Establishing a town

October 18th, 2021 2 Minutes
Cranbrook Postcard Album Collection No. 0019.0189 ca. 1910 – Kootenay River and the Rockies from Wardner, B.C – Image courtesy of the Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History.

In his memoirs, ‘Jim Wardner, by himself 1900,’ Jim writes of the experience of establishing Wardner B.C.

“I met Capt. F.P. Armstrong on the Canadian Pacific Train and at once joined him in an enterprise which, but for the cold hand of fate, would have realized us both a considerable fortune,” he said.

In part, he spoke of the steamboating incident with the International Transportation Company (ITC) when the Ruth and Gwendoline both wrecked on the same day- ITC, never fully recovered, and Wardner, as a town, never really took off.

Eventually, so did the man. Jim headed to Dawson City after he sold his company and the rights to Wardner, B.C.

Founding of the Wardner Townsite

The Wardner International Newspaper marked the anniversary of its founding date on May 1, 1898. Pioneer Day.

On May 1, a year ago, a band of pilgrims landed in Wardner. They came by way of Jennings, Mont., taking the Gwendoline at that point. They were strangers in a strange land, and the town of Wardner at that time consisted of some squares correctly drawn on a blue piece of paper, better known as a blueprint. There were no streets, no buildings, and no eating houses. There was merely a piece of land with timber clear to theatre’s edge.

About 9 p.m., the boat was made fast to the bank, and the town makers walked ashore. A temporary shelter was erected for the night, and the following day the townsite was built, being nothing more or less than a tent with plank floors and sides.

Thomas Crahan led the party, and among those hardy pioneers who arrived at that time and are still in Wardner are H.L. Stephens, Martin Crahan, W.H. Bishop, C.J. Eckstorm, G.H. Jennings, George Gorum, P.H. Kelly, T. Pool, and Mrs. Jagger and Mrs. Sloan. Messrs.

Stephens and Crahan have demonstrated their faith in Wardner by building the Wardner Hotel (Crahan and Co.). They desire to celebrate the first anniversary of the arrival of the pioneers, and with that idea in view, will on next Monday evening give a ball at their hotel, to which all the pioneers are invited, and every resident of Wardner.

By 1898, Wardner was a bustling business community that featured a newspaper, several stores, and graded streets.

Eventually, its promising arrival waned, and prosperity faltered in Wardner, with the smelter falling away.

The town was abandoned for the Klondike, Cranbrook, or “back to the States on the last steamboats to Jennings, Montana.”

Despite these tidings, a man named Peter Lund recognized the potential of Wardner’s location and built the province’s largest sawmill and planer.

Construction started in the winter of 1902-1903. The Crow’s Nest Pass Lumber Company (named by Lund) was operational in Wardner until 1956.

Crestbrook Time Ltd purchased the operation, and it was sold to Gras Bros Ltd in 1958 and then onto Cranbrook’s Cartage Ltd in 1962. It was officially closed in 1963.

The sawmill was an essential part of Wardner, and it intercepted logs that floated down the St. Mary’s and Kootenay River to be finished.

Once the Kootenay Central Railway was completed in 1914, finished lumber could be shipped on railway cars.

Construction of the Libby Dam in 1970 (a part of the Columbia River Treaty), changed the face of Wardner forever, and Wardner slowed to the pace of a ghost town.

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