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Fruitvale, B.C. : History Printer Friendly Version

by DMWilson
With thanks to Anna Reeves, George F.G. Stanley, C. Ian Jackson, Roger Burrows, Jeri-Lynn Woods, Lillian Griffin, Don White and Dianne Kniss.
revised 2012/01/26

The old road to Fruitvale: the Pend d’Oreille and Fort Shepherd
Into Fruitvale
The Upper Beaver Valley
The old road to Fruitvale: the Pend d’Oreille and Fort Shepherd

        Eastbound out of Trail, Highway 3B is a four-laner following the Columbia River downstream. Across the River high bluffs of poorly consolidated sand and gravel outwash channel and amplify valley breezes. Just beyond the Waneta Shopping Plaza a fancy version of a simple Tee intersection embraces the site of the former Auto-Vue Drive-in, now taken over by Wal-Mart as Trail’s last commercial outpost. Freed by the Intersection from the 3B “cut-off” which climbs away up the valley wall to Montrose, the 22A, known here as the Old Waneta Road, wends its way southward down the Columbia’s left bank ten kilometres to the Boundary. Along here the dryness of the air is apparent and where irrigation or a natural water course doesn’t green the vegetation, the smaller plants have a distinctly deserty appearance. Another finger of the Great American Desert poking into Canada.         

        About six kilometres from the Junction, the Road crosses the wetlands of the Beaver Creek as the latter prepares to blend itself into the deep waters of the Columbia from which, near here in September of 1984, Greg Seifrit and Mike Thompson hauled a 10-foot long, 462 pound white sturgeon. To the right is the Beaver Creek Provincial Park and the campground operated by the Kiwanis Club. The land was donated to the Crown by COMINCO in 1965, specifically for a park. Lost on the Columbia’s nearby shore is Sayward Landing, established by the builders of the Nelson and Fort Shepherd Railway as a place to land their materials. Farther on 22A passes the 3,999-foot long runway of the Trail Regional Airport laid out on the Columbia’s shore. This field had its beginnings on May 30, 1928, when, writes Anna Reeves in Tracks of the Beaver Valley and Pend’oreille (Friends of the Beaver Valley Library, 2002), Squadron Leader J.H. Trudhope gave his OK to this location. Built under the Trans-Canada Airways program in the late ‘20s, the field was second in this area only to Grand Forks’ in being certified to traffic aircraft. The original landing strip was closer to the River and it is not remembered when the present strip was developed. Consolidated Mining and Smelting (CM&S) used the strip early on for its little de Havilland Gipsy Moth CF-AGP, and its cousin, CF-AGW, a high-winged Puss Moth monoplane with an enclosed cockpit. When it bought the larger Fokker Super Universal exploration aircraft, CF-AAM, CM&S contributed significantly to the improvement of the field. A turf strip it remained through the ‘50s when the Waneta Dam was built on the nearby Pend d’Oreille River. It was owned by the City of Trail when the Seven Mile Dam project was commenced in the mid-‘70s, and Trail Alderman Gino LeRose was instrumental in getting the Dam’s primary contractor, the Dillingham Construction Corporation, to up-grade the airstrip by hard-surfacing part of it and laying out 1400 feet of grassed “runoffs” at each end. The Trail Flying Club built its clubhouse and a parking area, a shed or two to shelter members’ Pipers. The Regional District scheme was implemented in this area in 1966 and soon discussions were underway to transfer the Field to the care of the Region. This eventually happened and in 2000 the Field reported 480 movements. Flight plans must still be filed directly with the larger airport at Castlegar. In late October of 2005 the airfield’s only scheduled carrier for years, Northern Hawk Aviation, went out of business. In an email to the author on 2011/11/26, Gordon Cook, the Trail Regional Airport Attendant wrote: “Since the demise of Northern Hawk Aviation, Pacific Coastal Airlines has been providing twice daily service to Trail except on Saturday when only one flight arrives. Runway 16/34 is 4000 ft by 75 ft asphalt with a 750 ft gravel runout on the South end and a 250 gravel runout on the North end. There have been several upgrades to the airport in recent months, namely, the enlarging of the free parking lot to accommodate the ever increasing number of passengers and the widening of taxiway B. With the completion of a Master Airport Plan more improvements will be made.”
        Wandering away from Beaver Creek, Old Waneta heads for the Boundary, crossing the Pend d’Oreille River on the unusual, 500 foot-long steel truss cantilever bridge – “Cooper’s Grasshopper,” after the designing engineer – which Dan Corbin’s Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway emplaced in 1893.1 Sometime later the Great Northern, which had taken over Corbin’s lines in 1898, replaced the cantilever with a sturdier span right beside it, leaving the old bridge to the 22A. Within a mile of the bridge is the Boundary where, resultant of a federal Order-in-Council which records that “His Excellency … is pleased to order that Waneta, in the Province of British Columbia, be erected into an Outport of Customs and Warehousing Port, and placed under the survey of the Collector of Customs at Nelson, B.C., to take effect from 31st March, 1896,” a Canadian Customs House stands facing its American counterpart.
        The Pend d’Oreille River drops 10 metres for each of the 14 kilometres that the river flows in B.C. To take advantage of that bounty, in 1951 CM&S began spending $35 million to lay the 64-metre high Waneta Dam 290 metres across the River just 500 metres above its confluence with the Columbia, 1000 metres upstream from the Boundary. Generation commenced in 1954 with more than enough output from two generators to power CM&S’s zinc smelter at Trail, its primary duty. Excess electricity was marketed through the Company’s West Kootenay Power subsidiary. Cashing in on a good thing, COMINCO added a 3rd and 4th generator to Waneta’s battery in 1964 and 1966 and sold the power to WKP which had connected the Waneta to the U.S. grid. The Crown-owned Columbia Power Corporation in 1994 bought the rights to generate additional power at Waneta and the next year upgraded the 3rd generator, refurbishing all by the end of 1996. In 2002 the facility is rated at 400 megaWatts annually, and that year, Teck Cominco Limited, the successors to COMINCO, began spending $81 millions to increase the Waneta’s capacity by an additional 825 gigaWatt hours per year for sale largely to American markets.
        Appreciating the potential left in the Pend d’Oreille, in the mid-‘70s B.C. Hydro began to plan another dam. Eleven butterfly-filled kilometres upstream from the Waneta the corporation began laying the Seven Mile Dam in 1976 to impound a reservoir area of over a thousand acres, backing water up across the Boundary. In November of 1979 the gates of the 65 metre-high, 350 crest metre-long dam were closed and the reservoir began to fill. To profit from California’s spiralling demand for power, BC Hydro began a two-year long upgrading program in 2001 which brings the output of the four units in the generating house to 810 megaWatts.
        In Times Past the Pend d’Oreille finished its short run through B.C. with a picturesque plunge ten to 15-foot into the Columbia. However, the completion of the Grande Coulee Dam in 1942 impounded the Columbia’s waters in FDR Lake, the tail of which extends up into B.C., drowning the Pend d’Oreille’s little falls.
        In the sand opposite the mouth of the Pend d’Oreille lies the carbonized fragments and a few fire-blackened chimney stones that are all that remain of Fort Shepherd, completed by the HBC in 1858 to replace Fort Colvile. In 1846 the Oregon Treaty extended the International Boundary from the Divide of the Rocky Mountains – where the Rush-Bagot Convention of 1817 and the Ashburton-Webster Treaty of 1842 had left it – to salt water in the Straight of Georgia. Given a generous twenty years by the U.S. government to wrap up its affairs south of the new Boundary, the Hudson’s Bay Company began building posts as near as practicable to ones from which the Coy was soon to be alienated by American jurisdiction. Partially because gold had been discovered by an HBC engagéin the Colville River a year earlier, in 1856 governor Simpson, suspecting that more gold would be found in Columbia tributaries, ordered James Sinclair to construct what was initially called Fort Pend d’Oreille opposite the mouth of its namesake on the right bank of the Columbia. Sinclair was killed by Indians in March of 1856 and completion of the project fell to the factor at Fort Colvile, Angus Macdonald. He accomplished the feat in 1859, leaving it in charge of one Mr. Cook who was some assistance to the Commissions who were that year still hard at work marking the Boundary. Renamed in honour of the outgoing director of the Coy, John Shepherd, the Fort enjoyed uneven business mainly supplying “...quite a number of miners” who Joseph Harris of the American Commission noted2 panning the sands of “Clark’s Fork” (the Pend d’Oreille) “...with not the most brilliant success...” in November of 1859. In 1862, however, even that business decreased when Marcus, Samuel and Joseph Oppenheimer established a trading post on the ruins of the British Boundary Commission camp some 50 miles farther down the Columbia near the mouth of the Kettle River. Near the U.S. Army’s Fort Colville at the northern end of the military waggon road from Fort Walla Walla, the Oppenheimers were able to easily undersell the clerk at Fort Shepherd. The Fort had stood empty for several seasons when Edgar Dewdney arrived in 1865 and pressed it into service as a headquarters while he built the extensions which carried his trail from Rock Creek into the East Kootenays that year. He was joined at the Fort by ad hoc customs agent “Constable Jones” (“Constable John Jane,” avers Anne Reeves in Tracks in the Beaver Valley and the Pend d’Oreille, appointed April 1 of 1865, through to July 27, 1868) who came to keep an eye on the comings and goings of the Oppenheimers’ Forty-Nine. In 1870 the Coy officially abandoned the Fort, leaving it to the customs agent until a fire in November of 1872 left only one big old chimney to stand alone until well into the Twentieth Century. Nearby, the log cabin that the United States customs office built in 1884 to monitor the Kootenai as it hauled the CPR’s construction supplies from The Dalles to Revelstoke has long vanished.

        On its way to Fruitvale, a few metres south from Old Waneta Road’s bridge over the Beaver, Columbia Gardens Road (Secondary 129B) tees away towards Blizzard Mountain. Across what is now the common trackage of the of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and the International Rail Road Systems (IRRS), Columbia Gardens deaks right for a few hundred feet before deaking back the other way to head for Fruitvale. Between the deaks was Columbia Gardens. Established as the flag-stop of “Sayward” by the Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway in 1893, it served at first the loggers who came to collect the forest’s trees and slowly became the centre of the small agrarian community which was growing up on the locality’s sandy, rich soil. Enough families had settled by 1899 that J.F. Harrison was able to call 26 boys and 40 girls to attention to initiate formal education at Sayward.
        In the early part of the Twentieth Century developers bought tracts of railroad land and subdivided them into 10-acre “fruit ranches,” and reflective of this land use, the settlement’s name was changed to “Columbia Gardens” in 1905. Among the largest developers was the Hunter Brothers of Rossland who acquired a big block of the Beaver Valley bottomlands, dug in a 12,000-dollar irrigation system in 1907 and began advertising orchard lots for sale. The population grew and, notes by Anna Reeves in her Tracks of the Beaver Valley and the Pend’oreille, on April 1st of 1908 W.E. Paull opened a local postal bureau. Mrs. Markovitch ran the large Trail Hotel and come 1910 a new, two-storey school was raised on seven-eighths of an acre.
        Orchardry didn’t work out very well in the lower Beaver Valley. The temperatures were good and the plantings would have thrived but for the clouds of poisonous fumes emitted by the Trail smelter. It stunted or killed the trees, acidified the soil and even, some claim, killed horses. Badgered by litigious farmers, CM&S expediently bought out the loudest complainers a left the farms to go wild. About the only thing that would grow reliably at the Gardens during this time was grass and in 1923 August Bouma established the Columbia Dairy. The family has led the development of the business in the valley ever since, owning the Maple Leaf Dairy, as well. It is a sad fact, however, that lead in both particulate and gaseous form continued to flow from CP’s smelter in great quantities for years, and milk cows feeding on contaminated grasses concentrated the lead in their milk and passed the poison on to local children. The contamination has been cleared up, and reports from the area in 2008 assure that Columbia Dairy flourishes.

        Columbia Gardens’ post office closed on July 31st, 1950, and the school followed in 1954, the kids heading for the new school in Fruitvale. Come 2002 the hotel, the train station and most other buildings are long-gone, leaving only the railroad tracks which are today jointly used by Burlington Northern Santa Fe and the International Rail Road Systems (IRRS), a local company which survives on 15 kilometres of rail line and the business of Atco Lumber. Around Columbia Gardens are three reload sidings where car-loads of granulated 60% zinc concentrate from Alaska’s Red Dog mine are transferred from the BNSF into trucks for the last ten miles of their journey to the Trail smelter. From the Smelter, sulphuric acid, molten sulphur and fertilizers, are transferred at the reloads from truck to train for the remainder of their journey to market. In an email to the author dated November 7th, 2008, Jeri-Lynn Woods, office manager of Columbia Gardens Reload, mentions that her outfit transfers truckloads of Castlegar pulp to railcars for shipment into the United States. She adds, as well, that oenophiles in the region have some cause for celebration as the Bryden and Wallace family began cultivating the Vine on six acres of sloping land off Station Road in the mid-1990s. The plot was gradually expanded to 50 acres and the families established Columbia Gardens Winery, officially opened on September 15th, 2001. By 2008 the enterprise has won the coveted Vinteners’ Quality Association designation and continues to offer award-winning nectars pressed from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, among others.
        For a cyclist, Columbia Gardens Road is a very pleasant ride along the foot of Blizzard Mountain and up the bottom of Beaver Creek’s valley to enter Fruitvale through its back door. Horsy acreages subdivided out of mature orchards, sparse, slow traffic, over-spreading parasols of Cottonwoods shading the Road from a sizzling summer sun make this route a worthwhile diversion from the Highway; clumps of blueberry and thimbleberry are additional attractions.
Into Fruitvale

        Columbia Gardens Road eases up past Fruitvale’s two schools and slips scenically into the village (594m) and sends its direct extension eastward out of town as Old Salmo Road. At Main Street CGR intersects Highway 3B which has just bumped over the hills of unicorporated Beaver Falls from Montrose, right-angled right over the IRRS’s level crossing and turned left into Fruitvale’s Main Street.
        One of the bigger jobs in laying the Nelson and Fort Sheppard was threading it through the throat of Beaver Creek’s valley. A bridge had to be thrown across the Creek at its falls and it is likely that the construction crews lived in a camp in the Fruitvale area. When the bridge was up and the rail gang pounded itself away towards Nelson, silence returned to the valley but for the rush of passing trains. However, the Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway Subsidy Act of 1892 had granted the builders of the line 10,240 acres of land per mile of laid rail, and though it took several years for the property to be deeded over, eventually the N&FS owned most of the Beaver valley. To settlers this was largely unknown territory, though, and even the best lands offered for sale at three dollars per acre found few buyers other than speculators, and few, too, of them. Only loggers came to take down the valuable, easy trees.
        In June of 1898 J.J. Hill and the Great Northern won control of the N&FS and seems to have maintained the previous owner’s policy of leaving the Beaver in peace. Yet, on his 1903 map entitled Dominion of Canada from the Latest Official Surveys & Data, George F. Cram locates a community he called “Beaver”, and in 1905 “Beaver siding” was laid just above the Beaver Creek falls. An old boxcar was left wheel-less at the Siding for Dominick Murray, the local section foreman. Preparing to absorb the N&FS into its system, GN placed the Valley’s unsold lands into the hands of Frederick L. Hammond and his Nelson-based Kootenay Orchard Association. Like his contemporary, James Johnstone, Hammond was promoting B.C. real estate far and wide as an orchardman’s paradise. He quickly incorporated the lands of the Beaver into his sales portfolio and took himself thither to set up an office, arriving with a few of his associates at Beaver siding on the 21st of May, 1907. A log-built “Model Ranch” house was raised as an office, the townsite of “Fruitvale” was surveyed and the surrounding lands blocked off into 10-acre “fruit ranches” upon which apple saplings were planted. On July 2 of 1907, one day after the N&FS sunk into the GN, B.C. Land Surveyor A.H. Green completed a plat of that part of the Fruitvale townsite belonging to Hammond.
        Advertising as far away as England, Hammond soon had hopefuls coming into the valley to try their hands at ranching. To many the prospect looked good; rich valley soil with plenty of flowing water nearby, average July temperatures up around 70º, an access road from the GN’s station to every ranch, an easy 40 mile rail ride to Nelson for supplies and pleasure. Come 1908 much of the land was subscribed and some 200 families had arrived to begin a new life.
        Among the first to set up businesses on the Townsite was J.N. Hammond, who built a boarding house and was appointed post master on December 1st, 1907. The Englund brothers set up a sawmill, the Davis brothers opened a blacksmith’s, Arthur Mears stocked a hardware store and M.B. Williams built a general store. A little single room box of a school was raised by residents in 1907. As it was deemed an “assisted school” because it had difficulty attracting the continuous attendance of the requisite 20 pupils, the province paid W. Henderson’s salary, but the community, climbing toward a population of about 300 souls in the spring of 1909, was responsible for furnishing and equipping the building. Come 1911 and the first of the settlement’s May Days celebrations, Scheidler and Whittemore had established their broom factory, the Fruitvale Hotel was open, Frank Varseveld’s sawmill was in production, and a new, multi-room school was a year old with Mr. Gerrard, a fully qualified teacher, in charge. By that time, however, many of the fruit ranchers were concluding that, with a growing season of but 136 days and a January mean temperature of -5º Celsius, the Beaver’s valley just wasn’t suitable for the production of tree fruits no matter how many sawdust-fed night fires were kept burning in the orchards in an attempt to ward off the late-season chill.

        The odd thing about Fruitvale is that for the first few years of its existence it was economically closer to Nelson than to Trail. Many folks, rather than bust their spleens driving a waggon over twenty miles of rough road to Trail, would swing aboard the Nelson & Fort Sheppard for a comfortable 40 mile journey on smooth steel rail to Nelson. This trip became quicker in the mid-’20s when the GN introduced its “Galloping Goose,” a pair of EMD-powered St. Louis Car Company gas-electric cars which, write L.A. Stuckey and D.M. Bain in The Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railways in Canada - Volume One, (British Railway Modellers of North America, Calgary, 1996), rumbled along the line once a day both ways at an average speed of 20 miles per hour. However, the construction in 1912 of what is today the old Trail Bridge retired the slow, unreliable reaction-ferry which the City operated across the Columbia. This improvement made Trail much more accessible to the residents of the Beaver’s valley, and with the Great War quickly upon the World, many Valley men took jobs at the smelter, abandoning the pretence of orchardry. By War’s end so many of CM&S’s employees hailed from the Valley that a new road was required. Formerly folks Trail-bound from the Valley above the Falls had to work their way along the valley’s northern slope to the site of today’s Montrose where a tough track, the “sandhill road,” led down to the Beaver’s crossing on the Waneta Road. The track was deemed unimprovable and in 1924 work began on the “cut-off,” the route of today’s 3B from Waneta Junction up to Montrose. A year’s time and cases of dynamite were required to lay a single lane up the ‘scarp and blast it through the granite spur which protects Montrose. The combination of the cut-off and the Bridge shifted Beaver Valley’s attention from Nelson and made Trail the destination of choice.
        At an organizational meeting held in the school on May 20, 1908, a congregation of the Anglican Church was formed in Fruitvale. A plot of land was quickly acquired from the Kootenay Orchard Association, but it wasn’t until May 19th, 1912, that the little white St. John the Evangelist church was complete enough to hold services. The building was consecrated on November 20th, 1913, and was for years the only dedicated church building in Fruitvale, a treasure which the Anglicans shared with other congregations.
        In 1915 much of Fruitvale’s central business district was destroyed by fire. Despite the influx of money under the Soldiers’ Settlement Act of 1918 which enabled many veterans to buy land, Fruitvale was slow to recover from the Fire, in part due to the general economic slowdown at the end of the Great War and to the relative ease of travel to Trail. A Memorial Hall was raised in 1919 and in 1921 the school was renovated with a complete basement and an additional room.
        Come the late ‘30s Fruitvale experienced a bit of a building boom. The Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church was built in 1932. Workers at the Trail smelter had organized the Fruitvale Co-operative Transportation Society to get themselves back and forth and began acquiring a fleet of mainly Ford station waggons. To service the cars, in 1935 the Co-op built its garage in Fruitvale. In 1936 the school was enlarged with a couple of big rooms and a smaller one. The year that the Fruitvale-based smelter workers struck for a day to call attention to the bad condition of the “cutoff,” 1937, the Roman Catholic congregation of St. Rita’s raised a church. In 1938 Tony Tonelli and Lou Agostinelli had the new Fruitvale Hotel constructed. At Grace’s Café inside Joe could get a tamale and a coffee for 45¢, or hotcakes and coffee for 20¢. On June 22nd of 1939 St. Paul’s United Church was dedicated and, over the years, the congregation shared the use of its building with the Anglicans and others. Frederick Young built a two-room clinic into his family home where itinerant doctors could treat patients. To keep an eye on all this activity, some time around 1937 the B.C. Provincial Police posted Corporal Tommy Johnson to Fruitvale.
        During the first years of Fruitvale’s existence the populace drew its water from private wells or drank from Kelly or Beaver Creeks. In 1949 the Fruitvale Waterworks District was formed to take charge of the rudimentary distribution systems which real estate developers had laid in over the years, install new piping and establish the main intake on Kelly Creek. To complement their new clean water system, the residents of Fruitvale began discussing a sewerage system to replace the septic and “earth-closet” method of waste disposal. The project would be expensive and, as unincorporated communities could not borrow money, on November 4th, 1952, Fruitvale became the Village that it remains. Jule Lewis was the mayor. A new community hall opened on June 15th, 1954, celebrating the settlement’s elevated status and complementing the new Elementary Junior High School which had been raised in 1952. Two hundred cases of hepatitis linked to bad water in the spring of 1954 hastened the development of the sewage system, and by 1959 eight miles of pipe had been laid, with a further five miles added by 1978.
        The BCPP post was taken over by the RCMP on August 15th, 1950, the Force maintaining a detachment in the Village in a succession of offices until January, 2002.
        Geo. Piercey moved to Fruitvale in 1951, the community’s first resident physician. He worked mainly out of the former Young house which owner Jas. Burrows had evidently converted completely into a clinic. In 1954 the clinic was moved into a downtown location under the auspices of the C.S. Williams clinic in Trail. Dr. John and Nancy Mackay arrived that August to run it, and were joined four years later by Dr. Bud and Shirley Regan. A third physician, Robert Ridley, came to an expanded clinic in 1968. A new building was raised in the ‘80s and serves five doctors in 2002. Joining the clinic in caring for residents’ well-being was the Beaver Valley Health Centre, an outgrowth of the then seven year-old Women’s Wellness Centre, which officially opened its doors on May 5th, 1966.
        Inspired by the efforts of citizens like Dick Dar, Gerty McCutcheon, Nick and Edna Bancescu, and Cam and Jesse Payette, Fruitvale boomed a bit in the 1960s and ‘70s. A new St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church was completed in 1964 and soon became home to the St. Paul’s United congregation, as well. The St. Rita’s congregation built themselves a new building in the late ‘60s. In September of 1970 the Beaver Valley Junior Secondary School opened. The Beaver Valley Recreation Committee, formed on July 3rd, 1946, joined with the new Regional District of Kootenay - Boundary to build the enclosed Beaver Valley Swimming Pool in Montrose in 1974, and the Beaver Valley Arena ice rink in Fruitvale3 the following year. During the late ‘70s the waterworks were re-built and expanded in an effort to get residents to abandon the private wells to which they had returned when, due largely to thoughtless forestry practices, Kelly Creek began to run high and dirty in the spring and slowed to a trickle in the summer. Come 2002 Fruitvale is still on a “boil water” advisory, but with $16 millions’ worth of new filtration plant and replacement piping recently installed, the water problem should be soon eliminated.
        Still thrilled by Jack Ewasiuk’s botched stick-up of the Bank of Montreal in the spring of 1976, in 2002 Fruitvale remains a pleasant settlement served by two commercial blocks working out of humble false-fronted buildings on Main Street. In 1990 a renovation of the central business district began with new sidewalks and facades. Behind windows that have been cleaned of the dust and soap of despair and bankruptcy, new businesses and eateries are showing distinct signs of prosperity. The former Elementary Junior High School has been rebuilt and renamed “Fruitvale Elementary” and the Junior Secondary has also been improved and renamed the Beaver Valley Middle School.
         On the eastern edge of the Village, past the cenotaph guarded by the rusting wreck of a Bren gun carrier and beyond the 1980 concrete bridge which carries the 3B over Beaver Creek, is the siding where International Rail Road Systems IRRS keeps its lone locomotive,4 4519, a 1957 ex-Grand Trunk Western EMD GP9 spiffed up in battleship grey with a mud blue top and bottom. Perhaps with an eye to starting a museum some day, the company stores one of BN’s Russell winged snow ploughs on the same silent siding.. The IRRS is one of Fruitvale’s two “heavy” industries. Wholly owned by Doug Sandner’s Christina Lake-based International Reload Systems, Inc., IRRS has its headquarters in Fruitvale. Only local ownership and non-union wages allow the Road to make some sort of living on a sad remnant of the Nelson and Fort Shepherd, rolling cars loaded with Atco lumber down to the Columbia Gardens siding where the BNSF picks them up for distribution into the United States, when that country isn’t imposing some sort of punishing protectionist tariff despite being a signatory of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
        Near the IRRS’s siding is the headquarters and veneer plant of Fruitvale’s other main industry, Atco Lumber. Timbering has long been an important employer in the Valley. Some of the timber had been logged out of the area by the time F.A. Varseveld set up his sawmill in Fruitvale around 1910. Sometime in the ‘20s the Endersby Mill began sawing south of town on Kelly Creek. It was, however, Andrew Nelson who established a lasting operation in the region. In February of 1927, writes Anna Reeves in her Tracks of the Beaver Valley ..., Andrew, his brother-in-law Atle Nelson, and several other Swedes arrived at Fruitvale. They were experienced loggers and took immediate employment with Varseveld. Andrew soon bought the rights to a nearby timber property and set up his own mill in 1930. Come the ‘40s Andrew had expanded his endeavours to include a real estate and rental business, a general store and service station with grocery and building supply departments, and a shop with a blacksmiths and hardware goods. In 1943 he formalized the structure of his enterprise by forming the Nelson Lumber Company, Limited, with Atle and Irving Trebath, and Fruitvale Realty Limited. While Andrew concentrated on the realty business, building streets of houses in Fruitvale and installing a water system, Atle took care of the lumbering, buying a Dodge tractor truck to haul trailer loads of logs into the mill. In 1945 Nelson Lumber built a new mill and four years later bought the property on the east edge of town and raised another mill. Atle and his sons divorced themselves from Nelson Lumber in 1958, bought the old Varseveld steam-powered mill and began their own operation. Before the year was out they had formed Atco Lumber, Limited, and had bought the Nelson Lumber mill. Atle and sons incorporated Atco in 1963 and went on a buying spree which saw them acquire B.S.& L. Lumber, Sullivan Creek Forest Products, the Hearn Brothers Lumber Limited and the Glenmerry Sawmill Company by 1986, two years after the original mill burned. In 2002 Atco remains in Atle Nelson’s family.
The Upper Beaver Valley

        Up the Beaver’s pleasant vale, the Highway stays close to the railroad to pass the cyclist-friendly Beaver Valley Family Campground a few up and down miles out of Fruitvale. Farther on, past the turn-off to the 95-campsited, showerless Champion Lakes Provincial Park with its kid-killingly cold swimming enclosure, is Park Siding, a longish wide spot in the road. Park Siding’s main attraction has to be the one-room log school house built by John Potter Bell around 1912. As a gift to the children of B.C., the structure has been lovingly and meticulously restored by the descendant of the builder and an alumnus of the school, Jack Bell, assisted by the Beaver Valley Historical Association. Jack, a nearby rancher and antiquary, has devoted his semi-retirement to collecting and refurbishing the region’s ancient cabins. From the school and its neighbouring service station, it is about two kilometres to the east end of the Siding where the large operation of the Atco Lumber Company sprawls across the Highway. This was the Hearn Brothers’ operation until bought up by Atco in 1976. The Hearns’ old mill burned completely in 1978 and Atco replaced it with the present plant. In the “dry-sort,” monster pincer-clawed loaders growl logs into piles according to species while trees are screamed into carpenter fodder out of sight behind the copper-green sheet-metal clad walls of the mill. The scent of seared wood tickles cyclists’ sinuses and churned forest dust hangs over the turmoil. Here the trackage of the old Nelson and Fort Sheppard dissolve into three or four sidings and end.
        Twenty-three kilometres from its intersection with the 22A, 3B is collected by the Crowsnest Highway which has just whirled down out of the Bonnington Range from Castlegar, and is whisked though Erie to Salmo and away over the Kootenay Pass to Creston.


  1. Writes R.G. Burrows in his magnificent Railway Mileposts: British Columbia – Vol. II: The Southern Routes: From the Crowsnest to the Coquihalla (Railway Milepost Books, North Vancouver, 1984), “[t]he 1893 Nelson & Fort Sheppard Railway bridge, an unusual early steel cantilever span, surprisingly remains in service as the parallel highway crossing. A marvel of its day, the old bridge includes a 250 foot span flanked by 125 foot approach spans.” !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  2. Letters from the 49th Parallel: Selected Correspondence of Joseph Harris and Samuel Anderson (ed. C. Ian Jackson, The Champlain Society, Toronto, 2000). !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  3. Where St. Louis Blues defenseman (2007), Barret Jackman,
    first laced up his competitive skates. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  4. There was a second locomotive, a 1952 EMD ex-Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe CF7 conversion which IRRS leased for a few months in 1998 and returned to NREX for lack of work. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

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