The History of Castlegar

*** Please note that, except where indicated, the information on this page is used with the permission of the Castlegar Chamber of Commerce and originates from the Chamber of Commerce website at www.castlegar.com

History of Castlegar 1967 to 1993


By 1970, the completion of the Columbia River Treaty dam marked the beginning of a recession and a sharp reduction in the growth of Castlegar. Population dropped from 3,440 in 1966, to 3,068 in 1971. The Kootenay Canal Diversion Project injected some $75M into the region during the 1970's, but the Eaton's Mail Order store closed in 1976, mill rate increases were announced and a housing expansion project was cancelled. In 1978 the Castlegar-Salmo Highway opened and the expansion of the airport marked an increase in traffic. However, the return of the recession in the early 1980's affected the area much the same extent as other areas and other western countries. Castlegar languished in economic growth throughout the 1980's, with only modest increases in population.

The History Castlegar, BC
Photo by Kalevi Sissonen

After a tumultuous period of dialogue between supporters of economic growth and those supporting conservation issues, the Celgar Pulp Company $700M mill expansion was permitted, and carried out between 1991 and 1993. The West Star Timber mill was purchased by Pope and Talbot of Midway in 1992 and began a modernization program, commencing in 1993. Following the relocation out of the area of the Robson Ferry, efforts to restore another link across the Columbia River culminated in the beginning of construction of the Robson Bridge in early 1993. During the early 1990's, Castlegar's economic future was looking bright, with the addition of two small mid-town shopping malls, expansion in trading areas and a downtown revitalization project underway. These developments, and others in the planning stages, such as Selkirk College attaining full university status, have good potential to provide residents of the area with a good quality and standard of living well into the 21st century.

 

History of Castlegar 1873-1967

Waterloo, across from the present South Castlegar, owed its birth to the Rossland mining camp, and especially to smelting operations at Trail, begun Feb 1 1896. Timber for fuel and construction of the smelter derived from a landing, called "Waterloo", on the eastern bank of the Columbia River, 32 kilometers upstream from Trail. One of the early loggers was Hiram Landis, who arrived from the United States in August 1895. Traces of iron were found while logging, and claims were staked in nearby hills. The following spring, prospectors found iron on Ironclad Mountain and on the north fork of Champion Creek. An English company, Lilloeet, Fraser and Co., took control of the properties and a mill was erected. The town site, originally named Monte Carlo, was later renamed Waterloo.


The History Castlegar, BC
Photo by Kalevi Sissonen

Another town site, a half mile up river, was surveyed and named Montgomery. By 1898, the English relinquished its bond and the post office was closed. Hiram Landis purchased 324 hectares of land from the CPR (later increased to 561 ha) on which he operated a ranch until it was sold to the Doukhobors in 1908.

Robson's founding was linked to the completion of the CPR in 1885, and to the discovery of galena on Toad Mountain in 1886. The first town site in the Castlegar/Robson area, also tied to transportation developments, was Sproat's Landing, located, on 18 May 1888, between the junction of the Kootenay with the Columbia and the mouth of Pass Creek. Fred Hume and Robert E. Lemon, set up a warehouse and store in 1888, to serve the transport of goods from the CPR at Revelstoke to the mines on Toad Mountain and the new town site of Nelson. Sproat's Landing also became the headquarters for the Gold Commissioner, Sam Green, probably buying out R.E. Lemon. In 1890, the CPR began construction of a rail link, the first in the Kootenays, to Nelson to replace the trail railway built by L. Macquarrie in 1888. They decided to relocate their transfer point away from the marsh land at the mouth of Pass Creek. Viewed in another light, an anonymous source states they did so because of "exorbitant land grabbing by the occupants of the Sproat site". East Robson became the terminus, located one mile north on a well-drained terrace. After completion of the Columbia and Kootenay rail link in August 1891, a hotel was built. West Robson was established across the river to serve the Columbia and Western Railway, built by August Heinze to link with his smelter being built on Trail Creek. In 1902, the Yale Columbia sawmill was built at Wesley, near this transfer point. In 1898, the Columbia and Western Railway was extended from the west of this slip to Grand Forks and Midway.

The History Castlegar, BC
Photo by Mandy, BC Photoworks

A major development affecting the fortunes of East and West Robson, and beginning the history of Castlegar, was the decision to build a rail bridge across the Columbia linking the rails of the Columbia and Kootenay, the Columbia and Western railway lines. Completion of the rail bridge in 1902 led to relocation of the terminal from East Robson to Castlegar, where a rail station was built.

By 1910, Castlegar consisted of the railway station, a hotel, a store/post office/community hall, one frame house and a school. In 1913, there were 15 students at the school, only three of whose fathers did not work for the CPR.

The Doukhobor settlement lasted from 1908 until 1913, by which time about 5,000 Doukhobors had migrated to the Kootenays. The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, their holding company, flourished until 1938 when the banks seized the entire properties of over 70,000 acres. At that time it was the largest communal organization in North America. By 1911 there were 1,500 people near the community of Castlegar. After the Yale Columbia mill burned in 1908, the Edgewood Mill, employing up to 75, relocated across the CPR bridge, although few workers commuted. By 1919, with the installation of the Robson Ferry, Castlegar had the potential to become a bedroom community for the mill. By the 1920's, logging operations and a new brickyard saw the population reach about 300. In 1921, the completion of the road to Trail further opened the way for Castlegar's growth as a bedroom community. By the late 1930's, the road to Trail was improved and, in 1937, the Co-op Transportation Society was formed. Castlegar experienced a surge that saw the population double marking the end of the Great Depression. The Castlegar area become home to 10,000 inhabitants many of whom were direct Doukhobor descendents.

The History Castlegar, BC
Photo courtesy of Trail Historical Society

Castlegar became a village in 1946. Growth accelerated with the construction of the regional airport at Castlegar in 1950. Two elementary schools were begun, Stanley Humphries High School was built, a new public library opened and building permits totaled $176,000. It was announced that the Kinnaird Bridge would be built over the Columbia River and that a $65M pulp mill would be built in the community. It was seven years before the new pulp mill was completed but the construction period was a boom time for the village. By 1965, the Columbia River Treaty dams, "The High Arrow", or "The Hugh Keenleyside" were underway, as was the new community "Selkirk College". Castlegar became a town January 1, 1966. The pulp company gifted the town with a new well and began plans to build a new sawmill adjoining the pulp mill, spelling the end of Waldie's mill downstream. In 1967, CP Airlines began jet service to Castlegar Airport. A sizable Portuguese community grew as workers moved in to take up employment in the area.

History of Castlegar up to 1873

The region of the lower Arrow Lakes, including Castlegar, was inhabited by the Lakes Indian people, a branch of the Interior Salishan linguistic and cultural group, with close language ties to the Okanagan and Colville bands. "Quepitles" was a site on the north side of the Kootenay River, just above the junction with the Columbia River. The site was popular as a trading place, and especially in the autumn and winter, for spear and line fishing for salmon, which were dried nearby. Alexander Ross observed a major stone fish trap located near the site in 1825. The Lakes people continued to inhabit the site during the fur trading period, which began with the establishment of Spokane House in 1810, and further developed with the removal of fur transport to the Columbia River and Arrow Lakes. Fort Colville was established in 1828.

Lakes people would seasonally congregate to Fort Colville to trade for arms and ammunition, traps and other necessities. In 1846, the Oregon Boundary settlement placed the Canadian/United States boundary at the 49th Parallel. This numbered the days of British fur traders along the lower Columbia. By 1852 the Hudson's Bay Company were avoiding the lower Columbia where the levy of duties was being threatened against furs passing downstream. A trail existed from Fort Shepherd, on the Border at Waneta south of Trail, to Hope. This was the predecessor to the Dewdney Trail. Lakes people, faced with Customs Officials at the 49th Parallel, and accustomed to obtaining what had become necessities from the Hudson's Bay Company store, gravitated permanently, in increasing numbers, to Kettle Falls. The American Government preceded Canada, in 1872, in affording a "reserve" at Fort Colville, one of the largest in the United States. Many bands, not just the Lakes people, after two decades of harassment by white settlers and two state-wide wars, chose, in increasing numbers, to make their temporary habitation on the reserve into a permanent home. An exception was a small mixed band, which numbered eleven in 1909, (ten Lakes and one Thompson), who remained at the mouth of the Kootenay.

The History Castlegar, BC
Photo by Mandy, BC Photoworks

Discovery of gold, in 1855, at the mouth of the Pend D'Oreille River, ten miles south of Trail, signaled a new era for the region. When Gold Commissioner W. G. Cox arrived in 1851 to resolve disputes between Lakes Indians and an influx of gold miners, he found Chief Gregoire of the Lakes, living at Quepitles, cultivating a small patch of potatoes and hunting deer and beaver to the north. He had also cultivated a herd of many fine horses. Kootenay Indians arrived and requested of Cox a reserve "at the north point of the mouth of Kootenay's River". In 1865, Edgar Dewdney, while constructing the nearby Dewdney Trail to the Wild Horse gold fields, found a number of Indian families over-wintering at the site. Dewdney also reserved the land at the mouth of the Kootenay but as a town site, posting notices one mile up the Columbia and one mile up the Kootenay as boundaries. Gold Commissioner Haynes, who succeeded Cox, found that "a number of Chinese had been stopped by Indians near the mouth of the Kootenay River" and informed the Chief that "his people must not interfere with the miners".

 

The History Castlegar, BC
Photo by Kalevi Sissonen

Construction of the Dewdney Trail, and especially the Big Bend gold excitement in 1865, led to the arrival of a number of small craft that moved up the Columbia River and through the Arrow Lakes. In December, 1865, the "Forty Nine", the first steamer, made its way through Tin cup Rapids at Castlegar before being barred by ice at the narrows of the Arrow Lakes. In 1867, gold strikes were made along Forty-Nine Creek, between Castlegar and Nelson. No record survives from this time of a trail being built from the juncture of the Kootenay and Columbia to Forty-Nine Creek. By 1873, the steamer "Forty Nine" had been dismantled and removed to the Snake River, and the mouth of the Kootenay River was left to a family of Lake Indians, the Christians, until another mining boom developed 15 years later.


The Name

"Edward Mahon came to BC from Castlegar, Ireland, in 1890, using family money to invest in mining sites in  the area.  He didn't do a great deal  of actual mining, but bought and sold properties.  In 1891 he purchased 320 acres on the west side of the Columbia and had it platted for a townsite. 

The History Castlegar, BC
Photo by Arwyn Moore

He gave mineral names to the streets, ie, Silver, Galena, Iron etc.  He named the area after his home in Ireland, Castlegar.  The home in Ireland  was built in 1815, replacing an older home.  The property had been in the family for many years.  Castlegar is a big, comfortable  place and in Edward's time,  the property  encompassed  a large area of land which, under the British system   was inherited by the eldest son.  Castlegar was sold late in the last century.

Edward Mahon shortly moved on to his primary interest, development of North Vancouver.  His older brother on an earlier visit to Canada believed that Vancouver had a bright future as a seaport on the Pacific.  Edward Mahon became a real estate developer and is recognized as a pioneer in North Vancouver." (Marolyn Mahon)