Canal Flats

Discovering Canal Flats, British Columbia: A Blend of History and Natural Beauty

Introduction to Canal Flats, British Columbia

Canal Flats is a charming village municipality nestled in the East Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia. This Columbia Valley community is strategically located between the southern end of Columbia Lake and the northwest shore of the Kootenay River. The locality, accessible via Highway 93/95, is approximately 83 kilometres (52 mi) north of Cranbrook and 165 kilometres (103 mi) southeast of Golden.

The First Nations of Canal Flats, British Columbia

The Ktunaxa Nation has a rich history in the region surrounding Canal Flats, having occupied the area for thousands of years. Evidence of their presence can be seen in the remnants of shelter pits on a bluff to the south, which once served as a Ktunaxa salmon fishing camp. The region also holds historical significance due to the missionary endeavours of Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet of the Jesuits. In 1845, he organized a grand assembly at the south end of Columbia Lake, where he baptized hundreds of tribal members and erected a cross to commemorate the occasion. The Columbia Discovery Centre and Ktunaxa Interpretive Centre, which opened in 2013, were relocated to the village in 2011.

The Origin of the Name: Canal Flats, British Columbia

The name "Canal Flats" has an interesting history. In April 1808, David Thompson, while canoeing upstream, reached the headwaters of the Columbia River. He named the 1.9-kilometre (1.2 mi) land mass separating the waterways as McGillivray's Portage, likely after Duncan McGillivray, who accompanied Thompson in their search for an overland route to the Pacific. Over time, the area has been known by various names, including Columbia Portage or Lake Pass (1858), Howse Portage (1863), Kootenay City (1885), and Grohman (1888). The name "Canal Flat" was adopted by 1888 and has been used interchangeably with the plural version, "Canal Flats," since 1895.

The Waterways and Roads of Canal Flats, British Columbia

The development of Canal Flats' transportation infrastructure has a storied past. In 1884, the government called for tenders for a ferry across the Kootenay at Upper Crossing, which was eventually awarded to William Adolf Baillie Grohman in 1886. The Baillie-Grohman Canal, completed in July 1889, was a notable fiasco of the era, requiring extensive dredging of the two rivers and a complete rebuild of the 2.4-kilometre (1.5 mi) canal to make the waterways navigable. Over time, the region saw the development of a wagon road, a bridge at Upper Crossing, and the Golden–Fort Steele passenger service. In 1950, Highway 4 was renumbered as Highway 95, which was rebuilt in the late 1950s and paved in 1962.

The Earlier Community of Canal Flats, British Columbia

Adjacent to the northwest of Canal Flats is Thunder Hill, which forms part of the Canal Flats area. The hill was first mentioned in an 1891 mining claim. The local post offices were called Grohman 1888–1889, Thunder Hill 1893–1913, and Canal Flats 1913 onward. During the canal construction, a hotel and general store operated, providing winter accommodation for the 200 workers. The hotel, however, soon closed after the construction crews left. In 1931, over 200 men successfully fought a forest fire that threatened the CP sawmill, station, and section house. In 1985, a nearby wildfire forced an evacuation of about 1,400 residents.

The Railway History of Canal Flats, British Columbia

The Kootenay Central Railway (KCR), a CP subsidiary, played a significant role in the development of Canal Flats. In 1913, Burns and Jordan, the prime contractor for the railway construction, employed a large force in the vicinity. The last spike was driven near the north end of Columbia Lake in November 1914, and the inaugural passenger train arrived in January 1915.

The Forestry Industry in Canal Flats, British Columbia

The forestry industry has been a significant part of Canal Flats' history. In 1888, a steam sawmill was installed for the duration of the canal construction. In 1910, Canal Flats camps, under the oversight of T.G. Procter, took out 1,200,000 metres (4,000,000 ft) of logs for transportation to the Crow's Nest Pass Lumber Co mill. The sawmill, which was owned by Crestbrook Forest Industries in the 1970s and Canadian Forest Products on closing in 2015, resulted in the loss of 75 jobs.

The Later Community of Canal Flats, British Columbia

In 2004, the settlement incorporated as a village municipality. From the mid-2010s, the village has been transitioning from a forestry-dependent economy. The Columbia Lake Technology Center opened in 2018 within the skeleton of the old mill, promoting tech and trades. In 2016, Mountain Mercantile opened in the old high school building opposite the arena, housing a range of boutique small businesses and serving as the venue for a local weekend vendors market.

The Demographics of Canal Flats, British Columbia

According to the 2021 Census of Population conducted by Statistics Canada, Canal Flats had a population of 802 living in 362 of its 470 total private dwellings, a change of 20.1% from its 2016 population of 668. With a land area of 11.07 km2 (4.27 sq mi), it had a population density of 72.4/km2 (187.6/sq mi) in 2021.

Recreation and Entertainment in Canal Flats, British Columbia

Canal Flats offers a variety of recreational and entertainment options. Adjacent to the north is the 1.5-kilometre (0.9 mi) trail forming the Columbia Greenway. To the northwest is Thunder Hill Provincial Park. To the northeast is the Tilley Memorial Park (formerly Canal Flats Provincial Park). Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park is 8 kilometres (5 mi) south. The Canal Flats Arena received a major renovation in 2013 and upgrade in 2018. The civic centre, which was expanded in the 1980s, includes a seniors' centre and food bank. In 2021, the new pavilion at the Canal Flats Lions Park opened. On the first weekend in June, Canal Flats holds the annual Canal Days Party, featuring parades, a pancake breakfast, a beer garden, food vendors, competitive events, and live music.

Maps of Canal Flats, British Columbia

For a detailed view of Canal Flats, refer to the "Kootenay map" from 1899 and the "BC map" from 1925. These maps provide a historical perspective of the region and its development over time.

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