1269 A choice Kootenay collection

Lost Kootenays: A History in Pictures
by Greg Nesteroff and Eric Brighton

Lunenburg, NS: MacIntyre Purcell Publishing, 2021
$29.95 / 9781772761641

Reviewed by Ron Verzuh

Editor’s note: the photo captions below are taken directly from Lost Kootenays.

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Kootenay Home: A prize collection of historic images shares the Kootenays’ rugged past

Growing up in the Kootenays in the 1950s and 1960s, I was blissfully unaware of many facts about my mountain home. Thanks to this superb photographic history I now can correct the many wrong assumptions of my youth.

First on the list are the Ktunaxa and Sinixt First Nations. They were fishing and hunting in the Kootenays thousands of years before any European settlers arrived to destroy their way of life. Authors Brighton and Nesteroff repeatedly stress this point as they usher in stunning images from their personal collections and other archives.

Slocan Lake pictographs, ca. 1905-15. At least 13 sets of First Nations pictographs exist along Slocan Lake, including eight within Valhalla Provincial Park. They are painted on vertical rock faces and most are only accessible by boat. The images, found on both sides of the lake, are among the most striking pictographs in the BC interior and an exceptionally important cultural legacy. This postcard image may have been inverted and touched up to make the figures more visible. Photographer unknown. Greg Nesteroff collection

One example is the pictographs, 13 sets of them that appear around Slocan Lake. These are mostly accessible by water, so I missed them. They would have added to the childhood thrills of travelling through the Slocan Valley with its rock tunnel on the old road.

As the authors correctly note, the valley is unceded territory of the Sinixt Nation, which continues to battle for recognition after being declared extinct in 1956. And there’s more that I didn’t know. At least a dozen First Nations references appear.

Tipis on the Nelson waterfront, ca. 1892-93. This extraordinary photo turned up in 2018 on eBay. Three tipis are seen near the CPR wharf with the SS Nelson in the background. In the 19th century, European settlement began to displace Sinixt and Ktunaxa people from their traditional territories. Photo by Neelands Bros. Douglas Jones collection

Respected Ktunaxa leader Chief Isadore is shown, for example, with the text detailing his 1887 land dispute. The legendary Sam Steele of the Northwest Mounted settled it, but not in the chief’s favour. Steele gets into the history books, but who has heard of the equally legendary chief in Kootenay history? He can now claim his rightful place thanks to Lost Kootenays.

The Doukhobors, too, are allotted deserved space in this brief history, but not always favourably. The sect displaced a Sinixt family called Pic Ah Kelowna or White Grizzly. The family refused to leave the land Doukhobor farmers had purchased, so the farmers fenced them in and ploughed “their burial grounds.”

Youth festival at the Belyi Dom, Ootischenia, 1949. Doukhobors gather for a celebration at the Belyi Dom, a meeting house built in 1911. The name translates as “white house,” in reference to the building’s whitewashed exterior. At various times it was also used as a school while the upper story was a communal residence. It was demolished during construction of the Castlegar airport in 1949. Photographer unknown. Greg Nesteroff collection.

Of course, the Doukhobors had their own problems as Lost Kootenays documents. The death of leader Peter V. Verigin in a 1924 train explosion is recalled, as is a prayer meeting outside a communal house in Ootischenia. There’s also a wide shot encompassing the Brilliant jam factory along with other evidence of the industrious but often persecuted sect.

Brilliant, ca. 1920s. Brilliant, at the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia rivers, was the heart of Doukhobor industry in BC, with a sawmill, grain elevator, orchards, communal villages, and the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works, which turned out the popular K.C. Brand of jams. The Doukhobor communal enterprise fell apart through foreclosure in 1937-38 and arsonists destroyed the jam factory in 1943. All the buildings seen here are now gone, but Brilliant remains a major centre of Doukhobor culture, home to the Brilliant Cultural Centre and Verigin Memorial Park. Photo by Hughes Bros. Studio. Greg Nesteroff collection

The old Doukhobor suspension bridge across the Kootenay River is pictured prompting many personal memories of crossing it in the days when the old Robson ferry (also shown) was still operating. It ran from 1919 until 1988. I’ll always remember the sign as I drove across the narrow span — “Strictly prohibited: smoking and trespassing with firearms.”

The many Kootenay sternwheelers are also here in their splendour. The SS Moyie (now a museum at Kalso) and SS Minto (longest running) are in several photos. Sadly, I recall seeing photos of the Minto being burnt on the Arrow Lakes in 1968 after a failed attempt to convert it into a museum. One final note on ferries: the SS Nasookin was brought ashore in 1947 and turned into a private home on Kootenay Lake that I once considered buying.

SS Trail, SS Rossland, and SS Minto at Arrowhead, 1898, an iconic portrait of three Arrow Lakes sternwheelers during the brief period they were in service together. The Trail was launched in 1896 but burned in 1900. The Rossland operated from 1897 to 1917, when it sank at the Nakusp dock. The Minto had by far the longest career, launched in 1898 and retired in 1954. The girl in white in the foreground is believed to be Marjorie Gibson, who came from a pioneering Arrowhead family. Hetty Johnstone and S. Johnstone are standing on the upper deck of the Minto. Photo by R.H. Trueman. Eric Brighton photo edit. City of Vancouver Archives CVA 2-38

The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) is depicted in several shots. The old train station, long a museum in my hometown of Castlegar, was graced with the presence of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 1971 during the BC centennial. I learned from Lost Kootenays that the station is the city’s oldest heritage building.

Munro Hotel, Fourth Street (Lower Canyon), Creston, ca. 1908-10. This building went through several name changes. As of 1901, George Munro operated it as the Munro Hotel. CPR conductor William Burton bought it in 1910 and it became the Burton Hotel. In 1913, the hotel was sold again and became the King George, a name it kept for many decades. It survives, in much altered form, as the Kokanee Inn and proclaims with some justification to be the oldest business in town. Photographer unknown. Simon Fraser University BC Postcards Collection MSC 130-066-01

The CPR, with its Trail smelter and several local mines, plays a central role in the regional history and it gets its due here. Early on, ferries were part of that role as were many hotels. Take the Munro in Creston (surviving as the Kokanee Inn), the Queens in Hosmer, a coal mining company town, and the recently expanded Mount Stephen House in Field. Perhaps most striking is Glacier House, a “world class tourist destination” and dining stop for train travellers seeing the alpine sights in Glacier National Park.

There’s more about the CPR, including the high trestled bridge between Revelstoke and Golden that it had constructed, and the towns it built and displaced in the rush to serve the mines and smelters that made the Kootenays what they are today.

CPR Passenger train on Stoney Creek Bridge, ca. 1885-94. This wooden bridge, built in 1885 in Glacier National Park between Revelstoke and Golden, was a marvel of its time. Its three towers stood 33 metres (109 feet), 60 metres (196 feet) and 10 metres (34 feet) tall. Construction was slowed by unstable rock, a flash flood, a forest fire, and the deaths of two workers, but it was completed in seven weeks. It was replaced with a steel truss arch in 1894, which remains in use. Photo by Norman Caple. Eric Brighton photo restoration. City of Vancouver Archives LGN 623
Greg Nesteroff

More, too, about the Chinese labourers who helped build the CPR’s main line “often at great personal risk.” Less known is their role in building the canal at Canal Flats in 1887. Two years of labour were wasted; the canal was hardly used. In 1894, South Asians were hired by the railway company to supply lumber for rail ties as labourers at the Golden Lumber Company in Golden.

The authors have added a succinct chronology of the region that offers a quick review of the history, supplying some facts in addition to those found with each photo caption. The captions, by the way, are written with care and precision. The authors have done a masterful job of fitting a lot of information into a tight space.

Lost Kootenays has filled in some of the historical gaps in my appreciation of the Kootenays and given all readers much to ponder about this small but fascinating part of Western Canada’s past. Careful research, a Nesteroff attribute that has often benefitted me, shows up some official errors and provides details that only these intrepid local historians are likely to unearth.

Those who have enjoyed the popular Lost Kootenays Facebook website will also enjoy holding this printed replica of some of the site’s many posts. If you are from or of the Kootenays, as I am, you’ll enjoy the trip down memory lane. And, like me, you’ll learn a few things along the way.

Eric Brighton

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Ron Verzuh

Ron Verzuh is a writer, historian and documentary filmmaker, recently moved to Victoria. His work has appeared in The Ormsby Review since it was founded in 2016. Editor’s note: His book Smelter Wars: A Rebellious Red Trade Union Fights for Its Life in Wartime Western Canada will be published by University of Toronto Press early in 2022. See here for Ron’s essay on Trade Unionist Harvey Murphy and here for Mike Sasges’ review of Codename Project 9: How a Small British Columbia City Helped Create the Atomic Bomb. Ron Verzuh has recently reviewed books by Nick Russell, Jim ChristyJohn JensenCharlie Hodge & Dan McGauleyRavi Malhotra & Benjamin IsittAllan BartleyEric SagerMichael Dupuis & Michael KlucknerElizabeth MayRosa Jordan, and Vera Maloff for The Ormsby Review. All his reviews may be viewed here.

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Ktunaxa people, St. Eugene Mission, date unknown. St. Eugene Mission was established in the 1870s and an elaborate church built there in 1897, thanks to the sale of a mining claim at Moyie discovered by a Ktunaxa man. Beginning in 1910, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate operated a residential school for children from the Okanagan, Shuswap, and Blackfoot Nations in addition to the Ktunaxa. The school closed in 1970 and the buildings were long abandoned until the Ktunaxa Nation converted them into a resort in a unique project to reclaim their heritage. As elder Mary Paul put it: “Since it was within the St. Eugene Mission School that the culture of the Kootenay Indian was taken away, it should be within that building that it is returned.” Photographer unknown. Simon Fraser University Philip Francis Postcard Collection MSC 130-09097-01
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