Halcyon Days on the Arrow Lakes

February 25th, 2021 1 Minutes
#0131.0073 ca. 1915 Halcyon Hot Springs, B.C. – Image courtesy of the Columbia Basin Institute and the Kootenay Gallery of Art, History and Science.

First Nations people of the area, the Sinixt, and the Ktunaxa knew of the hot springs’ restorative powers before the Europeans explored the Arrow Lakes regions.

Captain Robert Sanderson, a mechanical engineer, was a steamboat builder and operator. He was a partner in the Columbia Transportation Company, which ran freight on the Columbia River with the SS Illecillewaet, SS Kootenai, and SS Lytton. In 1890, Sanderson purchased 400 acres about 36 km north of Nakusp. In 1894, he completed building the Halcyon Hotel and held its grand opening on Sept. 22 of the same year.

In 1897, Sanderson sold the hotel to Robert Brett and David McPherson, and it was re-christened the Halcyon Hot Springs Sanitarium. The hotel expanded, and many out-buildings sprang up, including a bottling plant. Halcyon’s water is high in lithia (lithium salts) and was much in demand. Halcyon became known for its posh party atmosphere until World War I when prohibition reduced traffic.

#0131.0620 Feb. 17, 1898: Halcyon Hot Springs, Arrow Lake, B.C. water analysis report – Image courtesy of the Columbia Basin Institute and the Kootenay Gallery of Art, History and Science.

In 1924, the hotel was purchased by General Dr. Frederic Burnham, an Ontario-born veteran of World War I who had been a chief surgeon at a British hospital in the Balkans. As an advocate of clean living, Burnham banned smoking and drinking. He built baths and cottages. For over 30 years, the resort attracted people from all over the world.

On Feb. 19, 1955, the hotel burnt down, taking General Burnham with it. With the Arrow Lakes’ flooding, after the High Arrow Dam’s completion in 1968, all that remains of Halcyon is a small cemetery. Among those buried are General Burnham, his wife Anna, who had predeceased him in 1945, and Captain Sanderson, who passed in 1924.

In 1998, the construction of a modern Halcyon Hot Springs began. Lithia water has also made a comeback with “Happy Water,” which mixes Halcyon’s water with water from Mount Woodside near Harrison, B.C.

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