THE CROWS NEST PASS – by A.E. WATTS
In some parts struggling through cedar swamps where the pack-horses sunk to their saddle girths, some had to be relieved of their loads before they could extricate themselves, those in the saddle had to dismount and hop from log to log or to humps of higher ground and now and then miss, and hit the soft spots, sometimes walking, riding or swimming, we slowly wended our way through the startling beauties of the most picturesque pass of the Rockies. Fortunately there was not much of the trail running through swamps, a striking feature was the rich growth of vegetation at an altitude of over 4,000 feet, except for about 60 miles, where a forest fire had burnt all up including the old bridges, consequently it was necessary to ford or swim the streams. When crossing one of these where it enters the Elk river, two of our pack animals were swept off their feet and carried down the Elk. They had all our blankets and extra clothing. We never saw them again. The nights were rather chilly without blankets, and the only city in the pass in those days (nearly eleven years ago) was Fernie, which consisted of a small hotel and a store in a tent, with no bargain counter but we reduced their stock of blankets.
Only the pioneer keenly appreciates the difference between then and now. We started from Calgary with twenty-two pack and saddle horses. In twenty-six days we arrived where Cranbrook now stands. Less than two years after one could board a Pullman at Cranbrook and arrive in Calgary the next morning. In the days I speak of, the only signs of a nucleus of a future city or town along the Crows Nest from Pincher Creek, Alberta, to the Kootenay Lakes, were those of Fernie, Wardner and Moyie. I omit Fort Steele because it is not on the line, although it was then, the natives thought, the hub of the universe, the only town in the Kootenays that has had a boom and felt its after effects.
At the time the boom was in full swing, not houses enough for the population and hundreds living under canvas. Two of Cranbrook’s leading barristers of today were practicing at Fort Steele one in a tent, the other in a shack.
Although Cranbrook then, was not, it occupied an important position because it held Hyde V. Baker, the Pooh Bah, the Robinson Crusoe of the Selkirks with his man Friday. It was a pleasant oasis, not in a desert but surrounded with the possibilities in embryo of a prosperous future.
Moyie city was at that time far in advance of Cranbrook. It boasted of an hotel and store. The hotel was a log hut, but it had a board floor of which the owner was very proud as he had reason to be, for he packed the boards himself from Fort Steele, 32 miles. He laid the floor when green and like all quick workmen he chose wide boards, and the cracks were in proportion when dry. One day when his back was turned I saw all the knives and forks, plates and saucers disappear through the cracks, the cups were a little too big, he said. It was a floor that saved time in sweeping up if you swept crosswise. The most exacting guest was never known to ask for more ventilation in the bedrooms, generous provision was made by preserving the openings between the logs in their natural state. That landlord was a philosopher. It saved glass – no nor for windows. The only drawback was the snow drifts on the bed after a storm. It was a picturesque place and no doubt very comfortable in the summer, but I stayed there during November and December.
At that period the total payroll on all the workings at or near Moyie would be about $2000 per annum. A few years after the payroll amounted to nearly a million dollars per annum. At the time spoken of James Cronin, the original owner, had two men at work on the St. Eugene, and the first time I met him he was himself packing supplies up to the mine. The reader can compare the hotels of today and the work going on around Moyie. The St. Eugene has 18 miles of underground work, and down 1000 feet below the level of the lake, and has in sight the largest bodies of clean silver-lead ore on the continent.
If space would permit I could tell you a long romantic tale of how the bullet fired by Von Veltheim, in Johannesburg, South Africa, which killed the head of the firm of Barnato Bros., switched one million dollars from coming my way in a deal for the St. Eugene.
The development of the St. Eugene and Moyie in so short a time is marvelous and the same may be said of Fernie, but in a much greater degree, and of Cranbrook and many other towns that have in recent years sprung up like magic on the Crows Nest line, and all without booming, simply by the legitimate expansion of industries. Throughout the N.W.T. there is no district can bear comparison with the Crows Nest, none that has produced such enormous wealth in a similar area. Nor has the value of the land in the N.W.T. increased in equal ratio to B.C. lands where the value has been made known by practical demonstration and advertisement. For instance the land around Kootenay Lake was deemed practically worthless, and the pick of it could be obtained a few years since for $1 per acre. It is now selling for $1000, and some improved land has been sold for $2000 per acre. The earning capacity of land or anything else decides the value. I can quote authentic cases of fruit land land producing $1000 to $1500 per acre. I do not wish to introduce too much “ego” but any person doubting this can come and see what we can do at Wattsburg, at 3000 feet altitude, or see what Father Coccola did at the Mission, or Mr. Hamilton at Cranbrook.