MAN IN THE KOOTENAYS
This is a story of man in a challenging environment. These rugged, densely forested mountains with their heavy winter snowfalls posed a colossal obstacle to man’s civilizing activities. Only their mineral wealth and imposing beauty could lure him into the high country.
Native Americans. Ten thousand years ago the land was still cloaked in the Pleistocene Ice Age. As the ice receded, life advanced. At least, 3000 years ago, the Salish Indians arrived from the southwest, following their lifeblood – the spawning Pacific salmon – up the Columbia River. They settled in the valleys along the Columbia and Slocan rivers but rarely ventured into the surrounding mountains. More recently, about 400 years ago, the Kutenai Indians came down the Kootenay River from the southeast. The Kutenais were seasonal visitors, travelling along the shore of Kootenay Lake and the West Arm, to hunt, gather huckleberries and fish for spawning kokanee in the tributary streams. These valley people, though never numerous, concentrated their activities along the Kootenay shoreline and their artifacts can still be found there.
Like the Indians, the early European explores avoided mountain travel. The towering north-south ranges were almost impassable, and the only feasible route – the Kootenay Lake-West Arm system – was too hazardous for regular canoe travel.David Thompson. The great explorer David Thompson (born in Westminster, England; 1770-1857), who was the first white man to descend the Columbia River from its source to its mouth, made trips into the interior and also accurate maps. In 1808, he reached the south end of Kootenay Lake in his vain search for a route down the Columbia Valley.
He showed the way for many people, including the well-known geologist, geographer and linguist (of B. C. Indian languages) Dr. George Dawson (born in Pictou, Nova Scotia; 1849-1901). In 1884, with F. Tolmie, he published comparative vocabularies of the Indian tribes of B.C. Dawson’s description of the physical geography of Canada (with Alfred R. C. Selwyn) added to the knowledge, and Dawson laid the foundation for the mining development to follow.
Finally, in 1865, in an attempt to maintain British influence during the Fort Steele gold rush to the east, the first east-west land route was established across the southern reaches of the Columbias near the U.S. border. This was the Dewdney Trail, and, although it made political sense and pioneered the route of todays’s southern Trans-Canada Highway #3, it was not economically competitive against the far easier trade routes that came from the US to the south. By 1880, it was overgrown and largely forgotten.
Mining. While the Dewdney deteriorated, the valley routes from the US steadily developed. The rich mineral wealth of the Selkirk region was well known, and the development of water and rail routes set the stage for the great mining boom that put the West Kootenay on the map. Lured by the promise of the mother lode, man for the first time invaded the rugged mountains, which were laced with veins of silver, lead and gold. The hard-rock mining boom of the 1880s was an exciting time. Mines dotted the landscape from the valleys to the peaks, as hardy prospectors combed the mountains for new claims (frequently burning off the dense forests to expose the bedrock). Towns such as Nelson, Kaslo, Ainsworth, New Denver and Silverton sprang up.
Sandon. The story of Sandon, today a ghost town. reflects the energy, wealth and the disappointments of the mining boom. Sandon’s story began by chance in the fall of 1891 when two prospectors, Eli Carpenter and John Seaton, took a shortcut from the valley to Ainsworth over an unmapped region of the Selkirks. Bushwhacking their way east, they stumbled upon an outcrop of rich silver ore at the top of a 2133m (7000 ft) ridge, and rushed to the assay office in Ainsworth with their exciting discovery. Greed tends to bring ot the worst of people. While Seaton waited outside the office, Carpenter had submitted low-grade ore, planning to return to the find and stake the claim with another prospector. The angry Seaton quickly gathered together four Irishmen, raced back to the mountain and, beating Carpenter, staked the Noble Five claim. The “Silvery Slocan”, one of the richest and most famous silver producers on the continent, was born. The news of the Nobel Five claim brought a frantic rush of prospectors to the area. While some staked claims worth millions, most had far less luck.
A classic hard-luck story occurred in the summer of 1892 when a prospector named J. W. Cockle discovered an apparent bonanza – a 125 ton boulder of high-grade silver-lead ore. He quickly staked the entire area in anticipation of the riches to come. First, he sold the boulder for $2000 – only to see the purchasers take over $20,000 worth of silver form it. Then to top off his bd luck, he discovered that the boulder had rolled down the mountainside from a rich but already staked claim above. His claim was worthless!
Amid this drama, the town of Sandon boomed: the wealth from the surrounding mnes fed the thriving community. Serviced by two narrow-gauge railways (one to Kaslo, one to New Denver), Sandon bustled with 23 hotels and saloons, general stores, mining offices, restaurants, and an opera house. It was a wild, exciting 24-hour-a-day town – while the silver lasted. today, its ruins stand as a silent reminder of another era.
Exciting though it may have been, the mining boom in the Selkirks was a time of tremendous hardship for the men who worked the mines. Long, hard hours of backbreaking work, primitive living conditions, and isolation were all part of the miner’s life. Avalanches often swept away both mines and men. The winter snows were so deep that in some areas the packhorses had to be fitted with snowshoes.
Settlement. But the silver rush opened up the West Kootenay. Towns grew, roads and railways were built, and a fleet a paddle wheelers soon plied the valley lakes and rivers. Once this base of civilization was established, settlers began to arrive. In the early 1900s, the British Empire was at peace, and many British military officers were retiring from service and seeking a new life in the “colonies”. The West Kootenay was promoted in England as a land of spectacular mountains and fertile valleys where a person could live a pastoral life of orcharding and still find adventure. The area became home to many of these British families, who brought with them not only their cultural interests but also their adventurous spirit. While they cleared their land and built their houses, they listened to the prospectors’ stories of life in the mountains. Some began to explorer the mining trails, and soon the word was out – the West Kootenay was excellent hiking country.
Hiking. Hiking outings became a popular social activity, and in 1918 the Kokanee Mountaineering Club was formed. One favourite outing of the time began with a boat trip to Kitto’s landing, where Charles Busk owned a large, handsomely landscaped ranch. From the ranch, hikers headed up the Molly Gibson Mine road along Kokanee Creek to the mine, continuing by trail to the Slocan Chief Cabin and Kokanee Glacier. the mountaineering club began a campaign to have the area set aside as a park, and by 1922 Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park had become a reality, with the Busk ranch as its base.
But times change. Spent ore bodies and the Depression spelled the end of the mining era, and the high country regions were deserted. Valley residents still hiked the trails, but recreational use of the mountains waned as serious hikers were drawn to the more publicized national parks. Logging, which replaced mining as the chief industry in the West Kootenay, has been increasing steadily, with clearcuts creeping up virtually every watershed.
Man’s history in these mountains emphasizes a frontier mentality: conquer, exploit, desert. But some of our predecessors had the energy and the wisdom ot fight for the preservation of this vanishing wilderness, and we must carry on their work so that we will not be the last to thrill to its majesty.
The earliest climbers here, as in many ranges, were large animals such as moose, bears and mountain goats. A moose once climbed up the summit cone of Mount Washington, New Hampshire and would probably have made it to the top had it not been spooked by all the buildings and people on the summit. Beorn Peak (Horsefly) in the Gold Range had grizzly diggings on the top.
The earliest human climbers had to have been the native people. Engaged in their daily work for sustenance, they probably paid little attention to the peaks above except to admire their beauty. Occasionally, however, some young Indian, on his quest for manhood and his trial of youth to find his personal totem animal or object, may have made his way to the heights and found his goal on one of the peaks. Let us hope that such a story is preserved in their oral traditions.
Prospectors. The first known climbers were the prospectors. They shared much of their way of life with the Indians in that they lived in the area and often lived off the land, at least in the early days. Their existence was rugged and difficult, but it was not just a quest for gold and silver – it was a way of life and enjoyment for many, in a new land of many wonders and mysteries. Little wonder that they loved it. But it was also dangerous. How many prospectors set out to replenish their larders, or to find mineral outcrops, and perished by breaking a leg on the difficult terrain, being overcome by a winter snowstorm, or being mauled by a grizzly bear? Although many of them were literate, they, like the Indians, left no (or few?) written records of their trips. Perhaps they felt overwhelmed by the vastness and difficulty of this wilderness.
Along with the quest for minerals comes the question of ownership, and thus written records must be kept for mineral claims. Here lies our first clear glimpse of our recorded climbers, because a few claims were on the very summits of peaks. Mentioned in this manuscript are seven prospectors who were present before, or just after, the year 1900 who reached these summits
Lemuel Arthur – Badshots
N. Wilkie – Badshots; also a land surveyor, Trout Lake City
George S. McCarter – Badshots; solicitor, Imp. Bank of Canada
James Cameron – Goat Group
Dan Henry Nellis – Kokanee Group
James Brady – Spillimacheen Group
Frank Dick – Carbonate Group
The seven ascents were contemporaneous with the development of professional guided climbing at Glacier, B. C. Other prospectors who probably gazed upon the beautiful landscape from the tops were:
George Richie – In 1905, fought the grizzly bear and gave the name to the Battle Range. John Duncan – Duncan River area
Cy Hemlock and Hughie Brown – Duncan River area
Crockett – Badshots, Nettie L Mine
Elliott – Badshots 1890s
Eli Carpenter – Kokanee Group, Payne Mine; formerly a tight rope performer in a circus 1891
James Brennan – Kokanee Group
John Seaton – Kokanee Group 1891
Hall brothers – Silver King Mine; Toad Mt 1887
This list is scarcely exhaustive, and does not cover the more northerly Selkirks. Prospectors had reached the Northern Selkirks in the 1860s.
Surveyors. As well as prospectors, surveyors were also active and there are peaks named officially for Bridgland, Carson, Drewry and Wheeler (below). Surveyors’ and prospectors’ names are often found associated with streams and mountains (e.g., Carpenter, Brennan).
The following list of surveyors is, of course, incomplete.
Wm. S. Drewry (Dogtooth, Spillimacheen, Albert, Melville, Kokanee Groups) 1891-1895
H. Boyd (Lardeau Group) 1903-1907
Morrison P. Bridgland (Central Selkirks, Monashees) 1910
Reginald W. Brock (Badshots) 1903-1904
Percy A. Carson (N. Purcells, Central Selkirks) 1906-1908
Arthur O. Wheeler (Central Selkirks) 1901-1902, a noted ACC member
Norman E. McConnell (N. Selkirks) 1937 Northeast Mtn. (Chapman Eccentric Survey Station) Poseidon Peak (Trident Eccentric Survey Station) and other peaks listed in “Selkirks North”. McConnell’s surveys are almost unknown; the only information comes from the geologist and climber John O. Wheeler. McConnell also climbed four summits in the eastern Monashees, including Mount Wallis (Berthe Survey Station).