Away eastbound from the northern limits of Cranbrook, the Crowsnest Highway is accompanied by the original railbed of the B.C. Southern, on the right. Abandoned by the Railway in 1970, it is now part of the Trans-Canada Trail, making its way through picturesque Isadore Canyon as it arrows its way south south-east down the last few metres of the old, scarred face of the Purcells to meet the Kootenay at Wardner. This alignment was Colonel Bakers triumph; it cut off Fort Steele and carried the Railway to Cranbrook, making Baker rich enough so that he could abandon the colonies and comfortably retire home to England within two years of the Railways completion in the autumn of 1898. Some six kilometres beyond the Overpass, the Highway comes to the lip of the Kootenay Rivers valley. Here it is unravelled by a Los Angelesque high speed interchange built in 1972 to shoot the 93/95 north-east across the Kootenay River past Fort Steele, and bend the Crowsnest Highway, now numbered 3/93, south-easterly down the Rivers valley. Historically-minded travellers wont think twice before straying the eight kilometres from the Crowsnest Highway to visit the Fort.
From the interchange one could just glide down the 93/95 into the Valley bottom and up to Fort Steele. The alternative, scenic route, however, is found by following No. 3 a few dozen metres toward Wardner and turning left onto the poorly marked Eager Hill - Fort Steele Road on the down-slope side of the Highway. Particularly suited to bicycles, this road is a partially paved remnant of old No. 95 which bumps its way down into the Kootenays valley through a patchy forest of gray-trunked Lodgepole pines and scrubby cottonwood until it finally rejoins the 93/95 just above the sign to the Original Fort Steele Campground. Whether or not Eager Hill is the alignment of the original 1909 auto-route twixt Cranbrook and The Fort is a matter of conjecture.
Away from the Interchange, its spring-time ditches full of yellow-eyed daisies white and purple and chains of blue bells dancing in the bow-wash of semi-trailer trucks and Winnebagos, the Highway keeps to the terrace on the Kootenays right bank as it carries travellers south-eastward. On the left a sight so familiar to southern Albertans: central-pivot irrigation systems green ¼ square-mile circles of hay. Often in sight on the right is the old B.C. Southern railbed, ploughing across tiny prairies and rolling open slopes of saffron grass where skinny Lodgepoles huddle with an occasional ponderosa pine in dusty open-grown clumps awaiting the next assault by wildfire. Guarding the chain-link fenced compound of the huge BC Hydro switching station, a scattering of ground squirrels stand at attention on their mounds amid the stiff stalks of yellow-flowered sow thistle and whistle the all-clear as intruders pass out of their territory. Nearby, a borrow pit reveals what underlies the thin soil of the trench: uncountable tonnes of smooth-stoned gravel ranging in size from peas to bounders the size of your head. Looking closely, travellers rolling slowly along might just see a deer or two in the shadows, or a foxy coyote nosing the ground for a clue to a meal. But to see the valleys exoticsgrizzlies, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, catamounts and wolvesone must hike up into the highlands away from civilization. In what might be a sentimental reference to the escape from Cranbrook of eleven circus elephants in 1926, or merely a crass attempt to attract tourists by comparing the Rocky Mountain Trench to the African Rift Valley, some locals promote this region as the Serengeti of the North. Thats a stretch. Because it lies in the rain-shadow of the Selkirks and the Purcells, it is usually dry and always very pretty, but campers will hardly be trampled by hordes of antelope. And the elephants? Well, of the 11 absconders, eight didnt wander very far and were quickly rounded up, Tillie was wounded by gunfire and recaptured after 14 days of freedom, Myrtle was mortally shot. And Charlie Ed? Ahh, well; in the dead still of dark nights, when the full moon hides in a cloud-patched sky and the moan of the wind in the pines stiffens the hairs on the soberest of necks, some folks, their senses sharpened after an evening dallying with Dionysus, swear that.... Darn, Charlie Ed was peaceably taken into custody after six weeks of hungry freedom.
Across the valley north-eastward lie the western ranges of the Rocky Mountains, the long Hughes Range to the north separated from the Lizards to the south by the valley of the Bull River. Magnificently prominent are the eight peaks of the four-mile long Steeples Range of the Hughes, naked limestone soaring past 8,000 feet to rake the bellies of careless clouds drifting too low. The Steeples were named in 1858 for the church spires of his English by the fractious and perhaps homesick Lieutenant Thomas Wright Blakiston, formerly of Pallisers expedition. Banked against the vertical faces, slopes of crumbled skree exfoliated from the mountains mass spills down into the forest, keeping the high-climbing Western juniper and Engelmann spruce at bay.
About eighteen kilometres from the Interchange, the Haha Lake Road departs to the right. Like the Wardner Road farther on, and Rosiky Road east beyond the River, the Haha is actually part of the old Interprovincial Highway which was complete from Medicine Hat through to Creston by 1920. The No. 3s 1971 realignment reduced these three to rural side roads. If a cyclist wants a few kilometres respite from The Highways traffic, Haha and Rosiky carry enough of a hard surface to support a centreline over most of their lengths, begin and end on the Highway, and wind through a back-country populated by log cabins and ranch houses, weathered hay-barns and hardy bush cattle. An added attraction on Haha is the site of Mayook Siding1 where in 1929 the Canada Cement Company was loading thousands of tons of gypsum that it had mined from a pit five miles to the south of the Railway. It was sent to the companys cement plant at Exshaw, Alberta, on CPs Mainline 40 kilometres east of Banff.
However, if cyclists opt for the Haha Lake Road, they will miss out on the lo-o-o-ong glide down Steamboat Hill, a freebie, in that one doesnt have to climb to get it. Dont celebrate yet, though: the series of steps up to Elko farther east more than even the score.
Wardner: the euphoric genesis
Having shared a common ditch for a few miles, nearing the Kootenay, the Highway and the old railbed diverge, the former continuing on to bridge the River less than a mile away, the latter angling away to accompany Wardner Road which quickly collects the Haha Lake Road and parallels the River at a respectful distance for a couple of straight kilometres down to the unincorporated settlement of Wardner (753m).
When the old Highway was new, Wardner had bridges at its doorstep and a saw mill in its back yard, but since the timber was all felled and Lake Koocanusa arose to drown the river-front in the early-1970s, the community has nothing much to do except sun itself on the generous, gentle slopes of the Kootenays right bank, eyeing the rare tourist who strays in off the No. 3. It is a nice place: real quiet. On the south edge of town, near the roofless concrete shell of the old lumber mills power plant, is a small provincial park cooling its toes in the Lake. No museum, no motel, no café. One B&B and an attractive little private campground patrolled by an apartment house full of Purple Martins.
Wardner would have faded away like Bull River ten kilometres up the Kootenay had not Dame Fortune decided that the Railway, and the Crowsnest Highway after it, should cross the River at its doorstep. Though it initially possessed the potential to become the Trenchs regional hub, Fate ruined the main chance and even Wardners modest career as a lumber supplier ended years ago, leaving it today but a shade of its Yesterday self.
On February 17th, 1894, Arthur Burroughs Fenwick, formerly captain of Baillie-Grohmans Midge on Kootenay Lake and by 1894 the owner of a ranch a few miles north, registered a pre-emption for a 144-acre parcel of River-fronting land adjacent to a property designated as part of the Crows Nest and Kootenay Lake Railway land grant. It is unlikely that Fenwick initially thought to profit greatly from his pre-emption. His land up the valley was not very productive and he was probably just hoping that his new parcel would grow good crops of hay and maybe grains. He proved up his pre-emption by making the improvements to the property as specified by the Land Act, 1884 and, write Constance and Christopher Graf in their tome, Reflections on the Kootenay: Wardner, B.C., 1897 - 1997 (Christopher & Constance Graf, Wardner, 1997), on June 30th, 1897, the Crown, in consideration of $160 paid, transferred the land to him as Lot 1901.
By 1897 every settler in the Trench knew that the CPR would soon build its Crows Nest Line through the Trench. The North Star mine on Mark Creek a few miles westward had been producing for four years and the River was busy with riverboats slapping themselves upstream with mining supplies, drifting down with cargoes of ore. Ranches were expanding, the Sullivan mine near the North Star was nearly developed and it was evident to loggers that the forests of trees in the region would profitably supply the new Prairie settlers requirement for lumber. All that was needed was a railroad and the Trench would boom. Where, exactly, the right-of-way would lay was the subject of much speculation.
Captain Francis Patrick Armstrong owned some of the riverboats which worked the River. With partners Captain James Daily Miller and James F. Wardner he had formed the International Transportation Company on April 5th, 1897. Armstrong and Wardner, however, believed in diversifying their interests, and on August 16th of 1897 the captains wife, Maria Howden Armstrong, purchased Fenwicks Lot 1901 for one dollar and on September 23rd the property was registered as the townsite of Wardner.
That, as documented by the Grafs, is the legal sequence of events. The actuality of the situation is a little less clear.
Most writers and researchers of East Kootenay history agree that to folks concerned with such matters at the end of the Nineteenth Century, the obvious route for the Crows Nest Line was to curve gently clockwise out of the Elk Rivers valley and across the intervening doab of high land to run up the left bank of the Kootenay to the metropolis of the Trench, Fort Steele, where it would cross the River and then break through the Purcell Mountains to get to Kootenay Lake. That is the modern alignment, but, thanks largely to the supposed avarice of Robert Leslie Thomas Galbraith, long-time resident of the region, former Member of the Provincial Parliament for the district and influential land owner, it wasnt initially built that way. Among the properties that Galbraith owned was the townsite of Fort Steele, and he had early on convinced himself that any railroad into the neighbourhood just had to build its divisional yards at the Fort and make him a wealthy man by buying up vast swathes of his properties. Unfortunately for Galbraith, the CPR did not feel obligated to conform to his expectations. Some historians believe that the Company, as part of the deal which gave it the charter of the B.C. Southern, informally arranged with Colonel James Baker, a former principal in the B.C. Southern, to run directly to Cranbrook, Bakers nascent settlement on Josephs Prairie, and set up its divisional headquarters there on lands that Baker would grant the Company gratis.
No-one has yet uncovered evidence that Baker had this pre-arrangement with the CPR, but the proof, they say, is in the pudding: Cranbrook did in fact become the regional division point with a big rail yards and roundhouse and hundreds of CP employees. In 1897, however, only a select few knew this would happen. There were those, though, who knew that the Railway was not going to run through Fort Steele, and that it would therefore cross the River elsewhere.
The authors Graf, whose family has lived at Wardner for several decades, point out that if it was to avoid Fort Steele, the logical place for the Railway to cross the Kootenay River was at the rock bluff that intruded into the Rivers stream at the southern end of Lot 1901. Directly across the River was a Railway property, the perfect approach to a bridge. As well, the large, level lot that the Railway owned to the north of L.1901 seemed to invite a divisional-sized yards. Indications were strong that the Railway would cross the River at the Bluff, and common sense argued that the divisional headquarters should be located on the nearby lands. As well, being about midway between an inexhaustible supply of coal at Hosmer and the Elk River Valley, and several huge lodes of ore at Moyie and Kimberley, and with the largest river in the region rushing past its shores, the location just begged for a smelter. For the right promoter, Lot 1901 could be a gold mine.
Enter James F. Wardner. He was an old-time wheeler-dealer who had come to the American Northwest to make his fortune, and into the Kootenays to expand it. He was one of the first to ship ore from the Slocans, and as the CPR began organizing its push into the Kootenays, Wardner formed the International Transportation Company with riverboat owner Captain Armstrong and his partner, Captain Miller, and prepared to assist the Railway by running supplies up the Kootenay from the Great Northern mainline at Jennings, Montana. Not only had Wardner known the CPRs vice president, Thomas G. Shaughnessy, since boyhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but he had been involved with him in a lucrative Rossland, B.C., land deal in 1896. Perhaps Shaughnessy had let it slip that CP was displeased with R.L.T. Galbraith. However he found out, apparently Jim Wardner knew that Fort Steele would be by-passed.
It remains a mystery how and when the deal between Fenwick and Wardner, et al, took place. Likely a handshake over a glass of refreshment sometime in the early weeks of 1897. Fenwick had engaged surveyor Thos. T. McVittie determine the boundaries of Lot 1901 in early 1896 and register his notes on February 6th of that year. Now McVittie was again employed to stake building lots and streets and draw up the aforementioned townsite plan which Mrs. Armstrong would have registered in September of 97. While he was at it, McVittie surveyed Lot 2374 adjoining L.1901 to the south for its pre-emptor, J.A. Humphreys.
Thorough investigation by the Grafs has failed to reveal how Thomas Crahan of Helena, Montana, came to own part of what was by then referred to as the Wardner townsite. However it came about, on April 5th of 1897 Crahan and Company began aggressively selling building lots in Wardner from its offices in the Rookery Building in downtown Spokane. Sales were reportedly brisk, Crahan promoting Wardner as the Omaha of East Kootenay, bruiting the news that an major unnamed corporation had secured property just downstream from the proposed site of the Railways bridge and would soon be building. Deciding that his efforts would be more effective if he moved to Wardner and began improvements to the raw townsite, on April 29th Crahan closed his offices and with a group of his investors, boarded the Gwendoline which chugged up the River and obligingly nosed ashore at the Townsite on May 1st, 1897. At 2100 hours Crahan disembarked, beginning his residency at the town which the Grafs credit him for fathering.
A tent town centred upon Crahans canvas-covered townsite office sprang into existence sheltering a 50-bed hotel and a restaurant. In advertisements running in Spokanes Spokesman-Review Crahan spared no verbiage in explaining to prospective buyers how the conjunction of the Railway and the riverboat routes and the impending raising of a smelter was going to turn Wardner into the queen of the East Kootenays. On May 10th it was announced that the Government had reserved a quarter of the townsites lots. Sales sky-rocketed as speculators and workers alike rushed upon the new town. On June 24th Fred. E. Simpson and Horace T. Brown commenced publishing the weekly Wardner International, keeping track of the action.
By the end of June Captain M.D. McCall was howling logs into lumber on the riverbank with the sawmill that the M.P. Zindorf Construction Company of Seattle had sent up from the States. Called the Kootenay Lumber and Manufacturing Company, the mill soon had orders for 200,000 board-feet of lumber. The noise of construction was pervasive from dawn till sundown as stores and hotelsFrank McCabes International, Robert Littles Kootenay House, Martin Crahan and Hugh L. Stevens Wardnerwere thrown up. George Stabler added to the din with his blacksmithing. To connect the settlement to the Kalispell Trail which had worn its way into the turf on the left bank of the River, Crahan had established a reaction ferry under the captaincy of Thos. Michaud. On a fine bank of clay just off the Kalispell Road, Thomas and Krumrie began making bricks. Near the ferry landing on the town side, the International Transportation Company built its warehouse, preparing to receive supplies and equipment with which the CPR would build its bridge. That September 29th Ms. Clara C. Warren began teaching school classes in the log hut Fenwick had raised in 1894. With Frank McCabe mastering the mails in his International Hotel, a telegraph line to Spokane clicking with the latest news, church congregations meeting regularly in the spacious dining room of the Wardner Hotel, the Robins Brothers Wardner Transfer Company waggons distributing freight, Leroy Sages Wardner and Fort Steele Passenger and Express Line coaches speeding passengers to and fro, the N-WM Police looking for barrack space, and surveyor McVittie laying out an addition to the townsite on a lot crown-granted to J.A. Humphreys on October 30th, Wardner looked set to prosper. Even F.W.G. Haultain, the premier of the North-West Territories, had purchased a pair of building lots.
Wardner: the disappointment
In early 1897, when CP had finally resolved to build into the B.C. Interior through the Crowsnest Pass and had sent out surveyors to stake the alignment, the Company realized that it was faced with five major bridging jobs; over the St. Marys River just west of Lethbridge, over Pincher Creek at what is now Brocket on the eastern slope of the Rockies, over the Elk at the western mouth of the Crowsnest Pass, over the Goat River near Creston, and over the Upper Kootenay. At over 500 feet in length, the latter would be the biggest on the B.C. portion of the Line. Finally choosing to cross the Kootenay at the Bluff just south of the Wardner townsite, CP leased the warehouse of the International Transportation Company on the Rivers right bank, built another, called them Camp 17 and directed its bridging contractors for the eastern portion of the Crows Nest Line, McGilvary and Leeson, to begin construction. M&L charged civil engineer Charles R. Ward with the job. By paddle-wheeler from Jennings, hardware and tools were delivered in the early spring of 18982 and work on the Bridge was well progressed by the time the grading crews, following the easy line out of the Elk River valley and around the southern claws of the Lizard Range, reached the River on June 7th, 1898. The bridge, covered timber Howe trusses set on four concrete piers, was nearly complete when the Cranbrook Herald reported that Foley Brothers crews, laying track at the rate of three miles a day, arrived at the Kootenay on Friday, July 29th at 1400 hours. Hard against the Rivers left bank was the deep-water channel used by riverboats. Because of the amount of freight moving through Jennings threatened to overwhelm the facilities in the little port, CP decided to deliver by rail the 80-foot long steel swing-span that would bridge the channel, so the Company ordered that a temporary span be placed over the gap. At 1500 hours on Saturday, the 13th of August, 1898, the first locomotive chuffed across the Upper Kootenay River. Regular service commenced on the 18th.
The arrival of the Railway in their settlement should have been a euphoric moment for the citizens of Wardner. There were not, however, all that many folks left.
The town had continued to roar with optimism during the spring of 1898 as the bridging crews laboured over the Rivers swift waters. Milo Monroe completed his Fort Steele Roadhouse by the far ferry landing in January, the same month that Chris Echstrom opened his Railroad Headquarters Hotel in the central business district. That month, too, the B.C. Provincial Police in the person of Frank McCabe began to assist the Wardner detachment of the N-WMP. In April two more hotels, the Clementine, and Bergman and Ripsteins Central, opened. CPs telegraph service strung a line through town. George Cormack and Ernest Livenmore had acquired the Robins Brothers operation from ex-North-West Mounted Police captain M.B. White-Fraser in April and were sharing the passenger transfer business with M.H. Murton, taking advantage of the Railways tote roads and other waggon trails which were netting the countryside as an estimated 10,000 migrants swelled into the District. However, by the time the timber bridge was completed the CPR was already building its divisional yards and headquarters in Cranbrook. Almost overnight the streets were deserted and the hotels and boarding houses left empty as their owners and clientele packed up and followed the Railway to booming Cranbrook or rushed to the Klondike. All the residents of Wardner who were able left, as did the staff of the Wardner International who transferred their 10-ton printing plant to the premises of the Cranbrook Herald and closed their office on June 30th. Zindorf had withdrawn from Kootenay Lumber and Manufacturing Company and on December 16th, 1897, Captain McCall took a new partner, John Sucksmith, and renamed the operation the Wardner Saw and Planing Mills Company. Sucksmith kept the mill running until reduced orders forced him to idle the plant in September of 1898.
By then Wardner was a mighty quiet place. The CPR didnt even bother to erect a station, satisfied to build a crude, cable-wrapped water tower and a shack for a section house.
Particularly bitter must have been George Gurd and Sir James D. Edgar who, trading on their acquaintanceship with members of the CPRs upper echelons, had bought the Wardner Townsite Company lock, stock and barrel from Jas. Wardner and associates on the previous January 24th. In 1897 alone over 1500 mining claims had been staked in the East Kootenays, and with the nearby North Star, St. Eugene, and Sullivan already producing, Gurd and Edgar knew that a local smelter would reward investors and make land-owners rich. They suggested that they could undertake the project, perhaps encouraged by the fact that their contacts at the CPR didnt disagree that, with its abundant limestone and water nearby, and its location smack-dab between endless measures of coal and the best mines, Wardner would be a good place for a smelter. However, within a month of Gurd and Edgar buying Wardner the Company had purchased Fritz Heinzes smelting operation in Trail and, with pockets lined well enough to easily afford improvements, it would use its transportation net to deliver the ore of the East Kootenays thither. No longer was the word smelter linked with Wardner. Come August, with the CP crews moved on, Gurds and Edgars investment was worth nothing. Not even Ottawa designating Wardner as a Port of Entry on June 20th could save the settlements fortunes. Fifty-three weeks later, with Wardner moribund and down to a population of about a dozen, Ottawa transferred the P.O.E. to Fernie. For lack of pupils, Wardners new little school closed its doors on October 10, 1899.
Crows Nest Pass Lumber Company, Limited
A small outfit, when it ran out of local orders for building lumber in the autumn of 1898, the Wardner Saw and Planing Company was forced to shut its operations down. Despite the little companys failure, it was obvious that there was money waiting to be made from the seemingly endless stands enormous trees which blanketed the region. It would take business expertise, financial backing and a bit of luck to profit from the wealth.
Peter Lund and John Breckenridge were long-time partners who possessed such attributes. Breckenridge was a Scotsman who had worked his way into the American Northwest where in 1886 he took a construction contract on the Northern Pacific mainline. That completed, he stayed in the Cascades running his own logging shows and doing a little railroad construction on the side. In Nelson in 1896 he met Lund, a second-generation American of Swedish descent then resident in Spokane who had laboured laying the CPR Mainline across the Prairies before getting into the timber business in southern B.C. and northern Washington. Their first venture, according to the Grafs, was to lay some of Nelsons waterworks infrastructure. It was a success and, with CP beginning to organize the construction of the Crows Nest Line, Lund and Breckenridge formed a partnership and won several contracts, primarily the supply of ties, timber and balks, notably to McGilvary and Leeson for the construction of the Wardner rail bridge. Their reliability was appreciated, and when they bid for the contract to build CPs Kimberley branch, they won. They did further small jobs for CP, some work for Jim Hill and come the 3rd year of the Twentieth Century, with their partnership strong and their finances healthy, they were looking for challenging opportunities.
To Peter Lunds experienced eye, the site of Wardner appeared ideal for a lumber mill. There was timber standing thick on the nearby hillsides and valley bottoms. Railroad and river transport was at hand. Goose Island split the River just upstream from the Railways big and, suitably piled, the channel between the Island and the townsite would make a suitable log impounding pond. If he and Breckenridge could just acquire the properties needed, financing could be arranged, a mill built and huge profits realized.
The properties needed were Goose Island and a part of Lot 2374 abutting the Wardner townsite to the south. J.A. Humphreys, who had gained Crown patent to L.2374 on October 30, 1897, had subsequently sold a one/third interest each to Robert Leslie Thomas Galbraith and T.T. McVittie. On December 30th, 1901, William Carlin of Fort Steele bought a large piece of L.2374 outright for $500. Goose Island was owned by R.L.T. Galbraith.
While negotiating with CP to buy the timber standing on the Companys tracts in the St. Mary River valley, Skookumchuck and elsewhere in the Trench, Breckenridge and Lund approached Carlin with a proposal. His portion of Lot 2374 could stand as part of his investment with Lund and Breckenridge in a large lumbering operation. Carlin liked the deal and on September 27th, 1902, he, Lund, Breckenridge, Alfred Doyle of Fort Steele, and one or two others, formed the Crows Nest Pass Lumber Company with Breckenridge as president, Carlin as Vice-President and Lund as Secretary-Treasurer. On October 11th Carlin transferred his portion of L.3274 to CNP Lumber (the company would secure the remainder of the Lot in 1907), and for Goose Island, Galbraith extracted an outrageous $600 from the company on October 3rd. Completing its initial property purchases, in the spring of 1903 it bought ITCs old warehouse on the riverfront for storage.
With the needful property in hand and rights to extensive timber stands of Western White pine, yellow pine, cedar, tamarack and fir secured, CNP Lumber began building its plant. To cut lumber to construct the new mill building, the Grafs hazard that the old Wardner Saw and Planing Company equipment was revived and began cutting in late March, 1904. Out on the River, a pile driver was noisily pounding poles into the riverbed in a line extending upstream from the tip of Goose Island and between the shore and the lower end of the Island, building an impound pond to trap the logs which the timbermen would float down the River in the spring. Bringing its standing timber inventories to around 800,000,000 board-feet, that April CNP Lumber acquired extensive limits in the upper St. Mary River valley from the North Star Lumber Company. Main timber camps were established on the St. Marys and at Canal Flats and fallers set to work bringing the big trees down.
With nearly $200,000 of investment capital available, the plant that CNP Lumber was building was going to be the one of the most modern, efficient operations in the world. Most of the machinery from the two huge primary steam engines to the saws and carriages came from the Waterous Engine Works Company of Brantford, Ontario. In consultation with H.B. Gilmour, Waterouss representative in B.C., instead of the huge radial saws employed in most mills, CNP Lumber chose to install two enormous band saws which, capable of cutting on both the forward and the return motion of the carriage, would each be able to output 7500 board feet per hour. Much of the operation would be automatic, including the stokers which were to feed the saw dust and shavings into the fireboxes the four boilers which powered the steam engines. From the saws and the trimmers the green lumber would either be stacked in the yard to cure or delivered into a 50,000 board-foot per day drying facility manufactured by the Standard Dry Kiln Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota. In the planer plant, four large planes would smooth the rough lumber to the required dimensions and cut-off saws cut it to length. Under the careful management of Peter Lund, sometime in early December of 1904 the big wheels began turning and the first log was milled.
The CNP Lumber operation was tremendous, but seasonal, for when the water froze in the impound pond and the sap in the logs stiffened in the cold, work stopped and the employees were released with the hope that they would return when the spring sun thawed the pond. And return they did, to the airy bunkhouses and fragrant cookshack built beside the mills, and the little family cottages in town. Indeed, many men never left the area, joining the timbermen in the woods who kept on cutting all winter and in the spring drove their logsa phenomenal 14 million feet of them in 1906down the Kootenay to CNP Lumbers catchments pen in the River at Steamboat Hill. From the pen rafts of logs were guided down a couple of miles to the mills impound pond.
In a resuscitated Wardner the hotels were again booked, stores and places of recreation made money. The little school was re-opened in 1903 and was so over-crowded by 1912 the Wardner School District built the two-room Big School. The long-postponed Presbyterian church, St. Andrews, was finally completed in 1909. Other churchs services were held often in the CNP Lumbers reading room. Seeking to maximize profits, CNP Lumber decided to open a retail store in the old brick townsite office which it bought from Eleanor Gurd for $1,000 in March of 1906. On June 6, 1907, a sizeable portion of the old business district burned, including the Wardner Hotel which the new owner,3 rancher Robert Henry Bohart, soon rebuilt using part of the old Clementine building.
With Wardner humming happily to the tune played by the saws in the mill, CP decided that the community deserved a station. Likely when it replaced the swing-span with a fixed bridge over the by-then unused steamboat channel in 1901, the Company had built a section house with a dormerd, hipped gambrel roof. To serve CNP Lumber, CP laid out a yards in which to marshal timber bunks and lumber cars, and replaced the old cable-bound water tank with a new, octagonal tower probably in the spring of 1905. However, not until July of 1906, according to the research information presented by Charles W. Bohi and L.S. Kozma in their Canadian Pacifics Western Depots: The Country Stations of Western Canada (South Platte Press, David City, Nebraska, 1993), did CP raise a station near the water tower and the section house on the north side of town. It was a typical two-storeyd construction with a hipped roof and a long express shed attached to its town-side end. The swing-span was replaced by a fixed bridge in 1901 as steamboats no longer sailed the Upper Kootenay. Having had one of its abutments seriously undermined by spring floods in 1908, and been mauled by a log-jamb the next year, the old wooden bridge was replaced in 1909 by three long steel spans. This was damaged by floods in 1916 and another, the last, bridge was built.
The province, too, contributed to Wardners transportation infrastructure when in the first week of May of 1910 it completed the Government Bridge, a red-painted, wooden truss structure to carry road traffic across the Kootenay. It made Wardner a cross-roads of sorts. Hotelier R.H. Bohart began a stage service to Bull River and Fort Steele that December 15th. On the following July 11th, Bohart guided his brand-new Tudhope-Everitt automobile across the spans after having driven through the Rockies from Calgary, the first motorist to do so.4
Lumber prices crept ever upwards in the 19-aughts, and in 1909 big money from the United States came to the Kootenays looking to buy viable operations with large timber limits. Though much of the easy timber had been cut by then, CNP Lumberthrough Lund and Breckenridgestill held 40,000 acres of forest in the St. Marys watershed and in the valleys of the Lizards and south towards the Boundary. In early April of 1909 E. Golden Filer and Associates of Manistee, Michigan, used $1.2 million to convince Lund, Breckenridge, et al, to sell their CNP Lumber. Lund, who, after the death in 1903 of his wife, Mary, had forsaken the attractions of Cranbrook in 1904 and moved into a mansion he built at Wardner, was retained as manager by the new owners.
Filer increased the capital stock of CNP Lumber from $250,000 to $2.6 million, enabling the company to expand its field of operations dramatically. By January of 1910 No. 1 mill at Wardner was producing 150,000 board-feet daily, No. 2 at Marysvillebuilt in 1908was up to 40,000 and a new mill, No. 3, at Galloway some 20 kilometres easterly from Wardner, was cutting 60,000. From Galloway, later that year, the companys first logging railroad was snaked out into the woods toward Manistee Lake and a three-foot gauged Shay was employed dragging timber bunks into the mill.
In Wardner new housing was raised for the mill workers, and in 1911 a huge, cylindrical Manistee Iron Works incinerator was built. The incinerator was water-jacketed, and the steam produced powered the engines.
In 1911 operations were expanded to the Norbury region north of Bull River where Camp 8 was established at he head of a line of narrow gauge which was worked by a little Shay until the shows abandonment in 1916. From the Norbury, the Skookumchuck and the St. Marys valley downstream from the No. 2 mill, logs were still driven on the spring meltwaters down to Steamboat Hill where they were caught, penned and eventually boomed down to the Wardner mill.
On August 7th, 1913, a fire which had started in the wooden walled power house at the Wardner mill spread to the planer mill and consumed both. The structures were immediately replaced, with the powerhouse rising in concrete, the shell of which survives in 1999 roofless and reviled by the less historically-minded villagers.
Peter Lund retired from CNP Lumber in March of 1915.5 A farmer at heart, while running CNP Lumbers day to day operations he had accumulated an some 15,000 acres of land in the Trench upon which he tested different crops and farming methods, setting up experimental stations at Wardner and at Marysville, 600 feet higher in elevation. His grand mansion in Wardner had burned down in February of 1915, soon after which he reportedly sold his farms and with Alice neō Couzans to whom he had wed in 1905, moved to Lethbridge and opened a lumber, hardware and machinery company with his son, Roger Charles. They soon sold that business to Beaver Lumber and Peter took up farming full time near Coaldale for a few years before moving to Spokane where he died on December (April?) 6th, 1935.
The companys third, forth and fifth logging lines were all standard gauge an branched out from the Kootenay Central at Wasa in 1912, Skookumchuck in 1916 and, again, at Norbury in 1922. Working these lines were a pair of engines, the N. Dowen and the Will Baker, from the Heisler Locomotive Works of Erie, Pennsylvania. By the time an arsonist levelled most of the No. 1 plant on August 4, 1930, these lines were little used as most of the trees within reach had been cut. Despite the lack of timber, the mill was rebuiltalbeit at a much reduced scaleand found employment until the huge forest fires of July, 1931, wiped out most of the remaining timber. That September 10th CNP Lumber closed its Wardner operation. The machinery in the sawmill was sold off and the big incinerator was salvaged for scrap in August of 1940, but enough equipment remained in the planer mill could be reactivated during W.W.II to handle small jobs. CNP Lumber kept the mill working until February 29th, 1956, drawing timber by truck from the St. Marys River limits of George McInnes, selling out later that year to the newly formed Crestbrook Timber Limited of Cranbrook. The Crows Nest Pass Lumber Company, Limited, dissolved on July 23rd, 1957.
Crestbrook had purchased the Wardner planer to assist the efforts of its Parsons saw mill, but a fire there in the early spring of 1958 derailed the companys plans and that May Crestbrook sold the remains of the No. 1 mill to the three Graf brothers of Wardner. In the tie and timber business, Vern, Fred and Wilfred had a portable mill in the woods which they had bought from their father, Robert, and sold rough timber to CP, Galloway Lumber and CNP Lumber. When they acquired the old CNP Lumber planer mill at Wardner, the brothers incorporated the Graf Bros. Lumber Company, moved their saw mill down next to the planer and sent finished lumber to the booming Calgary construction market. The failure of their buyer in Calgary combined with discriminatory provincial cutting quotas destroyed the business and four years later to the month the brothers sold the operation to Cranbrook Cartage and Transfer, Limiteds affiliate, Galloway Lumber Company. CC&T salvaged what it could from the mills and abandoned the site in 1963.
Wardner by the 1950s had settled into comfortable semi-retirement, sending workers out to the rare logging shows, waving at the passing trains and pumping gas and coffee for motorists on the Highway which still crossed the Kootenay at the foot of town on three spans of steel truss bridging with which the government replaced its original bridge in 1927. Anton and Josephine Rosicky, likely retiring from their agricultural pursuits across the River, bought the King Edward Hotel in 1929,6 keeping themselves busy until 1940. Improvement to the No. 3 Highway in 1947-48 necessitated changes to the bridges approaches and Wardners main drag, Laurier Avenue. The Railway had removed its water tank when it adopted the diesel locomotive in the mid-50s, and pulled up much of CNP Lumbers unused sidings. In 1966, having abandoned passenger traffic on the southern mainline January 17th, 1964, it salvaged the station, too.
On August 13, 1966, their coastal industries hungry for electricity and their orchards thirsty, the Americans, under the provisions of the 1964 Columbia River Treaty, set their Corps of Army Engineers to work constructing the Libby Dam on the Kootenay River, about 50 miles south of the Boundary. At 3,055 feet long and 420 feet high, it was designed to impound 58 million acre-feet of water, much of it in Canada. In anticipation of the flood that would drown the mid-reach of the upper Kootenay valley, CP, compensated to the tune of some $12 million, re-routed its B.C. Southern over a bridge it built in 1970 at Fort Steele, 25 miles upstream from Wardner, ripped the rails from its original right-of-way between Wardner and Cranbrook, and lifted its Wardner bridge, sending the spans over to the upper Elk valley where track was being laid into the coal operations being developed there. The Ministry of Transport and Highways re-aligned the Crowsnest Highway, flying it over the River on the new 1971 span just upstream from Wardner, leaving the old Highway chopped off at its abutment. In July of 1973 the dam itself was completed and the dedication ceremonies took place on August 24th, 1975. One of the perquisites of the deal was that the resultant lake, Koocanusa, would be a wonderful recreation venue, drawing tourists and cottagers to the region, enriching communities, primarily Wardner. Unfortunately, control of the dam is vested in the Bonneville Power Corporation, which releases Koocanusas waters at its pleasure. This means that, come the height of the tourist season in B.C., the Lake has been nearly drained for irrigation and power generation south of the Boundary. The result is a huge, water-scrubbed seasonal cow pasture where once a charming river valley used to be.
Abandoned by the Railway, the Highway, and the lumbering industry, robbed of its lovely old river, Wardner is close to vanishing. All that is left of the only gas station and garage in town are pieces of its concrete foundation hiding in the riverside grass by the old bridge abutment. The local postal bureau, formerly in a big, white multi-storeyd house overlooking the river and the gas stations detritus, is now a collection of super boxes and a red post box situated by the abutment to which residents must come to pick up their mail and send letters. Any transactions more complicated have to be accomplished at Jaffray, over 20 road kilometres eastward on The Highway. The settlements fourth school, completed in 1961 to replace the 1930 building, closed in the spring of 1982. Now the kids go to Jaffray or Cranbrook for their education. When they graduate they dont come back. The building is pressed into service as a community centre, the swings and teeter-totter sparingly used. The old 2,323 yard-long, nine hole golf course attracts some swingers, but Wardner cant offer them a beer or a sandwich after their game, so watches them speed off down the Highway to spend their money elsewhere.
The Kootenay Central Railway
From the Wardner Road it is only a few hundred metres to the middle of the narrow, concrete-decked bridge which since 1971 strips the Crowsnest Highway of its shoulders and squeezes it over the tip of the dam-drowned Kootenay River. From the Bridges eastern end a long, inclined causeway carries the Highway dead straight over the Railway and up into a cut through the ochre quartzite ridge which crowds the River from the east. Enjoying the view from the guard-rail at mid-span, you dont appreciate how narrow this bridge really is until the moan of eighteen aggressively treaded tires announces the rapid approach of a loaded logging truck. It is a disconcerting sight, that pile of logs swaying and see-sawing along at 65 miles an hour behind a big, old Kenworth or Pacific. With each dip in the pavement, the wheels of the vehicle seem to side-step first one way, then the other. As the critical moment of its passing nears, your imagination begins to examine the chains holding the load in place, questioning the integrity of each of the hundreds of links. To the outfit that owns that chain, does the term metal fatigue mean that every piece of equipment has a working life after which it must be retired and recycled, or is it merely an explanatory phrase with which to shrug off another accident? Had you never seen loads of logs sprayed into a ditch after having broken free from its transport, it wouldnt cross your mind that the nervous twitch teasing the corner of the eye that you are keeping on this on-rushing truck was anything but the first sign of some age-related infirmity, and perhaps you suddenly understand why some cyclists are occasionally possessed by the crazy idea that the safest place to ride is on the shoulder facing the traffic so that they might take evasive action should they see an emergency developing.
The truck gone in a blast of air, one can relax for a moment. The Kootenays valley is beautiful here, wide and lush terraces gently easing down into the waters of Lake KoocanusaKOOtenayCANadaUSA. To the south and west behind Wardner, the last hills of the McGillivray Range straggle up the Lakes shore only to melt away before they much disturb the Highway. To the distant south-east, the raw Galton Range of the Rockies, greys on hard-edged mauves, marches north from the United States to define the eastern edge of the Trench. North-east and near, the hard, dark slates and quartzites of the Lizard Range extends the Hughes Range down onto the Elk Rivers doab, Punjabi for that point of land between two converging rivers. Below the Bridge, the waters of the Kootenay, placid and verdantly verged, have slowed as they pour into the tail of Lake Koocanusa, so far away from Libby Dam that the Lake takes up not much more of the Valley than the spring-flooding River did before it.
To look at the River now, dammed, deserted and devoid of its border of trees, ones imagination is hard-pressed to appreciate that it was for centuries a primary transportation corridor. For the Ktunaxa, and the Uto-Aztecan SnakeShoshoneIndians that they displaced, this was a highway, and it was they who showed it to the first Whiteman to map its route, David Thompson of the North West Company. Gradually a trail was trampled into the left bank as Whites seeking wealth in stream and stones invaded the region, found what they were looking for and summoned riverboats to haul it away. Snags and the treacherous Jennings Canyon limited boats lives to months, and needing reliable transportation to carry away Gaias bounty, men sent in the Railway.
Downstream, arcing across the emerald and mountain-flowered pasturage of Koocanusas far shore, diverging from the old right-of-way and its line of concrete bridge piers breaking the Lakes turquoise surface when demand for water has been high below the Boundary, the rails of the Crows Nest Line appropriate several miles of Kootenay Central Railway trackage as it arrows up the Rivers left bank heading for Fort Steele.
The Kootenay Central Railway Company (KCR) was incorporated by Robert Leslie Thomas Galbraith, James Albert Harvey, Dr. Hugh Watt, Judson B. Langley, Wm. Roderick Ross, and Dr. Jas. H. King, and on May 11th, 1901 was granted a federal charter to connect the CPR Mainline at Golden to the B.C. Southern in the Kootenay Rivers valley, with an option to extend to the Boundary. The company was also permitted to operate steamboats on the Kootenay, generate electricity, build and operate smelters and telegraph systems. From the outset, its president, C.H. Pollen of Cranbrook, intended to partner with CP to build the line. Seeing little revenue-generating potential in the Trench, CP was as unenthusiastic about the project and the one million dollars worth of shares authorized under the KCRs charter went largely unsubscribed. In 1903 the government of Canada gifted the company with a subsidy of $6,400 per built mile and made a small cash grant which Pollen spent surveying part of the right-of-way. Mainly to prevent J.J. Hill from gaining further access to its turf, and likely with an eye on the timber in the Trench, CP took the small company in hand in 1904, writes J.A. Eagle in The Canadian Pacific Railway and the Development of Western Canada, 1896-1914. Attending to the KCR only when compelled by its competition, the CPR finally completed the right-of-way survey in May of 1910. Though the subsidy had been renewed in 1906, and was again in 1910 and 1912, and the Company had laid twelve miles of the line south from Golden by 1908, it looked as if a completed Kootenay Central would remain Pollens fading hope. The fact was that the stagecoaches which jounced along the Colonization Road between Cranbrook and Golden served well the few passengers who needed to make that connection. Freight, too, could be paddle-wheeled and waggoned to almost any place in the valley. Pollen was unflagging in his efforts to make his dream reality, however, and arranged for provincial subsidies and concessions from the City of Cranbrook to be awarded to the lines builder. With the Great Northern still mulling over the potential of running a spur at least as far as Fort Steele from Baynes Lake on its Crows Nest Southern, T.G. Shaughnessy of the CPR shrugged his shoulders sometime in 1910; what-the-hell: build-it. On January 1st, 1911, CP leased the KCRs charter for 999 years, dropped a switch into its BC Southern line near the eastern end of the Wardner railroad bridge, built a station named Colvalli7 and began to lay rail northward up the Trench. The steel reached Fort Steele by 1912. Slowly, with the help of the last riverboat to work on the Kootenay River, the F.P. Armstrongwhich was purpose-built for the projectCP continued on up the Trench through the hordes of mosquitoes which drove men and horses to distraction and hammered home the KCRs last spike in December of 1914. Not very hospitable to agriculture, the Trench failed to hold much of a population. The KCR, though it offered passenger service,8 made most of its money from hauling logs, primarily down to the huge Crows Nest Pass Lumber mill at Wardner. After the easy timber was cut out of the Trench by the 1930s, the KCR had declined to a little used side line.
In 1959, in anticipation of shutting down the Coquihalla Section of its Kettle Valley Railway, CP upgraded the KCR to handle its traffic between the East Kootenays and the Mainline. By that time, however, most freight and passengers travelled by road, so, as Adolf Hungry Wolf, writer-in-residence in the Upper Kootenay valley, points out in his Rails in the Canadian Rockies (Good Medicine Books, Invermere, B.C., 1979), CPs income from the KCR remained small. In 1969, though, Japanese steel makers signed a long term contract to buy millions of tons of Crowsnest Pass coal. The most expeditious, all-Canadian way to get that commodity to the loading facility at Roberts Bank south of Vancouver was to load it on unit trains made up solely of bathtub hopper cars and haul them up the old Kootenay Central to Golden. On March 16th, 1970, states D.M. Bain in volume eight of Canadian Pacific in the Rockies (The British Railway Modellers of North America, Calgary, 1982), the first train left the Crowsnest coal fields. Thirty years later the service continues, with a minimum of three trains a day weighing around 15,000 tonnes each rumbling over the KCR.
The Wardner-Fort Steele (Bull River) Road alternative
Its a chameleon, the Wardner-Bull River-Fort Steele Road. At its Fort Steele end it is called the Wardner Road, and at its Wardner end, naturally, the Ft. Steele Road. However, depending upon your destination, these arent iron-bound appellations. If U are heading for the community of Bull River, U are on the Bull River Road, and even if U are within a stones throw of either end of the Road, if U are heading towards that end, U are on the road for which that end is named. Whatever U end up calling it, the Road is a pleasant, 35-odd kilometre-long length of pavement roaming down the left bank of the Kootenay River, connecting the No. 93/95 at Fort Steele to the Crowsnest Highway at the Wardner bridge.
Turning left onto 93/95 from Fort Steeles parking lot, one can cruise up a mile and turn right onto the Wardner Road at the big Esso gas station/campground, its main buildings fortified in keeping with the theme set by its neighbour. Not a mile along, the Road dips down into the washed out spoil of the Wild Horse Creek valley with its informal campsite near the River. Here departs northward Wild Horse Creek Road, a loose-surfaced and narrow car path built upon the last few kilometres of Dewdneys Trail winding back up towards Fisher Peak to sniff at the collapsing vestiges of old Wild Horse and peter out where Fisherville would have been had it not been washed away by hydraulic mining monitors. In A Travellers Guide to Historic British Columbia, Rosemary Neering reports that volunteers and the East Kootenay Historical Society have tidied the area and placed explanatory signs.
Across the Wild Horses bridge, the Wardner Road looses Fenwick Road branching off to the right to closely follow the Rivers high-banked shore and rejoin at the fish hatchery near Bull River, 27 kilometres from the Esso corner. Rolling along east of the Wild Horses valley, Wardner Road slims to a dimention which barely permits a wide Winnebago to squeeze past one of the dual wheeld, horse-trailer-pulling pick-up trucks which are so popular in this neighbourhood. Vest-pocket horsey ranchettes are scattered among the sizeable spreads with herds of Black Angus beef cattle and hay pastures watered by wheel-move and central pivot irrigation systems reminiscent of southern Alberta. Passing the Forestry Service campground just off the road at Horseshoe Lake, some fifteen kilometres from Fort Steele travellers come to the Norbury Lakes Provincial Campground, a sparsely shaded 46-sited effort which is, typically, showerless. In desperation, soiled campers can squeal enough water from the rusty old armstrong pumps dotting the site to take a chilly sponge bath, and selecting a few sticks from the piles of fire wood, can create enough smoke to hold the squadrons of mosquitoes at bay whilst they dine. But for the mourning of distant coyotes and the interrogations of horned owls, it is a silent night.
It was in this vicinity that Captain Edmund Parker pre-empted a 320 acre homestead in December of 1884. His original plan was to farm, but the soil proved so poor that he was happy to partner with English remittance man F.P. (Frederick) Norbury in 1889 and get into the ranching business. The ranch was successful and Norbury became such an influence in the district that Colonel Baker even named a street in Cranbrook after him. Likewise neighbour Arthur Burrough Fenwick found that he, too, had to give up farming the light soil of the homstead he had pre-empted in 1886, and switch to raising cattle.
The Wardner-based Crows Nest Pass Lumber Company (CNP Lumber) set up its Camp 8 on the Little Bull River, a tributary of Norbury Creek which flows through the Lake,9 in 1911. Using regional creeks connected by flumes, the company floated logs to the Kootenay and down it to a pen of piling driven into the Rivers bed a Steamboat Hill, maybe five miles above Wardner. There the logs were corralled and separated by ownership. Back above the Norbury, where it was impractical to use streams and flumes, CNP Lumber wound a narrow gauge railroad along which a two-truck Shay trundled the bunkers of logs down to water at Camp 8. Deciding to focus its efforts elsewhere, in 1916 the company quit the Little Bull, abandoning camps and equipment including the small Shay which rusted in the bush until captured by W.W.II scrap hunters. In the spring of 1922 CNP Lumber returned to the area, re-established Camp 8 and ran a line of standard gaugethe B.C. government would outlaw narrow gauge in 1923from the CPRs Kootenay Central rails eleven miles up into the heights. Until the operation was finally shut down in 1928, logs of larch, Douglas fir, and Ponderosa pine were dragged by enormous, horse-hauled Michigan wheels to the line where they were piled by a Marion loader onto bunkers which a Heisler, an odd little gear and shaft driven, transversely mounted V-twin-cylinderd steam locie that the company called the Will Baker, hooked into trains and ran down over 6% grades to the Kootenay Central for delivery by CP to the mill at Wardner.
In this neighbourhood, the Road changes its identity, locally called the Wardner-Fort Steele Road. This is an ancient route known well by the Ktunaxa, the Piikani and peoples older still, now forgotten. It was called by the North West Companys famous cartographer and astronomer, David Thompson, the Peigan War Road: Peigan being the Anglicised name of the Piikani, War Road because the warriors of that tribe so frequently came this way to molest the Ktunaxa and the Kinbaskets. One could assume that gold-panners on their way to and from Wild Horse used this trail as alternative to the sometimes soggy Walla Walla Trail down through the Moyie valley. By 1877 it was a well beaten path, especially the 90 miles between Galbraiths Ferry and Michael Phillipps ranch on Tobacco Plains down by the Boundary. Where the Bull River boils through the narrowest neck of its long and famous gorge, was the Old Pack Bridge that District Gold Commissioner William Fernie mentioned in his report for October of 1882 as having been fashioned out of timber that summer by his brother, P.C. (Peter Creake). It was wide and sturdy enough for a light waggon or a sled to use, and was the finishing piece in the trail connecting Galbraiths with both Kalispell in Montana Territory and Fort Macleod on the eastern side of the Rockies in the North-West Territories. In 1895 the Demar and Desrosier haulage company completed a bridge over the marshy Elk River mouth farther south and began using a quartet of heavy four-horse waggons to plod freight between Jennings and Fort Steele in competition with the riverboats. By that time Fernies bridge was pretty flimsy and heavy conveyances had to splash across a ford somewhere near the present Bull River bridge. By 1896, notes the Annual Report of the Minister of Mines, when stage coach owner D.W. Stryker was able to offer hardy travellers a sixty hour bone-bruising passage to Fort Steele from his coaching headquarters in Kalispell, this road was part of a regional network, connecting to the good waggon road which reached down from CPs Mainline at Golden to Fort Steele with branches to Colonel Bakers and Mark Creek Crossing. The old horse-drawn grader that sits abandoned along this stretch of what travellers called the Kalispel Road until the precursor of the 93 was built down from Elko, is a reminder of the importance of this route.
Mining on the Bull
Even on mid-summer mornings, the sun takes its time climbing above the Steeples to finally slip through the pines to peek down upon Norbury Lakes. In the fragrant morning air deer graze in the meadows and badgers grumpily shoulder their way through the greensward of tall roadside grasses. Somewhere beyond the forest, down in the Kootenay River bottoms, a diesel locomotive brays a warning at something too near its tracks. Winding along past mailboxes standing sentry duty at the entrance roads to secluded ranches, the Road eventually begins to descend approaching the Bull River valley. Off to the westward a gravelled road10 heads off into the mountains to follow the right bank of the Bull, cross it and wander on through the mountains past the Bull River Guest Ranch to come to the Crowsnest Highway at Galloway near Jaffray.
Part of the general onslaught of mineralogists that invaded the Kootenays in the last 15 years of the Nineteenth Century, along the Kalispell Road came prospectors drawn by the veins of quartz shot through the hard, dark slates and sugary quartzites which make up the Hughes and Lizard Ranges of the Rockies. In 1898, with the arrival of the Railway in the Trench imminent, miners were hard at work driving adits along the fractured veins on the Dibble claim which had been located on the on the northern end of the Steeples in 1890. It was work wasted: the values of copper, gold and silver found werent worth the effort. Four years later the focus of attention was on Bull Mountain, the peak farther south of The Steeples, about 12 kilometres upstream from the Kootenay. The river had, over the æons, obligingly exposed igneous dykes along the base of its name-sake mountain which showed galena and ores of copper, gold and silver. Among the claims staked were the Cuckoo, Molly Bawn, Twilight, Mable, Nonsuch, Black Prince, Chickamon Stone, Sirdar, Silver Chief, and Silver Reef. By the summer of 1902 the most interesting, however, was the Old Abe on Burnt Ridge where encouraging values of copper were showing. Come 1904, with the construction of the Kootenay Central Railway eagerly anticipated, geological attention shifted to the south side of the Bull, to Fenwick Mountain and its ores of iron that a railroad connection looked to make a viable mine.
Iron Mountain disappointed, and although R. Caldwell spent years and untold dollars on collecting his Caldwell group around the Old Abe, nothing much ever came of his efforts. On the adjacent Chickamon, however, John and J.P. Fink were hopeful that the grey copper ore they found would be heavy enough in gold to warrant development. W.S. Santo thought so, and early in the Twentieth Century gathered his Santo group around the Chickamon and the Copper King. Santos hopes gradually faded and in July of 1928 he sold out to D.H. Wells of Bakersfield, California, who employed seven men to dig out a car-load of ore which was sent to CPs big Consolidated Mining and Smelting works at Trail. It didnt pay costs and the properties lay abandoned until 1971 when the Texas-based Hunt brothers set their Placid Oil Company to diamond drilling on the properties. A lode of ore worthy of investment was located in the Aldridge Formation and so Placid set to work opening the Dalton pit mine. In three years the company took out ore which it milled into nearly a half million tonnes of concentrate for shipment to Japan where it yielded 7,256 tonnes of copper, 6,354 kilograms of silver and 126 kilograms of gold. In 1976 the R.H. Stanfield Holdings Limited of Calgary bought the property and, through the Gallowai Metal Mining Corporation and the Bull River Mineral Corporation, initiated a diamond drilling program that by 1999 had identified a reserve of 5.3 million tonnes running to 2.25% copper with values of silver and gold.
Bull River Hydro
One of the prospectors who wandered down the Kalispell Road in the late 1890s was J.C. (Joseph) Hooker. Like so many of his ilk before him and after, he never struck it rich. However, while contemplating the power of the Bull rushing through its two mile long canyon, he was struck by the idea that the stream could be harnessed to generate electricity for sale at considerable profit to the mines at Kimberley, Moyie and in the Crows Nest Pass. Reports Verdun Casselman in his Ties to Water: The History of Bull River in the East Kootenay (Verdun Casselman, Fort Steele, 1988), with a hard earned $400, on September 15th, 1899, Hooker purchased 400 Crown-held acres along the canyon from its outlet up to its head at Bull Riverknown later as AberfeldieFalls some ten kilometres upstream from the Bulls mouth. With the grant came the placer mining rights to the canyon. Hookers idea was that the gold which assumption had long held must be trapped in the fractured bed of the canyon would be recovered and used to finance the power project.
Though Joe Hooker was probably a pauper, he had an acquaintance who definitely was not. In the spring of 1903 G.E. (George) Henderson and his associate, J.M. Zeller, came up from the neighbourhood of Canton, South Dakota, and adjacent Iowa to look over Hookers prospect and other potential generating sites. Though they liked the Elk River Falls site, when they went back to the United States Henderson and Zeller formed an association with D.S. Grunther to raise money to buy out Hooker and bond the Bull to the service of the Electric Age. Leaving his partners to arrange financing, Henderson returned to B.C. in the autumn of 1903 to work out a plan of development and incorporate the Bull River Electric Light and Power Company (BR Electric) with himself as president and manager, Grunther as vice-president, and major investor Dr. I.W. Pritchard as secretary.
Creating two subsidiaries: the Pritchard Townsite Company and the Gold River Placer Mining Company, BR Electric laid out its Plan to prospective investors. Initial moneys would be applied to the construction of a flume sixteen feet wide by eight feet deep into which the Bulls flow would be diverted and returned to the stream bed below the canyon. From the bed of the dewatered canyon the gold would be collected to finance the construction of a concrete dam at the Falls, a powerhouse below the canyon and a penstock to connect the flume to the powerhouse. In the Autumn of 1904, with the construction of the canyon-side grade for the flume underway, BR Electric made its initial public offering. One dollar would buy the investor one share each of BR Electric, the townsite company and the mining company. Forty thousand shares were eventually sold.
With money incoming, Henderson established a headquarters at Peter Fernies old Pack Bridge, built a camp, set up a sawmill, and supervised Gold River Mining and Power as it continued work on the flumes grade.
When BR Electric announced in 1908 that it had finally completed the grade and was broke, the question likely on every investors mind when asked for a further contribution was Where did the money go? and Is the project still viable? Circumstances had changed in four years. The neighbouring Iron Mountain iron project had died, construction of the Kootenay Central Railway had been suspended, the Crows Nest Pass Electric Light and Power Company had bought the generation rights to the Elk River falls site at Elko in 1906 and would supply electricity to its parent, the Crows Nest Pass Coal Company, and in May of 1907 the B.C. Water Rights Branch had granted a permit to the Cranbrook Electric Light Company, Limited, to harness St. Marys River. Nonetheless, BR Electric was able to raise further funds and Henderson returned to work in 1909, laying out the townsite of Pritchard near the proposed right-of-way of the Kootenay Central and offering lots for sale, and beginning construction of the 9200-foot long flume.
BR Electric was re-incorporated as the Bull River Electric Power Company (BREP) on April 19th, 1910, and Henderson oversaw the completion of the flume that October 13th. The next spring, as the right-of-way for a transmission line to Fernie was being cleared, the Bulls waters were diverted into the flume and the construction of a rock-crib and timber dam at the Falls commenced. With the canyon floor exposed, BREP sent crews scrambled down to recover the long-anticipated gold. They found nothing.
Compounding BREPs problems, in the summer of 1911 the CPR arrived to construct the Kootenay Central bridge over the Bull River. To the consternation of Pritchard property owners, the crews began building it four kilometres away, nearer the mouth of the Bull. A store, a stable and an inn had already been raised on the townsite, and Henderson, bowing to the demands of his conscience while refunding the purchase price of Pritchard lots, arranged for the buildings removal to the new townsite of Bull River on CPR lands. Coupled with the failure to find gold, the relocation wilted BREPs share price and the company was forced to cancel its order for generating equipment as it struggled to finish the dam.
The summer of 1911 saw the dam completed but found BREP broke. Again. Ruled by a tenacious nature, however, Henderson refused to bury his dream and reincorporated BREP as the Bull River Hydro Electric Power Company (BRH) on November 18th, 1911, on the strength of $5000 per year generated by renting the use of the flume to the CPRs Tie and Timber Branch to use as a log conduit, he began scouring the money markets for more cash to build and equip a powerhouse. Unsuccessful in North America, Henderson travelled to Europe in 1913 only to find that war fears had dried up investment. Meanwhile, the logs that the CPR was running through the flume at a water speed of twelve feet per second were smashing the structure. When, empty-handed, he returned, Henderson was appalled and cancelled BRHs agreement with the Company. BRH launched a suit for damages in 1915 when CP, attempting to run its logs through the canyon, resorted to dynamite to clear the resultant jams, further damaging the flume. Though the courts found for BRH, after a decade and a half of struggle Henderson was beaten, and in the spring of 1918 allowed BRH to accept CPs $4,250 as compensation for the ruined flume and walked away.
Albeit Henderson had failed, others, too, recognized that Hookers original idea had merit. Incorporated with American money on February 17th, 1920, the British Columbia and Alberta Power Company (BC&A) bought BRHs assets when the latter liquidated in December of 1920. Evidently not lacking for cash and credit, BC&A immediately began building a concrete dam just downstream from its predecessors. As well, it stripped the top and sides from Hendersons flume and used its deck, falling a perfect 1 foot in 800, upon which to lay a seven foot diameter, 8,340-foot long wooden pipe feeding into a surge tank. To this was connected another seven foot diameter pipe which dropped water a vertical 273 feet to a powerhouse wherein two Francis generators were set to convert the waters 25,000 horse-power potential into five megawatts of electricity.
Seeing the Bull River project nearly completed, Montreal investors organized by BC&As president, Arthur E. Appleyard of Minneapolis, bought out BC&As American owners and, preparing to generate power, applied for a Dominion charter. This was granted on March 29th, 1922 and the East Kootenay Power Company (EKP) came into being under Appleyards presidency. That May 7th the switches in what Appleyard had christened the Aberfeldie plant were closed and power began flowing to Fernie. To mind the operation, a few families were housed in comfortable bungalows near the station. EKP quickly acquired the generating rights to the Elk River falls, built a power station there, and expanded its customer base to include Blairmore, Coleman, Cranbrook and Kimberley. The reduced winter flow of both the Bull and the Elk meant that EKPs delivery was unreliable and CM&Ss power-hogging concentrator at Chapman Camp near Kimberley was frequently cut off. The Big Blizzard of December 15th, 1924, was particularly burdensome as it brought down miles of EKPs transmission lines. Despite its problems, EKP was successful, building new facilities as far away as Sentinel, Alberta, and interconnecting with Calgary Power in February of 1930.
In the late 40s, Engineers found that the Aberfeldie reservoir was heavily silted, reducing its capacity significantly and putting increased stress on the dam. In 1952 EKP made the decision to build a new dam one mile downstream from the old. Ninety feet high, the structure was completed in December of 1953, the year that EKP was interconnected with West Kootenay Power and Light Company. Come the 1960s, the Social Credit government of premier W.A.C. Bennett had decided to incorporate as many of the little power companies as it could buy into B.C. Hydro and Power Authority which it created in March of 1962. In September of 1966, report the B.C. Hydro Power Pioneers in their Gaslights to GigaWatts (Hurricane Press, Vancouver, 1998, ed. Andrew Wilson), B.C. Hydro absorbed EKP, merging its operations the following April 1st. Aberfeldie is a sweet money-maker for the Authority, contributing about 34 gigawatt hours annually to the grid.
Logging the Bull
Three Kay beyond the road to the dam, the Wardner Road drops down the Bull Rivers gravely banks. On the right is a couple of acres of blue metal roofing covering the pools of the provincially-run Trout Hatchery. After three years of construction the hatchery officially opened on June 21st, 1966, though it was in operation for at least a year before then. The first year was quite a disappointment, the first hatch being wiped out by DDT contamination in 1965.
At the bottom of the grade, the Road crosses Bull River on a curved, concrete-decked span which the Highways Department erected in 1993. Of a late Septembers day countless orange Dolly Varden maintain their stations in the deeper pools in the bridges shadow. Gone is the picturesque little Acrow panel bridge that the ubiquitous 44th Field Engineering Squadron from Trail emplaced during the May long-weekend in 1991, replacing the old wooden Howe through-truss span. Downstream, almost within spitting distance of the Kootenay, the CPRs blackened steel through-girder span awaits the next coal drag to Roberts Point.
Looking at the deserted flats on the Bull Rivers left bank, a visitor unacquainted with Casselmans Ties to Water: would unlikely recognize the location as the site of a busy community. Of the scores of houses that once sat upon the flats, few remain. The Bull River Inn, a neighbourhood pub/guest house and occasional café supervising a casual RV campground, is sometimes open and is the only obvious business in the community. A modern structure, the Inn is the latest materialization of a hostelry that has served this area for generations, its predecessor memorably operated by Chas. and Marina Costanzo until 1939.
Of the huge CPR Tie and Timber Branch saw mill that once dominated the flats and kept the community of Bull River bustling for two decades, not a stick remains.
To build its infrastructure on the Prairies in the last years of the Nineteenth Century and first decade and a half of the Twentieth, the CPR required millions of board feet of wood: ties upon which to lay rails, timbers to trestle trackage over valleys, lumber for hundreds of station, ice and section houses, water tanks, coaling towers, platforms, rail cars, cattle guards. Additionally, the European settlers who were beginning to fill up the West clamoured for lumber to build barns and houses.
When it had laid its Mainline and some of its earlier branches, the Company bought most of its wood products from contractors, but it soon concluded that it could cut its own timber at less cost. In agreeing to build the B.C. Southern and the Columbia and Western railways, CP had earned 20,000 acres of land for each mile constructed. This meant that from the B.C. Southern alone, the Company had acquired some three and three-quarters million acres of landover 15,000 square kilometres. Much of this land consisted of Kootenay mountain valleys which, in their lower elevations, were packed with towering stands of Western red-cedar, Western hemlock, white pine and, particularly in the Bull River region, ponderosa pines. Higher up, Western larch and grand and Douglas-firs caught the mountain snows and released the spring meltwaters gently into the rivers below. Blessed with such a wealth of timber and able to pick and choose labourers from among the thousands of immigrants newly arrived in Canada, CP organized its Tie and Timber Branch (T&T) under its Calgary-based Department of Natural Resources and set up its own logging and milling operations.
The Great Fire in the Elk Valley destroyed CPs T&T Branch mill at Fernie on August 1st, 1908. To maintain production, the Company bought the Parker and Thorp operation located on the right bank of the Kootenay River about two kilometres downstream and across from the mouth of the Bull River. Under the local management of E. Mallendaine, for a couple of years Tie and Timber continued Parker and Thorps operation, cutting timber along with Crows Nest Pass Lumber in St. Marys and the Skookumchucks watersheds and floating the logs down to the catchpens staked into the Kootenays bed at Steamboat Hill. There the logs were separated from CNP Lumbers and hoisted into the ex-Parker and Thorp mill nearby, leaving the remainder to be boomed down to CNP Lumbers mill at Wardner. In 1910, though, with its parent company beginning to stake the right-of-way of the Kootenay Central Railway (KCR) along the left bank of the River, Tie and Timber sent crews across and up onto the half million acre Lot 4590 which covered most of the Bull River watershed. That winter they cut 200,000 ties and stacked them by the KCRs right-of-way. Based on that cut and the crews reports of endless forest in the Bull, T&T let a $45,000 contract to the John Galt Engineering Company of Toronto to construct a 25 foot high concrete and timber dam at the mouth of the Bulls canyon to create a 70 acre mill pond. That was done over the winter of 1911-12, and the following spring the Company removed the equipment from the Parker and Thorp site and installed it into a new mill which it had raised on the Bull River flats just below the dam. As soon as the Springs melt waters delivered the ties to the pond, operations commenced.
The CPR laid the Kootenay Centrals rails across its bridge over the Bull River during the summer of 1911 and kept on building northward toward Fort Steele. When the T&T established its Bull River mill, CP laid out a little townsite that it called Tatonga on the flats, emplaced a portable station and raised a coal bunker and a water tank. Renamed Bull River, a community quickly arose. From the Bull River Electric Light and Power Companys defunct townsite of Pritchard up by the old pack bridge, merchant C.E. Benedict had his two buildings dismantled and re-erected on the new townsite where the Company was frantically building houses. So many families with school-aged children had arrived by the end of the summer of 1912 that Miss S.B. Monkley was contracted to begin teaching in September, holding classes in the community hall until a proper school could be built. On September 15th, T.H. Cassidy opened a post office, and on January 22nd, 1913, owner James Bates hosted a grande ball to celebrate the completion of his two-storey, electrically lit, hot and cold running water plumbed, steam-heated Tourist Hotel on Back Street, facing the station. It boasted 11 bedrooms upstairs, a billiards room, dining room, bar and lavatories on the ground level, and a wine cellar in the full concrete basement. By then a Chinese laundry, a restaurant, a pool hall, a dry-goods and a grocery store were serving the community.
As the settlement of Bull River was a-building, T&T was insinuating its operation into the woods. Twenty-three miles up the Bull Camp 6 was established as the major depôt for cutting operations, the centre of an empire that eventually numbered 44 camps large and small. Sometimes accommodating hundreds of men, it would grow to a community with 20-odd buildings which included married couples housing, a poker house, messes, dormitories, barns for pigs and horses and a chicken coop. In the woods surrounding, some permanently stationed employees built private cabins. Camp 6 even had a tennis court and for a few years beginning in April of 1917, a post office called Tanglefoot under the supervision of G. Milroy.
The camps saw most activity in Winter froze the streams and the mill pond, forcing a suspension of operations at Bull River. Then the mill men who were willing were handed axes and cross cut saws and sent up into the woods to help the professional loggers. Trees were felled, limbed and bucked into lengths to fit the saw-carriage in the mill. By ones and two or by the sled-load they were hauled by horse to a stream or one of the three flumesMcMillan Creek, Falls Creek and, the longest at 6.6 kilometres, Tanglefootand carefully stacked into decks to await the spring. When the melt waters were high on the streams, the logs were watered into the streams and flumes and sent scootinghopefullydown to the Bull River where they congregated in their thousands with cut ties for the journey down through the canyon11 where muscle and guts and dynamite cleared the jams and ushered them into T&Ts mill pond. In the pond the logs were separated from the ties, the latter directed into their own pair of flumes which by-passed the mill and fed them onto the tie deck for loading onto rail cars. The logs were floated across the pond to a jack-ladder which dragged them into the saw mill for rough cutting65,000 board feet in two nine hour shifts per day. After a trip through the adjacent planer mill, the finished lumber was stacked in the yards to dry for awhile before being railed out onto the Prairies. On a good year the mill cut 12 million board feet while tie hacks in the woods produced more than 500,000 finished ties.1q
Affairs went swimmingly for Bull River for a few years. In 1918 a real school two storeys high was built on the bench overlooking town. The census for 1921 counted some 500 souls in the settlement, with five to six hundred more working in the dwindling stands of timber up-river. Sixty students, the most ever, attended classes taught by Joan Harris during the 1926-27 school year.
Doubtless the kids were thrilled when Hollywood discovered the attractions of the Bull River. Filmed in the natural drama of the canyon, Priscilla Dean bared her actors soul in Conflict, and B. Mayer and Company shot Hearts Aflame, complete with river men riding logs and a sabotaged dam. Doubtless the fleet of taxis operated by Jostad and Nelsons garage saw good service squiring the actors and crew around the neighbourhood. The good times for the community, however, were rapidly drawing to an end.
The forest fire of August of 1914 consumed an estimated 10 million board feet of cut timber, a couple of camps and trees untotalled, and the blaze of July, 1917, burned 100,000 ties, 1,000,000 board feet of cut timber and more trees. Combined with unrestricted cutting, these events took their toll on the forests once viewed as endless. Nonetheless, when the planer mill burned up on March 13th, 1924, T&T decided that there was enough work left for it to warrant its rebuilding.
Come 1927, however, that decision looked poorly taken. The trees accessible at the lower altitudes were gone: it was time for T&T to move up the Rocky Mountain Trench 95 kilometres to the virgin stands in the Canal Flats region. Camp 6 had been closed in October of 1925, and with its men dispersed to the satellite camps, the winter of 1926-27 was CPs final full campaign on the Bull. That spring of 1927 saw the last big log drive through the canyon. The next season only a few men were sent up the river to cut that last easy trees, salvage the logs left lying around from previous years. On May 8th, 1928, the big saw in the Bull River mill bit into its last log and by that summer the useful machinery had been transferred to Canal Flats. The rest was scrapped. On October 25th, writes Verdun Casselman, the planer mill was shut down and by July of the next year the building was an empty shell.
The community of Bull River, naturally, dissolved. Most folks followed the Company to Canal Flats, and some took their buildings with them. Some buildings were salvaged, some left to rot. The hotel, which had burned on December 10th, 1925, and was rebuilt by John McTavish in 1927, burned again in 1931, the year that the huge July fire ravaged the Trench for 110 kilometres from Wardner to Fairmont, threatening the Aberfeldie power house and incinerating EKPs transmission lines, plunging Cranbrook and Kimberley into darkness. The school closed in the spring of 1932, and though classes were again offered to regional children for ten years beginning in 1936, they were again held in the Bull River community hall, the two-storey school deemed hazardous and torn down in 1937. The Costanzos left the Bull River Inn in 1939, according to the authors of Forests, Farms and Families: A History of the Jaffray, Galloway and Sand Creek Communities (The Sand Creek Historical Book Committee, 1995). Post master Robert Graf closed his bureau at Bull River on May 8th, 1945.
Since the wide-spread adoption of diesel-electric power in the mid-50s, CP trains roar right past the townsite of Bull River, the Company having long ago torn down its water tank, coal tower and removed its station. By 1968 only Ole Lemon and the Leuenbergers were living on the townsite and in 1981 the last two industrial/commercial buildings were torn down, leaving but a sparse scattering of modest houses. The power plant still generates electricity, but in these days of automated operation it needs no-one to watch over it, and though since 1951 the Galloway Lumber Company, Limited, has held the Tree Farm Licence which covers the Bulls watershed where the piddly Lodgepole pines have taken over the former domain of their climactic cousins, it does little cutting there.
A spark of electric blue scintillation perhaps perched on a fence post reminds travellers that the Bull River townsite is prime Mountain Bluebird habitat, and not far south, where the Wardner Road lifts itself up onto a terrace halfway up the cut-bank side of a hill which intrudes upon the lush velvet greenery of the Kootenay Rivers flood plain, cliff swallows acrobatically harvest the air and swoop into their cavities in the face of the clay and pebble banks with beaks full of bugs for ever-hungry nestlings. From here one can see the Wardner Bridge carrying the Crowsnest Highway across the Kootenay some couple of kilometres to the south. Next: KIKOMUN DOAB