Eastbound, about five Kay from Keremeos, a narrow, ugly stretch of the Crowsnest Highway cuts across the corner of the Ashnola Indian Reserve, brushing by Standing Rock, a menhir of cyclopean proportions revered by generations of local Indians, now an irresistible slate for practitioners of the graffitic arts. Opposite, on the south side of the Highway, noted raconteurs Henry and Barbara Allison, descendents of Princeton settlers John F. and Susan L. Allison, maintain the Native Art & Gift Gallery wherein they sell traditional handicrafts.
Nearing Keremeos, the Highway again swollen to four lanes, a rest stop has been paved upon the Rivers bank to the right. Hidden from the cottonwood-dappled RV-sized parking lot behind a screen of pine and poplar, the three spans of the VV&Es Similkameen River Bridge Six now carries Ashnola Road across the stream to begin its 25 gravelled-mile trek up Ashnola Creek to the twenty-room Cathedral Lakes Resort in the heights above the valley. This old through-truss covered timber span, oxide-red and creaky, is typical of the GNs handiwork in this valley, and is the sole sound survivor, the others now merely fragments lingering at the Rivers indulgence. Not far up Ashnola Road is the new pow-wow arbour of the Okanagan Band, a venue which attracts participants and spectators from far and wide to the annual dance and discussion held on the Victoria Day long weekend in May.
As it begins to look as if the dusty desert will overwhelm the Valley, the Highway swings left around the foot of Mount Puddin Head and the travellers world flashes into shocks of green. Oasis. Lush grass thick and fragrant under the heavy, propped-up limbs of fruit trees proclaim the benefits of irrigation. Dropping down off the low toe of Puddin Head, the Highway finds the brand new Sportsmans Corner gas bar and its companion, the Eagle Campsite, immediately on its right. Though it is oriented to the RV crowd, the Eagle does offer tenting and showers. Surprisingly, aside from the Similkameen Valley Guest Ranch and its nearby Sunkatchers RV Park perhaps 13 kilometres back up the valley, the Eagle is the only formal public campground in the area in the year 2004.
Eastward from the Puddin Heads toe, as straight and level as the VV&Es roadbed some 50 metres to the south, the No. 3 lances a couple of kilometres through the orchards. Open-fronted and shading their produce-laden tables under eye-catching awnings, fruitstands fancy and humble vie for the passers-by attention with ranks of flags and windsocks and collections of ancient agricultural equipment and antique vehicles. Having glanced at the 1950s style Similkameen Motel set into the ex-urban orchards to the north, the Highway passes between the Elk Motel and the Alpine Inn opposite, and enters Keremeos (413m) as Seventh Avenue.
A quick inspection reveals little of architectural interest save the Victory Hall which was inaugurated on May 24th, 1921. East of it on Seventh Avenue there are a few older store buildings amid the new, but all look pretty much the same; plain, utilitarian boxes thrown up to secure merchandise and protect it from sun rot and the five inches of rain per year that dampens the local dust. At the main intersection, a big, modern I.G.A. grocery store keeps the Overwaitea from gaining a foothold. In the 1906 core of the K Mountain Inn, next door, an uneasy rest above the bar can be purchased cheaply; less frugal accommodations are offered in the renovated section on the quiet side of the building facing the old VV&E right-of-way.
A block north from downtown, on Sixth Avenue, the South Similkameen Museum is housed in the 1907 Town Jail. It is crammed with stuff, and here a visitor can find out that the Sukwnaqinxthe Okanagan Salishare not really interested in revealing the meaning of Keremeos, or are just playing a joke on the new-comers who have occupied their valley for the last century and a quarter. The word might mean Four Winds or the stream that divides the flats or perhaps something altogether different. Whatever, there has long been a community here. In the meadows and marshes of Keremeos Creek meandering down to the Similkameen from the north, uncountable generations of Indians came to camp and forage.
The areas written history begins with the first Whiteman thought to have seen the valley. Keeping a vague diary of his travels, Alexander Ross, manager of the Pacific Fur Companys Fort Okanagan, supposedly wandered up the Similkameen in 1813, just before untoward Circumstance obliged Ross and his associates to sell their outfits western holdings to the North West Company of Montréal. The NWC maintained Fort Okanagan, as did the HBC which absorbed the Montréal company in 1821, and both used the Similkameen valley as a sometime horse pasture.
By the provisions of the 1846 Oregon Treaty, the United States government had generously granted the HBC 20 years to wind up its affairs south of the 49th degree of parallel. In 1860, with the dead-line approaching, the Coy instructed François Deschinquette, then factor of Fort Okanagan, to remove his stores and build a place in the Similkameen where scores of hopefuls were panning the sands of the lower River for the very fine-grained gold found therein. Initially Deschinquette located his post near the settlement now known as Cawston, five miles down the Similkameen from Keremeos, where he threw up a couple of log huts and planted oats, a potato patch and a vegetable garden. In his diary1 under the date of August 14th, 1860, Charles Wilson, secretary to the British Boundary Commission, wrote that he had visited the Similkameen HBC post and noted that the Canadian half-breed in charge had a few cows and numerous oxen, and had just harvested the first crop of wheat ever grown in the valley. The next year, 1861, Deschinquette was likely pleased to meet Edgar Dewdney and his crew marking out their Trail in the Similkameens valley, for an official road would doubtless bring business. According to Alberta Parsons and Barbara Lawrences Keremeos, A History in South Similkameen Saga (edited by Mae McCague, Similkameen Spotlight Publishing Company, Princeton, n.d.), Deschinquette was shot to death a year later. In 1864, the new factor, Roderick McLean, finally bowing to Natives demands, moved the post to a new site a few miles north, up on the benches, sheltered in the trench of Keremeos Creek.
The Valleys first settler, F.X. Richter, arrived from Oregon with his family and 42 head of cattle in October of 1864. Liking prospects around Deschinquettes old post, Richter settled in, began farming and filed a pre-emption on a 320 acre homestead the following spring. Earning cash by working for the Coy and selling butter, the Richters were soon rooted.
Being near an official road should have meant good business for the HBC, but the Trail was little used after the gold rushes of the 1860s expired. The Coy maintained its Keremeos post until the changing focus of its business dictated the closure of its southern establishments. Commanding factor John Tait to remove himself and his stores to Fort Kamloops in September of 1872, the following year the Coy leased the Keremeos buildings to Barrington Price and Henry Nicholson, who occupied them as their ranchstead. On March 26th, 1873, Price pre-empted 356 acres of valley land, adding another half-section that July. Other European families drifted into the Valley to homestead and plant fields of oats and wheat. In September of 1884 Price sold his original lands to T.A. Daly and the next year bought a plot of 375 acres down by the River, part of which is presently occupied by Keremeos. Folks enough had settled in the valley that on August 1st, 1887, the Post Office designated the Dalys ranch house as its local bureau, appointing Mrs. Daly as postmistress.
By 1893 there were sixteen homesteads in the area. Gradually a little settlement developed on Shuttleworth Creek, a tiny tributary of the Keremeos. Known now as Old Town or Upper Keremeos, it slowly grew to include two stopping houses, a school and Kirbys store. The store burned in 1904, by that time Old Town had lost most of its residents to Keremeos Centre which had accumulated around Harry Tweddles Central Hotel a couple of miles to the south.
In 1884 the Richters had sold their property and, after a spell on the lower ranch close to the Boundary, had taken up new lands to the west of their original holdings. There in 1896 F.X. planted the Valleys pioneer commercial apple orchard. Its success steered the local economy away from subsistence farming, herding, hunting, and gathering, though even into the 19-aughts the co-operative cattle drives of Richter, Coulthard and Lowe over the Dewdney Trail to Hope still made the news.
By 1904 Keremeos could boast of a sawmill, Al Johnson having set up an operation on the river down which logs were driven from the forests further upstream. The winter cut in the local logging camps had ranged to an estimated 4 million lineal feet the previous winter, enough to keep Johnsons and all the other mills in the Similkameens valleyHowse at Princeton, and the Similkameen Sawmill Company at Hedleybusy.
With news that the VV&E would soon drive itself up the Similkameen and onward 185 miles to Vancouver, W.H Armstrong organized the Keremeos Land Company in 1906 to buy the 1,200 acre riverside spread of J.L. Coulthard, lay out the present townsite on Coulthards Meadow and advertise acreages for sale. When, despite Native opposition, an irrigation flume was completed to bring water from the Ashnola River, the companys business was brisk.
The Spring of 1907 brought gangs of Foley, Welch and Stewart Company workers into the Valley as the VV&E made its way up the Similkameen from Oroville. The new townsite began to rapidly fill as folks abandoned the old towns and their unreliable water supply. Among them was Geo. Kirby who removed his new hotel and post office from Upper Keremeos and resettled it by the railroad grade where, as the K Mountain Inn, it sits today. Other businesses were soon established, including a branch of the Eastern Townships Bank. In their chapter The Chinese: 1900s - 1930s in Ethnic Agricultural Labour in the Okanagan Valley: 1880s to 1960s2, Mario Lanthier and Lloyd L. Wong report that several Chinese had established themselves in a little Chinatown in Keremeos, where they operated a café and a store and two laundries, date known only to be [i]n the early part of the [20th] century..., and sent workers out into the orchards where their skills as irrigators was much admired, and well rewarded.
Delayed by the floods which on May 23rd washed out some of the roadbed and the Armstrong Bridge near Cawston, finally, on July 10th, 1907, the first train whistled into Lower Keremeos, the clamour of its arrival drowned in the cheers of the welcoming crowd. When regular service commenced on October 1st, Keremeos was changed from a backwater into a railway metropolis. Completing its transportation network, three stage servicesthe Flier, the Keremeos-Hedley Mail Stage, and W.E. Welbys (a coach of which resides at the Princeton Museum)connected Keremeos to Penticton, Hedley and Princeton.
By the time the railroad arrived, F.X. Richter was already winning Grand Prizes for his apples at Provincial Exhibitions. With reliable, smooth transport to market, anyone who owned Valley land not already carrying fruit trees planted saplings. A traffic bridge across the Similkameen at Keremeos in 1908 opened up the lands on the Rivers south bank. Relying on the skills of some 35 Chinese workers who the company housed in a dormitory on-site, a tomato cannery operated in the village during The Great War. A packing house was built, irrigation expanded, people moved into the area and Keremeos settled in to 50 years of wholesome labour in its orchards. The settlement became a village on October 30th, 1956.
When their packing house burned in 1952, Clarke and ArmstrongCA Fruitsreplaced it, but when fire razed it again in 1967, it was left to Keremeos Co-operative Growers Association to build the replacement that presently stands beside the railroad right-of-way. It opened for business on October 28th, 1968. By that time, however, the VV&Es owner, Burlington Northern, was reassessing its commitment to the valley, and loosing its downstream Armstrong Bridgeamong othersto the March floods of 1972, decided to abandon the pair of new reefer cars stranded in Keremeos, lift its rails and depart. For another nine years the Growers Association continued to pack fruit, loading it into refrigerated trailer trucks urban-bound on No. 3. Though many picking operations are streamlined to the point of loading directly into trailers parked in the orchards, the old packing plantnow signed Okanagan Similkameen Co-op Growers Associationsees some activity yet and reports of its demolition in 1981 are, to filch a phrase from Mark Twain, greatly exaggerated.
Produce which doesnt end up on the trucks going out to Vancouver or the Prairies is loaded onto the roadside stands. All through the long growing season, vacationers pull off the Highway in droves to buy baskets full of spring strawberries and asparagus, summer cherries, apricots, peaches and pears, autumn apples, plums and grapes. Keremeos smiles.
In 1876 or 77, on a lot in the bottoms of Keremeos Creek adjacent to the site of the HBC post on what is now Upper Bench Road, Barrington Price built a grist mill. Re-equipped in the early 80s with the latest in machinery including a Barford and Perkins grinder, a Eureka grain cleaner and a James Jones roller, the mill continued to work until 1897 when modern mills and their fine flours forced it into retirement. Gutted, the building put to other uses as an apple orchard matured around it. Fortunately, the old machinery was stored nearby and survived the scrap metal drives of the war years to be found by Cuyler Page in the late 1970s. Mechanically as well as historically minded, Page with the help of what is now the B.C. Heritage Branch re-installed the mills works and set about converting the elderly orchard into a pleasantly manicured little park where displays detail local history in Prices old store building and staff cultivate plots of heritage cereals and vegetables. Powered by a flume-fed overshot water-wheel, the mill-works groan and protest as an interpreter grinds a demonstration of grain which soon finds its way to the parks gift shop to be baked into temptations for the visitors to sample with their coffee on the adjoining terrace. A lovely, sweet-smelling retreat with magpies conversing over head and families of quails scuttering around in the tall grass surrounding the tree trunks, the Park fails as a tourist trap: there is simply too much of interest to see and do before visitors are expected to open their wallets.
Keremeos this Evening
Though the municipal campground down on the banks of the Similkameen has now disappeared under an overflow of Okanagan Valley suburbia housing, it is still possible, and rather pleasant, to pernoctate outdoors in Keremeos and yet not patronize the Eagle Campground. An inquiry at new the Village Offices by the big park on 7th Avenue, or at the Museum, might yield the names of land owners who are willing to allow casual campers to pitch a tent in their emerald orchards. If not, pick out an appealing campsite and then ask permission.
With the tent staked out on a thick cushion of fragrant grass under the boughs of an apple grove, dinner done and the long light still warm in the tranquil valley, Keremeos reveals what a pretty locale it is. South of the Similkameen, the soaring battlements of Kay Mountain defend the wilderness of Snowy Mountains alpine domains. Retiring for the night, Apollo plants a burning kiss on Puddin Heads shoulder. To the east Mounts Kobau and Richter of the Okanagan Range, their features softened by the dusty, golden air, guard the latters Pass and radiate heat back into the valley. Between Puddin Head and Kobau, æons of effort by Keremeos Creek have combined with the whistling valley winds to erode a theatre out of the Similkameen Valleys northern flank, the levied River as the stage, and the great, grey ridge of Kay as a backdrop. Nestled into the theatre, Keremeos tumbles down the benches to the River, awash in sage-scented evening airs. The acoustics of this theatre are superlative. The steady sotto voce hum of irrigation equipment is backdrop to the muffled coughing of a farm tractor as it heads home for the night, far off dogs bark at their own sleepy echoes a lucky camper snuggles down to slumber flyless with only the thin mosquito mesh of the tent to filter the narcotic air.
Breakfast is found on 7th Avenue, in a collection of cafés conveniently located within an easy stones throw from each other. The most popular is the K Café whither came Lynn Redgrave to be filmed in Touched in 1998.
From downtown Keremeos, the Highway passes the firewall and its 1944 Ford fire truck displayed outside in a wired glass cage, climbs the 8% grade of the town hill onto the Similkameen valleys bench and arrives at a Tee intersection which unravels the 3A from the No. 3, sending each by its own route over the Okanagan Range and into the Heart of Vacationland, B.C., the Okanagan Valley.
Cawston and the Richter Pass to Osoyoos
For a cyclist, the No. 3 to Osoyoos is a strenuous 46 kilometre ride up and down over the western toes of the Okanagans and a bit of a slog up over the Richter Pass.
Away from its intersection with the 3A and the RCMP offices nearby3, the Crowsnest Highway keeps to the brow of the bench overlooking the Similkameen as it passes the St. Laszlo Vineyard and then uses the shallow valley of Keremeos Creek to ease down onto the Rivers valley bottom. On the left hand side of the Highway about five kilometres from the Intersection is Harkers Organic Fruit and Pepper Ranch, famous for the hundreds of varieties of peppers that the family grows amid the apple trees and other vegetables on their 20 irrigated acres. Visitors welcome. Some two miles further on the traveller comes upon Cawston, unincorporated. On the industrialized lots to the right the little mill operation of T.L. Timber Company rips Ponderosa pine logs into rough lumber.
At the northern edge of the settlement the old Ritchie store and the Hitchin Post Restaurant await customers. Near here François Deschinquette raised his HBC post in 1860. There four years later F.X. Richter came to settle. With its bountiful pea-vine and wild timothy for pasturage, the Richters property so appealed to R.L. Cawston that in 1884 he and his business partner, Mrs. W.H. Lowe, bought all 5,300 acres of it. Taking up residence on the spread and eventually buying out Mrs. Lowe, R.L. and his wife Mary Ann raised their family and improved their herd of shorthorn and Hereford cattle.
The completion of CPs Mainline in 1885 spurred a period of land consolidation in B.C. and Cawston joined the trend in 1890 when he incorporated the British Columbia Cattle Company in partnership with Thomas Ellis and his associate, Captain Jno. Irving of Victoria, owners of much of the south Okanagan. The company imported cattle from the U.S. and the N-WT, fattened them on its ranges of succulent bunchgrass and drove them three or four hundred at a time along the trails to Hope.
R.L. Cawston was dead by the time Foley, Welsh and Stewart crews built the VV&E onto his property on May 2nd, 1907. With the steel, land prices began to rise tremendously. In 1911 the Similkameen Fruit Land Company incorporated itself with capitalization to a million dollars and began buying local land including some 3,000 bench and bottom land acres of the Cawstons R ranch. The company constructed a flume to bring irrigation waters to its property which it thereupon subdivided for sale in five-acre orchard plots. Attracted by the companys effusive advertising campaign, small-time farmers flocked to the valley.
Looking down on Cawston from the shoulders of Mount Kobau, prospectors had been picking away for some years on claims with names like Horn Silver, Silver Bell, Silver Plate, Gold Horn, Corna Copia. By 1917 the best of these had been amalgamated into the Horn Silver group which that year sent 320 tons of gold-silver ore to market: 1920 saw 17 men working to ship 1523 tons to the Tacoma and Trail smelters. By 1922 a 4,000 foot-long aerial tram had been installed to lift ore down to bunkers on a waggon road that led to the VV&Es Similkameen Station, but the known deposits had been mined out of the Group and the workers had placed a lien on the most of the claims. The whole operation was up for sale for $45,000. In 1924 the British North American Mining Corporation of Vancouver leased and bonded the Group and sent out 47 tons of silver ore. Some of the principals in the B.N.A. organized the Horn Silver Mining Corporation in 1925, bonded the Group and began making plans to install a crusher and a 22 ton per day cyanide plant at the bottom of the tram. Come June of 1926 the plant was in operation and a gang was at work with air tools to hack out ore and send to Trail 44 tons. Horn Silver Mining received a Dominion charter under the name Big Horn Mines, Limited, in 1927, but shipped nothing, concentrating its efforts on developing the mine with the financial backing of Stobie, Furlong and Company of Toronto. Big Horn had lost interest in the Group by 1929 and optioned the operation to Vancouver money which did nothing but salvage the mill over the next few years. By 1933 the property was held by Madison Oils, Limited, but never again worked.
A post office established in 1916 put the townlet of Cawston on the map, and a cannery gave it some substance. Huge crops of tomatoes were harvested, canned and shipped for a few years until managerial and cash flow problems forced the producers to take over the cannery as the Cawston Canning Company in 1923. The combination of Depression and the cut-throat tactics of a competitor forced the closure of the plant after only ten years. The Second World Wars demand for fresh produce brought boom times back to the Similkameen, and in 1950 the Department of Veterans Affairs purchased the much of the valleys northern bench between Keremeos and Cawston, irrigated it and settled ex-soldiers upon it. The big old packing shed survives on the flats bordering the Highway to the west.
To the east of Cawston, Mt. Kobau heaves its bulk skyward, and up its shoulder Dewdney and Moberly, at least officially, cut their Trail up into the Richter Pass. In all likelihood, however, most people followed the Similkameen down to its confluence with the Okanagan River in what was from 1853 Washington Territory, and then came up the Okanagan River to rejoin the official Trail. A proclivity for lawlessness on the part of some of the denizens south of the Line eventually convinced most travellers to stay on the Trail despite its occasional difficulties.
Leaving Cawston southbound, the lower slopes of Mount Kobau wearing Crowsnest Vineyards neatly combed rows of vines, the Highway stays on the bottomlands, hemming the VV&Es grade against the River. Somewhere along here, R.G. Burrows, for inclusion in his Railway Mileposts: British Columbia - Volume II: The South-western Routes from the Crowsnest to the Coquihalla (Railway Milepost Books, North Vancouver, B.C., 1984), photographed the VV&Es Great Northern-designed Similkameen station, serving as a humble livestock shelter when captured by the camera some years ago. South, the River and the narrowing valley force the Highway up onto the toes of Mt. Richter, crossing a corner of the Lower Similkameen Indian Reserve. For ten kilometres, past the myriad tiny vineyards that have sprung up on the mountain shales in the last half of the 20-aughts, a series of sharp climbs and descents prove distinctly aerobic for a tired cyclist. Off to the right in the valleys bottom, the VV&Es derelict bridges decorate the Rivers course. Beyond the River, clambering up the lower slopes of Snowy Mountain to the west, are the Skemeoskuankin Indian Reserves and the settlement of Chopaka which hosts a big rodeo every Easter weekend. The band struggled back to vitality from the brink of extinction in 1926 when censors counted but 26 people on the reserve.
About 20 kilometres out of Cawston the Highway edges higher onto the slopes of Mount Richter to present travellers with lovely, long views out over the Similkameen, Climbing, the Highway hairpins left around the heel of the mountain and heads north-east, leaving a little un-numbered road to carry on across the Boundary two kilometres away to Nighthawk and Oroville. On the far bank of the Similkameen the right-of-way of the VV&E which built across the Boundary here on the 11th of April, 1907.
Away from the hairpin, the No. 3 glides down into the broad draw of a summer-dry, nameless lake, drifts by a feedlot corralled entirely with used tires and begins to climb up into the low saddle of the Pass between Richter to the west and Mt. Kruger to the right. Opened in 1965, this is one of the Crowsnest Highways newest sections, though the route itself was well enough trodden by 1958 for the H.M Goushá Company of Chicago to call the track improved and award it a circled number 45 on its B.C. road map. Past Lake Richter, on the slopes and in the gulches, cattle and horses nose around in the parched grasses for brunch. This was F.X. Richters lower ranch.
A steady climb of five or so kilometres elevates travellers to 681m, the summit of Richter Pass. Here the desert has the temerity to approach the Highway, and the cacti, more robust than their valley kin, their years supply of moisture reserved within their waxy, spiny jackets, lurk in gangs near the pavements edge, waiting for an incautious bicycle tire. They are fighting a rear-guard battle against puncture vine, an exotic invader which well deserves its name. Amid the thorny thugs, the careless or curious can find Paruroctonus boreus Girard, the worlds norther-most scorpion, scuttling under the sun-burnt ground cover, its talon tipped tail arched poisonously above its back.
Up here the desert comes and goes according to climatic changes. All but unimaginable now, the swales and basins here held farms toward the end of the Nineteenth Century, when rains came more often and snow packed deeply during the winter. A few families hung on through the 20s, but come the drier years of the Dirty Thirties, the last of the farms were abandoned to the desert and the tough little cattle who eke out a living up here.
Gently descending out of Richters heights, the Highway curls south-east around the weird phenomenon of Spotted Lake, a concoction of concentrated magnesium and calcium chlorides, barren of bordering vegetation and looking as if skinned with rotten ice despite the blazing sun. The chlorides do not mix and reflect light differently, giving the spotted effect. Old time Natives bothered by a touch of bursitis or other deep ache favoured the restorative powers of the lakes mud. Corroding somewhere on the lakes stark eastern beach are the piles of a pier and the vestiges of evaporation pans into which gangs of Chinese labourers employed by the Stewart-Calvert Company of Seattle began pouring the ponds brine in 1916. Having been waggoned and trucked to the Oroville plant where it was treated, the evaporite made its way eastward on the GN to factories which the B.C. Department of Mines reports used it for the treatment of leather, whereas others maintain it was converted into explosives to blow the petals off the flower of Europe. Whatever the use, the business was profitable enough that Stewart-Calvert bought the lake in 1917 and shipped out 900 tons. Come the Wars end, the company ceased operations, shipping but 120 tons in 1919.
Away from Spotted Lake, the Highway starts its dramatic career down into the Okanagan Valley. Just as a bicycle begins to get really rolling, a huge lookout balloons pavement out onto a bluff on the left, affording a panoramic view over the famous Okanagan valley, heart of B.C.s orchard industry and for long years the vacation destination for half of Western Canada.
Its precipitous walls attest to the Valleys genesis as a graben, a sunken block of land between two parallel fault lines. It is a 400 kilometre long continuation that same rift which the Columbia River breaks into some 100 kilometres south of here and follows down the length of Washington state. Twisting its way past this viewpoint, the rift eventually peters out in dendritic fractures north beyond the Trans-Canada Highway. Hidden from sight by the valleys meanders, the hundred crooked kilometres of Lake Okanagan are said to seclude the serpentine Ogopogo, distant relative of Loch Nesss famous denizen. Materialising from the heat haze, the Okanagan River, levied and weird, meanders down its valleys bottom patched green by intensive farming and the Rivers largess. Across the valley, the Osoyoos Indian Reserve Number Two of the Okanagan People occupies most of what can be seen of the eastern escarpment and a substantial portion of the Okanagan Highlands behind it. Below the view-point, beyond the smouldering garbage dump, lies the nine-mile length of international Lake Osoyoos, speared by spits and pinched nearly in half, its surface slashed by ski-boat wakes and spotted by sails. Reports Dorothy Fraser in A Short History and Description of Osoyoos (Osoyoos Museum Society, 1967), the Lake is a glacial remnant, formed when an enormous chunk of ice broke of a retreating glacier and was partially buried by outwash from valley-side streams. Scratching its way diagonally down the desiccated face of Mount Kruger, the Highway bridges the Lake at its pinch and vanishes on the Valleys eastern wall. Laying across the Lakes pinch, Osoyoos (227m) worships the sun.
In what feels like two seconds, cyclists scream down the 400 vertical metres from the Lookout to the Valley bottom, past the informal little landing field on the left and the Buena Vista Industrial Park opposite. Nearing Osoyoos, the glitter of chromed litter in an extensive junk yard breaks through the camouflaging trees on the right, and the signage in front of the barren Casitas del Sol gated adult community promises those with cash enough for the down payment the easily financed realization of their suburban dreams. At the bottom of the grade, a traffic light controls the well service-stationed intersection of the Crowsnest Highway with Highway 3A/97.
The 3A into the Okanagan: Olalla Valley
The 3A north from Keremeos is a gentle ascent up the Keremeos valley and over the heights of the Okanagan Range, 32 kilometres to Kaleden Corner in the Okanagan Valley by Lake Skaha.
Away from its intersection with the Crowsnest Highway, the 3A curves gracefully to the left up the Keremeos valley past the Sunset Motel and its nearby competitor, the Oasis. Crossing Keremeos Creek, 3A sees Upper Bench Road tee-ing away right to the Grist Mill and, recrossing the Creek, it curves right past Bears Market where the By-Pass Road comes up from No. 3 west of downtown. This is the site of the Centre. Harry Tweddles big, two-story Central Hotel and livery barn sat just off the By-Pass Road to the west. Tweddle couldnt justify up-rooting his business and moving down to Lower Keremeos just because the railroad had arrived, opting instead to offer his customers free livery service into the new town. The jail, however, which had been built here in 1907, was needed in the new town and was removed thither in 1917. The two little cottages nearby are all that remains of the Centre in 2003.
A slightly twisted mile north from Bears, the Highway passes the cemetery on the right and the road leading off across private land to the Pin Cushion and the strange formations of basalt in the Keremeos Columns Provincial Park beyond. Opposite the cemetery is the site of the first settlement, Upper Keremeos. Of Emanuel Barcelos hotel and Sam McCurdys butcher shop and George Kirbys store, nothing but a few faint pits remain.
Piny little Olalla, shoe-horned into Keremeos Creeks narrowing valley some seven kilometres from the Crowsnest Highway, is a thorpe of converted school buses now immobilized in shady yards occupied by single and double-wide manufactured homes, swing sets and pet collies. Looking at it, one is hard pressed to believe that its name was writ larger by far than that of Keremeos on the B.C. Department of Mines Mining Divisions map of 1914. At that time this area was a patchwork of claims with confident names like Opulence, Copper King, Bullion, Star of Hope. Staked around the turn of the twentieth century, most offered the promise of gold, silver and copper, with the Flagstaff group appearing valuable for their self-fluxing magnetite ores. By 1907 the copper-rich Dolphin group and the Bullion group were the best developed, the former having an aerial tram which swung buckets of ore down to bins on the Keremeos road. From there the ore was waggoned three miles south for storage in the outfits 40-ton bunkers at the Keremeos train station until it could be shipped to the smelter at Northport, Washington. The 40-ton storage bunkers proved to be overly capacious for the Dolphins output, for the mine shipped but one car load in 1908. After years of chipping away at every little vein that inevitably pinched out in disappointment, the best return the principals saw was during the height of the copper demand in 1917 when the Dolphin shipped 72 tons of ore. In 1927, having identified exotic molybdenum mixed with the copper ore in the veins of their Golconda claim, its owners were soliciting development capital which never rematerialized. By 1946 the Hedley Monarch Gold Mines Limited had consolidated 72 of the likeliest properties, but failed to make money. With Hedley Monarchs retirement, Ollala nearly vanished from the maps.
The 3A whisks across the western fringe of Olalla, barely acknowledging the speed limits. On the left the sometime restaurant formerly called Cinderellas Country Kitchen is five years quiet as of 2008. The General Store, wrote local resident Alan Thom in December of that year, is closed, too, as is its associated campground, slated for development as a tiny subdivision, set to expand the communitys population from the 225 counted in November of 2008. Whether or not a visitor will find any of the saskatoon berries which give Olalla its name in the Okanagan dialect of the Interior Salish language group depends on the season.
Winding on up past a string of pocket-sized ranches running a few head of Black Angus or Herefords on valley-side pastures, the Highway crosses the rangeland of tiny Keremeos Forks Indian Reserve Number Twelve. Leaving the Keremeos valley to wander away to the northwest carrying Green Mountain Road up past Apex Ski Area to collect the Hedley waggon road and eventually pick its way through the Thompson Plateaus valleys down to Penticton, 3A branches off left and begins to nose its way north-easterly up Marsel Creek. Climbing six percent grades in three miles of blind, narrow, nervous curves past sinuous Yellow Lake, it arrives at Twin Lakes summit (774m). Nearby is Twin Lakes Golf and RV Resort campground and a gas station-slash-convenience store where a peckish pedaler can snack up. This is the last chance to catch a breath of mountain air and look for a Townsends chipmunk in the extreme north-eastern fringe of its range before plunging into the grand defile of the Okanagan valley and the northern salient of the Great American Desert.
Smoking double-wide and amply shouldered down through the scant settlement of Marron Valley, the 3A deeks back and forth over the southern boundary of the Penticton Indian Reserve Number One, carving an enormous switch-back, presenting the traveller with an overview of Lake Skahareputedly the native Okanagan word for canisfloating on the bottom of the Okanagan Valley. In minutes cyclists have dropped 325 metres and are at the Tee intersection of Kaleden Junction which blends 3A to the No. 97 for its 47 kilometre run south to Osoyoos.
North on 97 some thirteen kilometres, Penticton (351m) lolls under the vacation sun on the flats between Lakes Skaha and Okanagan. Though never on any part of No. 3, that ultimate tourist town with its endless campgrounds, countless motels, its mid-summer Peach Festival and attendant youth restiveness is nonetheless of interest to travellers on the Crowsnest Highway because it was the headquarters of the Kettle Valley Railway.
Next: OSOYOOS or, on Highway 3A, OKANAGAN FALLS