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February 17th, 2016 ~ Vol. 85 No. 7
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
Tracing the Flow of the Crow
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Photo: Department of Energy, Mines and Resources
Summit Hotel ca. 1900
“You cannot step twice into the same river”
Heraclitus of Ephesus (450 BC – 480 BC)


The point that Heraclitus was trying to make is that water which flows over one’s feet standing in a river goes downstream, to be replaced continually by new waters. Changes are always taking place in a riparian setting, some good and some bad. To understand how important our high mountain watersheds within the municipality are I thought it might be worthwhile to get to know them better. Having said that, this will be a multi-column series tracing these oh so important waters from their sources through our boundaries. And in the process I’ll throw in some history asides and little known facts. The first step in learning about how to fix our watersheds is to understand their positions and contributions to the Flow of the Crow. And believe me they need fixing.

In our early white history the cave on the north side of Crowsnest Lake was purported to be the source of the Oldman River and signed as such. This of course is incorrect, the Oldman flows from springs at the base of Beehive Mountain way to the north, merges with the Livingstone River and passes through the Gap in the Livingstone Range on its way to the Oldman River Reservoir.

When one studies topographic maps closely one finds dozens of small streams feeding three large creeks away west of this cave that are the first contributors (sources) to the beginnings of the Crow’s waters. West and south of the Summit Inn, which sits on the Alberta/BC border, is a water course named Island Creek. It’s two main branches travel from the height of land about seven kilometres east and then north past the Inn and eventually runs south into Island Lake. The ‘height of land” in North America is defined as the divide between two watersheds and is how the provincial boundary is determined in the Pass area.

There is some interesting history on the Island Creek area. Andy Good was one of the more colorful early pioneers there and set up a hotel on the border which he called the Summit. It was an impressive structure with a large front porch and balcony and by 1909 was able to advertise the largest dance pavilion under cover in British Columbia. Andy had a zoo, tamed birds and animals including a bear and the hotel was renowned for its collection of mounted game heads in the bar and the lobby. Andy used to boast that rain falling on one side of the hotel ran into the Atlantic Ocean while rain falling on the other ran into the Pacific. The hotel burned down in 1921 and was rebuilt and is now known as the Inn on the Border. Somewhere I read an account of Andy diverting Island Creek north into Summit Lake so that he could say the hotel was all in BC but haven’t been able to verify this story.
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South of Island Lake are two other major drainages that flow into it, whose extent I found mind boggling. Ptolemy Creek begins at about 6800 feet at the west base of Andy Good Peak and runs over seven kilometres northwest to eventually meet with Crowsnest Creek. Further south, waters draining off the west flank of Mount Ptolemy form yet another seven plus kilometres of waterway that the maps call East Crowsnest Creek. There are dozens of sub-branches to these creeks and one such branch comes north from below the old Tent Mountain 2 Pit and therein lies a story that will leave you shaking your head.

Some years ago it was proposed that since the coal unit trains were returning east empty that it might be an idea to haul Vancouver’s garbage in them and dump it in the old Tent Mountain strip pit. I recall a feisty Coleman councillor named Emily Misura who was adamant that this could not happen. Imagine if you will that strip pit filled with Vancouver’s garbage and the water that would eventually have to flow out of it and into Crowsnest Creek. Yikes.

The main branch of Crowsnest Creek starts west of the old strip mine in Tent Mountain Pass and its five kilometers of water eventually joins East Crowsnest in a swampy area about three kilometers from Island Lake. There, in this willow paradise, one can usually spot moose and often water ouzels (dippers) dunking for bugs.

The last three kilometres of these combined drainages flows past old limestone quarries, under the highway and on to Island Lake. Some research on my part here revealed a rather profound and little known fact. A 1913 topographic map in the Peels Prairie Provinces website reveals that Crowsnest Creek at that time ran east along where the highway now runs and emptied into Crowsnest Lake not Island Lake near the bible camp. It probably was redirected when the highway was constructed. This creek has seen more than one man made change including a redirecting straight south towards Graymont’s limeworks plant and away from Island Lake in 1995. But that is another complicated story.

Looking more to the north we find that over top of Crowsnest Ridge, where the microwave sits, there is a small lake called Phillipps so named for Michael Phillipps who was the first white man to traverse through the Pass. The lake falls just on the Alberta side of the border but does not drain anywhere. It was thought by some that it is the source of the cave’s waters but this is not so. The caves source is subsurface waters travelling up along the massive Lewis Thrust fault that cuts through Crowsnest Ridge.
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East of Philipps Lake a small drainage runs from the base of Mount Tecumseh around the east edge of Crowsnest Ridge and into Crowsnest Lake. That creek tore up the old original road through the Pass big time in 2013. Where it enters Crowsnest Lake there was at one time a small town called Sentry Siding and renamed Sentinel years later. According to the Crowsnest Heritage Initiative’s map of regional heritage sites it: “boasted the Lake View Hotel, a boarding house, general store and Fat Alice’s restaurant, which was remembered for guilty pleasures sometimes sold along with the food.” Near this site is a small pond, up against the railroad tracks, where as a child I witnessed my father scoop out a common snapping turtle whose bite was memorable.

Moving back to the west I thought we might return to the cave and I’ll share some interesting facts about this double spring that the Cree called Manitowan Waiti (Holy Cave). According to Jon Rollins in his Caves of the Canadian Rockies it is a thermal spring with warm (up to 5.5 degrees C) sulphate-rich water. In terms of heat flux, Crowsnest Spring is considered fifth in importance in the southern Rockies, after the commercialized hot springs at Banff, Fairmont, Radium and Miette. Go figure! There is more that meets the eye with this cave. Cave divers have surveyed 176 metres (580 feet) of length and 60 metres (195 feet) of its convoluted depth. Good grief. Cave divers! What madness.

I will wrap up this first exploratory excursion into our headwaters with a quote from notes on another excursion written by T. Clarke – Ex. North West Mounted Police about an 1896 trip from Fort MacLeod to the Crowsnest Lakes area. In it is a description of what obviously was for centuries a sacred place for First Nations peoples. He says: “The walls of the cave contained paintings done in green and black paints drawn by Indian artists, the colors being bright and undimmed by time, there being bear, wolves, buffalo, elk, etc, shown. One large picture portrayed a group of sleeping Indians, their feet turned towards a fire while a short distance away a number of other Indians, armed with tomahawks and war clubs are seen creeping upon the defenceless sleep drugged unfortunates, soon to be made what is called “good Indians.”

Don’t know about you but that last comment is just about as offensive as it gets and is probably indicative of prevailing attitudes at the time. He mentions in his travelogue that hundreds of names of visitors have been left on the walls and that they also added their names. How sad that such an important heritage site was and probably still is being desecrated by man’s scribbles.

Tracing the Flow of the Crow:  Part1 - Part2 - Part3 - Part4
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February 17th ~ Vol. 85 No. 7
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