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   Volume 81 - Issue 37   email:   $1.00   
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Quote of the Week
"(Our) bylaw department is a reactive department, not a proactive department"
- Kevin Robins  
Interim CAO   


John Kinnear photo
Construction of the 9,200 foot long log flume.
Looking Back - John KinnearA few weeks back “Now and Then” revealed the story of silent movie making up the Bull River on the BC side of the Rockies. How and why the Bull River rose to prominence back then is a fascinating story unto itself.
In the Hughes Rocky Mountain Range east of Cranbrook lies a magnificent 4 mile long row of eight peaks known affectionately as the Steeples. At its south end there is a gap where the collective waters of over 60 miles of drainage is forced through a treacherous and now infamous canyon. To behold these waters, lashed into foam and charging through that half mile long, very narrow and deep gorge in a raging torrent is a remarkable sight. At one point the water plunges down 80 feet in a falls that produces a perpetual rainbow. Those waters and canyon go by the name Bull River and came into historic prominence about 140 years ago.
That was about the time when places like Findlay Creek, Perry Creek and Wildhorse Creek around the Fort Steele area were being scoured for placer gold and the area was overrun by all manner of man and beast. The Bull, once named the “Bad River” on Captain Palliser's expedition maps, was not like those tamer creeks around it as far as gold recovery was concerned. Its bouldery bars and deep crevices in bedrock did not offer up there pay dirt easily. There were those who made small fortunes above and below the canyon using bank tunnels, wing dams and flume and sluice boxes. But the canyon itself, where it was assumed a large amount of flattened gold was hidden, did not get that much attention. There were reports of the occasional brave soul having some success by climbing down into the gorge with a tar coated long stick to probe the deep crevices above the water line.
Gold was not the only attraction to the Bull River area back then. More ambitious prospectors began staking some interesting mineralized outcroppings known as igneous dykes. Showings of galena, copper, gold and silver bearing ore were discovered but no continuous veins were ever found. This failure led to a considerable slowdown in claims taking and once the easy gold was stripped out of the area things were fairly quiet until the turn of the century. That's when a prospector by the name of Joseph C. Hooker recognized the hydro-electric power potential of the Bull and staked 400 acres that encompassed the falls and canyon. He also acquired placer and water power rights on another 2 miles of the river. Hooker lacked the finances and expertise to make things happen so he contacted his friend George Henderson down in Beloit, Iowa. Henderson was a native born Scotsman who had come to the U.S. at the age of 16 and had done well. An honest and industrious man, he ran a successful milling business.
In the spring of 1903 Henderson and other interested parties toured the Bull River, liked what they saw and returned that fall to buy out Hooker. Henderson raised $40,000 in investment capital and moved to Bull River Falls where he was to spend the next 17 frustrating years trying to transform the Bull's brute power into electricity.
It should be remembered that the use of electricity as a power source was relatively new back then. It wasn't until 1891 that alternating current at high voltage was introduced, allowing electricity to be transmitted for up to 300 miles.
But electricity was fast becoming an important factor in development and George knew it. The booming coal mines of the Crowsnest Pass, the developing Sullivan Mine and the fast growing town of Cranbrook were all potential markets for Henderson's dream. That dream was to generate power on the Bull River and deliver it to towns from Moyie, B.C. to Frank, Alberta- which are less than 100 miles apart as the crow flies or as the power line strings. Also at that time the northern extension of the C.P.R. from Elko, BC, known as the Kootenay Central Railway was being promoted and it was expected it would pass right near the falls.
In late 1903 Henderson incorporated the Bull River Electric Light and Power Company. Being short of funds he had a plan.
That plan was to use the $40,000 at hand to build a huge flume big enough to hold all the water from the Bull River and bypass the canyon with it.
Once the canyon ran dry he was certain that enough gold would be found there to finance a power plant and transmission lines.
This was not to be any ordinary flume. Its design was a whopping 16 feet wide by 8 feet high by 9,200 feet long and was to run along a rocky mountainside. A sawmill with a 20,000 board feet a day capacity and a large camp were erected to begin this monster task.
Unfortunately the money was soon used up, the project slowed and by 1908 only the graded base for the flume was in place. More money recruiting stateside was done and by 1909 work had resumed. A town site named Pritchard after Dr. Pritchard who had invested heavily in the project was laid out in anticipation of the arrival of the Kootenay Central Railroad whose location survey showed it crossing near the falls. Incidentally, that railway charter had been bought by the C.P.R. from Colonel Baker back in 1897 and with it came a government land grant of no less than 518,000 acres in the Bull River watershed. In 1908 the Tie & Timber Branch of the CPR decided to build a sawmill and headquarters in the area and subsequently bought a large mill at Wardner which they planned to move to the mouth of the Bull River well downstream from the anticipated railway crossing that Henderson was selling lots for.
CPR is famous for locating its railway lines where it best suits their purpose regardless of what public development has gone before it. Fort Steele is testimony to that fact. They got left high and dry themselves. And so true to this policy it was revealed in 1910 that the rail line location had been changed and would cross the Bull 2 /12 miles downstream from George's town site. Honest man that he was George voluntarily returned the money to those who had bought lots.
In October of 1910 it was announced that the flume and diversion dam had been completed and George reportedly had gone to Vancouver to purchase power plant machinery. The next five years for Henderson would prove to be even more frustrating and disappointing than the first seven had been. Following the bad news about the Kootenay Central came even worse news. The promise of abundant gold in the canyon was not to be. Once water was diverted through the flume very little gold was found in the canyon. Methinks perhaps it was naive to assume that even something as heavy as gold would stay anchored in a 16 foot wide gorge that ran as fierce as did the Bull.
It seemed that George was always short of money and constantly courting new investors. This included a trip to Montreal in 1911 and another to London England in 1913.
Meanwhile back at the flume CPR had gotten into the act big time. In the winter of 1910 they began logging and tie hacking up the Bull. CPR realized the Bull River canyon was much too crooked and full of rock obstructions to run timber through so they entered into an agreement with Henderson to run their wood down his monster flume thereby avoiding some serious log jams. For this privilege they agreed to pay him the princely sum of $5000 per year.
CPR crews subsequently built a 275 foot long chute off the end of George's flume to connect back to the river and began running ties and logs down it. A log diversion boom at the flumes intake was built but directing the spring run of 1911 timber into it proved extremely difficult for the log drivers. In 1912 CPR applied to the government for the right to remove obstacles from the river and began some pretty serious blasting. The 1912 spring run was directed through the canyon instead of the flume but the cut wood continually jammed up in the canyon necessitating the frequent use of dynamite. I don’t know about you but the thought of being lowered into the boiling waters of that canyon along with multiple boxes of dynamite makes my blood run cold.
Watch for part two of this story in two weeks.
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