The K’tunaxa people have hunted, fished and gathered in this valley for thousands of years. These resourceful people left few traces on the place, but petroglyphs can be seen from the water in a few locations and arrowheads and other artifacts indicate favourite camping grounds. The K’tunaxa still live in the Creston valley.
Explorer David Thompson first saw the valley in 1808 but it wasn’t until the 1880’s that the area began to be frequented by Europeans and Americans – prospectors and miners drawn by the lure of silver and gold. Enormously rich silver strikes brought waves of men seeking fortune, followed by the railways and paddle-wheel steamers. There are signs of this frontier history wherever you go in the Kootenays, from sunken paddle-wheelers to abandoned miner’s shacks.
Riondel’s Bluebell Mine was the mining focal point on the east shore and began with a fascinating tale of claim jumping and murder. Now decommissioned, it had the longest production run of any mine in British Columbia. The works include tunnels which extend for miles in all directions, including under the lake.
Following the mining boom orchardists formed the next wave of immigration. The first orchards were planted in 1890, and from 1910 to 1930 many farms took root around the shores of Kootenay Lake. Their success was limited by transportation issues and the arrival of small cherry disease. With the farming boom in the Okanagan many farms faltered and then lost men to the Second World War. Women ran many farms during the war and the Boswell Farmer’s Institute still exists. By 1945 some were out of business and in the 1960s, most of the farms in Crawford Bay became part of Kokanee Springs Golf Course. Local history books and pioneers journals are available at the Gray Creek Store.