Kimberley, the Leadville of East Kootenay

January 7th, 2021 4 Minutes
Mr. Clarricoates Horse Team Transporting Service in Kimberley, B.C. # 0196.0008 ca. 1910 Collection:  Kimberley District Heritage Society (0196)

An interesting letter was found in the archives at Fort Steele detailing the early adventures of East Kootenay. It was written in September 1899, and posted from Kimberley to a friend in Fernie. At that time, both were fledgling communities attempting to secure their place in the economic development of East Kootenay.

The anonymous letter begins:

Contrary to our expectations, the hunting is poor here; indeed, I believe one could easily get more deer around Fernie than here. Of course, there are a few, but one must have snow to hunt them to any advantage. 

The bears are making themselves conspicuous, however, and in consequence of his foolhardiness, one of them carries a couple of bullets in his carcass. It happened this way:

We were out after deer, and after wandering around for some time, decided it was nearly time to smoke; accordingly, we sat down on a log and were quietly resting, when suddenly I heard a slight noise. I turned, and there was bruin as large as life about 60 yards away.

Two shots – and he was apparently possessed with the idea that the atmosphere in that particular part of the province was scarcely conducive to health, and when the bullets began to zip around him in earnest, he began to hit the trail at a gait that would naturally make anyone think he had an important appointment elsewhere.

We tracked him by the bloody marks he left behind but unfortunately lost him in some thick undergrowth. There have been several others seen since, but I have only had the one chance so far.

I have not had much opportunity to study Kimberly (the Leadville of East Kootenay, as the real estate men, call it) so far. Perhaps it is the Leadville of East Kootenay, but I would not care to gamble on it.

Although a novice can easily see that this is a wonderfully rich district, abounding with copper and galena mines, it does not follow that Kimberly will be the seat of smelting operations. In my humble opinion, everything points to the contrary, and I candidly believe that those who have bought building lots at ruinous prices have made a blunder that may give them cause for repentance at an early date.

 It is not generally known amongst newcomers that the townsite at Marysville will in a very short time be a more central point than Kimberly and should there be a branch road built to the many mines in the valley of the St. Mary’s river, which, by the way, runs in close proximity to Marysville, then it is almost a certainty that the smelter if it is to be built, will find a suitable site in the magnificent flat at Marysville. 

 I have just learned that Mr. J.S. Craig, of The Famous, has shut up his tent at Kimberley on account of the lack of trade. It does not look promising for a new road but maybe accounted for in that Mr. Craig’s visit to this locality was a little premature. He is too far in advance of the main body to do business.

The road (The Canadian Pacific “North Star” spur line) is not being rushed with the same dispatch as was the Crows Nest pass railroad, owing partly to the scarcity of men and partly to the problematic country through which it runs. It is expected that it will be built before winter sets in, and as the difficulties have now been overcome to a great extent, things will run more smoothly.

Memorial Hospital in Kimberley #0186.0002 ca. 1930
Collection:  Kimberley District Heritage Society (0186)

There will be a great many valuable properties developed here in the near future; indeed, some of the prospects are giving promise of wealth already. The Black Bear mine, managed by Charles Estmes (Charles Estmere was the early townsite agent for Kimberley, responsible for its promotion, development, and sale), is turning out some pretty fair specimens of galena and also a percentage of gold. I’m sorry I could not send you some specimens. I don’t know when I will be going to Cranbrook, and it is next to useless to send anything like that by anyone else than someone I know. C.J.L.

Central School, Kimberley B.C., ca. 1920 #0150.0001
Teachers and pupils outside first building of Central School, Kimberley, BC. Central School continued to grow until 1948 when it was torn down to make way for the A. A. Watkins
Collection:  Kimberley District Heritage Society (0150)

The 20-20 hindsight of history makes it fun to speculate on the author’s information sources. Neither the North Star nor Sullivan group of mines was mentioned, although both had been in existence for several years. The Fort Steele Prospector newspaper was reporting considerable building activity at Kimberley in 1899, including Charles Estmere’s office and residence., J.M. Carroll’s store, and the fact that H.W. Drew had put up 200 tons of ice.

One hundred and twenty years later, like the fabulous Phoenix, Kimberley is once again rising from the “ill-reported rumors of its demise.”A hundred years from now it will be interesting to see what people will say and read about the ‘Leadville of East Kootenay’.

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