UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

A history of the West Kootenay district in British Columbia Cottingham, Mollie Esther


Throughout this intensive examination of development in the West Kootenay area the writer has done her best to give a true historical picture of these mountain valleys, rich in their rugged beauty. As far as modern research permits, the story and the customs of the aboriginal Indians have been described. For a century and a half, we have accompanied fur-traders, and surveyors, priests and prospectors, engineers and industrialists, tradesmen and fruit farmers in all their many adventures and enterprises which opened up this region. The past quarter of a century has made these valleys the focal point of interest in two of Canada's racial minority problems. The Doukhobours, welcomed over-exuberantly by the government to a vast wilderness eager for settlers, the Japanese, thrust for a temporary sojourn by the exigencies of war upon the Kootenay. When we came to examine the subsequent course of events in the Kootenays that section of history which makes the region an intimate part of British Columbia and of Canada the contrast with United States development is striking. Had the Kootenays been American they would, no doubt, have become a separate state in a confederacy of many. The States of Washington, Idaho, and Montana all touch the southern border of Canada's one Pacific province. Indeed, British Columbia is equal in area to the three coast States to the south - Washington, Oregon, and California. The one province, British Columbia, contains about eight per cent of Canada's population, whereas the corresponding area in the United States comprises eleven Pacific and mountain states, and contains about eleven per cent of the nation's population. The British Columbia government must cope with the multitude of problems which spring from a highly diversified economy, while the weight which the province can exercise in the framing of Canadian national policies is roughly proportionate to its population. This influence is in the order of 1:15, or at the most 1:12 in the House of Commons, while the Senate proportion is 1:16. Eleven American states with a congressional representation of 43 out of 435, and 65 electors out of 531 in the presidential elections, exert a weight about in proportion to their population ratio. Their representation in the Senate, however, is high, namely 22 out of 96, or higher than 1:5. This means that Canadian federal policies are less likely to be framed to consider British Columbia interest than United States federal policies to consider those of her western states. Although at times the western slope in each country has been influenced by developments peculiar to the region, which distinguish it sharply from the rest of the continent, to a great extent coast and mountain regions of each country have been tied to the fortunes of the federation of which they are a part. After the depression of the 1870’s the tide of prosperity began again to flow west, and like a magnet it drew the Americans, and later midland Canadians, into interior British Columbia. Except for restrictions upon the Chinese, immigration was unhindered. In 1893, just after the completion of the Crows Nest Pass Railway, this movement was checked by another severe depression. Then from 1896 onwards, the settlement of the prairies and the growth of a national economy based upon the export of wheat gave impetus to the development of British Columbia. The centre of this wheat boom lay upon the prairies, but the rising tide of settlement and investment spilled into British Columbia. In the twenty years following 1891 the population of the province more than quadrupled, and the Kootenays shared this increase as well as the era of prosperity which came from the prairie market for lumber and fruit. By 1910 the prairies were taking 70 per cent of British Columbia's lumber. By 1913, the production of non-ferrous metals exceeded $17,000,000. These were the decades that witnessed the opening of the Silver Slocan, and of Rossland, the construction of smelters at Trail, Pilot Bay, and Nelson. These were the decades when the British Canadian Pacific and the American Great Northern companies supplanted earlier individual efforts to provide transportation upon river, lake and land, and vied with one another to give efficient service in the Kootenays. The Canadian Pacific extensions were a part of their vast Trans-Canada development which was subsidized by an optimistic federal government. High foreign investment of capital, rapid settlement, much of it doomed to bitter disappointment (like the mansions built in the Lardeau, the hotels and business blocks in Kaslo and the Slocan), the land boom, and the inevitable depression all formed the cycle characteristic of frontier economy. Yet the hardships and injustices suffered by this pioneering generation were softened by the high faith it held for a province in which the future of its children could be more easily provided. Of course, in the process they were destroying the cultural life of the North American Indian and preparing for his extermination, but it is the custom today to forget this as we deride modern imperialism and the exploitation of more distant foreign peoples.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.