Jerry and Wendy invited me to go with them to Fort Steele. We’d passed it on the way to Fairmont. It’s just over 90 kilometers away, so about an hours drive. Fort Steele was never a true fort and was actually originally named “Galbraith’s Ferry” after the founder, John Galbraith. Gold was discovered in the area in the mid 1800s. Mr. Galbraith operated the only ferry over the Kootenay river for several hundred miles. As a result, he charged incredibly high prices and became quite wealthy as a result.
With all of the gold prospectors rushing in to the area, increasing conflict with the local First Nations people was inevitable. A local miner accused 2 Natives of a murder, which had occurred 3 years prior. They were arrested and the tension between the groups ratcheted up. A North-West Mounted Police unit, headed by Sam Steele was dispatched to the area. He de-escalated the crisis, released the Natives and the people of the town were so grateful they renamed it “Fort Steele” with the fort part due to the fact that the NWMP had a station in the town.
By the late 1880s, Fort Steele was growing rapidly and became the favorite location for the Canadian Pacific to build a station. However, due to some behind the scenes wrangling by a man who owned property about 15 kilos to the south, the station was built elsewhere–in a place renamed Cranbrook. As is the case with many towns, the lack of good transportation was a death knell. Many abandoned Fort Steele to move to Cranbrook and soon the Fort was essentially a ghost town with rotting buildings. In the 1960’s, the British Columbian parliament moved to preserve it, and the site has become a living heritage museum. We spent several hours there exploring, and I have the many, many pictures to prove it. I’ve tried to cull them so I’m only showing the most interesting ones, but it’s very hard to decide and you may be pictured out by the time this blog post is done. I have zero regrets. It was a beautiful day, and I’m so glad that Wendy and Jerry invited me!