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Hudson’s Hope Museum News: Our coloured past

Arrow Lakes and the Kootenays have a history steeped in water rights, agriculture, mining, and much more
The Nakusp Municipal Beach bay, once home to over 10 acres belonging to the Spicer family, who arrived from England during the 1940s and were pioneers of organic farming. Sadly, in making way for the Hugh Keenleyside, Mica, and Duncan dams through the Columbia River Treaty, much of their land was expropriated and flooded. However, Jean Spicer was an avid photographer, capturing 35 years of the valley on film. These materials live on through the Arrow Lakes Historical Society.

Another trip around the sun has been made and I want to wish everyone a belated Happy New Year. I moved to the Kootenays this past December and have slowly begun diving into the vast local history here.

The area was first home to the Sinixt, Ktunaxa, and Secwepemc peoples, who lived along the Arrow Lake shores before sharing the land with settlers and fortune seekers. The Sinixt were the first group to inhabit the region, appearing 10,000 years ago after ice age glaciers receded.

Nakusp and the Arrow Lakes Historical Society

As a new resident of Nakusp, I was thrilled to see the town has an active historical society. Housed at the public library, I briefly stopped in a couple weeks ago and was impressed by how much care has been given to curating local history.

I’ll attempt to give a quick overview on Nakusp, though I know there’s individuals far better versed in it than me.

After First Nations, Nakusp’s settlement history began in 1892 with the fur trade, becoming a jump-off point for early lead, silver, and zinc mining in the Slocan Valley.

Steamboats were the first mode of major transportation. No roads or railways existed between the Kootenay mining areas and Vancouver, shipping goods from Nakusp on Upper and Lower Arrow Lake to Revelstoke, where the main Canadian Pacific Railway line was located.

By 1905, Nakusp was home to 300 residents, and today it boasts around 1,500. Roads and railways were quickly connected with the expansion of industry. Waterways are still traversed by ferry on the Arrow Lakes, with a terminal at Galena Bay and Shelter Bay, and another from Needles to Farquier further south.

Controversial to many, and not unlike the Peace River, the Arrow Lakes were dammed in 1969 by BC Hydro to make way for the Hugh Keenleyside dam (originally called the Arrow dam), irreversibly changing the valley. Farmland which once sustained generations was lost overnight, swallowed up by the new reservoir.

The S.S. Minto, a famous steamboat, also met its end in 1967 at Galena Bay, going up in a “Viking Funeral” as clearing the reservoir made it too costly to be moved from the shore.

Local historian and archivist Kyle Kusch wrote a book touching on what was lost in 2019, titled Our Coloured Past - The Arrow Lakes in the Age of Colour Photography, published by the Arrow Lakes Historical Society.

While I’ve yet to get my hands on a copy, I’ve heard it’s a good record of the area’s history starting from 1940 onward. It’s also worth noting Kusch received a BC Historical Federation’s Community History Award, part of the Lieutenant-Governor’s Historical Writing Awards for the book and his dedication in writing it.

The loss of farmland and impact on agriculture is very reminiscent of what happened to the Peace River valley during the creation of the W.A.C Bennett dam and the more I read, the more parallels I find. More is set to be lost with the completion of Site C.

It’s been a pleasure to move to a new community and see there’s people just as passionate about history as I am, and I can tell that Nakusp appreciates everything that Kusch has contributed.

Destroying history

Like most of the public, I was extremely disappointed to hear that the Six Peaks dinosaur trackway was damaged in July 2020. The site was declared protected in 2016, and Saulteau First Nations had planned to offer eco-tours there.

Fortunately, the individuals responsible have been sentenced for cutting fossils from the trackway. While the law and the courts have finally caught up, it does leave me wondering what the full extent of the damage is.

It makes a strong case for why British Columbia needs greater legislation to protect our prehistoric finds. Northeast B.C. is particularly blessed with an abundance of rare and unique fossils. It’s disappointing to see that nothing has been done to further protect the trackway.

While I do understand that funding and financial feasibility from the province usually dictates these matters, it’s in everyone’s best interest to preserve what we have. Dinosaurs are loved and valued beyond the scientific community, remaining a global fascination.

These fossils belong to everyone - not just those with power tools and a willingness to break the law. Good stewardship and care is needed.

It’s estimated that 10,000 trackways have yet to be uncovered at Six Peaks, and it’s a second chance to examine the fossil record lost in the creation of Dinosaur Lake and the hydroelectric dams in Hudson’s Hope.

Our neighbours in Tumbler Ridge also greatly deserve support. Their gallery remains the largest dinosaur museum in the province with over 3,000 unique pieces, in addition to their UNESCO heritage geopark holding nine of the 14 Tyrannosaur trackways found worldwide.

People’s Choice Award

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I won the 2022 People's Choice award for best newspaper columnist in the Alaska Highway News. I honestly had no idea I was in the running.

Usually I hear by word of mouth when people enjoy my articles, but it made my day to get the award. I appreciate everyone who reads my writing and took the time to vote for me.

The Hudson’s Hope Museum is open five days a week, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. We’re always looking for volunteers, if you’ve got time to support local history.

If you would like any further information, please call 250-783-5735 or email at

Tom Summer is the Vice President of the Hudson’s Hope Historical Society.

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