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Kootenay Ghost Towns: Our Rich Cultural History

Marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate — check! Bonfire — check! Now do I have a ghost story to tell you?

Did you know that the Kootenay Rockies is home to over 20 ghost towns? All of which have since stopped their thriving existence but have left behind unique stories to tell? They might be gone but they are not forgotten.

Enjoying a campfire in the Slocan Valley; photo by David Gluns

Steamboats and paddle-wheelers visited most of these communities (Beaton, Old Beaton, Arrow Park, Arrowhead, Comaplix and Renata) along the Arrow Lakes, but in the 1960s many of these communities were submerged beneath the waters of the lake as part of the construction of the Hugh Keenleyside Dam.  Several of these low-lying communities were physically moved to higher ground.  And, during the fall and winter months low water levels show evidence of these original locations.

A great read by local Nelson, BC author Anne DeGrace – writes about a fictional community of Bear Creek, which was on the historical settlement of Renata in her book “Treading Water”.

One of the oldest settlements on Kootenay Lake is Sanca (Boswell), which was once a gold-rush town of 1,500 miners. Today it’s home to the Glass House, constructed in 1952 with approximately 500,000 empty embalming fluid bottles.

The Glass House in Sanca; photo by Don Weixl

Gold was also discovered at Fisherville in 1864, this area and Galbraith’s Ferry (later known as Fort Steele) was a bustling flurry of activity when gold was discovered on the Wild Horse Creek.  Thousands of people journeyed there hoping to find the mother lode. As for Fisherville, the only remnants are old graveyards and mining activities, while Fort Steele Heritage Town re-lives the 1880s each and every day.

Fort Steele Heritage Town; photo by Kari Medig

The biggest boom was the community of Sandon. It was once the capital of the Silvery Slocan and the focus of world-wide attention. In the 1890s, Sandon sprang into existence as Canada’s richest silver mining community with a population of approximately 5,000 boasting 85 brothels, 29 hotels, 28 saloons, several banks, 3 breweries, 2 railways and dozens of stores and businesses.

The ghost town of Sandon; photo by Andrew Penner

Sandon’s demise started in 1899 with a series of labour problems, a devastating downtown fire, declining metal prices and the exhaustion of several major mines. Today, you can still see the original city hall, historic homes, the Silversmith Generating Station, Steam Train Exhibit and Sandon Museum.

Here’s a full list of all our Kootenay Ghost Towns; be sure to explore our unique Kootenay historical culture.

Know Before You Go!

~ Take extra time to research and plan your trip in advance. Many of our tourism businesses and services have adopted new COVID-19 protocols and changes to their schedules or policies to ensure your safety. You’ll want to become familiar with them ahead of time.

~ If you normally travel with extended family or with several friends, consider travelling in a smaller group. Travelling with fewer people makes it easier for you to practise physical distancing in public, and may have less of an impact on the destination.

~ Consider a slower travel pace to help curb the spread. Instead of checking in and out of multiple destinations during one trip, choose one or two destinations and one/two accommodation properties for your entire trip (and explore all the things to do & see nearby).

Related Stories
~ 4 Quirky Communities Along Kootenay Lake
~ 4 Reason to Drive BC’ Hidden Route: The Slocan Valley
~ Easy Kootenay Hikes: To 360 Degree Vista Views
~ Funky Kootenay Fun Facts
Quirky Attractions Only Found in the Kootenays

Story by KootRocks Staffer (Shannon Harrison). Top/cover by Andrew Penner at Fort Steele Heritage Town.

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(Original published date in July 21 2016.)

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