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Christina Lake, B.C. : History Printer Friendly Version

by DMWilson
With thanks to Merna Salter, Hal Riegger, R.F. and Lincoln Sandner, Leslie Scheele, and Dan and Sandra Langford.
revised 2006/08/22
Christina Lake
Cascade City and the Cascade Water, Power and Light Company
Fife and the Rosslands
Christina Lake

        From the west, the Crowsnest Highway eases the traveller down into the basin of Christina Lake and its little settlement (555m). Legend has it that the Lake’s name was bestowed by an anonymous HBC courier de bois to honour the half-Salish daughter of Catherine née Baptiste and Angus McDonald, Fort Colvile’s factor from 1844 till it was closed in 1871. Christina was by all accounts a strapping, capable woman, ideally suited to her life and times. While the others in her party struggled to get themselves ashore when her father’s canoe capsized in these waters, Christina, a child at the time but an excellent swimmer, coolly retrieved the dispatch satchel, saving the precious mail and the post’s entire year’s records.
        A favourite haunt of the Salish for its beauty and large stock of Kokanee trout, Christina Lake attracted John Lawless to its remote valley in the days before the HBC wound up its affairs in B.C. in the early 1860s. Lawless liked being by himself and is only linked to the region by Edgar Dewdney who met him in 1865 as the latter was running his trail along the north bank of the Kettle, crossing Christina Creek only a few metres above its confluence with the Kettle, on the outskirts of today’s settlement. Lawless had apparently moved on by the time Charles Sandner pre-empted 320 acres on the southern tip of the Lake in the summer of 1896. The Sandners’ place likely became sort of a mining camp as prospectors examined the Christina Range and the Rosslands to the east, staking properties such as the Fife group, the Mastadon, and the Miss Molly up in the Burnt Basin. In December of 1898, with the Railway already building westward from the Columbia valley, a Mr. Redfield and his partner, Mr. Wilson, set up a sawmill on the east side of the Creek’s outlet from the Lake, at a place that came to be called “Moodyville.” Facing Moodyville across the Creek was “Minton,” a “hotel” surrounded by a few shacks and tents. Nearby the brothers Kutchem and Mr. Le Quinn soon had a shingle mill in operation, making money as settlements sprung up along the newly-completed C&W. The Kutchem mill burned in 1902, writes Lincoln Sandner in his Christina Lake: An Illustrated History (Sonotek Publishing, Merritt, B.C., 1994), its machinery salvaged by Charles Sandner and relocated to the northern end of the Lake in a new mill. The Sandner sawmill, changing hands regularly, worked for years, its buildings standing until 1958.
        While the lumbermen of Christina Lake were learning their business and forgetting all about Moodyville and Minton as “Christina Lake” became the settlement’s accepted name, the Lake began surrendering its ling and Kokanee populations. By 1935, after 30 years of maximized exploitation, professional fishermen had moved on, leaving the waters almost bereft of native species to complicate the introduction of farm-bred stocks in the 1950s. About the same time as the fishermen left, the gradual adoption of artificial refrigeration began melting the market for the Lake’s winter crop of ice, though the industry didn’t hang up the last of its saws until the 1950’s when CP retired the last of its ice-activated air conditioners.
        Mining, too, continued to contribute to local income over the decades. On the slopes of Castle Mountain just north of LaValley Point prospectors reckoned that they had found a strong enough showing of gold, silver and copper to warrant staking the Fife and a couple of neighbouring plots sometime in the late 1890s. The Fife quickly showed that expectations of precious metals was misplaced; not even copper enough on the property to bother with. However, a huge vein of remarkably pure limestone was struck and in 1899 the owners began blasting it out, selling it to Consolidated Mining and Smelting for use as flux in its smelter at Trail. CM&S, or its parent, the CPR, soon took over the mine though Fife Mines Company, Limited, and for years sent a few thousand tons a year to Trail and to anyone else that wanted broken limestone in quantity. Having exhausted No.1, CP opened up Fife Lime Quarry No.2 in 1921, using a gravity tramway to get 15,000 tons of the rock that year to the railside. The company had opened No.3 in 1942 and was taking up to 38,000 tons a year through 1957 and may call upon it yet to give up the odd car-load.
        But it was not the direct efforts of the resources industries which have buoyed Christina Lake’s economy over the years. Since 1899 passengers on the C&W had admired the Lake’s beauty from the Railway’s roadbed on the slopes of Castle Mountain, wondering, perhaps, if there wasn’t a hostelry down below at which one could rest for a day or so. Eli LaValley recognized this vale’s recreational potential and on what is now LaValley Point he built a hotel around 1900, added a pavilion for dancing and soon had the little Myrtle B stirring the Lake’s placid waters on fishing trips and supply trips to prospectors’ remote lakeside camps. Ole Johnson bought LaValley out in 1903, over the years selling much of the original property while continuing to maintain the Pavilion as the social centre of Christina Lake life. Rebuilt by Johnson in 1910 and moved back from the rising Lake’s edge around 1921, LaValley’s pavilion hosted gaiety for decades until, finally abandoned, it was crushed by snow during the winter of 1955-’56. Johnson had apparently sold the LaValley business by the spring of 1930 when he opened the posh Alpine Inn on English Point somewhat up the Lake. The Alpine suffered during the Depression, and may have not been in very good shape when it was leased in the spring of 1942 by a group of Canadians whose government had recently declared them “Enemy Aliens” and banned the military-aged males among them from living within 100 miles of the Coast. They had long gone when the Alpine burned on October 2nd, 1950.
        Likely on a lot that Johnson had sold, the Lodge Hotel arose in 1915 as a resort for vacationing Spokanites. Nearby, in the mid-’20s a group of Americans built the 5,000 square-foot Butterfield Hall, a hot-spot for folks below the Boundary who wanted to take a break from their country’s liquor prohibition laws. Though the Depression ruined Christina Lake’s international business, folks from the District began to build increasing numbers of summer homes on the Lake, swelling the area’s summertime population to the point in 1933 that the widow Gustavson chanced building the Lagoon Pavilion to offer nights of dancing to her customers. The venture slowly failed, the Lagoon burning in 1947 after having served a year as the Community Hall.
        At the turn-of-the-Millennium Christina Lake is “the cabin” for many regional families. Its natural attractions falling victim to its admirers and it is in jeopardy of becoming a contaminated play-pond as an encompassing rank of beach houses has colonized even the remoter points, each household responsible for its own refuse and effluent, each home to at least one water-ripping boat-toy with attendant oil slick and yowling exhaust note. The clan of loons which have forever mourned the pristine tranquillity of this sapphire retreat now spend much time hiding mute in the weeds.
        As befits a vacation wonderland, Christina Lake has no dearth of accommodations. On the other side of the Highway easterly from the Cascade Food Market is the resort priced Christina Lake Motor Inn and RV Park, and lining the lakefront on either side of LaValley Point there are scads of RV park-cum-campgrounds – happy hodgepodges of RVs, tent-trailer over-nighters and the chocked and blocked trailers of the permanent summer residents. All are about the same price and offer the same recreational opportunities, Skands’ being an especial favourite of cyclists. There is a thirty-site provincial campground, Texas Creek, about ten kilometres up the Lake, past English Cove where No.3 turns right out of the valley and begins its ascent up into the Rosslands. Typically, no showers.

        A few metres up on the slopes of Castle Mountain above the Highway at Christina Lake one can spot sections of the rock-work retaining walls that shore up the C&W railbed. Well above it the scar of the Santa Rosa Road scratches its way up the Mountain into the Rosslands. The Road, formerly a link in No.3, is the storied Cascade Highway. Though driveable by “Tin Lizzy” by 1924, it was completed in 1926 following Dewdney’s lead up through the 5400 foot heights of the Santa Rosa Pass to Rossland and Trail. Having worked its gravelled surface southward around Castle to kiss the Boundary, the old Road then switch-backs its way east towards the Columbia’s valley along with the best preserved stretch of Dewdney’s trail twisting around rock and tree past the old Velvet mine and ending, with the Cascade, at Highway 22 just as the latter comes into Rossland. Very scenic up there they say.
        Writes R.F. Sandner in his “History of Christina Lake” (10th Report, Boundary Historical Society, 1958 [1985]), some 300 yards downstream from the concrete-deck bridge that the MoTH installed in 1962 to carry the Highway over Christina Creek’s shallow defile is the obvious track of Dewdney’s Trail, slipping down the steep banks to a ford. South, the Creek enfolds itself into the Kettle and slips into Washington near ghostly Cascade City.
Cascade City and the Cascade Water, Power and Light Company

        Now but fading memories, a few curling photographs and some odd rocks and scraps of metal scattered in the grass, Cascade City is a story of dreams and the risky business of town-founding. The trick to founding a town was to acquire property on or near a commercially exploitable resource, go out of your way to meet influential people and make sure everyone appreciates the quality and quantity of the resource, subdivide said property and sell lots to the highest bidders in the resultant real estate frenzy. On Red Mountain, Ross Thompson owned the only level land within walking distance of the mine entrances; hence, Rossland. On a level field by Columbia River below Red Mountain, E.S. Topping laid out the streets of Trail. In the East Kootenays, Lieutenant-Colonel James Baker, Member of the Provincial Parliament, had the political clout which ensured that the CPR would bring prosperity to Cranbrook, and Jim Wardner had the foresight to secure the land where he figured a railroad would have to cross a major stream.
        But some attempts to found a town fail.
        George Kendall Stocker fell in love with the idea that the Kettle valley could be a real estate bonanza. Miles of prime bottomland grazing for cattle, rumours of wealth in the surrounding mountains, mumbled rumours in the Spokane bars of railroads and industrial development soon to visit the Kettle. A wealthy banker with wide experience in real estate speculations, Stocker had come up from Spokane in 1889 and proceeded to lease most of the Kettle River’s valley from Grand Forks down to the Boundary, expecting that the nagging recession which had plagued the North American economy since the end of the U.S. civil war would soon end, lifting the price of land. It didn’t, and the panic of 1893 destroyed Stocker financially, forcing him to relinquish all his Kettle valley property except one jointly-owned lot upon which he came to live in 1894, beside the Kettle Valley waggon road where it plodded across the Boundary and past a little falls on the River. Retaining that property proved an astute decision.
        In 1895, the recession finally fading, “Inland Empire” mining money was beginning to find its way into the Kootenay and Boundary Districts. With it came commerce that both the federal and provincial governments felt obliged to tax, and a customs outpost was soon in operation where the waggon road crossed the Boundary. Convinced that his property just needed a little promotion to make it the centre of a thriving metropolis, Stocker had public land surveyor J.A. Coryell subdivide the plot and boldly named it Cascade City. The plan was lodged with the Land Registry Office in Kamloops on January 10, 1895.
        Insisting that the rail line that the entrepreneur Frederick Augustus Heinze intended to built from the Columbia to the Okanagan just had to run up the Kettle and across Cascade City, Stocker sold lots. When he heard the rumour that the CPR was thinking of building a smelter in the region, Stocker was quickly in contact with the Company, informing it that his townsite would make an ideal location and that every third building lot in the City plus a level, 500 acre tract for a yards was CP’s just for the asking. When CP expressed interest, Stocker sold lots as quickly as he could sign certificates and count money. Though his confidence must have been shaken when CP bought the existing smelter at Trail in the spring of 1898, Stocker nevertheless built a sawmill and redoubled his efforts at attracting industry.
        In the fall of 1898 Stocker welcomed the English-owned Cascade Water, Power and Light Company, Limited, to his realm. It began almost immediately to build a dam of rock-filled timber crib-work some 50 feet high, 400 feet across the top of the falls. In January of 1899 Stocker’s mood must have soared on the news that CP would indeed build a 1,000 ton-per-day smelter nearby.
        On August 12th of 1899, when the first engine on the C&W steamed down the Christina Valley and crossed the Kettle on a gracefully curved 1600 foot-long trestle and bridge, it should have found Cascade City sailing high on the exhilarating crest of land speculation, its fourteen hotels packed, the place breathless with expectation. However, that spring the vice president of Granby Consolidated Mining, Smelting and Power Company, Jay Paul Graves, had announced that his company intended to build its smelter at Grand Forks. Anticipating that CP would not build its smelter so close to Granby’s, the City’s populace immediately got on the new Railway and headed west up the Kettle 15 miles to The Forks. Stoker’s bubble burst in Cascade’s collapsing property prices.
        Stocker stayed on in his Cascade, witnessing the conflagration which razed most of the downtown on September 30th of 1899. With W.M. Wolverson, owner of the Pioneer Store, and merchant R.G. Ritchie, and a few others he saw Fire return to finish the job two years later. Doubtless with a sense of having missed out he must have cheered the arrival of the VV&E in the autumn of 1902 and watch its crews continue building furiously westward toward the bounty of the Midway Range.
        Cascade Water, Power and Light Company fared little better than the town which shared its name. It spent a half-million dollars on the dam project, cutting a 400 foot-long channel through solid rock to bring water to a 410 foot-long tunnel which dropped it 156 feet down into a turbine chamber where, come 1902, three 1,000 horsepower Westinghouse generators were humming. With a high-tension power line connecting to the Granby smelter, on up to Phœnix and over into the Boundary Creek valley, the shareholders figured they could relax and have the company award them some handsome dividends. It wasn’t to be so. The winter of 1904 froze the Kettle’s headwaters, reducing the River’s volume to the point where Cascade Water had to decrease generation, subjecting its customers to the inconvenience of a “rolling blackout” in which each was denied power in turn. This was intolerable to industries which required power at the ready. Hearing mutters of discontent and thinking of expansion anyway, the directorship of the West Kootenay Power and Light Company applied to the province to expand its charter into the area. Cascade Water protested, claiming that the competition would force it into bankruptcy. Thanks to vigorous lobbying by some of its highly placed shareholders, Cascade Water succeeded in barring WKP from the region. According to Kate Matheson in her article “More Invention than Convention” published on WKP’s website on May 6, 1997, WKP investigated and found out that on May 8th, 1897 the province had enchartered the South Kootenay Water Power Company with the right to do business in the Boundary District unaffected by Cascade Water’s subsequent charter. Despite Cascade Water’s objections, WKP bought South Kootenay in December of 1906 and within six months, come April 1907, Cascade Water’s investors thought themselves lucky to sell out their business and its ageing equipment to West Kootenay. The powerhouse became WKP’s “#3.”
        As it lay dying its long, lingering death, Cascade City continued to pin its hopes on failed dreams. One was the Mastadon group, a mineral claim on Castle Mountain a mile east of the City. One of many claims located in the surrounding mountains, it seemed to promise a rejuvenation for the City when the Stewart-Calvert Company came in 1919 to mine chromate. Within three years, however, the ore was no longer economical and the mine closed.
        In its long decline Cascade City depended on the Railway to provide some of the local income through wages to its workers and the maintenance of its facilities. Most of the rest of Cascade’s income came from the lumbering operation that Pete and Joe Genelle set up the Boundary Lumber Company in 1903 just west of the City on the C&W at Billings. About 1910, after Joe drowned, Pete sold the operation to the Yale-Columbia Lumber Company, Limited. It was acquired by the Revelstoke Lumber Company around 1916 and operated under the Forest Mills of B.C.’s banner until it was shut down in 1924 and dismantled two years later.
        The closure of the Billings sawmill left Cascade City with too few people to prevent fire from consuming the B.C. and Cascade hotels among other humbler structures late in July, 1934. Abandoned but for a few stubborn residents, the City existed only as a CPR station and a wye where employees cut helper engines into the trains to boost them eastward up the long 2.2% grades of the Farron Hill to the McRae Pass. When CP switched the Kootenay-Kettle Valley Divisions to diesel in the early 1950s, Cascade City perished. An inveterate railroad buff or industrial historian may feel compelled to take the No.393 south a few miles to view the remains of the powerhouse and dam – the site still an attractive location for a dam, according to the Powerhouse Energy Corporation proposal of the year 2000 – and walk across the six rail-less spans of blackened steel deck plate girder bridging which CP perched upon on enormous reinforced-concrete piles in 1912 to replace the famous wooden trestle. Of Cascade City itself there is nothing left but memories drifting on the River’s breezes.
Fife and the Rosslands

        Northbound out of Christina Lake the Highway rises up above the Lake twenty metres as it makes its way past coves and point each with their colony of cabins, some with funny names. Leaving George Turner and his crew to work their way south and east from Christina Lake to ‘round Castle Mountain and climb over the Santa Rosa Pass to get to Fort Shepherd, Trail-maker Dewdney and packer or two came up this way in the spring of 1865 to look for an easy way over the Rosslands. Arrived at Lower Arrow Lake, he acquired a canoe and paddled down to Shepherd where, after consulting with Turner, he concluded that the Santa Rosa route was the better route.
        Where McRae Creek spills into the Lake at English Cove the Highway begins its climb up to its highest unavoidable elevation: 1535 metres in the Blueberry-Bonanza Pass. The total climb from Christina Lake is only about a half a kilometre and the Highway takes 30 kilometres to get there, so cyclists who have conquered the Allison Pass to the west or the Kootenay Pass to the east should have no trouble if they take precautions against that high-country sun searing down through a thinning layer of ozone.
        The Blueberry-Bonanza Pass stretch is one of the newer sections of the Crowsnest Highway. In the lower McRae Creek valley the Highway crosses a culvert dated 1957, but it was only in 1962 that it was completed over the Pass. Compared to the old Cascade Highway farther south, the Blueberry-Bonanza moves traffic easily between the Boundary District and the Columbia Valley, the western edge of the fabled “Kootenay Country.”
        There are no services between Christina Lake and the Columbia Valley, despite the impression one might get from older maps. Dots that are identified as the communities of Lafferty and Paulson were never much more than the delusion of an uniformed draughtsman, likely road building camps or former steam locomotive water stops now long abandoned. The only place that had any substance at all was Gladstone City which flashed to life in 1898 on the strength of ore showings along McRae Creek and up at Burnt Basin. It was apparently a lively little place with four hotels, a bakery, a dancehall and three general stores, likely all under canvas. Sobering assay results, however, chased away all but the most determined, and only a few slow packers were left to welcome CPR construction crews who sweated the C&W’s rails down the Creek’s valley in the summer of 1899, leaving a little station house which the Company named in honour of the first fellow to find a suitable route for a railroad between the Kootenays and the Coast, J.A. Coryell. By that time the Contact Consolidated Gold Mines, Limited, was working its eight claims and fractions up in the Burnt Basin where the British Columbia (Rossland and Slocan) Syndicate had interests by 1901.
        Because few people live up on the Rosslands’ western slopes, lots of wildlife does. From the lower slopes of the Christina valley, the forest of Engelmann Spruce, Western Larch, Yew, and Alpine Fir crowd the Highway. Under-storied with plenty of Juniper bush and several types of berries, this is ideal bear country.
        Nearing the Paulson Bridge cyclists are tempted by a seasonal freshet falling into the ditch from the top of the cut on the Highway’s westbound lane. Two words; Giardia intestinalis. Though some people may deride the idea that water in the high mountains can be anything but virgin-pure, others realize that wild animals are notoriously careless about their toilette, and the “beaver fever” caused by the Giardia protozoa is not an ailment to be discounted. If, however, you figure that Homo sapiens have been thriving on wild water for what? three and a half million years? and have developed defences against alien bugs, fill your bottles and enjoy the palate numbing chill of naturally iced water. Delicious.
        Not far beyond the freshet the striking Paulson Bridge (1106m) arches its sky-blue steelwork over the McRae Creek defile. It hangs two-thirds of the way to the summit of the Pass. Pausing at mid-point of the quarter kilometre-long span, one is 84 metres above the shaded surface of the Creek. Along the Creek’s left bank runs the railbed of the C&W, here about halfway up the twenty-mile-long Farron Hill and about to pass the Verigin bomb-blast monument on its way to the 1216-metre apex of the McRae Creek Pass. In the years since Dan and Sandra Langford wrote their Cycling the KVR, the old right-of-way, improved and maintained by local “rails to trails” societies, has become a popular cycle-trek, one of the thrills being passage through Bulldog Mountain via a 900 metre long lightless tunnel which was completed on February 12th, 1900, after nearly two years of hard-rock blasting. Bears, too, use the tunnel.
        Once across the Bridge, cyclists get to the Rossland’s true test. Its pavement beaten to hell by big-rig tonnage and swashed with drifts of loose pea-gravel, the Highway bites into eight degree grades as it twists through high, grey-walled cuts. Except at the very height of summer, winter can creep down upon this stretch of road and oblige the Ministry of Transport and Highways to deploy snow plows and gravel spreaders to keep the roadway passable. After five kilometres or so the Highway bends to the right to chop its way out of the McRae, pass the pretty Walker Creek Rest Area with its sawn-stone picnic tables and benches placed along paths in the stunted evergreens, and struggle, steepening now through cuts into big-crystal granite and limestone strata, into the cradle of the Bonanza-Blueberry Pass and the Paulson Summit (1535m).
        Passing the Summit on improving pavement, the Highway slides eastbound on a gentler grade down past yellow-grassed beaver ponds on Blueberry Creek and wide vistas out over the green and rocky heart of the Rosslands, the sky spotless cerulean to the far edge of the ionosphere. Smoke from smouldering slash-piles flavour the air, the effects of the now-discredited practice of clear-cutting lending texture to blanket of Engelmann spruce and Lodgepole pine on the Mountains’ shoulders. A few kilometres east of the summit shines the alpine jewel of Nancy Greene, formerly Sheep, Lake, Nancy Green Provincial Park offering ten showerless camping sites under the cedar and larch canopy. At the entrance to the Park lies the junction of Crowsnest Highway and its alternative, No.3B.
        Near the No.3/3B Junction the valley of the Blueberry steepens, its creek bashing its way from pool to pool down 26 kilometres to leap into the Columbia River at Kinnaird. The Crowsnest Highway joins in the descent, stepping back and forth over the Creek on culverts dated 1961. Nearing the bottom it races by a motel or two and the Castlegar RV Park and Campground, over-passes the No.22 on a 1966 bridge and leaps the Columbia far above the mouth of the Blueberry at Castlegar South, formerly Kinnaird.

Next: CASTLEGAR or, on Highway 3B ROSSLAND

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