Dewdneys trail has entered the Moyies valley between Curzon and Yahk through a low pass where high tension power lines now crackle on frosty mornings. One can, its said, find traces of it here and there in the woods on the Rivers right bank. In the Moyies valley Dewdney had a fairly easy go of it as Wild Horse gold rushers had already beaten David Thompsons old fur trade path into a substantial track; all Dewdney had to do from Curzon to Wild Horse was to make a few improvements as the trail picked its way along through the dead-falls and marshes that inspired the valleys name; Moyie, from the French mouillé: moist.
Despite any improvement Dewdney in 1865 and Albert McCleary in 1888 made to the old trails in the neighbourhood, it was this stretch of the Moyie River valley between Lake Moyie and Yahk which rattled the confidence that Thomas W. Wilby, English free-lance writer and bon vivant, had in his ability to have a car driven from coast to coast across Canada.
Thus far Wilby had done well, writes Ron Welwood in The All Red Route Through the Kootenays (Canadian West, No. 23, Spring 1991). On August 27th of 1912 he had dipped the wheels of his St. Catherines, Ontario-assembled REO Special in the chilly waters of the Atlantic at Halifax and, thanks mainly to the efforts and expertise of his chauffeur/mechanic, F.V. Haney, had arrived in Cranbrook on October 3rd. The roads had been that far good, and the path through the Crowsnest Pass from the Prairies to Cranbrook had been proven motorable by R.H. Bohart who had driven the first car1a 30 horse-power Everitt made by the Tudhope Motor Company of Orillia, Ontariothrough the Crowsnest Pass on July 11, 1911. But south of Moyie the track to Yahk was a nightmare. Quoted by John Nicol2 in The All Red Route: From Halifax to Victoria in a 1912 Reo (McArthur and Company, Toronto, 1999), Wilby wrote of the Moyies valley in A Motor Tour Through Canada (John Lane, London, 1914) that [o]ften we plunged along at angles which no motor car was ever intended to take, ... We were buried to the flanks in the slough and at times both cars sank to the hubs, listing heavily, grinding and ploughing their way, pounding the tyres to rags, while the engines roared and groaned and the wheels angrily shot the water in inky spindrift over men and trees. How we longed for the smooth prairie trail, ..., and bemoaned the dead-fall choked swamp mud which nearly killed the team of draft horses which he had summoned from Yahk to assist the REO. Advised that the trail from Yahk to Kitchener was even worse than that which he had just endured, Wilby abandoned the road. Having had his car bumped up onto the B.C. Southerns tracks, he and Haney jounced their way to the Government Road at Kitchener, ruining their tires on the ties. After a harrowing drive through the Goat River canyon, they arrived at Creston at three in the morning of October 5th. Struggling to Kootenay Landing after a few hours rest, they had the REO hoisted aboard the new Nasookin, settled themselves into a stateroom and landed at Nelson that same day. Suffering the effects of being fêted for a day or two in Nelson, and receiving assurances from the owners of the only cars in the Citya pair of identical Model T Fordsthat the road down the Lower Kootenay was a screaming Hell of axle-busting rocks and pits, Wilby opted to ship the car on the 09:30 freight train to Castlegar, thence to drive down through Rossland and along the Columbia to the mouth of the Kettle River to curl back into Canada on the old waggon road through Laurier/Cascade. The adventurers went on to trace the route of the modern Crowsnest Highway through Greenwood and Osoyoos, Fairview, Keremeos and Princeton whence they followed the Railway to Merritt and Spences Bridge to arrive at Vancouver on the 17th of October.
Up the Moyie River, continued
Not 50 metres beyond the 1954 orange bridge that carries it over the Moyie at the end of the Meadows north from Yahk, another of the same date carries the Crowsnest Highway over the Railway. A sign beside the tracks identifies the locale as Ryan, a siding where the King Lumber Company3 operated a mill in the early years of the Twentieth Century. Northward, squeezed as the tracks are between the Highway and the River, railfans are going to see everything running on the CNL as they travel. Unfortunately, that is not a lot.
Crossing Irishman Creek on its 1957 concrete span, the Highway is deep into the Purcell Mountains. Millions of years of slate and limestone strata, stained here and there black and red with iron, rear from the roadside ditches. To the west, the Moyie Range gains stature as it builds northward to meet the Columbia Range at the Bugaboos. Facing it across the valley, the Yahk Range, immodestly draped in rags of Lodgepole pine, Douglas-fir and Western larch. Back in there, Yahk Mountain raises its snow-sheathed peak to 2180m.
It was this spectacular setting that Annie Ophelia Midge Robson chose. She bought some 200 acres here around 1926 and soon her Dine and Dance roadhouse was a magnet where Midge and her piano kept em hopping until the wee hours until she passed away in 1959. The place was converted into a residence.
To get anywhere in the Purcells, the Highway must drive itself through barriers of rock which, for the lithophile, is a highlight of the No.3. Mossy walls of rusty and ebony shales and sandstones, their neat layers snapped and folded by contemptuous Tectonics, brilliantly colourful and shining where sunbeams and spring-waters mingle on mineral stains. Above, eagles spiral for air-time against a spotlessly blue backdrop, eyes fixed on the Railway, the River, the Highway. Especially on the Highway, now that it is carrying the 95s traffic as well.
As the horrendous huge bloody splotches on the pavement indicate, this is a killing zone where mesmerized ungulates make fatal mistakes in encounters with Kenworths and roo-barred Pathfinders. Only vigilance spares cyclists from involvement in one of these gory little dramas. Unhelpfully, the Highways pavement narrows often to squeeze itself through particularly durable spurs. Shoulders typically disappear in forest-shaded curves suddenly full of Greyhound coach or semi-trailer truck.
Heading northward the Highway passes clearcuts choked with bramble and slash that are the result of the bottom line mentality of forestry management. This type of harvesting is now discredited, the legacy of early timber men who couldnt imagine that the vast, dark forest had limits. At the beginning of the Third Millennium, the mantra is sustainability, selective logging and effort made to replant areas of cut.
Some 20 kilometres from Yahk a signboard on the railway line advises Tochty. Perhaps the site of logging siding in times past, today it is notable because here travellers change time zones. Eastbound on the Highway? Welcome to Mountain Time; advance your watch one hour.
The very south-east corner of British Columbia is an enigma. Administratively, it is the part of B.C. called the East Kootenay, but economically, chronologically, and emotionally, it belongs to Alberta. From about the junction of the No.3 with the 95 at Curzon, the Highway carries so many vehicles bearing Alberta licence plates that travellers from afar could understandably conclude that they must have passed out of the Pacific Province. To the good folks of the East Kootenay, small-s-socialist Victoria and smoggy Vancouver are far away. Much closer geographically, economically and psychologically, is Calgary, the hub of southern Alberta, home to a wealthy, mobile population. The easy five hour drive from home has long made the East Kootenay a holidayland for Calgarians.
The development of the East Kootenay was absolutely dependent on someone building a railroad through it. From the opening decade of the Nineteenth Century, Whitemen had walked the region, and all who saw it agreed that whoever ran a railroad would become rich from the treasures of coal and ores oozing from the crust of the earth. In the latter half of the 1890s the golden wealth beginning to flow out of the deeps of South Africa stimulated a world wide economic recovery that demanded that the East Kootenay reserves be exploited.
British-Canadian business, with the capital and expertise to push a line of railroad through the Crows Nest Pass, seized upon the moment. Smelters could be built right on top of the lodes of ore, and coal from the Pass shipped in to fire them. The refined metals could be hauled out through the Crows Nest Pass and across the District of Alberta to the CPRs Mainline at Medicine Hat.
Thats what happened, and most eyes in the East Kootenay still look east.
Not far from Tochty, an orange spoil-pile reflected in pools of orange ditch-water rises high in the jade Lodgepoles just off the Highways western shoulder. Beside it, trying to hide in the forest, a couple of tumbled-down cabins and fifty feet above, in the face of a sheer cliff, the mines mouth sticks out a tongue of ancient conveyor belt and dribbles ochre water down its chin. This is the Midway mine.
Mining into a heavily mineralized vein of auriferous quartz in the Aldridge Formation, the Midway is introduced in the pages of The Annual Report of the Minister of Mines for the Year Ending 31st December, 1929. By 1933 it was operated by the B.C. Cariboo Gold Fields, Ltd., who took out 36 tonnes of ore. In 1937 it was registered to Moyie Gold Mines, Limited, who took out 52 tonnes that year. The Midway was worked each year to the end of the 1940 season and then not again until 1959. Last worked in 1962, the Midway gave up a total of 1168 tonnes of ore which averaged a modest 7.7 grams/T of gold, 73.2 of silver, and yielded 1700 kilograms of zinc, 2550 kg of lead and 108 kg of copper.
Some 30 kilometres north of Yahk, the Highway esses tightly east and then north, over-flying the Railway and the River on a 1954 concrete deck span. Climbing up a short slope beyond, past the Eagles Nest RV Resort likely sitting on the site of the mill that JS&B Lumber Company of Cranbrook erected and operated for a few years from the mid-50s, travellers strike upon one of B.C.s prettiest vistas.
Cool blue and all natural, Moyie Lake (927m) is the result of a glacier plugging the Rivers valley with a terminal moraine and then melting. When I last looked up the ten kilometre length of the Lake from its south end, the angry indigo sky was propped up by a bright, tightly curved, full spectrum rainbow which had arched itself between the misty mountain ramparts that pinch the Lake in half. The paint on the cottages now sparsely beading but quickly multiplying along the western shore glowed in the flat, grey light. Behind them, the ghost of Dewdneys trail lurked in the shades.
The Highway comes out on the Lakes south-eastern shore and races along mere feet above the water on a man-made shelf that the Highways Branch completed in 1930. Between the Highway and the Lake, the polished rails of the B.C. Southern await the daily Kootenay Valley freight train. To the right, larchd and cedard slopes rise quickly into the McGillivray Range which has relieved the Yahks around Tochty and now defines the eastern horizon. Here and there along the way, where a vista of the Lake is particularly lovely, persistent usage has created casual view points where one can pull off the Highway and gaze in wonder. Beautiful, Beautiful British Columbia, indeed, Grace.
Located near the south end of the mile-long Narrows that pinches Moyie Lake in two, the community of Moyie is only about five kilometres from the south end of the Lake. Past the cemetery, which welcomed its last resident in 1972, the settlements buildings begin to assume distinct shapes. On the right in the Highways grassy ditch is a the Ministry of Transport and Highways historical marker by the massive concrete foundations, memorials to the long-abandoned St. Eugene mine which, writes N.L. Barlee in his Gold Creeks and Ghost Towns (Hancock House, Surrey, 1988), was for years the leading silver-lead producer in B.C.
Mining on the Moyie: The St. Eugene and its neighbours
The staggering wealth locked in its rocks was one of the major attractions that drew the Whiteman to the East Kootenay in the late 1880s. Veins of heavily mineralized quartz shot through the mountains and outcrops of rich ores glinted under the dust. With the completion of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1883 and the CPR Mainline two years later, the country began to open up. Prospectors finding a likely property could stake and register a legal, secure claim with any one of the several Recorders or Gold Commissioners scattered throughout the region. Samples could be quickly assayed and the results often brought with them an offer to buy or develop the claim for, in the late 1880s, with the easy pickings played out in their own territories, Spokane and Butte money men were looking to invest north of the Boundary. They were heady times for prospectors. One swing of the pick and a flash of metallic ore could end months, or years, or half a lifetime of trudging around in the wilderness with a pick-hammer in hand, subsisting on ever dwindling boxed supplies supplemented when possible by foraged berries and half-cooked wild game, risking fatal injuries, exposed to attacks by predators and debilitation by mountain fever with every mouthful of water. Within weeks of making his find, a prospector could be rolling in dough beyond dreams.
Father P.N.J. de Coccola, O.M.I., arrived to take over management of the St. Eugene Mission, in the St. Marys River valley north-west of todays Cranbrook, in 1887. Well aware of this regions potential, Coccola immediately began encouraging his Ktunaxa flock to keep a sharp eye out for rocks similar to the samples of ores that he had brought with him. If they could find a quantity of chikaminmoney rocksthe new Father told them, they could improve the facilities of their mission with a hospital and a school. Probably uneasy about attracting more Whites to their territory by showing them where the chikamin might be hiding, the Ktunaxa were unenthusiastic prospectors. Rocks were rocks and despite their reservations, the Ktunaxa got a school anyway when the Sisters of Providence came to build and staff one in October of 1890. The Mission, however, remained impoverished, and when, in 1892, on nearby Mark Creek some particularly promising ore claims were staked, Father Coccola redoubled his efforts, exhorting his charges to find the chikamin he desired. His persistence finally paid off in the spring of 1893 when one of his young parishioners, Pielle Tête de Fer, dumped a sackful of likely stones on Coccolas desk. Sent to Spokane for analysis, a sample was found to contain wonderful percentages of lead generously gifted with silver. Though it was contaminated by zinc, the ore was still valuable and this good news was reputedly brought to the mission by James Cronin, a Spokane-based developer, who was attracted to the neighbourhood by the discoveries on Mark Creek. Coccola and Cronin struck a bargain and hied themselves down to the Gold Commissioner at Fort Steele to buy prospectors licences. Guided by Pielle, they climbed the heights above Moyie Lake and staked three properties on the dyke of galena ore that had been cracked across the orderly strata of grey slates and shales interbedded with layers of frosty quartzite. Back at Fort Steele, they registered Pielles Peter, Coccolas St. Eugene and Cronins Society Girl on June 25th, 1893.
Neither Pielle nor Father Coccola remained principles in the mining venture for long, nor materially assisted Cronin in the properties development. Offered $12,000 for their interests by Cronins crony, Seattle entrepreneur and part owner of Rosslands War Eagle mine, John A. Finch, Pielle and Coccola cashed out in 1895. The good Father saw to it that Pielle received a nice house, and then used the rest of the money to build a hospital and an ornate little high-spired church at the Mission.
Betting that the richness of their properties would attract a railroad, Finch and Cronin borrowed $80,000 and by 1896 had assembled the St. Eugene group consisting of the St. Eugene, the Peter, the Loretta Fraction and the Rose Fraction. In 1897 the properties were granted by the Crown to Cronin and Finch, and 14 men were at work hacking a mine with two portalsNos. 1 and 2, one above the otherinto the St. Eugenes lode; an eight foot wide vein of solid galena connected to a paralleling second vein some 200 feet away by diagonal avenues of ore. The ore was fabulous: heavy with pure lead and running rich in silver, it was chuted from the adits to a stockpile on the Lakes shore where it was sorted by hand. The ore least contaminated with zinc was sacked and packed by horse to a landing place near present day Wardner on the Kootenay River, heaved onto a paddle-wheeler, taken down to the since-vanished town of Jennings, Montana, and off-loaded onto the Great Northern for shipment to one of the Butte smelters or the American Smelting and Refining Companys facility at Tacoma, Washington. With the arrival of the B.C. Southerns tote road at Swansea, at the top of the Lake, on November 11th, 1897, Cronin and Finch were able to switch to waggon transport from there to the Kootenay at Wardner, about 20 miles away. As well that autumn, the tote road was completed through to Kootenay Lake and connected to a road from Rykerts on the Boundary south of present-day Creston. During the winter following, Captain I.B. Sanborn, part owner of the Aurora group of five claims on Moyie Lakes western shore and financed by the prominent Kootenay River boat captain, Francis Patrick Armstrong, built a 51 foot long screw-steamer, Echo, which was bought by local merchants even before it was launched in April of 1898. When not busy with his partners developing his claim, Captain Sanborn whistled the Echo and its barge up and down the Lakemerchandize to Moyie, ore to Swansea, ten tons at a time.
Though the St. Eugene group was quickly identified as the main ore-bearing claims, by 1896 the environs surrounding were well spiked with claim stakes. East of the Group, new owners were examining the Society Girl. To the south the Moyie and the Queen of the Hills had been developed enough that the Crown granted them to E.P. Davis, F. Houghton of Montréal, et al, in 1897. Below, on the continuation of the St. Eugenes vein, the Lake Shore and the Legal Tender Fraction were being poked at by Chas. C. Farrell and his partners. Nearby, the Baltimore and the Black Pine had been registered.
On Sunday, September 4th, 1898, track crews working for the B.C. Southerns track-laying contractor, the Foley Brothers of St. Paul, Minnesota, hammered their way through the 150 metre long Jerome Tunnel which Cowan and Company workers had recently finished cutting through a rock spur intruding into the waters at the northern end of the Lake. At 4:30 in the afternoon the rails crossed Queens Avenue and before the day was done had been extended past the site chosen for Moyies station and on to Aldridge where a siding would be laid on the lakeshore below the St. Eugene.
Though the first shipment of ore didnt leave Aldridge by rail until March 4th, 1899, the mere arrival of the CPR handsomely rewarded Cronins and Finchs investment. The Gooderham-Blackstock syndicate of Toronto, having acquired Rosslands War Eagle mine in 1897, and its sister, the Center Star, a year later, eagerly plunked down some of their hard-earned liquor money and bought two-thirds of the St. Eugene group and the Lake Shore in 1899. Cronin kept his third, and stayed on as mine manager to help the new St. Eugene Consolidated Mining Company, Limited, (St.ECM) wisely spend $150,000. Fifteen machine drills were installed in the mine and while a 300 ton per day water-powered concentrator was being erected on the lakeshore, a 3300-foot-long Riblet-designed aerial tram was strung to sling 900 lb. buckets of ore down to it from the upper levels of the Mine, 1400 vertical feet above. From the Moyie, which was apparently part of the enterprise, ore was eased down to lake level via a gravity powered surface tram and delivered to the concentrator by mule-hauled trains along the shore. Flumes, one from the north and one from the south, were built to channel water to the concentrator. With a payroll of 250, the project dwarfed operations around it like the Society Girl which shipped its first ore in 1900.
By now well into its pay-lode, the Mine, sending most of its production to the CPRs Canadian Smelting Works at Trail, prospered, and though the Western Federation of Miners James Wilkes came from Rossland in December of 1899 to organize the workers in reaction to a 14% cut in wages due to the implementation of the eight hour work day, a compromise was apparently quickly reached for there was no strike: the stream of ore pouring from the mountain provided money for all, especially after the concentrator at Aldridge was completed in April of 1900.
The good times lasted for one year. In July of 1901, having reduced some 115,000 tons of ore to 30,000 tons of 70%-lead concentrate to earn $1.7 million, St.ECM, faced with a plummeting price for lead ore, ordered a cessation of production, keeping only a few miners working on maintenance and development. In September of the next year, despite the fact that the Canadian government had instituted its five dollar per ton bounty on lead on the previous July 1, these last men were laid off and the Mine closed.
Come 1904 the Gooderham-Blackstock syndicate had acquired title to several more of the mining properties on Moyie Lakes eastern slopes and had amalgamated themwith the exception of the Lakeshore which was kept separateinto the St.ECM. Only the Society Girl Mining Companys group of seven Crown-granted claims on the eastern side of the mountain eluded the Syndicates grasp. In April of that year, with the Dominions bounty on lead two years old and declining in value, Jas. Cronin was instructed to redevelop the St. Eugene. When he was transferred in January of 1905 to Rossland to manage the Syndicates Center Star and the War Eagle, he left behind a mine that would see its peak production that year, its concentrate analysing 1300 lbs. of lead per ton with 33 ounces of silver. The St. Eugenes output of 28 tons of silver and 18,250 tons of lead during 1905 made it the biggest producer of those metals in the province.
In June of 1905 the Gooderham-Blackstock syndicate sold its holdings in the Kootenays to the CPR which, on January 9th, 1906, incorporated the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company to run the mines and the Companys Trail smelter. Under CP direction, the St. Eugene expanded its underground workings, following its vein downwards, ventilating the workings with a vertical series of adits punched into the main shaft from the face of the mountain.
But ore was getting harder to find. A short labour strike over pay in January of 1908 brought the Companys hatchet man, Selwyn Gwillym Blaylock,4 to assume management of the Mine a month later. He soon concluded that the St. Eugene was playing out and began paring down the work-force from its peak of 450. Nonetheless, that year it supplied 65% of the lead mined in B.C., dropping to 60% the following year, 1909, when 147,300 tons of ore, running 8.8% pure lead with 3.6 ounces of silver before concentration, were extracted.
In 1909 the Society Girl Mining Company was facing bankruptcy, its 11 miners working for shares in the operation, still searching for the supposed extension of the St. Eugene vein. That year, too, at the end of a 200 foot long pier extending out from the shoreline east of the Lakeshore, the Cambrian Mining Company was reaching the end of its $50,000 financial tether. In 1907, in the first undertaking of this kind in B.C., Cambrian had sunk a caisson in the 60 feet of water submerging its Cambrian claim and sent men down to begin two years of digging through 50 feet of sediment to bedrock in an attempt to locate an extension of the St. Eugenes vein. They couldnt find it. Across the Lake in 1909, the owners of the Aurora were driving another adit, also looking for the St. Eugenes vein.
Recorded by the Moyie Historical Book Committee and the Moyie New Horizons Group in their self-published work of 1988, Moyie Reflections, come 1911, when the Auroras owners gave up, the St. Eugenes working had reached a depth of some 800 feet below the surface of Moyie Lake. Little ore, however, was coming out of the Mine, and on September 30th, 1913, having yielded nearly 115,000 tons of lead and 167 tons of silver from the million-plus tons of ore output over its life-span, the St. Eugene was closed.
Moyie, of course, was devastated, its economy clinging to the concentrator which was remodelled in 1916 as part of R.W. Diamonds initial experiments in separating the constituent metals from Kimberleys ore. Not a success, the mill had been idle for years when it burned in 1921. By that time, however, Diamond had perfected his process and that made the estimated 500,000 tons of zinc- and lead-rich tailings piled on the Moyies shore worth a small fortune as the prices of those metals began rising in the mid-20s. A little hydraulic dredge floating on a barge was employed to suck up the submerged tailings. In 1925, having reopened the St. Eugene on May 1st, 1920, for a few months to extract about 1000 tons and then surrendering the Mine to lessees, CM&S erected a new mill at Moyie, spent four years concentrating 138,000 tons from the tailings and then dismantled its facility and left Moyie to rock itself to sleep on the verandah of redundancy.
Across the Lake at the Aurora, in 1926 the Moyie Mining Syndicate was at work, trucking its small output across the Narrows bridge to the CM&S concentrator. In 1927 the operation shut down having sent only 521 tons to Trail that year. Nearby, the Guidon sent but 21 tons.
Interest in the metals and minerals buried in the neighbourhood is not a thing of the past. Exploration continues in eras of high commodity values. Come the mid-20-aughts, the St. Eugene Mining Corporation of Vancouver is engaged in a drilling program on several of the old properties: the Society Girl, Auroura-Guidon, North Break, and John D.. Other properties, Poker and Monroe Lake, excite interest, as well.
A few score metres northward of the foundations of the tipple and the last concentrator, the unincorporated settlement of Moyie (928m) sits sunning itself on the shores of its lake. The Highway keeps to the waters edge, hemming the hamlet against the mountain rising to secret the Lake from Auroras notice. The property upon which the settlement sits was pre-empted and surveyed into lots by Glencairn Campbell in 1897, the year that crews contracted by the CPR completed the Railways tote road, permitting twice weekly stagecoach service between the Moyie Narrows and Fort Steele. That November, too, the western segment of the railroads tote road, begun at Kootenay Lake two months earlier, reached the Narrows. With Cronin and Finch spending big money on the St. Eugene and with waggons able to come in from both directions, Campbell had little problem selling his lots. Amid the hotels and the boarding houses whacked up out of twisting green lumber snuggled the plant of the Moyie City Leader which D.R. Young and F.J. Smyth began publishing in the spring of 1898. Among the first stores in the settlement was the meat market owned by the P. Burns Company, beef supplier to the Railway and whoever else who could plunk cash on the barrel head.
By October of 1900, with the Moyie Water Company laying pipe to those willing to pay for running water and the CPR, having settled a dispute over property ownership, finally completing its Gambrel-roofed Second Empire-style station, an unofficial tally placed Moyies population at 600. Moyie had the reputation of being a mans town. When the Dominion government conducted its census in 1901, it found 1,000 folks in Moyie, the vast preponderance being male, 80% of whom lived in boarding houses. Though a school had been established in September of 1898, only twelve children showed up to be taught by Emma C. McMahon. Unlike Rossland, where wives and daughters were welcomed and quickly organized a Womens Auxiliary of the Western Federation of Miners to lay gentling hands on the communitys affairs, Moyie retained many of the characteristics of a camp, a rough place where a worker had little opportunity for recreation other than the visceral entertainments offered by waterfront bars and brothels. This environment ensured that the Mine saw a high turn-over in labour.
As they settled into the new Century, Moyies boosters promoted the incorporation of their community, referring to it as Moyie City for awhile. Come 1906 the settlement had five hotels, a lumber mill, the brewery that Joseph Niederstadt had established on the lakeshore in 1899 and that Julius Mueller was in the process of buying, several stores, the little St. Peters church that Father Coccola of St. Eugenes Mission had built in 1904. Who could know that this marked the acme of Moyies career, and that within five years most of the miners would be gone, the mill silenced, the commercial and entertainment district deserted, many of the good houses removed to the then-bustling City of Kimberley.
Though situated in an undeniably dramatic location with fine trout fishing right at its front door, todays Moyie is much diminished from its former glory, but looks forward to a future of increasing numbers of Alberta ex-pats seeking to make their homes on the watered side of the Rockies. Still in 2007, visitors services are limited. At the intersection of the No.3 and main street, the communitys only gas station doubles as a lunch-barred convenience store. Curving back to the right following the shore of the Lake, the Highway ends up paralleling main street. This was the commercial district, the only reminder of which is the vaguely Victorian-looking wood-framed Kokanee Cove Pub. Backing onto the regularly used railroad and cobbled together in 1926 from chunks of the old Manhattan Hotel, the building served as Moyies store until 1970 when it assumed its present duty; the sole dispenser of spirituous libation between Cranbrook and the Horny Owl Saloon in Yahk. Proprietor Doug Maki will ensure that a hungry traveller gets something to eat: hes regionally renowned for his fish n chips. Dark and comfortable and packed with old photos, bottles and memorabilia, the Pub is the closest thing that Moyie has to a museum, though Rumour roams whispering in 2007 of a place called the High House Museum somewhere in the community. For visitors willing to stretch their legs a bit, a walkabout guide to the communities high-lights is sometimes available at the Moyie General Store.
On the right a block on from the Pub is the most photographed structure in Moyie; the fire hall. Its clap-board exterior trying to ward off the weather with coats on cracked coats of russet paint, it was commissioned on September 20th, 1907, the 34 foot tall bell-cum-hose-drying tower being added two years later. Over on Main Street, a block east of the fire hall and three years older, virginal-white St. Peters lofts it tall spire upwards from its old blue roof. Wrote local historian Marilyn Delmonico in an email to this author on April 26th, 2007, St. Peters Catholic Church is an outstanding landmark in the village. Built in 1904, it was restored to its former glory by dedicated volunteers in the early 1990s, just in time for the towns centennial celebrations in 1993. Sadly, no regular Sunday services are held there now although the church is used by all faiths for a Christmas carol service, the occasional wedding and perhaps a funeral.
Offering distinctly limited dining opportunities and no in-door accommodations but for the Long Shadows B&B about two kilometres north of town, Moyie is still a quiet little retirement community and dormitory for Cranbrook, 32 kilometres north.
Over the Fassiferne
Leaving Moyie, the Highway gracefully esses right-left to pick up main street and head northward. To the west behind the Lodgepoles, on the other side of the Railway, the mile-or-so-long Narrows pinches the Lake. There the Finch Bros. set up a sawmill in 1898. In August of 1901 the Moyie Lumber Company set up its mill nearby, the focal point of a community which came to be called Cardiff. In January of 1906 the company was bought up by Winnipeg speculators among whom was J.D. McArthur who was later a principal in both the Edmonton, Dunvegan & British Columbia Railway, and the Alberta & Great Waterways Railway. Renamed the Porto Rico Lumber Company and quickly bought up by Beaver Lumber Company of Winnipeg, by 1909 the outfit had completed a bridge to carry its little logging trains across the Narrows and out into the untouched timber of the Lamb Creek basin. The bridge was seen as such a good idea that the public purse duplicated the feat two years later, connecting Moyie to the old stage road that had been built on Dewdneys trail back in 1897. In 1921 Porto Rico pulled up stakes and moved its operation to the upper Salmo valley around Ymir.
In 1922 the Department of Pubic Works, perhaps to celebrate B.C.s official adoption of the left-hand drive motor vehicle, decided to abandon the route of Dewdneys trail on the west side of Moyie Lake and twist the precursor of todays No.3 across the faces of the mountain spurs which jab into the waters of the Lakes eastern shore. This, from a cyclists point of view, was a bad idea.
For a bikie in the 1990s it was an aerobic climb up onto the spurs. Once up there and having oohd and ahhd at the view from the big old ponderosa pine which gripped the rock on the Lake side of the Highway, the rider needed to steel her nerve for the next six or eight kilometres of up and down, up and down. The pavement roughens and retains a scurf of pea-gravel left over from the previous winters ice fight. Preparing itself for the scary corners, the Highway narrowed its shoulders, shedding them completely in the really dangerous crannies. It was u-gly! The lack of shoulders, coupled with tight, blind corners virtually ensured that, at one point or another, a biker was going to be on a piece of pavement that a mammoth Kenworth dressed in just that shade of smoky mauve and chrome and hauling a stinking livestock trailer full of howling hogs fouling themselves in terror expected to occupy in about two heartbeats. Somewhere close behind her rear pack-rack, the angry, stool-loosening BLAAAA! of an air-horn and the hiss-screech of an emergency application of brakes sent several cyclist careening into the pavement-side gravel seeking safety. But events like these were taken in stride, and sometimes, on a vacant patch of pavement well above the Lake, the late-day orange sun-rays ricocheting off the navy blue chop and the limestone faces close on the right slowly releasing the afternoons store of heat back into the cooling air, cyclists remembered why they love to do what they do.
Reconstruction of this stretch of the Highway in the mid-20-aughts made the paragraph above pretty much redundant. The shoulders are now generously wide and swept fairly clean. The blind spots have been opened up and the radii of the curves lengthened, the road surface entirely renewed. The warming cliffs remain, but I wonder about The Tree.
At the end of the Lake, the Highway drops to shore level and bumps across the mouth of Peavine Creek on a 1956 concrete slab bridge. To the left, in the shallows beyond the Railways bridge, convoys of tiny Mallards escort their parents through the forest of reeds swaying in time with the rhythm of the Lakes early summer waves. On the right, out on vast Peavine Meadows up which Dewdney ran his Trail, a bay horse, neck arched and black tail cocked, prances and frisks around his companion which pretends to be much more interested in the lush grass at her feet. This was a favourite campground of the Ktunaxa, part of it occupied as Sifton City where Cowan and Company men tented while gnawing their railroad tunnel through the spurs. Conflagrations which roared up the Moyies Valley in 1910 and 1929 erased all traces of the settlement.
The Highway curves westward around the north end of the Lake and, shoulderless, leaps the unravelling Moyie River on a long, Cat yellow steel truss bridge and its orange-railingd 1953 slab-decked companion. Like aged tombstones in an overgrown graveyard, huge fire blackened stumps stand morosely amid the new growth on the large lake-head marsh. On a little bay on the Lake near the mouth of the River, Swansea, its sawmill and hotel but a memory, has joined Sifton City in the realm of archæology. On the right-hand side of the Highway the Hiawatha RV Park (and Campground) hides its gravel-padded sites in a stand of huge old cottonwoods on the edge of Peavine Flats.
Curving back north-eastward, the Highway joins the old road that has come up the west side of the upper Lake since the late 1890s, and which may even be the route of the Walla Walla and Dewdney Trail. Down it a ways are the 104 sites of the Moyie Lake Provincial Park, now equipped with flush toilets and showers. South some five or six kilometres beyond that on a good sealed surface, Green Bay Resort might still be in business. Farther south still there is somewhere a spartan little Forest Services campground.
Northward from the Park, the old Railway tote road, its air still faintly blue from the potency of the old-time bull-whackers curses, has been appropriated by the Highway for its run into Cranbrook. Not far along on the right is the Moyie River Campground offering a sometime café, a well-used residential motel with a unit or two available for overnighters, a low-rent trailer park, and a few mosquito infested camp sites down by the River. The price is right for budget-minded campers, its fairly quiet, the showers are hot and one might be able to get a coffee in the morning. It is, however, only another fifteen or so kilometres to Cranbrook.
On a 1953 concrete-decked bridge just north from the Campground, for the last time the Highway crosses the Moyie River and begins its climb up Fassiferne Hill, the 995m high divide between the Moyies valley and the Rocky Mountain Trench. Its unlikely that a cyclist would find the Fassiferne Hill much of a strain; its grade is mainly of consideration to locomotive engineers and big-weight truckers. A wye in the B.C. Southern at a siding that the CPR calls Swansea directs a spur off towards a silver chute running down the lower slopes of a clear-cut patched mountain-side to the west. There CP quarries and crushes some 400,000 tonnes of diabase and gabbro annually to ballast its trackage as far away as Saskatchewan.
Near the Fassifernes summit, cuts through a few feet of wildly dipping layers of slate grey shale reveal the foundation of the surrounding terrain. Three hundred or so metres to the west on Lumberton Road, across the Railway and screened from the Highway by a thin stand of Lodgepoles, rest the remains of the extinct settlement of Wattsburg where A.E. Watts set up his lumber camp in 1903. Though A.E. was soon supplying most of Cranbrooks lumber, for some odd reason the CPR took it into its collective head to refuse Terrible-tempered Watts a station for his lumber-loading siding. The dispute continued for some years with Watts eventually pleading his case to the Board of Railway Commissioners who, moved by his plight and perhaps eager to demonstrate that it didnt live in CPs hip pocket, ruled in his favour. Ordered to raise a station, the Company complied in 1909, but named it Lumberton. So incensed was Watts, its said, that he sold out to the American-backed B.C. Spruce Mills Company, Limited, and moved his operations to the Salmo valley north of Ymir on the Great Northern line to Nelson, never to deal with CP again.
B.C. Spruce invested some $2 million in plant and company housing and soon vied with the Crows Nest Pass Lumber Company for the title of biggest producer in the region. Its main claim to fame was the continents second longest flume which eventually reached 19 miles up into the woods, magnificently trestling itself over defiles, shooting huge logs down to the mills pond. Though the company managed to work through the Depression, it was hard hit by the dragging American economy and come the end of the easy trees, rather than invest heavily in machinery to attack stands on the higher slopes of its timber lease, the company quit cutting on February 15th, 1938, shutting down its saw mill when it ran out of logs the next year.
With only the planer mill still in operation, the community of Lumberton began to dissolve, many of its 49 company houses abandoned, its 150-man boarding house quickly emptying. In December 1940 the whole operation was purchased by Cranbrook Sash and Door which set up a mill at Mineral Lake, some miles west of Lumberton. In 1942 CS&D sold the Lumberton townsite to W.H. (Wilbur) Horner of Calgary who salvaged the site, transporting many of the houses to Cranbrook. Cast in enduring concrete, B.C. Spruces abandoned mill buildings, now roofless shells tucked in the since-grown bush and surrounded by a litter of rusting machinery, look for all the world like a movie set for Flanders of 1917. The noise and dust of Crestbrook Forest Industries neighbouring dry-sort operation add to the illusion of a battle field.
In the Stygian depths below the crest of the Fassiferne is the boundary which separates the Columbia Mountain region from the Rockies, the Interior System physiographic unit from the narrow Eastern System. Though difficult to appreciate because of the screen of regenerating forest and the tail end of the McGillivrays trailing off northwards, the Highway is descending into what H.O. Slaymaker in his chapter Physiography and Hydrology of Six River Basins in Studies in Canadian Geography; British Columbia calls the spectacular topographic feature of the Rocky Mountain Trench. Until the Rockies arose some 70 million years ago, coming easterly out of the Purcells like this, venturers would have had either the proto-Great Plains before them, or they would be on the beach of the Bearspaw Sea. Æons past, the Purcells formed part of the eastern shore of what was essentially a mountainous island. Offshore, silt and calcium carbonate from degrading seashells built up in layer upon tremendous layer, pressing the lower strata into the realm of rock before Gaia raised the Bearspaws bed out of the water and held it to drain and dry in the sun. Beneath Fassiferne, the limestones and shales of the Continental Plate are thin and friable. Buckling under the intolerable pressure generated by the Plates relentless effort to subduct its westward neighbour, the layers heaved up into the Rockies, and a 900 mile long strip of land between the new and the old mountains dropped down a few hundred metres to form a graben, the Rocky Mountain Trench. Scoured out by glaciers and half filled with till and silt, the Trench collects the run-off from the Rockys western slopes and what it doesnt store in its extensive aquifers, it channels off to the Pacific Ocean in the many rivers it engenders. The Fraser, the Thompson, the Columbia, and the Kootenay; all arise in this graben. The aquifers make the Trench an oasis, and waters pooling on the surface make it, like the Kootenay Trench, a significant avian flyway. At Cranbrook, the Rocky Mountain Trench is sixteen kilometres wide, and in the middle, hidden behind the hilly tail of the Purcells McGillivray Range that creeps up its right bank, the Kootenay River hurries southward to Libby, Montana and its big bend back towards Canada.