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Review: British Columbia



Six Weeks in Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC where English Tourists Don’t Get to - Part 3

  • By SilverTraveller ESW

    2469 reviews

    Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon

  • Jun 2009
  • Husband

147 people found this review helpful

This is the third report covering British Columbia. There are separate reports for Saskatchewan and Alberta.

We flew into Edmonton and spent time in Saskatchewan before heading to the Alberta Badlands and Waterton Lakes National Park.

From Waterton Lakes National Park we drove up through the Kootenays on our way to Jasper, our one concession to stopping in a major tourist centre. We had come to see Canada, not other tourists…

We left Waterton on a glorious sunny day and headed for Crowsnest Pass, with a brief stop at Leitch Collieries after having seen pictures of them.

There are the remains of the coke ovens a washery, mine managers house and powerhouse. The buildings are superb but we were disappointed by the lack of information about them. E-mails before we arrived had not been answered. The box which should have held information leaflets was very empty. Some places had detailed information boards, other bits had none.

We admired the sight of the massive Frank Slide from the road but didn’t go in the Visitor Centre. In 1903, 74 million tonnes limestone slid 700m across 1km of the east face of Turtle Mountain. It dammed the Crowsnest River, forming small lake, covered the railway line, destroyed most coal mine’s surface infrastructure, buried 7 houses and several rural buildings and killed 68 people. The scars are still obvious.

We did the detour up to Elkford, which is one of the most remote and highest communities in BC. It was an interesting drive but didn’t repay the time spent. We rather wished we had missed this and spent more time at Fernie, which is a pretty town with some nice buildings. Its prosperity had come from coal, but it is now a four season holiday resort.

We were booked into Elizabeth Lake Lodge in Cranbrook which we highly recommend. Facilities and standards are very high and the rooms have a lovely view across Elizabeth Lake, which has with easy walks round it. Although on a busy road, there is little traffic noise in the rooms.

We spent a day at Fort Steele Heritage Town. It was early in the season so most of the costumed interpreters were still busy practising their roles in the fort and theatre. There is a good selection of buildings with plenty of information about them.

We drove to Kimberley to go on the Underground Mining Railway, which takes you deep into the Sullivan Mine, which yielded high grade lead ore. After it was closed the railway was opened as a tourist attraction. It was a pleasant run up to the mine. There was an underground tour explaining how the mine worked and a chance to see the huge compressors and generators that powered the mine. There were only a handful of people on the trip so there was plenty of time to ask questions.

From Cranbrook, we headed up the east side of Kootenay Lake to get the ferry across to Balfour. We had been looking forward to this run but were frustrated as there were so many trees, you couldn’t see the views. We had a brief stop at Kockanee Creek Provincial Park intending to follow some of the trails. They were poorly way marked and in early June not well used. We gave up.

We drove through Nelson (a big, busy place) but couldn’t find anywhere to park so headed for Silverton where we had booked accommodation.
It is a delightful small town with little left of it’s industrial past except the open air display of old machinery.

We drove to Sandon which gets very positive reports in the guide books about how the ghost village is being revitalised. This had been Canada’s richest silver mining community with a population of 6000 in the late 1890s. There were 58 brothels, 29 hotels, 28 saloons. 3 breweries, 2 railways. . . Population declined from 1899, when the mines became exhausted, linked to a decline in metal prices, labour problems and a fire. It was used as an internment camp during WW2 for Japanese Canadians. A major flood in 1955 destroyed most settlement and there are few original buildings left.

Efforts of revitalisation have run out of puff. It had a very run down, sad feel. Everywhere was firmly shut even though there was a sign outside Prospectors Pick General Store which said open. We started to walk along the Kaslo and Sandon Rail trail but after a couple of miles the bridge had been washed away and the stream was too wide for me to jump. All in all a disappointing visit.

The drive from Silverton to Kaslo is really good and it made a change to be able to see the scenery. Kaslo is a delightful small town with a lot of heritage buildings, tree-lined streets and magnificent lake and mountain views.

The trip around SS Moyie was excellent. This is a beautifully restored Canadian Pacific Railway sternwheeler which ran the 87 mile route along the lake between Kaslo and the railhead at Nelson from 1898-1957. Last operating boat of type. It carried 200 passengers and was the last word in luxury with a large, elegantly appointed dining saloon, luxurious smoking lounge, private ladies’ saloon and comfortable overnight cabins, richly decorated with gold leaf. It was an eye opener as to the standards of luxury provided for travellers.

From Silverton we headed north to Revelstoke. We decided to take the scenic route from Kaslo up to Meadow Creek and the gravel road past Trout Lake to Galena for the ferry. This is an amazing run – we hardly saw any traffic and the scenery was glorious.

The weather let us down in Revelstoke and limited the amount we did. We drove up the Meadows in the Sky Parkway, which gets rave reviews. The sun was wrong for pictures and we were disappointed by the lack of views because of the trees. The top of the road was still closed because of snow, so we didn’t reach the meadows at the top. The 2 short trails in Revelstoke National Park – the skunk cabbage trail and the Giant Cedars Trail – were both nice walks.

There are two museums in Revelstoke worthy of mention. The Railway Museum with a range of interesting displays and information and the Nickelodeon Museum. This was great fun. There is a guided tour and the owners play some of the different organs – the number you hear depends on how interested the group is and how busy they are. Tours are advertised as taking an hour but in fact we were over 90minutes. It is the most amazing collection of organs and the stories with them are entertaining. This was a very worthwhile and enjoyable visit and not at all ‘stuffy’.

Roger’s Pass is an amazing road to drive with stunning scenery. Even though it was dull I preferred this drive to Icefields Parkway even though it is not as far. Many of the trails were still closed after the winter but the Abandoned Rails Trail is an easy walk and takes you past the remains of the wooded snow shelters. In Glacier National Park, the Hemlock trail is a very pleasant short walk through mature forest.

From Revelstoke we were heading to Radium Hot Springs we did a detour into Yoho National Park to see Emerald Lake.. This is a ‘honey pot’ and was quite busy around the car park area. We started to walk around the lake clockwise but watching the rain clouds beginning to collect didn’t quite get to the far end before we decided it would be prudent to turn back. This was a pleasant easy walk along the lake shore with a reasonable path and with lots of wild flowers including orchids.

Kicking Horse Pass is quite a road especially at the Golden end when you drive up through the limestone gorge. Our only complaint there were no pull ins so we could park to take pictures.

The weather wasn’t good in Radium Hot Springs so we didn’t see as much of Kootenay National Park as intended. It is worth driving up the road to the Hot Springs for the views across the town. Park up and there is a pleasant walk along the ridge. We enjoyed and can recommend Marble Canyon Walk and also Paint Pots. Cold, iron-rich mineral springs bubble up through small pools and stain the earth a deep ochre colour. We also did the Fireweed Trail from the Continental Divide car park. It was interesting but we wouldn’t invest the time another time.

From Radium Hot Springs we headed for Icefields Parkway and Jasper…

We had mixed views about our time in BC. We had read a lot about the Kootenays which is an area many Canadians holiday, although it receives fewer foreign visitors.

We found the number of trees frustrating and the long drives through the forest with few views. We enjoyed our stay at Silverton and wish we had had better weather at Radium Hot Springs and had chance to see more of Kootenay National Park. The bits we did see were good. Banff may have the edge on scenery but Kootenay doesn’t have the crowds.

A more detailed report for the trip can be read here:

The website of pictures from our trip can be seen here:

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