This three mile long, broad bench above the Columbia Rivers left bank is called Dolina Ootischenia The Valley of Consolation. Here once stood 26 Doukhobor villages, recalled now only by a few Russian names, the odd, old building still in use, and, corralled on the narrow strip of land between the Highway and the Rivers bluffs, the Doukhobor Village Museum. The entrance to the Museum is perhaps a kilometre from the Cloverleaf.
Though not strictly a living museum, on special occasions Doukhobor handicrafts are demonstrated by costumed volunteers, and during the summer season student guides and local artisans add life to the site. Neither is it an actual village. It is a replica which volunteers began constructing in 1971 from materials salvaged from original buildings in the region. The annex, a U-shaped arrangement of one-storey high rooms, was built in 1988 and houses artefacts in what would have been quarters for large families and old folks, guests and the sick, storage rooms and shops. Nearby stood the banya, a combination laundry and bath house. A passage in the centre of the U led to the villages fields and pastures behind. If warranted, stables and perhaps a barn like the one the Museum raised in 1997 would have been located behind the Annex. At the tips of the U, the two storied, brick-built doms dormitory houses were raised one in 1971 and the other nine years later. One serves as a gallery-cum-archives displaying the Societys historical photographs supported by some twenty films by and about Doukhobors, while the other shows the typical set-up of a dom with eight sleeping rooms for small families and single people upstairs, the downstairs divided between a huge kitchen and dining room in which thirty could be seated in comfort, and a social meeting room in which children were schooled, choirs practised and guests entertained. In such a village dwelt sixty to one hundred people, sharing communally the work, the concerns and the rewards of agrarian life.
The actual origin of the Doukhobors is obscured both by myth and by more than two centuries of unsympathetic Russian historiography. Dedicated to their concept of Christs teachings and following hereditary leaders, their tenacious pacifism and determined rejection of temporal authority both ecclesiastical and secular earned them generations of persecution under the sobriquet Doukhošbortsi spirit wrestlers. Harried from pillar to post within the Russian Empire, the Congregation fractured and was dispersed, banished to remote frontiers. Suffering increased persecution for their reluctance to bear arms for Alexander III in the 1880s, the Doukhobors concluded that they must escape Russia if their community was to survive. According to L.A. Ewashen, author with K.J. Tarasoff of In Search of Utopia: The Doukhobors (Living Word Corporation, Vancouver, 1990), the situation climaxed on June 28th and 29th of 1895 when some 7,000 Doukhobor men, conscripted into the army despite the demonstrative protests of their kin, burned their weapons. When the resultant brutal reprisals failed to break the Doukhobors dedication to their beliefs, Tsar Nicholas II, finally convinced of the advantages in decreasing the number of dissidents within his empire, in 1898 heeded philanthropic pleas and permitted the majority of the troublesome Sectarians to emigrate. Sponsors the Society of Friends, or Quakers, the Purliegh Colonists in England, and a coterie of Russian intellectuals gathered around L.N. Tolstoy and Vladimir Chertkov negotiated on the Doukhobors behalf with several national governments explaining that, wherever the Congregation chose to live, its members could tolerate no military obligations or interference in their internal affairs. Further, they needed large tracts of land on which to practice their communal farming, and expected to be consulted on school curricula should education be mandatory in their new homeland.
Seeking capable agrarians to occupy the vast wind-swept steppes of the North-West Territories, Canadas recently elected Liberal government of Wilfrid Laurier agreed to the Doukhobors special requirements and facilitated the settlement in 1899 of some 7,400 souls upon nearly three-quarters of a million acres in two big blocks in the very north-eastern corner of the District of Assiniboia and two more south-central in the District of Saskatchewan. To accommodate the Congregations desire to practice communal farming, the federal Minister of the Interior, Clifford Sifton, waived provision in the Homestead Act which required the separate registration and proving up of individual land claims. Additionally, Sifton re-activated the hamlet clause, which a few years earlier had allowed the communally oriented Mennonites to settle in tiny villages within three miles of the residents lands. As well, notes L.A. Ewashen, the obligation under the Dominion Land Act to swear allegiance to the Crown in order to gain legal title to a quarter-section land claim was ignored in the expectation that the Doukhobors would soon see the advantages of Canadian citizenship and relax their resistance to oathing to earthly authority. These concessions would soon cause difficulty.
The Doukhobors were well on their way to self-sufficient prosperity when, in 1906, Prime Minister Lauriers newly appointed Minister of the Interior, Frank Oliver, began to effect his Anglo-centric policies. Castigated as a narrow-minded pedant influenced by the intolerant philosophy of the pioneering Methodist missionary of the Prairies, John Chantler McDougall, Oliver insisted that every provision of the Homestead and Dominion Land Acts be observed: each quarter section must be registered to one individual; that individual must swear an oath to protect the person and possessions of British monarch, Edward VII and his heirs and successors. To the Doukhobors, fundamentally opposed to the individual ownership of property, separate registration meant the destruction of their communal way of life and the loss of much of their lands as there were not enough qualified Congregationalists to register each quarter that they had been granted by the previous administration. But of much graver concern was the oath, for to them it meant what it had in Russia; an obligation to perform military service. In immediate need of lands to satisfy the demands of arriving immigrants, and under pressure from the government of the newly constituted Province of Saskatchewan, Ottawa required the Doukhobors to comply. Insistence was met with intransigence and demands met rejection. The Congregations leader and administrator, Peter V. Verigin, the Lordly, who had arrived in Canada from Siberian exile in 1902, sought compromise. With Oliver, however, there could be no compromise, and while some of the Doukhobors were willing to submit to the Law, a few others, notably the Sons of Freedom faction, began burning their homes, destroying communal equipment, insisting that the Government stand by its original agreement. Parading naked through the Saskatchewan countryside as a sign of material renunciation, the Freedomites scandalized the neighbourhood and brought demands for the removal of these wild mystics. The Dominion responded on June 1st, 1907, with an ultimatum: obey the law by 1912 or vacate the province. To demonstrate its resolve, Ottawa cancelled some 2,500 Doukhobor-held homestead titles, stripping the Congregation of 400,000 acres of land.
It was the requirement to swear the oath to defend the British monarch against all indignities whatsoever that convinced the great majority of the Doukhobors to turn their backs on their Prairie lands and seek their destiny elsewhere. In his capacity as the Congregations absolute leader and its intermediary with the world, Verigin had collected his peoples considerable wealth in the spring of 1907 and headed to B.C. with his advisors to purchase land for a new Utopia. Here in Ootischenia, in the Pass Creek valley, along the Lower Kootenay River, and on the Kettle River around Grand Forks, Verigin bought nearly 22,000 acres and parcelled it out to his people who began arriving forthwith. Living their motto, Toil and Peaceful Life, and guided by Verigins daring business acumen, within two years the Doukhobors had built sawmills and cleared land for orchards and had set up a brick factory and fruit packing operation at Grand Forks. To add value to their expanding fruit production capacity, the Congregation bought the KC Brand Preserve Company and its jam factory at Nelson, and built another jam factory at the community of Brilliant in Ootischenia, where they also packed fresh and preserved fruits.
Buying in bulk at wholesale prices, selling their spare labour to local lumbermen and construction companies, paying taxes by building public roads, and exchanging their goods and produce among their communities and their co-religionists remaining on the Prairies, the Congregation quickly accumulated enough property and wealth to inspire envy in their neighbours. Motivated by bigotry and goaded by jealous constituents, the B.C. government was soon nagging the Doukhobors to send their children to school and register their vital statistics. Paranoiacally suspicious of secular authority and desperately wanting to remain cocooned in their ethnicity, the Doukhobors could not tolerate this meddlesome intrusion into their private affairs.
Unfortunately for its members, the Congregation had never been homogenous. Those of fanatical temperament had co-existed with moderates, and though friction had occasionally irritated their society, their cultural isolation had usually served to screen these disputes from outsiders. Unhappily, prosperity had further fractured Doukhobor society, and the new governmental onslaught shook up the fragments. Some families registered their statistics and sent their boys to the schools that the government coerced the Congregation into building. But when others resisted, the authorities countered with arrests, show trials and brutally heavy sentences for the most paltry infractions of the Law. People were gaoled with vindictive abandon and property was seized in payment of fines. In reaction, the radical Sons of Freedom faction, renouncing worldly possessions and advocating the burning of schools and communal property, enjoyed a resurgence of popularity.
The Great War distracted attention from the Kootenays for a while. Exempt from military service, the Doukhobors were free to continue growing and selling quantities of produce and supplying much of the labour required in the region. From these activities they derived considerable monetary gain. This was deeply resented by the population in general when it returned to the Doukhobor problem with a vengeance once the fumes of war had dispersed. Demands that some of the Communitys land be seized and given to returning veterans defined battle-fronts. Arrests and confiscations incited the radical Doukhobors to more incendiarism and, for the first time, attacks against governmental and Railway properties. Though only a very few individuals and not all of them on the side of the Doukhobors were ever involved in this blackwork, their actions were seized upon by bigots to further besmirch the reputation of the Congregation as a whole. With tensions built to an intolerable level, persons yet unknown placed the first time-bomb ever constructed in Canada aboard the night train to Grand Forks. At one oclock in the morning of October 29th of 1924 it detonated, blowing the life out of nine people. Among them was the Lordly Verigin.
Leaderless and upset by its transition from a rural agrarian to an urban industrial life-style, Doukhobor society began to collapse. Autocratic power had been faithfully vested in their benevolent dictator, and the loss of his canny business sense and his astute dealings with the outside world crippled the Congregation. A practitioner of deficit financing, Verigin had borrowed extensively in order to buy capital goods with which the Doukhobors improved their standard of living. At the moment of his death, his community was deeply, yet, under his guidance, manageably, in debt. Creditors, lacking confidence in the Communitys stability without the Lordly began to petition for repayment.
The arrival from Russia in 1927 of Verigins son, Peter P. the Purger, to assume leadership did nothing but further fragment the Congregation. Families and entire villages left the communal fold to farm independently.1 The Doukhobors commercial arm, The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) Limited, distrusting outside advice, seemed incapable of making wise business decisions. As the Great Depression settled in, the burden of the $350,000 that the CCUB had borrowed at high interest rates from the Bank of Commerce began to endanger the Congregations solvency. In 1937, despite the best managerial efforts of Verigin the son, the debt, drastically declining revenues and destruction wrought by radicals upon communal property combined to drive the CCUB into bankruptcy.
The Doukhobors lost everything. The holders of much of their debt, the Sun Life Assurance Company and the National Trust Company, moved to foreclose on the CCUBs capital goods and plant and the lands that had been deeded as collateral. On one hand fearing the mayhem that would accompany the eviction of thousands of desperate people from their lands, and on the other hand appreciating what efficient producers Doukhobors were, in 1939, the same year in which the Purger died, the provincial government intervened and paid the Debt. As the World watched War creep out of the shadows for the second time in 30 years, the provincial governement quickly arranged acceptable terms under which most Doukhobors could lease back their former properties from an ad hoc Land Settlement Board. Sure that the government had colluded with Big Business to rob them of what they calculated to be a six million dollar portfolio, the Doukhobors struck back by selling off their profit-generating enterprises at fire sale prices and retreating to their farms.
Tarred by the shenanigans of their zealots, the Doukhobors had by then lost most of the sympathy they had retained with the general public. Resistance to the National Registration Act of 1940 and the Selective Services Act of 1943 earned the Congregation more condemnation, even though they performed civilian services which were, much to their discomfort, vital to Canadas war effort. Probably as an expression of the resentment some felt about officials meddling in their affairs, activists torched the Communitys famous KC Brand jam factory at Brilliant in 1943.
To cleanse the Congregation of its more radical elements had been one of the aims of Verigin the son, and to accomplish that he reorganized the leadership of Doukhobor society as the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ (USCC). His death without heir in 1939 created a power vacuum in the USCC into which were drawn sundry competing messiahs. Frightened by the increasingly violent acts of the Sons of Freedom, the moderates within the USCC asked the government for protection. The resultant 1947 provincial commission of inquiry concluded that 3,000 or so Freedomites were criminal lunatics who harboured an enduring grievance against all organized society, Doukhobor or not. During the cold war anxiety of the 1950s, as the provincial Doukhobor Research Committee was studying the psychology, lifestyle and beliefs of these communistic Russians, arrests and incarcerations were steadily divorcing the Sons of Freedom from the greater Doukhobor community. Deciding to resolve the problem by breaking the bond between Freedomite parents and their children, the newly elected Social Credit government of W.A.C. Bennett initiated Operation Snatch. Beginning on September the 9th, 1953, squads of RCM Police officers began descending on the Freedomite settlements of Glade, Gilpin and Krestova, and the many casual camps which the Freedomites maintained in the region, capturing school-aged children. Terrified, the first of what would total 2,000 youngsters were ripped from their homes and incarcerated at an ex-Japanese internment centre in New Denver on the Slocan Lake. There they were forcibly indoctrinated with wider societal values, converted by beatings and deprivation into good Christians. When reunited with their families, claimed the bureaucrats, the children would effectively moderate their parents perception of the world. These totalitarian tactics ceased on August 2nd, 1959, but the emotional wounds inflicted by them still weep.
With the suspension of suppression and the emigration to South America of the influential Freedomite leader, Stefan Sorokin, the moderate Doukhobors began a rapid assimilation into Canadian society which, itself, had grown less intolerant of individualistic expression. The Land Settlement Board, which had been renting acreage to willing Doukhobors since 1939, in 1961 began selling those acres to its tenants at attractive prices and depositing the money into a trust fund for the Congregation.
Recalcitrant Freedomites, though, especially after they initiated a wave of arson and bombings during the early 1960s in a vain attempt to turn their brethren from the path of compromise and integration, still had brute pressures inflicted upon them. On March 24th, 1962, the RCMP arrested 54 members of the Fraternal Council of Reformed Sons of Freedom and concentrated them in the Oakalla Provincial Prison in Burnaby. Though these people were released for lack of evidence, other incarcerated Freedomites were culled from the prison system and concentrated in Agassiz Mountain Prison, a purpose-built fireproof institution in the Fraser valley opened on July 27th, 1962. Led by Frances Storgeoff, many of the inmates families came and camped for years by the prison gates in solidarity, thus voluntarily isolating themselves from the moderates in the Kootenays. Only the most intransigent Sectarians served out their sentences, and in the decades since, all but two elderly ladies have renounced violent protest as a means of expression: most Freedomites live quietly now at Krestova in the upper Pass Creek valley, and at Gilpin.
Since the mid-60s, Doukhobors have retreated into that revered niche in history reserved for tamed eccentrics. Their descendants, not without regret for the loss of an heroic life-way, have immersed themselves in the larger society, their Communitys past a colourful chapter in the book of the Crowsnest Highway, the embellishment of many a restaurant menu and the foundation upon which museums are built. The Doukhobors influence is not entirely extinguished, though. In the Kootenays evidence abounds that their stubborn adherence to a path less trodden has imbued the larger society, smoothing the way for counter-culture communes, food co-ops, in-your-face individualism and a careless disregard for some of the more obnoxious legal infringements on a persons right to the harmless enjoyment of life. Indeed, in 1985, as a reminder that Freedomite passions have not completely cooled, someone torched part of the Doukhobor Village Museums Annex.
The Castlegar Airport and the Brilliant Bridge
The folks in the Castlegar area got their first glimpse of flying machines on August 7th, 1919, when a pair of World War I veteran pilots guided their craft over the Monashees following the Columbia and Western right-of-way. Captain Ernest Charles Hoy piloting his Curtiss JN-4 Jenny and Lieutenant Ernest O. Hall flying a marque unknown. Though they appeared together in the skies over Castlegar, the two pilots were on independent excursions, though both were attempting the same feat; to fly from the Lower Mainland of B.C. over the mountain ranges of The Interior to Alberta. Hoy, alone, made it, finally settling in Calgary at 8:55 in the evening of that day after leaving the infield of the Minoru Park racetrack in Richmond at 0413 hours. Hall cracked up in Creston, but lived to tell the tale.
Opposite the entrance to the Doukhobor Village Museum, an access road leads to the Castlegar Municipal Airport. From its humble beginnings in 1939 as an emergency runway on the Trans-Canada Airway laid out on property expropriated from the Doukhobors, the facility has grown to dominate the bench. According to T.M. McGraths History of Canadian Airports (Lugus Publications, Toronto, 1992 [Second Edition]), the strip was bought by the City of Nelson in 1946 and received a temporary licence a year later. It was renamed Ralph West Field in 1948 when the City of Nelson transferred its part interest in the facility to the Villages of Kinnaird and Castlegar. Castlegar assumed the licence alone in 1961 and in 1963 supervised the building of a new terminal. Two years later the property was transferred to the federal Department of Transport which lengthened the runway to 914 metres and replaced the terminal in 1971. A new tower was erected five years later and in July of 1988 the completely refurbished terminal was reopened. With its hangars and service roads, equipment and traffic, the Airport is by far the most prominent feature in Ootischenia.
North a couple of kilometres, past the end of the Airports runway, the New Brilliant Bridge, a concrete deck soaring on a pair of azure steel arches, has flown the Highway over the Kootenay River, the Robson and old Brilliant Roads and the CPR tracks since 1966.
Beyond the Bridge a turn-out to the right allows travellers to pause and survey the time-blackened web of an aged suspension span crossing the Kootenay in the shadows of its great successor. This is the old Brilliant Bridge. Doukhobors constructed this deceptively delicate looking structure, the first of its kind in Western Canada, in 1913, to connect the villages and fields on the bench of Ootischenia to Brilliant, their main settlement. Though it was a ruin for decades, its approaches torn away and its deck a shambles barricaded by warning signs and littered with sticks shed from the osprey nests on the tops of the hand-poured concrete cable towers, the bridge was restored to commemorate the centennial of the Doukhobors arrival in Canada in 1899. Above, from its perch on the lower slope of Sentinel Mountain, P.V. Verigins bomb-blasted concrete tomb commands a lovely view over Dolina Ootischenia and accommodates in its garden periodic remembrance ceremonies. Access to the site is gained via Terrace Road, which begins climbing up from Robson Road about a mile west of the new bridge.
The Lower Kootenay River below Slocan Junction
Away from the Bridges and through the throat of the Kootenay River valley, the Highway heads north-eastward. Until 1964 saw the completion of the Kootenay Skyway through the Nelson Range between the Creston and Salmo valleys, this was the Crowsnest Highway.
Upstream three kilometres from the Bridges the Brilliant Dam one of five which hold back the Kootenays water, taking advantage of the Rivers 110 metre drop from Kootenay Lake (535m) to the Columbia. Its construction was one of those wartime projects which so discomfited the Doukhobors. To escape conscription into the armed forces they worked on the Dam and benefited from their wages, but the 151,000 horsepower the Dam generated was dedicated to the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Companys plant down the valley at Trail which worked night and day to churn out the refined copper, zinc, lead and high-grade ammonium nitrate, nitric acid and ammonia which are still so elemental in the fabrication of munitions. Aware of this, some Doukhobors suffered with the sanguine betrayal of their Christian ethics, especially after it became clear that the deuterium oxide instrumental in developing the bombs that devastated Nagasaki and Hiroshima was generated at Trail by CM&S.
Beyond the Dam, cradled by the Bonningtons on the east and the Valhallas to the west, the emerald Kootenay valley widens, the River a dark, smooth, serpentine lake filling its belly. The Highway runs along the right bank, its present alignment dated by its bridges to the early 1960s. Between the Highway and the River runs the old Columbia and Kootenay Railway, its rails used but twice a day when a pair of Kootenay Valley Railway SD 40-2 General Motors locomotives grumble train number 981 down to Trail in mid-morning and hauls back number 984 bound for Cranbrook in mid-afternoon. Most of the little farms and villages hereabout were built up by the Doukhobors, and many are still owned by their secularized descendants. Not ten kilometres from the Brilliant Bridge the Highway passes through Thrums, retaining some notoriety as the place from which the Doukhobors launched their massed nude protest marches of 1932. Strung out along the Highway, like the rest of these settlements in the Valley, it has no real centre.
A few easy kilometres northward from Thrums the Tarrys Elementary school sits amid its overgrown ball diamonds. Nearby, the fading blue metal-sheathed buildings of the Kalesnikoff Lumber Company cage howling, clanking mechanical beasts busy rending trees into lumber. Beside it the companys large log sort is only imperfectly screened from view by a ragged row of young evergreens.
From a landing on the River between Tarrys originally Tarrys Siding for Jas. Tarry who pr-empted 240 acres here on March 27, 1896, but did not prove up and the next little wide-spot on the Highway, Glade, a MoTH on demand ferry slips far-side residents across the Kootenay to a double dead-end road in a three minute long voyage. The community of Shoreacres, yet farther along, is down on the Rivers flats and is a larger, entirely residential settlement, lacking even a service station. Here the Slocan River gushes from its valley and the Highway has to drop down to cross it on a concrete-decked bridge. Not 20 metres down the rapid-frothed river hangs the black plate-girder Railway span. W.G. Kennedy informs readers of The Canadian Pacific in Southern British Columbia that the span has carried the CPRs rails over the Slocan since 1904 when it replaced the original Howe truss and trestle crossing.
The Columbia and Kootenay Railway
But for CPs Mainline and the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway on Vancouver Island, this piece of railroad track between Castlegar and Nelson is the oldest in B.C. In early 1889, expecting that even if the new Kootenay Valley Trunk Trail was widened into a waggon road it would not be able to serve the needs of the West Arm mines, Henry Abbot, the general superintendent of CPs Pacific Division, organized an association with R.P. Cooke, G.H. (George) Turner and A.G. Ferguson, and applied for the provincial railroad charter which had been granted to the Ainsworths et al Columbia and Kootenay Railway and Transportation Company, enabling it to lay rail from the mouth of the Lower Kootenay River up past Toad Mountain to the entrance of the West Arm. On April 6th Abbot and his associates were granted the charter under the Columbia and Kootenay Railway & Navigation Company, capitalized for $5 million. Eager to see the line built, the province offered a grant of 10,000 acres of land per mile of track laid. When the pot was sweetened by a $112,000 grant from the Dominion government, CP applied to lease the C&Ks charter for a millennium less a year, and by the time it received federal permission to do so on August 20th, 1890, the contractors, Whitehead, McLean and McKay, working up from Sproats Landing, and Keefer and Company, coming down from Nelson, had already begun construction. The line, 27 miles from Sproats Landing to the Silver Kings ore tipple at Nelson, opened for business by May 31st of 1891. Its construction earned CP 190,000 acres of land.
The completion of the C&K and the launching of C&KSNs bigger and faster Lytton onto the Columbia greatly eased the removal of Nelsons ore, but did little to create traffic for CPs Mainline. Though the C&KSNs boats had to brave the whirlpools and sand-bars of Tin Cup Rapids at the confluence of the Kootenay with the Columbia, the trip to the Spokane Falls and Northerns railhead at the Little Dalles was all of 90 miles shorter than to Revelstoke. As well, the narrows which separated the Lower from the Upper lake was tricky to navigate even at high-water, as was the stretch of the River between Revelstoke and the Lakes. These realities ensured that the great bulk of Nelsons ore headed south, and the smelter constructed at Revelstoke in 1889 by the London-based Kootenay Smelting and Trading Syndicate later, British Columbia Smelting and Trading Syndicate starved wanting ore and was abandoned in 1892.
The same year, 1893, that Corbins Nelson and Fort Sheppard reached Nelson and began hauling the Silver Kings ore directly to Spokane, the CPR, desperate to improve its service, streamlined its operations by running a spur from Revelstoke down to Wigwam on the Columbia, below the worst of the Rivers shallows. Three years later, it extended the spur to Arrowhead Landing on the Upper Lake itself and strengthened its link with the Kootenays in February of 1897 by buying the C&K Steam Navigation Company. Despite these expensive improvements and acquisitions, CP was still unable to prevent the bulk of Nelsons ore from leaking off into the U.S. Thanks to Corbins foresight and J.J. Hills ruthless determination, the CPR was being beaten out of the Kootenays. Its only defence was to build a line directly into the district, and the most feasible route CP could find was westward through the Crowsnest Pass.
In 1915, when the B.C. Southern Railway from the Prairies through the Pass and on to Kootenay Landing had been completed, and big, stern-wheeled Crow boats and little screw tugs carried passengers and pushed freight barges between the Landing and the eastern extension of the Columbia and Kootenay Railway at Procter, and the Columbia and Western Railway had been driven through the Monashees to Midway from the end of the C&K at Castlegar, and the Kettle Valley Railway had been finished between Midway and Spences Bridge, the CPR proclaimed that its Southern mainline was complete. Few people, however, called it the Southern mainline, and smack in the middle, the little C&K helped the line switch identities. From here eastward and way out onto the Prairies it was generally known as the Crowsnest Line. To the west, it was the Kettle Valley Line. All the same road; several names.
In his introduction to The Canadian Pacific in the Okanagan and Kootenay Valleys of British Columbia : The Early Years of Diesels (British Railway Modellers of North America, Calgary, 1992) Jim Hope writes that, like many railroads, the CPR neglected the maintenance of its locomotives during the Depression and then worked them into the ground during World War Two. By 1948, when N.R. Crump was appointed the Companys senior vice-president, major reinvestments in motive power was necessary if CP was to survive. All over the globe, the inefficient external combustion engine was giving way to internal combustion, and Crump was determined that the CPR would not be left behind; he cancelled every steam locomotive on the order books and invited the major manufacturers of diesels to submit units for evaluation. Because of the severity of the grades which its locomotives had to negotiate, southern B.C. was one of the first regions to receive the new power. By 1953, the 92 steam engines of the Kootenay and the Kettle Valley Divisions had been replaced with 73 diesel-electrics manufactured by Fairbanks-Morse, General Motors and Alco. In the Nelson yards brand-new shops dedicated to diesel maintenance were opened on January 24th, 1954. By the mid-50s the Kootenay Division was running mainly Fairbanks-Morse engines H24-66 Trainmasters, H16-44s and C-Liners as the products of the various makers were consolidated in designated divisions. The pernickety Trainmasters were soon gone, and the rest of the F-M fleet lasted only 20 years, most being officially condemned on June 20th, 1975; their odd, twin crankshaftd, opposed-piston submarine engines, though quick and powerful, proved less suited to the rigours of railroad usage than the conventional in-line engine configuration used by the other makers.
Though they wear CPR colours and consist mostly of CPR rolling stock, trains 981 down to Trail and 984 back are not operated directly by the Company. In the mid-1990s, despite the de-commissioning of the entire Boundary Subdivision but for a couple of miles west of Castlegar, costs continued to consume the Kootenay Divisions income. To staunch the financial drain, further economies were necessary. CP management determined that it had three choices: sell the line to a shortline organization, lease it, or abandon it completely and leave COMINCOs Trail operation stranded without heavy transport.
Mutual self-interests convened meetings between CPs management and the Canadian Council of Railway Operators, the umbrella organization representing the Brotherhood of Railway Engineers and other unions. An agreement was reached to form an internal shortline within the Companys organization. On June 1st, 1997, the Kootenay Valley Railway came into being.
Not an incorporated company, the new KVR is an operating division of the CPR. It is, in fact, a team formed of a few CP management personnel and the people who actually work the railroad: 23 people in May of 2002 including the manager, Rick Geddes. With its own budget, sharing expenses and profits, the division operates one return train a day between Cranbrook and Trail, and is responsible for the maintenance of CPs former Nelson, Boundary and Rossland Subdivisions, the so-called Kootenay Cluster, between Curzon Junction in the Moyie River valley south of Cranbrook, and the Warfield fertilizer plant near Trail. Not a permanent arrangement, the new KVR is an experiment; if it proves unable to pay its own way should COMINCO or Celgar or the Pope & Talbot plant at Castlegar shut down, at midnight on the last day of 2004, it ends.
Concluding that Frank Fitzgerald must have chosen a site down toward the Slocans mouth in 1890 to establish a ferry to carry the Kootenay Valley Trunk Trail across the swift, rocky-bottomed river, cyclists attack the stiff little climb which lifts 3A out of the rivers gully and brings it up to the traffic-lighted tee intersection of Playmor Junction. The shaft of the tee is highway No.6 coming in from the north-west out of the silvery Slocan Valley. Not very far up No.6 and west into the woods a bit is Krestova, the old Sons of Freedom stronghold.
In the Playmor Bakery and Café, dotting the tee of the Intersection just off the Highways right-hand shoulder, the ladies apologize for serving everything in styrofoam no room for a dishwasher, you see. From the diners windows enough of the surrounding geography can be seen through the sparse forest of conifers to deduce that the noble Kootenay River is a thief. We are at the intersection of two large valleys. The poor old Slocan has hacked a channel almost straight south for miles to get to the Columbia, only to be overwhelmed by the intruding Kootenay which until now has been flowing almost due west out of Kootenay Lake. Here it has broken into the Slocans trench and appropriated it for its own dash down to the Columbia.
Railways in the Slocan and the Great B.C. Railroad War
The opening of the C&K Railway on May 31st of 1891 only slightly improved the Lower Mainlands access to Nelson and the mines of the central Kootenay, for an item still had to be sent by rail to Revelstoke on CPs Mainline, off-loaded onto an Arrow Lakes boat and reloaded onto a C&K train at Sproats Landing, a process that was still inconvenient, time-consuming and costly. Adding to the woes of the merchants on the Coast was the completion of the Spokane Falls and Northern/Nelson and Fort Sheppard railways in December of 1893. Goods could easily roll into Nelson from anywhere in the United Ststes. Watching what should rightfully have been their profits fly south, the merchants missed no opportunity to pester the province to pressure the CPR into improving access to the Kootenays.
As much as the CPR might have missed the revenue lost to Corbins railroad and sympathized with the merchants of Victoria and Vancouver, it resisted the provincial governments importunities. It had pressing concerns elsewhere. However, in 1896, desiring to run rails from its Mainline on the Prairies, through the Crows Nest Pass and into Nelson, the Company found that it needed the co-operation of the province in acquiring the charter of the B.C. Southern Railway. Even though Victoria was eager to have anyone lay rails anywhere in B.C., it recognized the situation as an opportunity to extract a concession from the CPR.
Needing to grease the machinery of provincial politics, and dissatisfied anyway with the bottleneck in its operations caused by low water and ice-jams in the Narrows of the Arrow Lakes, around June 29, 1897, the date that Ottawa permitted it to do so, CP dropped a switch into the C&W near the mouth of the Slocan River, called it Slocan Junction, and commenced laying rails for 31 miles northward up the Slocans valley along a rough waggon road that the merchants of Nelson had begun building towards Slocan Lake in 1891. At Rosebery, where the Nakusp and Slocan Railway that the Company had built in 1894 came to the shore near the Lakes northern tip, a landing was built. There, on May 12th of 1897, the Companys B.C. Lake and River Service launched a pretty, 575-ton sternwheeler, Slocan. Ten days later, when she was fitted out, the Slocan took over the duties of the old William Hunter, which the Slocan Trading & Navigation Company had operated on the lake since November of 1892. Driving its steel to the southern end of the lake in December, 1897, CP built a landing at what it called Slocan City. On December 6th of 1897 the first train to travel the route left Slocan City for its run to Nelson and back.
For many years the Slocan Lake Route played a key role in CP operations. When low water on the Columbia made the Narrows unnavigable, the Slocan and her successors, pushing their barges of rail cars and goods up and down the 20-mile length of the lake, supplied the only regional connection to the Mainline. The completion of the Kettle Valley Railway through to the Mainline at Spences Bridge in 1915 reduced the utility of the Slocan route, but the BCL&RS kept operating the service until CP got anxious to get out of the navigation business in the 1950s.2 In 1956 Interior Lake Services was contracted to herd the barges with the tug Iris G, rippling the Lakes glassy waters as it passed Silverton and New Denver. On December 21st, 1988, revenue paying traffic a thing of the past, the lake operation was shut down followed five years later on September 14th, 1993 by the rest of the Slocan Subdivision.
The Great Midway Railroad War of 1905 was the second pitched battle of a war fought between men of the Great Northern and the CPR on behalf of their respective employers for control of transportation in the Kootenays. The first of those battles took place at Sandon high up in the Silvery Slocan Mountains.
Eli Carpenter and J.L. Seaton were two of those American prospectors who carried their searches north across the Boundary. On September 9th, 1891, in the heart of the Slocan Range of the Selkirk Mountains some 60 miles due north of Nelson, the pair found what they thought were silver ores in quantity and richness to rival the Hall brothers fabulous Toad Mountain strike. They staked the claim upon which would be developed the Payne mine. Idaho promoter Jas. F. Wardner arranged to have some samples of the claims ore analysed in Spokane that winter. It proved to be galena, rich in silver with little complicating zinc: definitely worth mining. However, as with every other property in the Kootenays at the time, the problem lay in getting the ore to market.
The CPR regarded Canada as its preserve, a presumption which J.J. Hill, head of the Great Northern Railway, was determined to ruin.
The Upper Kootenay River appears not to like Montana. In its valley, the Rocky Mountain Trench, the River flows south-eastward across the Boundary and almost immediately breaks to the west in an enormous hook to bend north-westward through the tip of the Idaho panhandle and back into B.C. These days, not much of the water escapes back into Canada to trickle past Creston and leak into Kootenay Lake. At the apex of the Rivers farthest penetration into the United States, at Libby, Montana, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed at dam in 1975. But even long before the Dam was completed, the lower reach of the Upper Kootenay was not a stream which welcomed industrial-scaled navigation. However, as proved by W.A. Baillie-Grohman as part his arrangement with the B.C. government in 1884, it was possible to get a steamboat down to the Lake from Bonners Ferry, where the old Walla Walla Trail to the East Kootenay gold streams crossed the River 34 miles north of what is now Sandpoint, Idaho. Having driven his GN over the 5,213 foot high Marias Pass in the Montana Rockies during September of 1891, Hill pointed his rails northward to put a little distance between himself and the Northern Pacific Railways mainline at Sandpoint. Striking the Kootenay River, Hill followed its course and brought his steel into Bonners on March 12th, 1892. The old animosity between Hill and the CPR was still on full boil, especially as the CPR had recently purchased the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railway, connected it to its Mainline at Moose Jaw in the Assiniboia District, and expanded its business into the Minnesota heartland of Hills operations. Apprised of the ores buried in the Slocan, Hill wondered it wasnt time for a little counter punching into CP territory. The Columbia and Kootenay Steam Navigation Company had recently floated its Nelson on Kootenay Lake, and the company was confident that, stoutly crewed and captained by a determined man, the ship could, in times of higher water, fight its way the 40 miles up stream from the southern tip of the Lake to Bonners Ferry. On C&KSN boats and barges, Hill figured he could carry the GN into CPs backyard.
Depending on the value of land grants and other governmental incentives, building a railroad in B.C. in the 1890s could net a tidy profit for promoters. With business plans broadly suggesting just how much income a provincial administration stood to gain from taxes should it grant a charter for a railway to be constructed into a particularly rich region like the Slocan, promoters attracted the support of local politicians who in turn prevailed upon the provinces Minister of Railways to issue the charter, preferably with a grant of so many acres of land per mile of trackage completed. On the strength of the land value and the projected income from the line, promoters would then arrange financing to get the rails laid. The line built, the land would be sold and the trackage, if not already so disposed, would be sold or leased to an established railroad company.
John Hendrys and Alexander Ewens familiarity with the ins and outs of doing business in B.C. nicely positioned them to present well-received proposals to the legislators in Victoria. They formed an association to petition the province for a charter to build a railroad from Kaslo on Kootenay Lake to Sandon, the main mining camp in the high Slocans. Their arguments were convincing and on April 23rd, 1892, the B.C. parliament enchartered the Kaslo and Slocan Railway (K&S). However, in May of 1893, before Hendry and Ewen could interest financiers in their project, the U.S. government repealed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890 plunging the price of the metal 40% overnight. The resulting slump culminated in the New York stock market crash that June. Risk capital dried up and the K&S went into hibernation., resident in Kaslo, had an interest in the Pilot Bay smelter on the eastern side of Kootenay Lake. Hi
Luckily for Jim Hill, he had completed his Great Northern through the Stevens Pass of the Cascade Mountains six months before the Crash. With his steel stretching from the Great Lakes to the Pacific coast, Hill was now a transcontinental player. Though preoccupied with surviving the slump and trying to incorporate the bankrupted Northern Pacific Railroad into his enterprises, Hill retained his appetite for tormenting the CPR which was itself undergoing some lean times. As the economy clawed its way back to prosperity, Hill was prepared to entertain proposals that would steal traffic from his adversary.
In 1894 the B.C. government had sweetened the charter of the K&S with a quarter-million acre land grant, a moratorium on taxes, and permission to narrow the lines gauge to three feet. Ewen and Hendry were at last able to interest Hill and his New York financiers, Kuhn, Loeb and Company, and Moore & Schley, in their railroad. A half-million dollar deal was struck that cemented a business relationship between Hill and Hendry that founded the latters fortune.
A bid of $750,000, write G. Hearne and D. Wilkie in The Kaslo & Slocan Railway (Canadian West, No. 15, Spring 1989), secured the construction contract for the Minneapolis firm of Foley Brothers and Guthrie, and on May 8th of 1895, under the vigilant eye of chief construction engineer W.F. Tye, sub-contractor G. Carlson began grading a right-of-way up the valley of Kaslo Creek. Through terrain which is some of the most savagely hostile to railroading on the planet, Carlson fireballed the 45-pound rail up 3.25% grades to the 1,700 foot level at Zincton. On a fragile looking grass hopper trestle, Tye inched the line across the brow of Paynes Bluff a 1,000 feet above the valley floor, providing photographers and artists uncounted with one of the most spectacular settings in the world in which to capture railroad scenes. Less than 29 miles from Kaslo, the K&S reached Sandon on October 22nd.
As the little railroad was being built mines along the right-of-way stock-piled their ore and were ready with consignments when the rails reached them. The first shipment came from the Goodenough mine, sent down to Kaslo sometime in November, loaded onto the International Trading Companys old Alberta and sent to Five Mile Point on its way to the Puget Sound Reduction Companys smelter in Everett, Washington. With a pair of wood-burning ex-North Western Coal & Navigation Company 2-6-0 Baldwin Moguls and a 2-8-0 Consolidation, the K&S was soon hauling trainloads of galena down to Kaslo where it was loaded onto lakeboats either for direct delivery to the Great Northern mainline at Bonners Ferry, or at Spokane via Five Mile Point and the Spokane Falls and Northern.
On November 20th, 1895, the line was officially opened and the following January 14th saw the rails reach Cody, four miles from Sandon. Rich ores from the Bonanza King, the Noble Five and the Eureka joined those of the Goodenough, the Payne, the Rambler-Cariboo and the Slocan Star on their way to market.
There was, however, a costly bottleneck in the K&Ss operation. Because they were not of standard-gauge, the ore cars of the K&S could not simply be run onto barges and off-loaded onto the rails of the GN. In a laborious, time-consuming process that crippled the lines utility, ore was dumped onto the docks at Kaslo and wheel-barrowed aboard C&KSN ships. At Bonners Ferry the process had to be reversed. Because the costs generated by this awkward exchange were born by shippers, Hill didnt feel obliged to streamline the procedure by building a loading dock from which the ore could be chuted from the narrow-gauged cars into GN gondolas awaiting on barges below.
As well, avoided only by sailing the ore to Five Mile Point and shipping it to the GN mainline on the Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway, was the long, navigation-hindering low-water season on the Kootenay River between the Lake and Bonners.
The riches of the Slocan had not, of course, gone unnoticed by the CPR, but still weighed by the costs of building its Mainline, it was reluctant to take on new projects. On April 12th, 1893, the Nakusp and Slocan Railway Act, 1893, had received royal assent. Enchartered to build into the Slocans from Nakusp on Upper Arrow Lake, the N&S was a commercial neophyte looking for a patron. Though interested in the project as part of a link from its Mainline to Nelson, the CPR refused to become involved until the province guaranteed to pay interest charges on moneys up to $925,000 borrowed to build the line. For 40% of the lines income, CP proposed to supervise its construction and lease it for 25 years. The deal was accepted and by October of 1893, report R.D. Turner and D.S. Wilkie in The Skyline Limited; The Kaslo and Slocan Railway (Sono Nis, Victoria, 1994), under the supervisory eye of the able Andrew McCulloch, the Inland Construction and Development Company was hard at work laying N&S rails from Nakusp where the province was building a substantial wharf to facilitate the transfer of ore cars onto the C&K Steam Navigation boats. On October 28th of 1894 trackage reached Three Forks, in the mountains above New Denver on Slocan Lake, 38 miles from Nakusp. CP immediately leased the line and began operations. Though the N&Ss charter allowed it to build up to Sandon, the same cash crunch that crippled the rest of the continents commerce in the aftermath of the June panic on the NYSE arrested the lines progress, forcing the CPR to content itself with a mule-train connection between the railhead and the mines.
The K&Ss impending arrival at Sandon caused considerable consternation at CP and spurred the Company to complete the N&S, pushing its trackage up the final 4.5 miles of 4.9% grades above Three Forks. That underway, CP sent a construction crew ahead to Sandon to build a station and sheds. Unfortunately, the station crew erred in locating its structures, and Hill soon discovered that they were, in fact, built on K&S property. He happily demanded their removal, was refused, and took the matter to the courts where injunction followed injunction as the K&S crews built into the town and were obliged to tailor their trackage to accommodate CPs mistake. In December, with the CPRs rails nearly at their destination, a judge sympathetic to the CPR gave that Company leave to use its station pending a fuller examination of the issue. On December 15th, 1895, CP began scheduled service into Sandon.
The judges ruling and CPs plans, however, were not universally accepted.
In the dark of the very early hours of Monday, December 17th, with the CP staff due to officially occupy their station that very day, a sizeable contingent of K&S men, having spent the evening bemoaning their companys plight and proofing themselves against the chilly night air, decided to steam on up to Sandon and visit the disputed station. In a rush to get things ship-shape for business, the CPs employees were rather brusque with their guests. Mistaking this lack of hospitality for hostility, a few of the K&S men began refining the arrangement of the Stations furniture. Protests were met with pugnacity and soon sheds were being dismantled and the Station belaboured before breakfast interrupted the proceedings. With CPs inaugural day of service to Sandon well dampened, the rowdies dedicated the rest of Monday to victory celebrations, but, when informed that a CPR army was on its way, the K&S men deemed time to be of the essence and wrapped a cable around the central supports and massive chimney of the station, attached the other end to their locomotive and unceremoniously pulled the structure to the ground. The CPR was neither amused nor intimidated. Ensuring that it was on its own property this time, it immediately raised new buildings and the two rivals went into nose-to-nose competition for Sandons business. With much deeper pockets and the advantage of powerful political patronage, CP soon found a way to slant the playing field to its advantage.
CP was well aware that the weak link in both its own and Hills operations in the region was their dependence on the boats of Columbia and Kootenay Steam Navigation Company. On February 1st of 1897 CP bought the company, integrating it into its corporate structure as the B.C. Lake and River Service. Anticipating the deleterious effect that it would have on Hills business, Van Horne immediately dedicated every boat to Company business, hauling Hills freight only when time permitted. Robbed of his water link between Kaslo and his mainline, Hill had to look to the rag-tag fleet of the little International Navigation and Trading Company for transport on Kootenay Lake.
By the end of February of 1897, the Great Northern, having bought up most of the Kaslo and Slocans debt, controlled the line outright. In 1898, CP acquired the Nakusp and Slocan in the same fashion. Competition for ore was fierce until November of 1898 when CP completed its Crows Nest Line linking the Kootenays to its Mainline in Alberta. This event seems to have triggered a détente between the two great rivals, for that month an agreement was reached which saw the K&S pay the N&S a subsidy to restrict itself to hauling only 20% of Slocans mines output. In 1901 GNs acquisition of the Vancouver, Victoria and Eastern shattered the truce, and for the next nine years GNs successive CEOs, Hill and his son, L.W., fought the CPR for every cent of profit in the Slocan. However, miners strikes, the steadily eroding worth of silver and the United States high import tariff on Canadian lead which constitutes the great bulk of galena ore ensured that the K&S never splashed much black ink in the Great Northerns account books. In 1908 and again the next year, the line was mauled by washouts and debris-choked snowslides which tested the endurance of the lines little rotary snow plough. On July 15th, 1910, a small bush fire exploded into a murderous inferno that rode west winds over Zincton Summit and down the K&S right-of-way destroying much of the lines 6,200 feet of wooden trestle- and bridge-work. By then the lustre had been worn from the Slocans treasure, and on December 24th, 1910, superintendent P.H. Walsh suspended operations on the surviving fourteen miles of trackage out of Kaslo. Rather than rebuild, on May 27th, 1911, GN sold the K&S for $25,000 to local interests headed by James Anderson and John Ley Retallack of Kaslo. With Provincial aid, the K&S managed to resurrect the first fifteen miles of the line by September 15th and even ran a train or two along it, but with little money coming in, the new owners soon reached the bottoms of their pockets. Seeing the K&S as the lifeline of their district, the electors around Kaslo pressured Premier Richard McBride to convince the CPR to take over the line. On May 13th of 1912 the CPR finally acquiesced, accepted the provinces $100,000 grant and started extending its N&S eastward from Three Forks over the hump at Zincton to connect with the remnants of the K&S which the Company had rebuilt to standard-gauge by November 13th, 1913. Formally opening the extended N&S as the Kaslo Subdivision on July 1st of 1914, and leasing both the lines for 99 years in 1920, the CPR ran trains on a fairly regular basis between Nakusp and Kaslo until severe floods in 1955 washed out sections on the eastern slopes of the Slocans. Two years later, the right-of-way above New Denver was abandoned and stripped. In 1981, CP scratched Denver Canyon station off its roster and retracted the N&S to the wharf at Rosebery. On December 21st, 1988, the N&Ss last train grumbled away from Nakusp, loaded itself on barges at Rosebery and sailed away to return no more. The Iris G was released from her contract, and within a few weeks CP had yanked every scrap of steel from the entire Nakusp and Slocan Railway from Arrow Lakes to Slocan Junction.
The West Kootenay Power and Light Company
From Playmor Junction, No.3A and highway 6 conjoined curve in a wide eastward sweep around the outside of the Kootenay Rivers bend, over passing the Slocan Subdivisions stripped right-of-way on a concrete-decked span installed in 1962. Over the years a loose agglomeration of houses called South Slocan has grown up around the old switch site. The chief enterprise is the Dam Inn, a pub nestled in the shadow of a stand of dark spruce between the Highway and the River. Climbing higher onto the latters right bank, the Highway gives travellers an overview of what has to be the most heavily industrialized piece of water in southern B.C.
Within a of about three miles the Kootenay River supports five dams and power plants which take advantage of the Rivers 350 foot plunge between its Lake and the Columbia. From the pullout above the Upper Bonnington dam one overlooks the second oldest hydro-electrical project in the Valley. Perched on the crags across the River, on the far side of a dramatic U-shaped dam, is the City of Nelsons generating station which began sending electricity to Nelson and the Hall Mines smelter in 1907. It serves now as a substation. The Upper Bonnington Power Plant No.2 on the near side of the River dates from 1907 as well, and was built by the West Kootenay Power and Light Company. Downstream about a half mile is the oldest dam, the Lower Bonnington, and its generating Power Plant No.1, installed by WKP in 1898. On July 15th of that year it began transmitting its output of 22,000 volts to the Center Star mine and its affiliates at Rossland on a line that, at 32 miles, was claimed at the time to be the longest in the world carrying that much voltage. According to the roadside Stop of Interest plaque, the Plant was refurbished in 1925 and continues to serve. The dam at South Slocan and its Plant No.3, just downstream from Playmor Junction, was completed in 1928 and delivered 75,000 horsepower into WKPs system.
A couple of kilometres farther along the Highway another pullout peers down on the Corra Linn Plant and dam, and the tall, twin head-gates of the Kootenay Canal. The last built, the Kootenay Canal Project, has since 1976 diverted 27,000 cubic feet per second into the canal on the Rivers left bank and passes it through four gigantic turbines. The half million kilowatts generated are transmitted south over the Bonningtons to B.C. Hydros Selkirk Substation down by the Boundary.
Come the mid-1890s it was accepted by all but the most mule-headed that mining was made much easier with electricity. Lifts could be hoisted and lowered rapidly and reliably, bright light could be conveniently shone to every corner of a pit without the danger of flame, powerful machinery could be safely powered to crush rock of ore into manageable sizes, long airlines to mining tools could be eliminated by installing portable compressors near the working face and ventilation fans could be emplaced almost anywhere. Making electricity posed little problem. All bolted securely to an enclosed, stable platform, a generator of the required output was coupled to a steam engine whose attendant boiler was then fired up: wheels turned and electricity happened. The firing of the boiler was the little problem if fuel was not readily available.
Where the Rossland Mountains spill over the Boundary into the United States, lodes fabulously rich in copper and gold had been discovered in the early 1890s. Companies were quickly organized and mines sunk, the most successful of which were soon applying electricity to their endeavours. Unfortunately, coal to fuel the boilers had to be imported at great expense either up the Columbia from the Spokane Falls and Northerns railhead at the Little Dalles, or down the Columbia from the CPR Mainline at Revelstoke.
Oliver Durant of Spokane was at that time the manager and part-owner of the great Center Star mine at Rossland. Though the mine was proving fabulously rich, Durant was, like any good executive, constantly on the look-out to trim costs. One way to do that was to eliminate the expense of coal by generating electricity hydraulically. To do so, Durant and the president of the Spokane-based Center Star Gold Mining and Smelting Company, P.A. (Patrick) Largey, formed an association with C.R. (Charles) Hosmer, manager of Canadian Pacific Telegraph, probably in early 1896 to obtain a provincial charter to dam a stream and generate power. A number of stout streams suggested themselves, Durants candidate being the nearby Sheep Creek. Subsequently, Hosmer met Sir Charles Ross, developer of the infamous rifle which Canadian soldiers threw away by the crate-full during World War One, and, according to Jeremy Mouat in The Business of Power Hydro-Electricity in South Eastern British Columbia, 1897-1997 (Sono Nis Press, Victoria, 1997), introduced him to the Center Star management. Ross bought into the company as one of its directors. Ross like Durants idea of generating electricity by water-power and with W.M. Doull of Montreal, Herbert Holt and Frank Paul, apparently formed the Kootenay Power and Light Company and began petitioning the province for permission to dam the Lower Kootenay. In the meantime, Durant, Largey and Hosmer had concluded that the Sheep Creek was seasonally unreliable, so they joined with Ross. On May 8th of 1897 the provincial parliament passed the bill enchartering the West Kootenay Power and Light Company. Oliver Durant was elected president and Rossland was designated the headquarters.
For $125,000 in WKP stocks and bonds Ross undertook to construct a dam and power plant at the place on the Lower Kootenay River that he named Bonnington Falls. Reported by Kate Matheson in her article More Invention than Convention posted on the WKP website on May 6th, 1997, work commenced on the pair of dams, one a 60 foot high rock-filled wooden crib and the other a 120 foot high concrete wing, on July 14th, 1897. In January of 1898 he enticed Canadian General Electric Companys chief engineer, Lorne Argyle Campbell, away from Toronto and charged him with completing the Lower Bonnington project. Campbell fit in with the team and that April tendered his resignation to CGE to become WKPs general manager. Campbell soon had the project well in hand. With the dams completed and two 750kW CGE generators installed in Power Plant No.1, he was testing the frontiers of power transmission by stringing 35 miles of 22kV line up to Rossland. Sending that much voltage that far at this altitude had never before been attempted. Nay-sayers doubted that it would work. They were wrong, and after the Center Star and the War Eagle mines had satisfied their demands, Campbells success was celebrated by the 500 electric lights that flashed to life in Rosslands parlours and streets on the evening of July 15th, 1898 when the switches were closed.
The Toronto-based Gooderham-Blackstock syndicate completed the purchase of Center Star M&S in the autumn of 1898 and released Durant. With his main interests shifted south of the Boundary, the next year he surrendered the presidency of WKP to Sir Charles and retired to Spokane.
Sir Charles presided over West Kootenay powers operations for the next four years. In 1899 a third CGE generator was installed in the Lower Bonnington power plant, doubling its kiloWattage to 3,000 and raising its voltage to 3300 to feed the companys expanded base of customers which now included several more Rossland mines, the CPRs Trail smelter, the Hall Mines smelter at Nelson and the Nelson Lighting and Tramway Company.
Ross retired from WKP in 1903 but held onto his shares until CM&S bought him out in 1915 or 16 as it prepared to merge WKP into its operation. He was succeeded by W.M. Doull who wisely left L.A. Campbell as general manager. It was a position Campbell was to occupy until 1939 when he became the companys president until his death eight years later.
Campbell channelled his towering ambitions into the expansion of the company. To obtain cash construct a new dam and extend service westward into the Boundary District where British Columbia Copper and Granby Consolidated Mining and Smelting were crying for a reliable source of electricity, in May of 1905 WKP offered a huge issue of bonds to the market. The CPR, heavily involved in the Trail-Rossland area through its subsidiary, Consolidated Mining and Smelting, and fearful that J.J. Hill and the Great Northern would capture WKP and deny CM&S its essential electricity, snapped up 1.5 million dollars worth of the issue. That purchase, when added to the shares that it had acquired when it bought the Center Star/War Eagle complex from Gooderham-Blackstocks Consolidated Mining and Development Company in June of 1905, gave CP controlling interest in WKP. The Company left Campbell to run his fief.
WKP was already well advanced in stringing a pair of 63kV lines over the Santa Rosa summit of the Rosslands to get into the Boundary District when Cascade Water, Power and Light Company, which was then endeavouring to meet the Districts electricity demands, convinced the B.C. parliament to deny WKPs application for expansion with the argument that the companys British investors would suffer should WKP intrude. Refusing to be stymied, WKP bought the South Kootenay Water Power Company, a dormant outfit which owned a charter to serve the Boundary District as well, and expanded westward under its franchise. To generate the required power, WKP had built another dam on the Kootenay at the Upper Bonnington Falls, installed a pair of 6,000kV CGE generators in Power Plant No.2 and switched them into the grid in 1907.
After extending service to the Silver King mine in 1908, WKP spent a decade modernizing its equipment to improve service to its established customers. C.R. Hosmer took over the presidency in 1913 and in January of 1916 oversaw the companys transfer from the portfolio of the CPR to that of its subsidiary, Consolidated Mining and Smelting. Under CM&S stewardship, WKP expanded throughout southern B.C.
Hosmer also approved the WKPs post-W.W.I expansion plans. A brace of CGE 6700kV generators had been installed in the Upper Bonnington power plant in 1916 and two years later power was led across the Boundary to serve Northport, Washington, and its smelter. In 1919 the Second No.1 line to Greenwood was extended across the Okanagan Highlands to Oliver in the Okanagan valley and onward to B.C. Coppers mine on Copper Mountain near Princeton and the nearby Allenby concentrator. In 1922 No. 43 line was run up to Penticton and Kelowna from Oliver.
To feed its expanding power grid WKP undertook a major reconstruction of the Lower Bonnington facility. The channel below the dam was deepened to double the hydraulic head to 70 feet, a new power plant was raised and the Minister of Lands, T.D. Patullo, was invited to officially throw the switch on the pair of 17,500kV CGE generators on August 1, 1925. A year later a third generator was added.
J.J. Warren became WKPs president in 1927 and that time plans had been finalized for a series of enormous projects on the Lower Kootenay. Three new dams were on the drawing boards and two were already underway. At South Slocan a dam was completed in 1928 and in its associated Power Plant No.3 twin CGEs began generating 17,500kV each in December of 1928, with a third added six months later. Up stream from Bonnington another dam was being completed. Initially planned to be set into Grohman Narrows at the end of Kootenay Lakes West Arm, the project raised alarm when WKP applied to the International Joint Commission (IJC) convened under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to raise the level of the Lake by six feet. Especially concerned was the State of Idaho. Rather than mark time while the lengthy studies were carried out with the likelihood that the project would be rejected anyway, WKP built at its fall-back choice of Corra Linn, downstream from the Lakes outlet. According to Jeremy Mouats tables in The Business of Power..., Corra Linns hydraulic head was but 53 feet, inadequate at winter low water to spin the three 15,000kV CGEs that were installed in Power Plant No.4 and switched into the system in 1932. WKPs applications to the IJC to raise the Lakes level to provide a sufficient head were pedantically evaluated while the flue gases from CM&S Trail smelter poisoned the landscape and air far into Washington. Finally, convinced that the power from Corra Linn was essential in running the filters that would scour the sulphur from the Smelters emissions and operate the plant that would convert the gas into fertilizer, the IJC gave its approval on November 11th, 1938.
The third undertaking in the WKPs Kootenay River mega-project, the dam at Brilliant, was shelved as the Depression deepened. Mr. Hitler and his associates, however, rode to its rescue by inaugurating the Great War, Part 2, in 1939, the year that L.A. Campbell was installed as president of WKP. Though WKP was generating six times more power than it had been in 1919, the Canadian government realized that to meet its obligations in the coming fight it would have to call on CM&S to run at full capacity to product the necessary metals and chemicals. This would require more power and to that end Ottawa began negotiations with the CPR to revive the Brilliant project. Reported by Jeremy Mouat in The Business of Power..., the agreement which allowed CM&S to write off the costs of construction was signed on April 20th, 1942. Working to WKPs original design, CM&S started building immediately, finished in 1944 and assigned the plant to WKP for operation. The first two 37,000 horse-power generators came on line that August.
Doubtless before his death in 1947 L.A. Campbell was laying plans to expand WKPs service into the East Kootenays where coal-fired generating plant of CM&Ss great Sullivan mine was nearing the end of its working life. Plans were soon laid to string a 170kV circuit from the Power Plant No.3 at South Slocan up the West Arm to the bluffs above the mouth of Coffee Creek where an A-frame was built to anchor a three kilometre long span of cables that would be swung across the Lake in the longest suspension in the world. On April 8th of 1952 the crossing was completed and WKPs grid tied into that of the East Kootenay Power Companys to provide reliable service to the Rocky Mountain Trench.
Come the end of W.W.II in 1945 West Kootenay Power found itself generating much more electricity than required by its parent, Consolidated M&S. With society rapidly completing its electrification, selling the excess power would prove no problem. However, governments viewed the ability to generate electricity as a strategic resource and regulated the industry. Discouraged by this interference, in 1947 CM&S decided to distance itself from the business by buying all of WKPs plant except the old Lower Bonnington installations, contracting WKP to continue operating the system. Meanwhile, WKP, under the presidency of R.W. Diamond since Campbells death, would be free to sell Lower Bonningtons output to the public, along with CM&Ss excess generation.
According to Kate Matheson in her web-posted pamphlet More Invention than Convention, the government of B.C. had initially adopted a hands off policy when it came to the power generation business. Without regulation and financial assistance the dozens of little power outfits that had sprung up to serve local markets saw no advantage in interconnecting themselves. This meant that a company that could generate power in excess of its requirements had no way to deliver electricity to a neighbour which was suffering brown outs. This changed in December of 1938 when the province passed legislation to regulate the industry and followed it in 1945 by setting up the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to create a power grid. It was into this grid that WKP was granted permission to sell its power in the early 50s.
To the PUC it appeared that the arrangement between CM&S and WKP was a sweetheart deal with WKP not trying too hard to buy its parents power for the lowest price. This suspicion led the Commission to monitor closely the relationship through the years, breathing, as it were, down CM&Ss neck. When the National Energy Board granted CM&S permission interlink with the Bonneville Power Administration in Washington state in the 1960s, the PUC wondered if Consolidated wasnt selling the magic 15% of its generation on the open market, making it a public utility and subject to regulation as such. A further 20 years of scrutiny convinced Cominco, the former CM&S, to sell its Lower Kootenay infrastructure back to WKP in 1982, and when low metal prices subsequently bit into profits, Cominco offered WKP for sale in June of 1986. That August the Kansas City-based UtiliCorp United bid $80 million, and the following July the now B.C. Utilities Commission finally okayd the sale. On October 15th, 2001 WKP became Calgary-based UtiliCorp Networks Canada and, with the four Kootenay stations of Corra Linn, Lower Slocan and Upper and Lower Bonnington generating a total of 205mW, transmits power over 6,000 kilometres of lines to 135,000 customers in southern B.C. In March of 2002 UtiliCorp became Aquila Networks Canada, and two years later, in May of 2004, Fortis, Incorporated, acquired Aquilas western Canadian assets.
Possibly in reaction to this sale by the previous administration, in 1994 the B.C. government set up the Columbia Power Corporation to undertake power project investments as an agent of the province on a joint venture basis with the Columbia Basin Trust... which was created by the province a year later as a regional corporation ...to work with residents of the Canadian Columbia Basin to promote social, economic and environmental well being in the region most affected by dam construction from the Columbia River Treaty, according to their respective websites, and redress the grievances of the hundreds of people who had been high-handedly displaced with little or no compensation when the rising water impounded behind the dams constructed in the 1960s on the Canadian reach of the Columbia drowned their livelihoods. To finance the accomplishment of these goals, Columbia Power bought the Brilliant Dam from UtiliCorp for $43 million in 1996, installed a 170mW generating station at Keenleyside Dam on the Columbia nearby, and shares with Teck Cominco the profits derived from an upgrade to 380mW of generation at its Waneta Dam on the Pend dOreille River. A refit of the Brilliant Dam, too, was completed by 2002 which saw its output boosted to 100 megaWatts. West Kootenay Powers successors continue to operate the plant.
On the far side of the Lower Kootenay River, sharing the Corra Linns headpond, the gated mouth of the Kootenay Canal can swallow 27,000 cubic feet of the Rivers flow every second and send them coursing three or four concrete lined miles to a battery of generators at a dam built on the down-stream side of the South Slocan. The project was begun by B.C. Hydro in 1971 and required that 2.7 million cubic metres of overburden be scraped away and then 1.4 million cubic metres of bedrock be blasted out to form the canal. In September of 1975 the first generators were linked into Hydros system, sending power via two 230kV lines over the top of the Bonningtons to the corporations Selkirk Switching Station. The next year the second pair of generators were brought on stream bringing the plants capacity to 529,200kW. Still owned by B.C. Hydro, the Kootenay Canal plant has been upgraded as part of the same project that is refurbishing the Waneta and the Brilliant plants and building a generating plant at the Keenleyside.
The Lower Kootenay River above Slocan Junction
Chopping through the tips of tiny mountain spurs which narrow the pavement and threaten traffic with falling rock, the Highway is long, shady ups and downs. Hiding in the trees is the minuscule settlement of Beasley, only its regional fire station announcing its presence. It used to be a livelier place, for the heights above, maybe a half-mile form the settlement, is the long-abandoned Queen Victoria mine. It was first mentioned in The Annual Report of the Minister of Mines for the Year Ending 31st December, 1906 which enthused that it was a sensational find with ores running to seven percent copper. With 200,000 tons of ore in sight, it was being developed by J.P. Swedberg who was installing an aerial tramway to swing output down to bunkers located on a short spur that he was building in from the Beasley siding of the C&K. The potential was great, and by the 1907 a group gathered around James Cronin, who had been instrumental in developing the famous St. Eugene mine on Moyie Lake a dozen years before, had bonded the claim for $100,000 and had 25 men at work digging out 3500 tons of ore that year. Sent to Consolidated M&S at Trail for smelting, the ore proved to contain only 2.6% copper and come 1908 it was reported that the mine had been bonded to E.A. Erlund et al of New York who were investing a further $40,000 in development. Low copper prices dictated the mines closure in 1909, but a year later CM&S worked it for 3100 tons. Its total cumulative output then stood at 6,000 tons which had returned $50,000. For the time, it was uneconomical. In November of 1912 the British Columbia Copper Company agreed to buy the property and that December sent about a thousand tons to Trail. Having finalized the deal early in 1913, BCC set 35 men to redeveloping the mine, sending but 28 tons to the Anaconda smelter, followed by 8,000 tons the next year. Disappointed, BCC pulled its equipment and leased the mine to small-time operators to clean up the works. The Great Wars demand for copper, however, brought the Queen Victoria back to profitability for the two guys who leased it in 1916 and sent some 1500 tons to the Anaconda. The Spokane Mining and Development Corporation of Nelson worked the property in 1917, left it idle in 1918 and saw it leased by C.M. Mohr and his Falls Creek Mining Company in 1919. Three or four guys calling themselves the Monarch Group picked at it in July of 1922 but doubted that it was worth their while. In 1926 the mine contributed one car load of ore to Trails input. Queen Victoria Consolidated Mines, Limited, of Montreal, drunk on the euphoria of the times, in 1928 the acquired the property along with 21 others in the neighbourhood. Before it could implement its plans, however, the Black Tuesday of October, 1929, destroyed any illusions of worth left in the Queen Victoria and closed its portals for all time.
Emerging from the forest on a treeless bench perhaps fifty metres above the wide Kootenay valley bottom, the Highway comes upon the outposts of Taghum; a wood stove store, a machine shop of sorts, a gas station. This is new Taghum, for until the late-70s the Highway used to snake down into the valley to cross the River on a bridge of which only the naked piers are left poking their tops above the laking Rivers surface. Since then, feeling that its fortunes are tied to traffic, some of the village has abandoned the compact riverside community and lined itself up along the Highway. No cafés, though, unless one is hidden in the new housing subdivision which has sprung up on the rise to the north. One of those clefts in the mountains on the far side is Forty-Nine Creek, scene of some excitement in 1868-69 when gold flashed in the bottom of prospectors sluicing pans, and mentioned in the 1904 volume of the Annual Report of the Minister of Mines as being the location of the May and Jennie mine owned by the Reliance Gold Mining Company of Nelson. The old packtrail between the mines on Toad Mountain and the Columbia came down to the valley somewhere over there, and continued down the Kootenays left bank to Thos. M.(W?) Wards ferry and wayhouse near what is now Shoreacres.
Past Taghum, the Highway slips gently down the valleys shoulder to cross the Railway and the River on a series of pre-stressed concrete spans dated 1979. The walkway raised on a eight inch high curb above the eastbound lane is quite wide enough to ride a bike on, a precaution wise riders take; traffic tends to roll quickly coming down the grade from Taghum. Though the Bridge is loud with the rough tire treads of big rigs howling like wounded wolves and smacking the expansion cracks between the spans like exploding mortar rounds, visitors with time can halt for a while along the rail to watch the swallows at work and spy on the ospreys who have for generations incubated their eggs in a series of ramshackle nests atop the blackened trusses of the Railway bridge and on unused telephone poles nearby. Every couple of decades the nests, enlarged each year, get too big to resist the riparian gusts and end up in the River. The present nests, whatever their age, are impressive structures, and on mid-May afternoons are the centre of feverish activity as a brood of ravenous chicks demanded dinner.
Until the Corra Linn dam raised its level, the River used to tumble over a small falls in a narrows that now lies drowned beneath the Bridge. The C&K took advantage of this feature and with trestles and four wooden Howe through-truss bridges, spanned the River here in 1891, the last link in the line. On the north side of the Highways bridge, the Railways present bridging was installed in 1903.
For some, the Railways bridge is the premier attraction at this site, but getting a glimpse of it is difficult. From the walkway on the south side of the Highways bridge, the railway bridge is mostly out of sight, being somewhat lower. The temptation is to nip across the two traffic lanes to the north rail and peek over. Its not a stunt a safety-conscious person would recommend. There is absolutely no walkway over there, and loaded logging trucks threatening to plant a 60 MPH kiss on your butt somewhat distract your attention from the view. A better place for a look-see is found off Marsden Road which leads northward along the rocky riverbank from the western end of the Highways bridge. From Marsden, overlooking the tracks as they curve away under the Highways bridge, one sees that the Railways river crossing consists of nine spans totalling, according to R.G. Burrows in Railway Mileposts: British Columbia - Volume II 763 feet resting on a combination of piers and river islands.
The Highways bridge also rests on river islands and from the walkway one can quite easily get onto the largest. Reclining there in the sunshine, a person in a contemplative mood can perhaps imagine what this place used to be like when it was one of the best places on the River to catch salmon. For generations uncountable, the Ktunaxa came here to set their fish-traps.
Called by Whites Kutenai, or Kootenay a corruption, perhaps, of the Blackfoot word kulni or quthni, to travel by water the Ktunaxa (kToon-ah-hah) are an ethnic oddity; the Basques of British Columbia. Their language, writes A.D. McMillan in Native Peoples and Cultures of Canada (Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, 1995), is a linguistic isolate spoken only by the four tribal bands; the 1,000 or so members of the Upper Kootenay, Lower Kootenay, and Tobacco Plains bands in B.C., and the 600 of the Flathead Band in Idaho. Not even among the Ktunaxa themselves is there any consensus as to their origin. Some claim that the Tribe came to the light from a burrow in the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains. Others believe that the People woke up on the Tobacco Plains in the Upper Kootenay River valley. The fact that some Ktunaxa used perform a modified version of the Plains peoples Sun Dance and traverse the Rockies periodically to hunt buffalo suggests that there is a factual basis to the former myth, and that the Tribe likely was forced in recent times from the Plains by the expansion of the Blackfoot Confederacy nations the Kainaa, the Piikani and the Siksikah. Not ones to limit their spiritual resources, the Ktunaxa share many traditions and beliefs with the Sinixt, Salish and coastal nations, and recently their language has been found to have some two dozen points of similarity with Proto-Salish. To further confound the ethnographers, the Lower Band builds canoes unlike any other on Earth save those of the Evenk People of the Amur River valley which separates Siberia from Manchuria.
The actuality of their origin does not overly concern the Ktunaxa; theyre here, though in far fewer numbers than formerly. In 1792, when they met their first Whiteman, Peter Fidler of the HBC, the Tribes territory extended to the Columbia River on the west and the north, to the Rockies on the east, and south to Flat Head Lake and Pend Oreille Lake below the Boundary. With the introduction of the horse in the early Eighteenth century, the Tribe split into two amicable factions: the Upper Bands who became dedicated equestrians and stole across the Divide to hunt buffalo on the plains and fight or trade with the Blackfoots; and the Lower Bands who retained their intimacy with the water, fishing and hunting and gathering wild rice from their oddly-shaped canoes in the age-old manner.
Whatever their preferred mode of transport, the Ktunaxa were avid traders. On the shores of great Kootenay Lake they gathered projectile point quality argillite and exchanged it with middlemen for pemmican and jerky, rare feathers, dried fish and dentalia shells from the Coast, chert and obsidian from what is now Wyoming, Dakota flint, and bone beads, copper amulets and other manufactured items. With the arrival of Europeans on North America, bits of iron and tools, horses and textiles were added to the commerce.
Today, for the thousand or so Ktunaxa residing in Canada, land claims continue to be a hot topic, for the Tribe holds less than 70 square miles of territory and has never signed a treaty with any Canadian government, national or provincial. But for eight plots averaging 9.3 square miles each around Creston, all of the Ktunaxa lands are concentrated in the Rocky Mountain Trench, the core territory of the Upper Bands.
Taghum narrows, the throat through which Kootenay Lake disgorges into the lower River, was long one of the Ktunaxas favourite places to fish, and every autumn the People resident here would host a feast at which their kin from the entire region were welcomed. Racks of fish cured above smoking fires, spiders webs of poles and netting seined salmon from the waters. Fish in excess of an ample winters supply was exchanged with tribes far away for obsidian spear points, raw copper ornaments, coloured earths and sea shells.
The risen waters have wiped out most traces of Aboriginal industry on these islands. Gone, too, are the Ktunaxa. After the Tribe was devastated by the small pox contagion of 1862, the survivors apparently abandoned the valley, for Edgar Dewdney, examining the valley three years later as a possible route for his Trail, made scant mention of them. During his investigations of 1883, the omnipresent provincial surveyor, Arthur Stanhope Farwell, counted only 157 Ktunaxa in the entire Lower Kootenay region.
Along the West Arm
A few kilometres beyond the Taghum Bridge and the site of the Poorman gold mine discovered by Isaac Nail and P.J. McDougall and owned in the mid-1890s by John C. Davenport and brother, Grohman Narrows Provincial Park offers visitors a picnic table and an education in botanical disasters. Caressed by an easterly breeze faintly tainted by the nearby City of Nelson sewage treatment plant, visitors read on the public notice boards that that the beautiful, tall spikes of little lavender flowers that blanket the moist soils throughout most of the growing season are Eurasian invaders which are enjoying alarming success in their campaign to colonize every bog in North America. Of little dietary interest to the local wildlife, at the end of its life purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) falls and rots, sucking the oxygen out of standing water, altering the micro-environment, burying native vegetation with its carcasses. Obnoxious, yet so pretty; it is hard to fault its desire to show off at the expense of ugly little sedges and such that only a botanist would ever miss. Yet, the sedges must be saved, and in desperation forest managers have imported a beetle from the aliens native land to attack and control it, hoping that the bugs wont merrily adapt to digesting native plants when they run out of loosestrife.
Grohman Narrows marks the end of Kootenay Lakes West Arm; west, the waters are deemed to be in the channel of the Lower Kootenay River. North across the water from the park, the out-riding peaks of the Kokanee Range trap the moist summer air against their warm southern slopes. Wedged in between the massive Bonningtons and the ragged Kokanees, this lovely valley disarms its visitors with its beauty. But hours of summer sunshine can vanish in an instant when the sky scowls and ∆olis lashes the unsheltered with chilly rain. Lightning sizzles and pops across the sky on the edges of the greys on grey clouds and, confined by the Valleys walls, the ensuing thunderclap rocks the mountain air.