River History

Great places always have interesting histories and the valley’s lore is as colourful as its cosmopolitan, worldly residents. The rivers and the former great Pacific salmon spawning runs, which ended when the dams were built, provided local First Nations people with great quantities of food, so  people have called the valley home  for thousands of years. The rivers also brought Europeans to the region, beginning with legendary fur trader, cartographer and explorer David Thompson in 1807.

Thompson established a small settlement near Invermere and explored the Columbia and Kootenay valleys, searching for a route to the Pacific Ocean. He traded goods with the local First Nations people for large amounts of beaver and other pelts, which he transported back to Thunder Bay, Ont. before returning all the way back to this secluded Eden, nestled between the sawtoothed back range of the Rocky Mountains and imposing, ancient Purcell Mountains.

Thompson was the first white man to realize the wealth contained within the large, lush Columbia River Wetlands. Today the wetlands are a fertile wintering ground for elk, deer, moose and many other creatures, the wetlands span over 180 km and are the longest continuous series of wetlands remaining on the continent.

2007 marks the 150th anniversary of Thompson’s death and the 200th anniversary of his first crossing of the Rockies to the mouth of the Columbia River to anchor a lucrative trans-mountain fur trade. For more information visit http://www.davidthompson200.org/

The Region has also been significantly influenced by the discovery and development of mineral resources. In the early 1860’s, placer gold was discovered on the Wild Horse River approximately 16 km northwest of the present location of Cranbrook. Several thousand prospectors and entrepreneurs joined in this gold rush and the famous Dewdney Trail was constructed across southern B.C. linking Vancouver to the gold fields.

With increased settlement occurring as a result of the gold rush, conflicts between settlers and the indigenous Indian population grew. To ease these tensions, a detachment of North West Mounted Police was dispatched to Galbraith’s Ferry on the Kootenay River where a fort was established along with a permanent settlement in 1887.

The Fort was later renamed Fort Steele after its first commander, Sam Steele. Fort Steele remained the dominant community in the Region until the development of other mineral resources and railway expansion bypassed it and created the growth centers of Fernie, Kimberley and Cranbrook.

Some earlier history of Swansea Mountain

The mountain range to the east of Lake Windermere is the Stanford Range of the Rockies. It includes Swansea Mountain and Mt. Tegart. They are not much more than the foothills to the higher peaks beyond.

Swansea’s height is 5,655 ft. and Mt. Tegart is 7,810 ft. Mt. Tegart is named for the early day settler, Walker Tegart. Swansea is named by Sam Brewer because of the copper mined there years ago. The copper was taken to Swansea in Wales for concentration.

Years ago an interesting visitor from Wales told me that Wales was long ago named Sweyne’s Eye by the Vikings.

In 1891, the mountain was known as Windermere Mountain. During that year, a trail was constructed to the summit to reach the copper min owned by Brown, McVittie and Brewer. During that year some 50 tons of copper ore where packed down the trail by packhorses, carrying ordinary pack loads.

At the Salmon Beds (Athalmer), the ore was shipped by barge to Golden, than by train to Vancouver and by sea to Wales. In spite of the circuitous route, the ore was mined at a profit.

In 1879, the Swansea claims were owned by Sam Brewer, Ben Abel, Joe Lake and G.S. Carter. Brewer held two fifth interests and the others each one fifth.

In 1898, a large crew of men was employed in developing the property under the management of Mulholland of Rossland. About this time, a “go-devil” (a mountain sleigh) was used to take the ore to the barges on the river.

In 1924, when the forestry build a lookout hut on the mountain summit, a metallic telephone line was strung on trees along the old pack trail for use of the lookout man.
The hut had one room, with little space for domestic equipment. Except for a bunk, table, chair and stove, the space was filled an Osborne fire finder, and instrument invented by the U.S. Forest Service for locating forest fires. It was set astronomically north and south and sighted like a rifle to bearings.

The equipment also included powerful binoculars and a set of hazard sticks. These were fir sticks, weighing exactly 100 grams when dry. They were weighed five times daily in the fire season to measure the amount of moisture absorbed by the dry fir which would give some indication of dryness on the forest floor.

Records were kept four times daily of sky conditions, wind direction, velocity and humidity.

The lookout man was kept busy and he was in constant touch with the local forest service by telephone and later by radio. His radio reception was excellent, except during electrical storms. Tex Woods, a lookout man I once interviewed, told me electric storms were alarming. He said the hut had been hit a number of times. If he had to transmit during an electrical storm, he sat on a wooden chair, which had its legs in glass insulators. It was a time of great concern as every lightning flash was a potential forest fire.

There was also a water source at the summit of Swansea. Water had to be carried up the last steep climb, and Vernon Wood would leave empty pails at the spring when he got his water.

There have always been many visitors to the summit of Swansea for there the geography of the Valley below is spread like a map. The view is spectacular and well worth the effort in getting there.