FOURTEEN YEARS AGO
In looking back on some fourteen years of sojourn in South East Kootenay, I cannot fail to remark on the wonderful progress the district has made during that time, and the difference in the looks of the country now, and what it was then strikes me as very forcible. The people were few and far between then, the white resident population of the whole district numbering less than fifty.
Charles Clark, who with his wife, were in charge of the store and ferry scow at “Galbraith’s Ferry”, as Fort Steele was then called, were the two first people one met on coming into the country, as I did, by boat from Canal Flat, which, by the way, was the first freight boat brought into the district. Mrs. Clark, who had evidently eaten “bannocks” herself, presented our party with some delicious yeast bread, and I for one can say, (acknowledging that “bannocks” for a month made one pine for a change), that Mrs. Clark’s bread was the best I ever ate. Bread is not progress, will be said, but I contend that the transition from “bannocks” to Mrs. Clark’s bread is, and that the day the bachelor Kootenaite began to make his own yeast bread, it showed a wish to do better and surely comes under the head of progress. The “old camp” at Wild Horse, with David Griffith in charge, was the town of the country, and was our only market for produce of all sorts. Mr. Griffith was the only postmaster in the district, and many a time have the curses been loud and deep when one had to travel up and down the hills on the old pack trail to Kootenay post office to get our monthly or bi-winterly mail. Progress came to our rescue, and Mr. Clarke was installed as postmaster at Fort Steele, as “Galbraith’s Ferry” had then come to be called.
“Joseph’s Prairie,” now the busy and thriving town of Cranbrook, was the only other place of import in the district, where Colonel Baker made a home for himself and his son in 1885. Mr. French was in charge of the ranch and John Gustavus Norris, who lived in a house adjoining the old ranch house, was the officer appointed to look after the customs collections, and a busy time he had of it too, during 1884-85, when the pack trail to Bonners Ferry was lined with horses and mules packed with alcohol, to be converted by crude methods into very nasty whiskey and brandy, as the case might be, and sold to the navies working on the C.P.R. One would turn up his nose at such liquor nowadays, when progress has given us the liquor we at present consume. All supplies were packed in over the Moyie trail, until the government built the wagon road from Windermere to Fort Steele, Cranbrook and Wild Horse. This was progress in the right direction, which has been followed by an almost perfect system of trunk roads and trails throughout the district.
The next step in the onward march was the building of the steamer Annerley at Jennings, Mont., by B.W. Jones, and which was the means of lowering the cost of the necessaries of life to about one-half the price that had obtained up to that time.
Until the era of steamboats, the only question had been the one of bringing in cheap provisions, but now arose that of what we could ship out. Joe Bourgeois settled the matter by staking the famous North Star mine, and which from the date of staking has been the backbone of the country. The shipment of ore to Jennings was the opening of a new era in South East Kootenay. We were beginning to be a self-supporting people. Capital became interested, more steamboats built, and large quantities of ore, through the medium of the steamboats, were shipped to the smelter. In 1887 Mr. Fernie, having got the necessary particulars as to location from Michael Phillipps, of Tobacco Plains, began prospecting for coal in the Crows Nest Pass, the result of which has been the building up in the heart of the Rockies of the town of Fernie and one of the biggest permanent industries in Canada. The words, coal, coke and ore, seem to have struck the right side of the C.P.R., who after years of holding back, at last built the railroad through South East Kootenay, which now passes through our farms, near our mines, supplies our growing towns, and by cheap freight, (in comparison with mules, wagons and steamboats) enables us to market our products at a good profit.
The towns Cranbrook, Fort Steele, Moyie, Fernie and Kimberley are evidences of the progress we have made, looking back as I can over the past decade, and realizing what the virgin forests can be made into by the progressive policy of government and people. Even the native Indians have been taught to keep up with the times. Father Coccolo [sic], beloved by his Indians, and honored and respected by every right-thinking man, has shown them what progress is. Looking back on what the Mission was ten years ago, a mere collection of huts, the church a plain hewed log building. look at it today. The best church in South East Kootenay, the largest hospital, and the industrial schools second to none in the province, and which are so carefully superintended by that best of good sisters, Sister Conrad. The Indians surely are lucky in having these two, Sister Conrad and Father Coccolo, to teach them the meaning and value of the word progress. Let us hope they will always have such good tutors who will teach them to keep up with the times.
In looking back and remembering what the country was even ten years ago, one can hardly believe it is the same, and if it only progresses in the future as it has in the past, we should be proud to reflect that the country, so rich and prosperous, is ours, and it only rests with ourselves, with “progress” as our motto, to make it still more so. C.M. Edwards