Athalmer, British Columbia Canada

Discover Athalmer, British Columbia: A Historical and Tourism Perspective

Athalmer, an unincorporated community in the East Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia, is primarily located on the western shore of the Columbia River south of the mouth of Toby Creek. This locality, off the merged section of highways 93 and 95, is approximately 134 kilometres (83 mi) north of Cranbrook and 120 kilometres (75 mi) southeast of Golden by road.

The Origin of Athalmer, British Columbia

Originally known as Salmon Beds, Athalmer was a place where First Nations had caught and smoked salmon for centuries. In 1887, James L. McKay established a ranch in the Dry Gulch area to the north. By 1891, his holdings included 12 hectares (30 acres) of marshy ground at Salmon Beds. In September 1898, McKay sold land to the Hon. Frederick Whitworth Aylmer to layout a townsite. The name Athalmer was an adaptation of Aylmer's old family name of Athol (most noble) and mere (lake).

The Early Communities of Athalmer, British Columbia

The North West Company trading post of Kootanae House, which existed from 1807–1812, was located to the north on the far shore of Toby Creek. From the 1890s, mined ore was hauled down from the mountains to Athalmer for shipping by barge to Golden. By April 1899, 75 to 100 townsite lots had been purchased. Joseph J. Lake opened a large general store, and Athalmer House provided accommodation. However, most residents were living in tents, but two hotels were completed the next month. Lake was the inaugural postmaster from 1899–1910. McKay installed a 4,600-metre (15,000 ft) daily capacity sawmill which produced the building lumber. About 1900, the jail was built, part of the law enforcement presence based in the community. A school existed at that time. In 1908, a new hotel opened. The school, which closed in 1909, did not reopen until 1911. In 1910, the Windsor Hotel lost its liquor licence for illegally serving a patron on a Sunday. Soon after, James L. McKay moved his family from the ranch to temporary accommodation at the closed hotel, until their mansion by the river was ready. At the time, he either acquired or already owned the undeveloped Athalmer lots, which he promoted the next year. The Windsor reopened and the Coronation Hotel was under new management. Athalmer was the steamboat landing from Golden. In terms of business and population, its importance exceeded Invermere, Wilmer, and Windermere.

The Development of Athalmer, British Columbia

In 1912, McKay installed an electricity generating plant, which supplied street lighting and properties. Powered by cordwood-burning steam boilers, the plant was the first in the valley. That year, the Bank of Montreal established a branch, four stores existed, a garage/public hall was under construction, and the Columbia Valley Times newspaper was founded, being published at least until 1914. During these few years, the services also included two Chinese restaurants, a Chinese laundry, two brothels, a telephone operator, and two provincial police officers. Building on the swampy ground had been a challenge. In 1915, the population was a few hundred, and the Imperial Bank established a branch. The boom ended as World War I continued. In 1917, the Bank of Montreal closed and the Imperial opened three mornings a week. Invermere, established in 1911, gained pre-eminence.

The Later Community of Athalmer, British Columbia

The area bounded by the railway track, the western approach roading for the Columbia bridge, and the foreshore, comprises James Chabot Provincial Park and the Lake Windermere Resort lands. In 2019, the District of Invermere purchased the latter for $5 million. Open houses have been held to determine future use. The nearest BC Transit stops are the Petro-Canada for northward travel and Sobeys (Invermere) for southward. Athalmer primarily comprises residential and light industrial components. Housing and employment opportunities are comparable to Invermere, where area services are mainly located up on the bench.

Ferries and Bridges in Athalmer, British Columbia

By 1898, two ferries operated across the river. Assumedly, ferries continued until the bridge opened in 1900. In 1913, a new swing bridge was completed. The next year, the old swing bridge was demolished. In 1930, an 11-bay trestle bridge, replaced the swing span. This bridge was reconstructed in 1959 and replaced in 1986.

The Railway in Athalmer, British Columbia

The Kootenay Central Railway (KCR) was a Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) subsidiary. In November 1914, the last spike was driven near the north end of Columbia Lake. In January 1915, the first passenger train at the station was carrying soldiers off to war. In 1923, a log building was erected to replace the portable depot used for years. Assumedly at this time, the station name changed from Athalmer to Lake Windermere, the former station of that name having closed. Apparently, Invermere had been unhappy with the prior name of Athalmer. Consequently, CP selected Lake Windermere as a more neutral alternative. The twice weekly Cranbrook–Golden run stayed overnight at the station. In 1975, the locomotive and two cars of a northbound coal train derailed on the railway crossing and smashed into the log station building. The Windermere District Historical Society acquired the remnants, which were moved up the hill and rehabilitated to become the log building that houses the Windermere Valley Museum. In 1980, a $560,000 highway overpass replaced the railway crossing. The 61-metre (200 ft) long structure comprises three spans. The approaches and paving cost an additional $270,000. In 2013, an approaching train fatally clipped a pedestrian at the Borden St. crossing.