History and founding of Wardner

October 12th, 2021 1 Minutes
Collection No. 0039.0195: Wardner B.C. and Kootenay River, ca. 1908 – Image courtesy of the Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History

The abundant minerals in the southern end of the East Kootenays and its proximity to Crowsnest, Elk Valley, and Flathead (over 500 million tonnes of coal have been produced since 1898) made Wardner a miner’s dream.

On April 13, 1897, the Spokane Spokesman-Review described the mining rush in the East Kootenays, according to businessman John Fitzgerald.

“In all of my experience in the mines, I have never seen a country like it; it is one big mineral zone,” he said.

The founding of Wardner depended on a few key people; one of them was Arthur Fenwick, who received a crown grant for the Wardner Townsite.

Fenwick staked and filed pre-emption no. 277 for this 144-acre piece of land on February 17, 1894. He was granted permission to settle on June 30, 1897, as D.L. 1901. He cleared the area and built a log house. It was the first building to be erected on the future townsite of Wardner.

“Arthur Fenwick received the Crown Grant papers on June 30, 1897. He sold and transferred the property to Maria Howden Armstrong, wife of Captain Francis Patrick Armstrong, Jim Wardner’s partner in the International Transportation Company. The property was sold to her on their behalf,” according to ‘Reflections on the Kootenay, Wardner B.C. 1897-1997’ by Constance and Christopher Graf.Koo

James F. Wardner and Captain Francis Patrick Armstrong were considered the owners of the Wardner townsite, but Thomas Crahan was hailed as its father. Crahan built the town. He did everything from leading the first settlers to establishing the ferry, school, post office, sawmill, and grading its streets. Crahan officially put Wardner lots on sale on April 5, 1897, overseeing its construction.

Wardner (May 19, 1846-1905) was a fascinating man with an entrepreneurial spirit, taking up many business ventures over the years, some successful and others less despite best efforts.

He was a capitalist, but his road to success held many quirky tales, like founding a “cat ranch” for fur – the Consolidated Black Cat Company, Limited.

Cannibalistic practices of feeding cats to cats through various methods did not go well, and eventually, Wardner left the cat ranching business.

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