River hooks abruptly right and disappears southward behind the trees. Out of sight from the Bridge, the Lower Kootenay River debouches into the Columbia from the north-east, forming the deep-soiled delta which attracted Doukhobor farmers in 1907. Settled on the bench above the delta, Castlegar Municipal Airport, the West Kootenay’s main airport, hopes that its customers won’t scuff a wing-tip on an outcrop as pilots battle gusts sent eddying by the wall of the Bonningtons. This side of the Kootenay, on the crook of the hook and connected to Castlegar by a candycane-striped gas line suspended above Tin Cup Rapids, the Doukhobors’ main settlement of Brilliant where, in more communal times, stood a grain elevator, a fruit packing house and the famous KC Jam factory. Closer, the River’s left bank bellies inward forming what is called Mill Pond at the downstream edge of the Pass Creek’s delta. This is the site of Sproat’s Landing.

Sproat’s Landing and Robson

        At around six o’clock on the morning of September 6th, 1811, David Thompson and his voyageurs fought their way up-stream across misty Tin-Cup Rapids. They had been to the mouth of the Columbia that summer where Thompson discovered that he was too late to claim the entire Columbia basin for his associates, the North West Company of Montréal. He had, however, claimed several watersheds for the company and now, heading back to winter in familiar territory on the windward side of the Rocky Mountains, Thompson and his crew became the first Whitemen to see this stretch of the River. What they saw gathered on the delta of the Kootenay River by the Tin-Cups was the largest Native community for a hundred miles.
        This area was the frontier between the Sinixt (who Caucasians call the “Lakes Salish”) and their neighbours to the east, the Ktunaxa (“Kootenay” or “Kutenai”). Here both Nations came to fish the rapid-ripped narrows of Lower Kootenay River and the rich waters of the Columbia where different species of salmon in their millions ran at different times of the year, by far the Indians’ single most important resource.
        During the next 75 years, the First Nations people here got used to the site of White men. Thompson passed their encampments on two subsequent occasions, perhaps stopping to swap bits of iron and steel needles for dried fish. Other NWC canoes travelled up and down the River, replaced by Hudson’s Bay Company craft after the fur trade “coalition”, the “Deed Poll,” of 1821. The famous George Simpson, the HBC’s North American Governor, on his way back to York Factory from an extended inspection of the Company’s assets on the Pacific slopes, stopped and had breakfast on April 16th, 1822.
        East of the Rockies, the Hudson’s Bay Company was royally enchartered to trade in the entire drainage basin of the Hudson Bay—Rupert‘s Land. By the Charter, the HBC enjoyed an exclusion of all other trading companies from their territories. Though this exclusivity was guaranteed by the Crown’s might, some individuals and associations refused to abide by royal decree and nibbled at the fringes of Rupert‘s Land, particularly in Québec and on the old French Louisiana frontier. As it maintained no armed forces, and his majesty’s troops were spread thinly across the Globe, the Coy could do little but rely on the spirit of their “servants” and engagés to discourage intruders. West of the mountains it was a much different story. Despite being the successor to the North West Company, one of the first trade organizations to penetrate into this area, the Coy enjoyed no privileges or guarantees. It could only hope that the Crown and Westminster parliament would protect its interests, to the Empire’s advantage, of course. In the early 1840s, though, American families began arriving in “Oregon,” that part of the HBC’s presumed territory south of the Columbia. With American sloganeers bruiting cries of “54-40 or Fight” in their quest to control the West Coast between the Spanish possessions in California and the Tzar’s interests in Alaska, Britain blinked and decided hanging on to this remote region for the Coy was not worth the effort. Having decided to betray the aspirations and legitimate claims of the Hudson’s Bay Company to the Oregon, the cabinet of British prime minister Sir Robert Peel agreed that it would be prudent if they had a military assessment of the region they were about to surrender. To that end they sent Lieutenant Henry James Warre of the 14th Regiment and aide de Camp of the Governor of Canada, Charles Theophilus Metcalfe, and Lieutenant Merwyn Vavasour of the Royal Engineers on an expedition which left Fort Garry on the Red River on June 16th, 1845, and travelled overland to Fort Edmonton. By horseback the party scaled the Rockies and made their way down the Columbia past the mouth of the Kootenay and Fort Colvile and on to Fort Vancouver where they arrived on August 16th.
        Captain John Palliser, on an official mission to assess the potential of western British North America, shot down the Lower Kootenay in September, 1859, heading for Fort Colvile to meet his partner, Wm. Sullivan, and make for the Coast. The trail-blazing Edgar Dewdney and a few of his men, having trudged over the Rosslands to Lower Arrow Lake, passed by here in a canoe in the autumn of 1865 on their way to rejoin the rest of their party downstream at Fort Shepherd near the Boundary. That December, thrashing and smoking her way up the River for the first time, the steamboat Forty Nine struggled to haul supplies to the gold rushers on the Upper Columbia. The Forty Nine made a few runs each season until 1869 when, badly damaged, it limped down the River and disappeared into the stories that the Natives would tell each other for a generation. Fifteen years later it was the whistle of another steamboat churning by, the Alpha, that signalled the end of the life-way that had sustained the inhabitants of this Region for unknown thousands of years. The Industrial World had arrived to stay.
        From the east and the west across the cordillera of B.C., the ends of the CPR’s Mainline worked themselves towards their November meeting at Craigellachie in the Monashee Mountains. Supplies for the crews mainly came in from the origins of the respective railheads; Winnipeg and Ontario on the east, Port Moody on the west. They were railed to the end of steel and then loaded onto waggons for transport along the tote road which had to be built so that teamsters could deliver materials and crews to all the little stream crossings that had to be bridges, the cuts that had to be cut and the fills that had to be filled before the main grading crews could do their work. Where navigable rivers made it possible, materials were deposited along the Railway’s right-of-way in between the ends of the steel, especially where big projects had to be completed. One of these rivers was the Columbia and one of these big projects was the construction of the tote road over the Eagle Pass through the Gold Range of the Monashee Mountains. The Forty Nine had already proved the Columbia navigable in 1865, so to aid Gustavus Blin Wright in building the tote road the North American Construction Company—possibly a subsidiary of Ainsworths’ and Hearst’s Columbia and Kootenay Railway and Transportation Company—launched the Alpha onto the Columbia at the Little Dalles. When Wright completed his contract on October 1st of 1884, the Alpha stayed on the River to help with the next big project, the erection of the “second crossing” bridge at Farwell (soon to be renamed “Revelstoke” for one of the Company’s lordly backers). To build the bridge, however, required the services of a larger vessel.
        Some thirty miles south of the Boundary, the Little Dalles barred navigation on the Columbia. Fortunately, the impasse was only about 150 kilometres along a fairly good waggon road from the Northern Pacific Railway at Spokane Falls. Launched by contractors Henderson and McCarthy in April of 1885 at the Little Dalles, the Kootenai was the Railway’s beast of burden hauling supplies up the River. Though she only worked that season in the employ of the CPR, the Kootenai was the harbinger of change for the Ktunaxa and the Sinixt.
        Of the hundreds of workers laid off by the CPR in the months following the Mainline’s completion, many went home. However, a sizeable contingent of the most hardy, or desperate, stayed in the region, tantalized by the rumours of precious ores locked in the surrounding mountains. As news of the Hall brothers’ silver find on Toad Mountain leaked to the outside, hundreds of these men began converging on the area. Because an ancient track up the Pass Creek’s valley avoided several of the obstacles that tried travellers in the Lower Kootenay’s valley, many a prospective miner stepped ashore in the bay of Mill Pond. Among the first was Thomas Alexander Sproat. He noted no Native community in the vicinity.
        Where the Native community had gone likely did not concern Sproat. The older brother of the provincial agent based at Farwell/Revelstoke, Gilbert Malcolm Sproat, Thomas Alexander decided that the Pass Creek delta would be his silver mine. It was a natural cross-roads: northwards ran the Pass Creek track, from the south to the ford in Tin Cup Rapids came the trail from the nearest settlement, Fort Colville, Washington Territory. Sproat bet that regular boat service would soon be established on the River, and that the captains would likely use the sheltered Pond to land cargo. Having staked his property some months before, on May 28th, 1888, T.A. was granted title to a half square mile of the Delta: lot 237G1 in the District of West Kootenay.
         Reports W.O. Volovsek in his monograph, “Sproat’s Landing,” that summer of 1888 was frantic. Robt. E. Lemon had a scow built at Farwell/Revelstoke, loaded it mostly with potable goods and with the help of Geo. O. Buchanan and Thos. M. Ward, among others, floated it down to the Pond, arriving on May 18th. His product was well received and he did a brisk business from the big tent he had set up on the bench above what is now Brilliant. When the scow was empty, Lemon sold it to Albert McCleary who soon had it in service ferrying travellers between Sproat’s and the head of the Fort Colville trail across the River on what is today the Castlegar townsite.
        On August 10th of 1888 Captain Robert Sanderson nudged his 54 foot-long steam-powered catamaran, (officially) Despatch, up to the Columbia’s banks near Mill Pond, informally christening Sproat’s Landing. A dock on T.A.’s waterfront was soon constructed to welcome subsequent arrivals, and one of Sanderson’s partners, John Frederick Hume, began building a warehouse nearby. However, that summer, too, the local provincial agent, G.M. Sproat, arrived with a crew which he set to laying a horse trail between the Landing and Silver King on Toad Mountain. Rather than following the ancient Pass Creek path across T.A.’s land and on up to the Kootenay via the Slocan River valley, G.M. instructed the contractor, L. Macquarrie, to run the new packtrail up onto the bench past Lemon’s saloon-store and straight up the Kootenay’s valley. Further, agent Sproat also set aside a half-section of land a mile or so upstream from the Pass Creek delta as a government townsite.
        Over the next year or two, as the trail to Toad was improved into the Kootenay Valley Trunk, the community now generally known as “Sproat’s Landing” gradually strung itself out between T.A.’s pre-emption and the high ground of the downstream bench. Though Fred Hume had partnered with Bob Lemon in the summer of ‘88 and had set up a mercantile business in “Stanley” on the toe of Toad Mountain, he maintained warehouses and a store at The Landing. G.M. Sproat had a sub-office constructed for his accommodation when he ventured down from his headquarters at Revelstoke, and Joe Wilson built a livery barn and corral to serve his packing and cartage business. In 1889 Lemon left his saloon in charge of Ike Stevens and joined Hume in Stanley. Up on the bench beside the saloon, George Gilpin and his partner, Tom Roberts, had logs peeled and notched together to form a one-an-a-half storey-high edifice that they called the Kootenay House Hotel. Much or their income came from the bar.
        Particularly thirsty were the crews of Whitehead, McLean and McKay who arrived in the spring of 1890 to build the Columbia and Kootenay Railway.
        On July 3rd, 1890, on her maiden voyage, C&K Steam Navigation’s new and large Lytton arrived at Sproat’s with a load of rails for the C&K and president W.C. Van Horne of the CPR, come on a tour of inspection and correction. He found the Landing booming with industry. The Genelle brothers had set up a sawmill at the mouth of Pass Creek and were cutting ties and timbers for the Railway which soon had a one-and-a-half storey station house built nearby, the domain of John McLeod. Sam Green opened a store in competition with Hume and Lemon who added a hardware and grocery store to their store and warehousing operation. John A. Gibson took over the Kootenay House, Mrs. Schroeder opened a restaurant, Mr. Teague opened a drugstore, blacksmith Allan McPhee began a sheet iron operation and a couple of sporting ladies hung out their shingle. Come the spring of 1892, with shacks and shanties and tents in-filling the spaces at The Landing, T.A. calculated the time was ripe to have A.S. Farwell survey and legally subdivide his property as a townsite he called “Columbia” and make his fortune selling lots. Whether or not T.A. irked the CPR and other potential buyers by asking too much for his lots is a matter of continuing speculation. Perhaps the River frontage at that point was simply not suitable to a large docking facility. Whatever; by the time the C&K began operations on May 31st, 1891, a trestle had been built connecting the benches on either side of Pass Creek and trains nosed past the Landing and on up the River a mile or so to the government reserve that G.M. Sproat had set aside in 1888. There the water was deeper and the shore protected from flooding by its high banks. As the community that had grown up at the Landing began moving to the Reserve, the Railway built a new steamboat dock, set in a turntable to allow rails to be run out onto the dock and raised a depôt named “Robson.”
        It didn’t take Sproat’s Landing long to vanish, most of its buoyant artefacts washing away in the big spring flood of 1894, its name reappearing only briefly when a spur was constructed in 1895 to “Lower Sproat’s Landing” near the Kootenay’s mouth to spare the crews of downstream steamboats the thrills of navigating the Tin Cup Rapids—which reputedly has suffered fifteen explosive attempts over the years to make it more amenable to river traffic. With the completion of the C&W from Trail to West Robson in the fall of 1897 and a rail barge service implemented between Robson and its sister settlement across the Columbia, riverboating downstream ceased, the spur was pulled and cribbings left to the attentions of the mighty Columbia. Very little remains there, while construction of the CPR’s swing-bridge in the opening years of the 20th Century eradicated all evidence of previous occupation on Tom Sproat’s property.

        Robson, in the years between the still-birth of T.A. Sproat’s “Columbia” and the completion of the Bridge, bustled. Wreathed in smoke and steam, passengers shuttled between train and stern-wheeler as hooting, panting locomotives eased freight cars on and off boats and barges. It was 128 water miles to Arrowhead and the end of the spur line to Revelstoke, and to those who didn’t care to undertake the journey immediately, Louis Levesque offered rooms in his hotel. Hotelier Levesque ran the post office, as well, and Frank Beer operated a general store. Most dwellings were owned by the Railway and occupied by their employees who tended the turn-table, worked in the station and freight sheds, serviced the locomotives, carriages, ships and cars. When the Bridge was completed in the spring of 1902 and the Railway pulled up its steel and moved across the river to Castlegar where ample level land could support a sizeable community, the sternwheelers began landing at a new wharf across the River at Robson West. Old Robson faded.2 Remembers long-time resident James Fowler in Edwd. Affleck’s Kootenay Pathfinders: Settlement in the Kootenay District, 1885–1920, land agents McDermid and McHardy of Nelson acquired much of the property, laid out a rank of 42 lots each with 264 feet of riverbank frontage and began selling them as “fruit ranches.” Enough people had invested in the properties by 1908 that William J. Farmer, the pioneer Castlegar merchant, opened a store. The Baptists built their Mission Church that year on the old government townsite behind the hotel, and that September welcomed Gertrude (Berthold) Mitchell to teach school classes there-in. Around 1911 local entrepreneurs formed the Robson Co-operative Exchange to build a poultry feed warehouse and market eggs and chickens in Trail. Robson Elementary School rose on the old townsite in 1912, and in 1913 the Fowler house became the local office of the Dominion government telegraph which ran down from Nakusp. Come 1921 school children began attending classes in the old hotel which the Robson School District had renovated and named “Superior School.”
        Will Wickham had probably taken over Farmer’s store by 1919 when Jimmy Davidson began running the cable-guided reaction ferry between Castlegar and Robson. As the basis for an economy, orchardry really didn’t make it: there was just not enough suitable land between the River and the foot of Lion’s Head Mountain. With the ferry, however, Robson could grow into the comfortable dormitory community which it is today.

        Standing out in the River’s stream away from the sewage lagoons which now occupy part of the Mill Pond foreshore, the battered ribs of an ancient piece of cribbing trails a gravelly little sandbar in its wake. Spied from the catwalk of the Railway bridge, it is the only obvious vestige of an industry which for fifty years was a major contributor to the region’s economy. Remembers contemplative local walker Walter Volovsek, in 1910 the Edgewood Lumber Company relocated its mill from its remote site on the Upper Arrow Lake to what was soon called “Mill Pond.” Renamed “William Waldie and Sons, Limited,” in 1928, the company was community unto itself with bunkhouses and family cottages, expanding over the years, erasing most archæological traces. In 1948 the spring River rose to inundate the site, damaging the infrastructure beyond the means of the Waldies to repair. Purchased by the Canadian Celanese Corporation in 1952, the mill limped along until the Corporation’s new plant opened upstream by the Dam in 1961. Two years later, on April 27th, 1963, a careless spark from a salvor’s torch touched off a spectacular conflagration which consumed every structure on Mill Pond. The site lay ignored and recovering for 30 years until. In 1996 a group of local activists built the Waldie Island Trail amid the hawthorn and wild rose, the willows and dogwoods which have recolonized the remains of the Pass Creek’s delta. Though essentially a nature walk through a beaver marsh, the several interpretive plaques along the Trail are enough to satisfy the historical requirements of most visitors.

Castlegar, continued

        On May 1st of 1888 Albert McCleary was granted a 320-acre pre-emption at the end of the Fort Colville Trail on what is now the townsite of Castlegar. He was granted a provincial subsidy to operate his ferry in 1889 and for three years McCleary supported himself by transferring travellers back and forth to Sproat’s Landing across the Columbia. In between trips he found time enough to construct a comfortable cabin, break a few acres of his land for a garden, stake a pen for his herd of goats and build a barn. An educated man and a traveller, he likely saw opportunity elsewhere and in August of 1891 sold his holdings to fellow Irishman, Edward Mahon. It was Mahon who had part of the lot surveyed as a townsite which he named after his ancestral home on the “auld sod,” Castle Gar. A name and a survey, however, do not a community make, and not discounting the contribution of Mahon, the settlement at Castlegar owes its establishment to a long forgotten crew of CPR construction engineers who decided that this was the place to build their Bridge. By the time the structure was completed in March of 1902, a wye had been laid out to smoothly feed the C&K into the south-bound and west-bound reaches of the Columbia and Western, and a station named “Castlegar” had been built within it. A hotel of sorts and a store were soon keeping the Bridge company, and in 1908 Clara Graham arrived to teach the first school classes in Castlegar, the community barely able to collect the minimum of eight students required for government support.
        Castlegar’s economy received a boost when Doukhobors began building settlements in the area in 1907, and especially when the Sect commenced to operate a ferry between Brilliant and “Castlegar Junction” in 1908. Used by all, the ferry service was deemed so essential to transportation in the neighbourhood that it was taken over by the province in 1919, moved roughly to the site of the new Robson road bridge and only discontinued in 1988.
        During the sixty-odd years that the ferry served, the City suffered the bad times of depression and shut-downs, and toasted the good times of mining and construction booms. In the competition for regional transcendence Castlegar has lost much to Nelson and Trail, but, though the Railway might pull out and the mills close down, the airfield, the Highway and the local dams will assure the City’s survival.

Steamboats on the Columbia

        A swing-span, permanently locked into alignment nearer the Sproat’s end of the Castlegar railroad bridge, balances on its cylindrical masonry pier, its rack and pinion gearworks rusting into a solid mass of corroded iron. An expensive installation, this span was apparently never used and today serves only to remind folks that before trains came to this country, before the Bridge, steamboats ruled transportation around here.
        In chapter nine of his Paddlewheels on the Frontier (Gray’s Publishing Limited, Sydney, B.C., 1972), Art Downs writes that steam navigation on the Columbia River system above the boat-blocking Little Dalles rapids began on November 18th, 1865, when Captain Leonard White, financed by John C. Ainsworth’s Oregon Steam Navigation Company and the Oppenheimer brothers Marcus, Samuel and Joseph, slid the 49 foot-long Forty Nine down builder James Costello’s slip-ways and onto the waters of the Columbia at Colville Landing, fifty-odd kilometres below the Boundary and now drowned by the Grand Coulee Dam’s reservoir. “Lined” up through the Little Dalles, on her shake-down voyage that December she crossed the Boundary and by the 13th made it as far up-stream as the mouth of the ice-choked Columbia at the north end of the Upper Arrow Lake, the first mechanized boat to break the solitude of B.C.’s Interior waterways. Her owners intended to use her to run supplies up to the prospectors who were panning the crannies of the River’s “Big Bend” for gold. H.E. White in Volume IV of The British Columbia Historical Quarterly, reminiscing of her father, Judge Haynes of Osoyoos, notes that in his journal he marked the Forty Nine as passing Fort Shepherd near the Boundary heading upstream on its first voyage of the season on April 16th, 1866. Described by one of her passengers, stipendiary magistrate H.M. Ball, as “a mere shell with powerful engines”, she must have steamed by the Pass Creek delta that same day or the next, depending on how long it took her to negotiate the treacherous Tin Cup Rapids. Forty Nine could get as far as La Porte at the entrance to the Columbia’s Chutes des Mortes, several miles above today’s Revelstoke, where she dropped her cargo. Back and forth she worked all summer despite diminishing profits as the Big Bend rush disappointed. A stubborn man, Captain White continued to run Forty Nine up and down the River until his failing health commanded he turn her over to his first mate, Alfred T. Pingston, in October of 1869. Pingston forthwith holed her near les Chutes. Patched and nursed down to Colville Landing, she was repaired and, recollects George B. Forde in E.L. Affleck Columbia River Chronicles: A History of the Kootenay District in the Nineteenth Century (The Alexander Nicolls Press, Vancouver, 1976), worked until the Panic of ‘73 extinguished what little interest lingered in the Big Bend area. Laid up at the Little Dalles, Forty Nine was seen hereabouts no more.
        In 1884, the North American Construction Company chartered and re-assembled a Hong Kong-built steam launch, the Alpha, at Colville Landing and launched onto the Columbia to make its way north to Farwell—since 1886, Revelstoke—to assist the CPR in constructing its Mainline. In May of the next year the Alpha was joined by the 558 ton sternwheeled Kootenai. Constructed by the Portland-based shipbuilders Pacquet and Smith for one of CP’s contractors, H.M. McCartney and Company, she was launched onto the Columbia at the Little Dalles on April 2nd of 1885. After a successful maiden voyage on April 28th, the Kootenai worked all summer until an encounter with a sandbar on September 4th sent her limping back to the Little Dalles for repairs. By the time she was water-worthy again, it was November and McCartney & Co., having completed their contract, had her moth-balled at the repair yards.
        The River remained undisturbed by machinery until August 9th, 1888, when Captain Robert Sanderson sailed his Despatch out of Farwell/Revelstoke and pointed her downstream. Along with his partners Jho. Fred. Hume and William Cowan, Sanderson had formed the Columbia Transportation Company (CTC) earlier that year and had constructed the ugly little 37 gross ton, catamaran-hulled Despatch at Revelstoke. She was launched on July 14th but with the single 8x24-inch cylinder’d engine the beast was so woefully underpowered that it wasn’t until a second engine was installed that Captain Sanderson felt confident enough to challenge the Columbia. The company scared up enough business—including assisting G.M. Dawson in his work for the Geological Survey of Canada—to keep the Despatch busy and warrant buying the little 61 foot-long launch Marion which Alex Watson had built at Golden in 1889 and Captain Francis Patrick Armstrong had launched onto the Columbia at Farwell/Revelstoke to compete with the CTC.
        Realizing that to expand their company they would need capital beyond their means, the principals of the CTC dissolved their outfit and went into partnership with Captain John Irving, the founder of Barnard’s Express (BX), Frank S. Bernard, and Barnard’s brother-in-law, the politically active Kamloops businessman, John Andrew Mara. They formed the Columbia and Kootenay Steam Navigation Company (C&KSN) on December 21st, 1889. Capitalized to the tune of $100,000 and headquartered in Revelstoke, the new company intended to use the Kootenay’s network of waterways to open up the region. Initially, cash flow was to be maintained by carrying Toad Mountain ore from the end of the Kootenay Valley Trunk road down to the Spokane Falls and Northern Railway’s wharves at the Little Dalles.
        Immediately upon incorporation, C&KSN bought and refurbished the old Kootenai, and hired Alexander Watson to build a new boat on the banks of the Columbia at Revelstoke. Launched in May of 1890, the 452 ton Lytton undertook her first revenue earning voyage on July 3rd when she set sail from Revelstoke bound for Sproat’s Landing downstream 155 miles with 60 tons of railroad steel for the Columbia and Kootenay Railway. On August 15th, C&KSN commenced working to a schedule with the Spokane Falls and Northern Railway to twice-weekly exchange passengers and freight on the railway’s docks at the Little Dalles.
        The success of the Lytton and the demands upon her time inspired the C&KSN to commission construction of a companion vessel. In the dockyards of Portland, Oregon, shipwrights prefabricated sections of a 534 ton sternwheeler and sent them by rail to the Little Dalles where Watson assembled them into the Columbia. Launched, on August 20th of 1891 she set sail for Robson. With two freight boats and two passenger ships in service, the C&KSN would have little trouble holding up its end of its arrangement with the Spokane Falls and Northern. At least until Winter began jamming ice into the Narrows between the Lower and Upper Arrows.
        By the end of 1891, the principals of the C&KSN realized that they needed expert help in running their operation, and in March of the next year hired Captain Jas. W. Troup as manager. Among his first acts was to design a replacement for the Despatch, and on October 30 of 1892, the ice-breaking 98 ton Illecillewaet splashed into the Columbia from the company’s slipways at Revelstoke. With an extremely shallow draft, the little freighter was a valuable addition to the fleet, especially when cold weather dropped the Columbia’s surface dangerously close to its rocky bed.
        On August 24th, 1894, the Columbia burned to the waterline while taking on fuel just north of the Boundary. To build a replacement and oversee the company’s boatyards, Troup hired the Bulger family—T.J. and his sons, J.M. and D.T.—shipwrights out of Portland, Oregon, Troup’s old stomping grounds. At C&KSN’s new shipyards at Nakusp at the bottom of the Upper Arrow Lake, the family laid down the keel of the huge Nakusp and had the ornate, 1,100 ton white and black palace in the water on July 1st, 1895. That December 3rd the old Kootenai grounded and broke in a shallows in Upper Arrow and was replaced on May 9th of the next year by the plain-Jane, 660 ton Nakusp-built Trail. What with a few barges and a the new 50 ton screw-tug, Columbia, plus its Kootenay Lake boats, the C&KSN had built up a sizeable fleet by the end of 1896.
        By 1896 the CPR had concluded that to control transportation in the Kootenays it had to own boats. Cash-rich, rather than starting from scratch, it opened negotiations with the remaining owners of the C&KSN—Mara, Barnard and Irving—to buy their outfit. On February 1st, 1897, $200,000 changed hands and the deal was complete. Retaining the former company’s livery of shiny black high-lights on a superstructure and hull of snow white, CP plunged deep into the business of water transport.
        An existing branch of the Company, the British Columbia Lake and River Steamers Company (BCL&RS), had been charge of operating the Aberdeen on Lake Okanagan since its launch in May of 1893. It was charged with digesting the C&KSN and, with “Service” substituted for “Steamers” in its name, was headquartered in Nelson and moved into the new Railway station there just as soon as it was completed in 1900.
        On the Columbia, the BCL&RS found itself in possession of four sternwheelers and a tug-boat, and though railway development had stolen much of the River’s traffic downstream from Robson West by October of 1897, the Service decided it needed to expand its River fleet to handle the business between Robson and Revelstoke. In the first days of April, 1897, the 1,100 ton Kootenay splashed into the Upper Arrow Lake from the Nakusp shipyard. With this addition, the BCL&RS was able to inaugurate daily service on its Columbia-Arrow run.
        On November 18th, 1897, the last of the locally crafted sternwheelers, the 880 ton Rossland, slipped down the ways at Nakusp. When the Nakusp burned up at Arrowhead that December 23rd, the BCL&RS decided to replace it with an 830 ton steel-clad hulled ship, the famous Minto. Prefabricated by the Bertram Iron Works in Toronto, she was assembled in Nakusp and hit the water on November 18th, 1898. But for the $161,000, 1,700 ton Bonnington, launched on April 24th, 1911, the Minto was the last large boat that the Service floated on the Columbia system for, with the completion of the KVR in 1915, the CPR had linked the Kootenays to the Coast with solid steel and no longer needed to rely on the fickle Columbia to carry its cargoes. Surviving the demise of the rest of the River fleet, the Minto worked through W.W.II and on till April 23rd, 1954, when it backed away from the pier at Robson and disappeared up the River into history. The BCL&RS was finished with the Columbia, and when the Minto finished her run that day she was abandoned to one of her admirers who was promoting plans to save her as a floating museum. The plans didn’t pan out, and the Minto was ravaged by salvors and finally burned by B.C. Hydro on August 1st, 1968, as Keenleyside Dam raised the Arrows’ waters and threatened to refloat the ruined carcass.

Castlegar, conclusion

        Castlegar is pretty well supplied with motels, all of which, but for the exception of the City Centre on Second Street downtown, are out in the far south end of town on No.3 west. Close by the City Centre the Marlane Hotel survives from the old days. Built in 1953 by the Soberlac family and modernized over the years, this big white box has maintained full service even though most of its money comes in through the tavern door. Competitively priced, it is a fine place to stay; just avoid lodging over the bar room: to hoots and a heavy base beat, the girls are takin’ it off until well into the a.m.
        Campers, too, have a choice. On the Highway west up the Blueberry perhaps five kilometres is the Castlegar RV Park and Campground. Alternatively, there is the Kootenay River Kampground, located off Rosedale Road on the southern part of the Kootenay’s delta near the airport, across the river’s mouth from Brilliant.
        The campground, however, favoured by centuries of travellers is now managed by the municipality; the Pass Creek Campground and Recreation Park. Surrounded by baseball diamonds, horseshoe and football pitches, and a kids’ pool, the 37 roughly manicured sites installed in the sunny little Pass Creek valley are on the “functional,” side of the æsthetics scale, the dank and funky little shower-room in the service building arguing eloquently in favour of wearing thongs (as in flip-flop sandals, not Brazilian beach-wear) in public showers. The water is hot. The Campground scales its prices according to the impact upon the environmental that a visitor’s equipment can be expected to make, so cyclists sleep quite cheaply after ball games in progress are called on account of darkness and the sports go home. The Columbia ground squirrels that share the Campground arise with the sun, whistling grey and russet-uniformed sentinels, their piercing reveille almost drowning out truck traffic on Robson Road.
        Leaving Castlegar eastbound, travellers have three basic choices. The 3A uses the valley of the Lower Kootenay River to get into striking distance of the Slocans before hooking east through Nelson and the heart of the Kootenays to Creston on the Crowsnest Highway. Robson Road passing Brilliant or the Highway itself gives onto 3A. Columbia Avenue heads out of the City southward to become No.22 and roar down to Trail to hook up with the 3B, joining the Highway half way to Salmo. Itself, the Highway pulls traffic off Columbia at the 22 overpass, bridges the River to lose 3A and begin climbing in the Bonningtons.

        At the foot of Ninth Street just east of Columbia Avenue a narrow wood-decked suspension bridge built in 1984 by the reserve army’s Trail-based 44th Field Engineer Squadron sways pedestrians 500 feet across a backwater of the Columbia. On the other side is the five acres of Zuckerberg Island, a favourite fishing site and occupied by Natives for at least 3,500 years until dams began blocking the salmon’s migration up the Columbia in 1933. A civic park since 1981, the Island was the home for 30 years before that to the artists A.F. and Alicia Zuckerberg, who came to Castlegar in 1931 at the invitation of the Doukhobor leader, P.P. Verigin, to teach the Congregation’s children. The Zuckerbergs gradually turned their island into a fantasy garden where they conducted art classes, taught, and grew old. After the couple died in the early ’60s, their quaint, onion-domed chapel-like house and its landscaped grounds went to ruin until the City bought the Island in 1981. Two years later, the local Rotary Club, guided by the Heritage Advisory Committee, began restorations, laying out the Circle Walk, protecting the Stump Woman and the “Yew-nique” tree, and digging a reproduction of a Sinixt (“Lakes Salish”) pit-house, a kekuli.


        About a mile east from the No.22 overpass, having under-passed the C&W, the Highway runs out onto the mighty Kinnaird Bridge, an open decked concrete structure some 200 metres long, built in 1965. From mid-span one can look forty or 50 feet down on the Kootenay-swollen Columbia appears in a hurry to get to Washington, about 40 kilometres away as the fish swims. Castlegar slowly peters out downstream along the bluffs of beige clay which form the right bank. Below, in the centre of the stream, asserts H.O. Slaymaker in “Physiography and Hydrology of Six River Basins” in Studies in Canadian Geography; British Columbia, the edge of the Monashee Range butts against that of the Selkirks to the east.
        Upstream on the River’s high left bank the Doukhobor Village Museum shares the River’s terrace with Castlegar Municipal Airport, while downstream just below the Bridge on the same bank the bluffs suddenly collapse to give the little settlement of Waterloo water-level access to the River. Although no-one knows for sure, Waterloo might have been the first settlement established by Caucasians in the Castlegar area. Arising in the late 1880s as a shanty-town base for the prospectors that were searching the surrounding mountains for the next Bonanza, it reportedly had a hotel and a hospital during the 1890s when it manned neighbourhood logging camps cutting cordwood for “Fritz” Heinze’s smelter at Trail. The easy trees gone and the smelter long converted to Crowsnest Pass coal, by the time Doukhobors began to settle on the bench above in 1907 Waterloo had all but disappeared. The new settlers immediately installed a cross-channel “reaction” ferry using the River’s current to push a boat tethered to an overhead cable strung from Waterloo to the shore opposite, Kinnaird.
        When Heinze had run his C&W up from Trail to West Robson in 1897, he had his crews lay a siding opposite Waterloo, calling it simply “Waterloo.” Confusion with the Ontario town of the same name impelled CP to rename the siding after Lord Kinnaird, a Company stockholder, in 1904. Though the Kinnaird Bridge retains its original name, since amalgamation with Castlegar to form a city on January 1st, 1974, Kinnaird has been “South Castlegar.”

        Eastward a kilometre from the Bridge, traffic bound for Nelson is peeled from the Highway by an interchange which must have looked like a ridiculous embellishment when it was built in 1966: it merely curled the traffic around in an exaggerated 270 degree loop and sent it driving northward on what is now the 3A for Nelson. Ten years later, however, the Bombi Summit shortcut was completed to carry the Crowsnest Highway over the Bonningtons to Salmo and the Interchange at last had a real job to do.

Bombi Summit

        Immediately beyond the Interchange the Highway begins to climb up the sunny south-western flank of Grassy Mountain. This section of No.3 is the newest, officially “...dedicated to the People of British Columbia by Premier William Richards Bennett” on October 2nd, 1978. It is wide and smooth, and well resented by the cities of Trail and Rossland, both of which lost their status as major centres on the Crowsnest Highway when this little piece of pavement was rolled down as the designated main route, relegating the former alignment of the Highway to a lettered alternative, 3B.
        Grassy Mountain is part of the Bonningtons, a front range of the Selkirk Mountains, the middle range of the Columbia Mountain regime. From the top of the Mel DeAnna Trail leading up from the viewpoint cut into the side of Grassy some six stiff kilometres up from the Interchange one gets a good look at the shelving slopes below to which John Sherbinin brought his pioneering Doukhobor band in 1908. Glancing back over Castlegar, one sees the airport on the valley’s eastern bench and the green hand of the Kootenay’s delta outreaching from its fissure in the Bonningtons, shoving the Columbia out of its bed, forcing it to gnaw at Castlegar’s foundation. Betrayed by heliographic signals from the windshields of the traffic on the noisy No.22, Heinze’s stretch of the Columbia and Western slips through the still-sickly vegetation of the valley to disappear into the haze hanging above the River, the signature of the Cominco smelter in Trail. Though much reduced from what it was only a decade ago, the output of the smelter’s stacks is still not the healthiest stuff for breathing beings to inhale.
        Continuing up from the viewpoint the Highway hooks left around Grassy’s southern spur and scrabbles its way up and across the slopes above Champion Creek, heading for the Columbia below. Crows scribing poems in the sky cawkle at cyclists’ earth-bound exertions; the unrelenting six percent grade would even crack a sweat on Miguel Indurian. Lost in the conifers far below is Champion Lake Provincial Park and its heart-stoppingly frigid water. In the saddle of Bombi Summit (1265m), some fifteen kilometres beyond the 3/3A intersection, the climb tops out and the Highway begins a thirteen kilometre descent on six and seven percent grades down into the Beaver Creek Valley. Levelling out on the Valley’s bottoms, the Highway hurtles over the Creek and the International Rail Road Systems’ abandoned railbed on a pair of bridges dated 1978. A half mile beyond, a tee junction terminates 3B which has come up the Creek from Trail and Rossland to the right, and hard-lefts the Highway up the Beaver’s valley for Salmo.
Daniel Chase Corbin and the Cross-boundary Railways

        Seen from the west railing of the bridge over-passing it, the railbed of the International Rail Road System is not much to see: a ripped-up right-of-way slowly infilling with vegetation. This is, however, the road that opened up the Kootenays.

        Connected to the American mid-west and the vast markets down East by the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad on September 8th, 1883, the region around Spokane Falls in Washington Territory so boomed on the profits derived from mining, logging and agriculture that it was dubbed the “Inland Empire.” One of the major players was Daniel Chase Corbin. Relates John Fahey in Inland Empire: D.C. Corbin and Spokane (University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1965), in the spring of 1888, having recently cut his railroad-building teeth on a couple of money-making Idaho mining shortlines, Corbin was on the look out for his next opportunity just as the Hall brothers were uncovering a large lode of silver ore on Toad Mountain above the West Arm of Kootenay Lake. Assays carried out in Fort Colville indicated that the find was fabulously rich and needed only a cost-effective connection to market to make it pay. Corbin was up for the challenge. He and his partners obtained a charter for the Spokane Falls and Northern Railway (SF&N) in Washington on April 14th of 1888 with the mandate to build north from what is now Spokane, Washington, to a point on the Columbia River whence a steamboat connection could be established to the CPR Mainline at Revelstoke. Months were spent seeking funding for the project. However, when the magnitude of the Halls’ discovery was revealed the following year, Corbin sold his Idaho roads to the Northern Pacific and on February 16th, 1889, took his own contract to build the SF&N and hired E.J. Roberts as chief construction engineer. Beginning in Dean, fourteen miles from Spokane on the Northern Pacific’s line, Roberts struck northward and had some 60 miles of steel laid to Colville by that October 18th. By May 20 of 1890 Corbin and Roberts had pushed the SF&N down the Colville River past Meyers Falls to the Columbia at Marcus, near the confluence of the Columbia and the Kettle Rivers. Finding that river captains were hesitant to risk their steamboats the dangerous “Little Dalles” which roiled the River some 23 miles upstream from Marcus, the team laid rails to a point just above the hazard and there, fifteen miles down-river from the Boundary, built steamboat wharves. Writes J.D. McDonald in The Railways of Rossland, British Columbia (Rossland Historical Museum Association, 1991), in a double ceremony delayed by the late arrival of the Columbia and Kootenay Steam Navigation Company’s Lytton, on August 15th of 1890 Corbin declared the SF&N open and an officer of the C&KSN announced that his outfit’s boats, the Kootenai and the brand-new Lytton, would endeavour to meet the train at the docks twice a week to exchange passengers and off-load ore from the Hall’s Silver King.
        Though much easier than other options, transport of the Halls’ ore to market via the SF&N still involved a lot of handling; into sacks and onto waggons at the Silver King, crashed down the cruel road to Sproat’s Landing, manhandled onto a steamer and then manhandled off again and onto rail cars at the Little Dalles. Corbin reckoned that he could profit handsomely if he could cut out the middlemen, loading ore directly onto rail cars at the Silver King. Obtaining permission to build into Canada, however, was difficult and time-consuming for Americans, particularly, forced to tip-toe through the politico-bureaucratic minefield planted by suspicious Canadians who generally regarded any entrepreneur from south of the Boundary as an alien free-booter bent on spiriting away the nation’s treasures.
        Born from the union of a pair of British colonies, British Columbia near the end of the Nineteenth Century remained just that, British; sentimentally, geo-politically, financially and, for many residents, ethnically. Concentrated on the Coast, the province’s citizens with apprehension watched the continuing American economic invasion of B.C.’s hinterland. Not placer gold the prize this time, but lode gold, and copper, silver, lead, coal: hundreds of thousands of tonnes of wealth cached under the mountains of the Kootenay district alone, and all leaking away southward. John Robson, who had succeeded A.E.B. Davie as conservative premier of B.C. on August 2nd, 1889, was determined to plug that leak. What was needed was a railroad from the Coast to the Kootenays to rescue the riches for B.C.
        Possibly not yet realizing how protectionist Canadians were becoming, Corbin volunteered to construct that railroad. In 1889, while building his SF&N, he applied to both Victoria and Ottawa for charters to extend it across the Boundary to Kootenay Lake, and at the same time proposed that he run a line of railroad up the Kettle River’s valley from Marcus and onward to the Coast. When the provincial legislature convened in January of 1890, Corbin already had the Victoria lawyer Charles Wilson engaged to steer his SF&N extension and Kettle River Valley Railroad applications through the bureaucratic channels. Despite Wilson’s efforts Corbin’s proposals were regarded like applications from a fox to enter the hen house, and on March 4th the Standing Committee on Railways rejected them, hoping that the current inconveniences experienced in handling the Silver King’s ore would drive at least some of it to the CPR at Revelstoke. The next day, the federal Board of Railway Commissioners concurred; cross-Boundary charters were not in the Dominion’s best interests. In his reports to Corbin, Wilson blamed his defeat on CP’s opposition to any invasion of “its” territory, and its whispered promise that, any day now, it would begin to build into the Kootenays through the Crowsnest Pass.

        Though rebuffed, Corbin did not come away from Victoria entirely empty-handed. Chairing the Standing Committee on Railways at this time was Colonel James Baker whose interests included the Crow’s Nest and Kootenay Lake Railway Company (CN&KL), an impoverished organization whose main asset was access to Crow’s Nest Pass coal and a charter which permitted it to build from the Pass to Kootenay Lake. Corbin’s proposed lines would have greatly benefited the CN&KL, and Baker was likely whole-heartedly in Corbin’s corner. When Corbin lost his bid, Baker prepared an alternative avenue. Even while his Committee was considering Corbin’s proposals, on February 27th of 1890, in a bit of back-room chicanery typical of the times, Baker tabled a motion that would see the CN&KL’s charter transferred to a new railroad, the British Columbia Southern, whose charter would run from the Crow’s Nest clear through to Vancouver. The builder was to be Corbin, but the time restrictions placed on the contract, and the fact that the Canadian extension of his SF&N was rejected, soured Corbin on the whole affair.

        The British Columbians who in 1890 expected that the CPR would soon build into the Kootenays through the Crowsnest were to be disappointed. The Company was near bankruptcy, and though its owners were disgusted to discover that the alignment of their Mainline in B.C. had missed by hundreds of miles the raw resources that the Company needed to generate revenue, they could not afford to build a second line; the best they could manage was to begin reaching a few branches down the valleys in hopes of participating in some small way in the development of southern B.C. More to deflect criticism than anything else, Van Horne ordered a survey from the western Kootenays to Hope in early 1890s. It confirmed his suspicions; building the rail line would be chillingly expensive.
        British Columbians resented the Railway’s hesitation to build a line into the Kootenays. From the Coast, the CPR looked like a big, rich, federal pet intent on becoming bigger and richer and to hell with what B.C. needed. No help, either, was the Dominion government. Not only an alien creature of the East, it was also in disarray as the long-serving Conservative prime minister, J.A. Macdonald, prepared to die and leave no secure heir. B.C. would have to fend for itself.
        D.C. Corbin was nothing if not persistent; he needed to get to Nelson to make his Spokane Falls and Northern profitable. Though he relaunched his KRVR proposal, he concentrated on gaining a charter for the Canadian extension of the SF&N. At Corbin’s instigation, on February 4th, 1891, G.B. Wright, C.T. Dupont, P.C. Dunlevy, C.G. Major and H.S. Mason provincially incorporated the Nelson and Fort Sheppard—they erred in the spelling of the Fort’s name; properly “Shepherd” after governor John Shepherd of the HBC, 1856–’58—Railway Company (N&FS). By the end of that year, aided by the Honourable James Baker, MPP, the N&FS received an unsubsidized provincial charter. Still, lacking federal permission to cross the Boundary, Corbin’s project remained stalled at Little Dalles. The Silver King, however, was outputting much more ore than the CPR and Arthur Bunting’s little Idaho were able to move. Eager now to get another rail line into Nelson, the province passed the Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway Subsidy Act of 1892 granting the builders of the line 10,240 acres of land per mile of laid rail.
        With the province on-side for the N&FS, all that remained for Corbin to do was to convince Ottawa that the line would benefit the Nation. The spearhead of federal opposition to Corbin’s proposal was the prominent B.C. member of Parliament, John Andrew Mara. At the time, Mara owned part of the C&K Steam Navigation in whose boats the Silver King’s ore rode part way to market. Should railroad steel reach Nelson, C&KSN stood to loose considerable revenue. Despite Mara’s protestations, on June 7th, 1892, Ottawa assured Corbin that, though it found it necessary to postpone authorization of the N&FS for one year, it would permit him to lay rails across the Boundary. The line had, however, to be finished by December of 1893. Promptly posting a $25,000 construction bond with the provincial government, Corbin began surveying the route to Nelson.
        By 1892 the CPR had had its Columbia and Kootenay Railway in operation for a year hauling the Halls’ ore to the docks at Sproat’s Landing and Robson. That route still involved the considerable costs of loading the cargo on and off riverboats. Much money could be saved by chuting ore in bulk into rail cars right at the Silver King and hauling it directly to market. The savings, naturally, would go to the owner of the rail cars and the tracks they ran upon. With that in mind, Corbin continued his petitioning and finally, in June of 1893 Ottawa granted the all important charter, plus a $3,200 per mile construction subsidy. Overseen by Corbin’s prime contractor, Peter Larsen of Helena, Montana, trackage was roared northward from the end of the SF&N, crossing the Boundary on July 16th. Having erected an unusual cantilevered bridge across the Pend d’Oreille, Larsen pounded 45-pound steel up the Beaver Creek and the Salmo River valleys to the line’s northern terminus, a steamboat landing at Five Mile Point, some five miles east along Kootenay Lake’s shore from Nelson. The last spike driven, Corbin declared the N&FS open for business on December 19th. Barred from Nelson proper by the chartered privileges of the C&K, Corbin built his yards at the Point and his passenger depot, “Mountain Station,” on the heights above Nelson. At the Point, H.A. Heywood built the Castle Hotel. In 1895 the N&FS completed facilities at Five Mile Point and ran trackage along the Lake’s shore four miles to a station on the eastern outskirts of Nelson, a place then known as Bogustown. The line was a success from the start, stealing most of the Silver King’s ore, the 608,000 acres of fast-selling land grants which its completion had earned it being frosting on the cake.
        To maintain a presence in the region, CP was forced to operate the C&K at a loss after Corbin got his SF&N/N&FS into operation. The CPR’s plight so pleased J.J. Hill that he had J.P. Morgan’s Chemical National Bank of New York start buying SF&N shares on his behalf in the spring of 1898. Not apprehending the connection between Chemical and Hill, Corbin facilitated the sale of the shares. Unfortunately for Hill, his commercial ally, C.S. Mellen of the by then Hill-controlled Northern Pacific Railway, misunderstood the activity on the stock market as a CPR attempt to grab Corbin’s railroads. Determined to interfere, Mellen also began purchasing shares, driving prices up. By the time Hill and Mellen finally realized that they were bidding against each other, between them they owned the majority of the SF&N’s shares. On July 1st of 1898 NP’s shares were transferred to Hill who promptly called a shareholders meeting and voted Corbin out of the president’s chair, paying him a $75,000 fee for unwittingly facilitating GN’s take-over of his business. In complete control of the SF&N/N&FS, Hill joyfully used the operation as stick with which to beat the CPR in its own backyard.
        GN dissolved the SF&N on July 1st, 1907, absorbed its assets and assumed direct control of the N&FS. Three years after withdrawing passenger services on the line in 1941, GN purchased the N&FS outright. On March 2nd, 1970, the Great Northern, the Northern Pacific, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, and the Spokane, Portland and Seattle combined to form the Burlington Northern Railroad. The new company, Kelly-green cabooses bobbing along at the end of its freight trains, continued service to Nelson until 1989 when it made Salmo its de facto terminus. Following the amalgamation of the Burlington Northern and the Atcheson, Topeka and Santa Fe on September 22nd, 1995, managers of the new outfit, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation, began looking to trim back marginally profitable lines. As the old N&FS lay outside the United States and had only the Atlas Lumber mill and Cominco as clients, BNSF stripped the roadbed between Salmo and Nelson and sold the line from Columbia Gardens northward to International Reload Systems headquartered at Christina Lake. Come 1999, IRS had retracted the steel back to the Atlas mill in the Beaver valley, leaving the old GN station in Salmo to fend for itself.

        Away from the railroad overpass, the Highway re-unites with its 3B and hard-lefts to follow Beaver Creek up towards Salmo.

Next: on Highway 3A, LOWER KOOTENAY COMMUNITIES or, on Highway 3B, ROSSLAND


  1. The principals were F. Augustus Heinze, F.E. Ward, F.P. Gutelius, and Carlos Warfield of Trail, and Chester Glass of Spokane. The company was capitalized to $500,000. A proviso in the Act entitled all railroads in Canada equal access to the Bridge. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  2. Evidently unaware of the local situation, on his 1903 map entitled Dominion of Canada from the Latest Official Surveys & Data, George F. Cram of Chicago and New York still identified Robson as being the only community in the area. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

Designed by No.3 Development Inc. Website by NuTok Interactive

Copyright © Donald Malcolm Wilson. All Rights Reserved.