In the mid-1800′s, prospectors from the northern parts of Washington State, Idaho, and Montana began exploring the shores of Kootenay Lake for precious ores and mineral outcroppings. Many were ranchers or farmers who mounted expeditions north as part of hunting trips or seasonal prospecting forays, using boats and canoes to travel along the Kootenay River and into the main lake. The rugged Selkirk Mountains with their steep slopes, sharply carved canyons, and thick forests encouraged these early explorers to remain on the lake, where several significant outcroppings of silver-lead ore were discovered. A major find at Galena Bay, followed by a major silver-copper ore discovery in the mountains above Nelson in 1887, sparked a boom of prospectors, miners, and settlers who traveled into the surrounding mountains. Many were richly rewarded, especially in the Slocan Range bordering the western slopes above Kootenay Lake near the present day Village of Kaslo.
Prospectors and silver-hounds flooded ashore at the mouth of Kaslo Creek to begin their journey to fame and fortune. The natural bay at Kaslo provided shelter to their barges and scows, and later the sternwheelers that connected the booming towns along Kootenay Lake. Kalso began as a staging area for the lake boats and with a timber mill supplying lumber to mines and new communities higher in the mountains. As miners arrived to work claims in Sandon, Cody, Enterprise Creek, and other major ore deposits, Kaslo suddenly grew into a major supply centre. The sheltered bay made a fine harbour for sternwheelers transporting people and supplies, and soon a narrow-gauge railway was constructed leading from the Kaslo dock, through town, and up treacherously step cliff faces to the City of Sandon, the capital of the Silvery Slocan. Kaslo become the first incorporated city in the Kootenay region and only the 7th in British Columbia at the time.
Thousands of miners, merchants, and settlers passed through Kaslo on their way to the district’s rich silver mines, and many stayed to help Kaslo grow into a city of over 5,000 people. The main street lead from the CPR dock through a downtown filled with shops and new buildings before venturing up alongside Kaslo River as a wagon trail. The mining boom eventually wound down, after the price of precious metals fell in the early 1900′s, and Kaslo entered a new era of slower economic growth. To maintain business in the region, the CPR encouraged the development of a fruit growing industry along the shores of Kootenay Lake, and Kaslo became a major centre for apple and cherry orchards. At one time, 60% of British Columbia’s cherry crop was grown in the West Kootenay district, and orchard-ranchers in Kaslo regularly exported fruit to Europe, the USA, and Asia. Unfortunately, this new industry was also short-lived after a cherry-virus appeared in the mid-1930′s, which quickly devastated most orchards in the area.
Today, Kaslo is still the largest community on the main body of Kootenay lake, with a population of about 1,000 people. While much smaller than it’s frontier-era heyday, the village is now a stable community supported by tourism and the forestry industry. Walking the main street of Kaslo today, visitors can still sense the region’s optimistic mining past by viewing the historic buildings, remnants of mining equipment, and public memorials throughout the town. The historic City Hall building was completed in 1898, and still remains in use as the oldest city hall in British Columbia.
At the eastern edge of the downtown, perched on he edge of Kaslo Bay, is the village’s most famous attraction – the preserved SS Moyie, a CPR sternwheeler that once plied Kootenay Lake for 60 years. The Moyie is now a museum, and has been restored to it’s former glory when she carried passengers and freight along Kootenay Lake to and from Kaslo. The ship is now a National Historic Site, and is well worth a tour. The steam whistle still blows occasionally, as visitors in the wheelhouse harken back to booming frontier days.
The views of the lake and mountains from Kaslo can be dramatic, especially in the early Spring when shop-capped peaks may be viewed across green gardens and the glacier-cold, placid waters of the lake. The Purcell Mountains are to the east, across Kootenay Lake, while the Selkirk Mountains embrace Kaslo along the lake’s western shore. The village has been built upon the delta of the Kaslo River, a rapidly flowing creek which descends to Kootenay Lake from the silver-rich Slocan range to the west. A community park now sweeps around the shoreline, starting with a public beach at the bow of the Moyie, becoming mostly wild and natural toward the point of Kaslo Bay. A trail along the Kaslo River leads to the lake shore where visitors can search amongst the smooth river stones for mineral riches of their own.
Generations of miners, loggers, railwaymen, and fruit ranchers passed their freight through this little port earning vast sums of money for those that found their stake to mine the precious treasures. Today the little bay offers a picturesque solitude, and some of the most beautiful lake views in Canada.
SS Moyie National Historic Site
Carpenter Creek Park Trail
Main Street Shops
Kaslo City Hall
Highway 31 Scenic Route to New Denver
Mt Buchanan Look-off
Sandon Ghost Town
Cody Caves Provincial Park
Ainsworth Hot Springs