10 old city of Trail
Image Courtesy of the Trail Historical Society

Exploring Our History

Taming a River

The Columbia River, at 2,237 km long, spans the length of the Rocky Mountains passing through 14 dams, until it finally reaches the Pacific Ocean in Oregon.

The Columbia River Valley was first inhabited by aboriginal peoples, known as the Lakes, or Sinixt, peoples. For many millennia, the Sinixt used these lands as traditional hunting grounds, utilizing the Columbia for both transportation and fishing.

Explorer and cartographer David Thompson was first settler to come to the Kootenay region. He charted and mapped the Columbia all the way to its mouth in 1807. In 1859, the Hudson Bay Company established Fort Shepherd alongside the river, across from the mouth of the Pend d’Oreille, which subsequently burned to the ground in 1872.

The Dewdney Trail, for which Trail was named, wound through the mountains above Rossland, and was the first pack-trail across southern B.C. The trail’s creek entered the river through a 343-acre plateau, which came to be called Trail Creek Landing.

Mining and Smelting

After gold and copper were discovered near Rossland in 1890, ore mining began, and it would be shipped down river to a smelter in Washington. Two entrepreneurs, Eugene Sayre Topping and Frank Hanna, bought up the plateau and created a town. Trail Creek Landing soon attracted Fritz A. Heinze, who purchased land on a high bank overlooking the settlement, and built the first smelter. Mining and smelting in the region offered jobs, attracting immigrants to the region. As the population increased, the City of Trail was established in 1901, and the name was then shortened to Trail.

A City Grows

In 1912, the first bridge was build, allowing for residential development along the east banks of the river, and connecting Trail to the Beaver Valley and beyond. But, early settlers were subject to the river’s frequent floods and ice flows. During the massive flooding that occurred in 1948, still in some people’s memory today, the water rose to great heights, dangerously close to  the “old bridge.” This prompted the building of the river wall. The last major flooding by the Columbia River was in 1961, although surrounding Creeks would be problematic in the future.

The “old bridge” closed in 2010 due to persistent structural issues. Construction of a new pedestrian bridge is currently underway.

Teck Metals Ltd. – a city within a city

The smelter that Heinze built in 1896 was purchased in 1898 by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), forming the subsidiary called the Canadian Smelting Works. In 1906, the War Eagle, Centre Star, and St. Eugene mines, along with the Rossland Power Company, were amalgamated with the smelter to create the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada Ltd. (CM&S). In 1910, CM&S purchased the Sullivan Mine in Kimberley.

During the years 1917-1929, using the rich lead/zinc Sullivan ore, Ralph W. Diamond led a five-man research team at Trail that developed a new process for ore separation known as differential froth flotation. This unlocked the treasures of the Sullivan and ensured the company’s future for years to come.

Take a look through some of these excellent images from Trail’s history. All images are courtesy of the Trail Historical Society.

23 gulch train

Preserving Our Past

The Trail Historical Society

The Trail Historical Society is an active group that manages the Trail Museum, the Trail Archives, and the Sports Hall of Memories. The society published historical periodicals, develops plaques and interpretive signs on heritage buildings/heritage sites, as well as on other points of interest in the community. The possess an extensive knowledge of the Trail region, the surrounding area, and the Columbia River.

The Trail Archives and Trail Museum

The Trail Archives are stored on the second floor of the Trail City Hall, located at 1394 Pine Avenue. It was established in 1978 with the intention of collecting and preserving the photographic and documentary history of Trail, while also making it readily available for the public. The Archives currently consist of over 12,000 historic images, as well as original copies of the “Trail Creek News” and the currently circulating paper, the “Trail Daily Times”. Staff are currently working towards indexing all of the negatives of the Trail Daily Times from 1968-1998.

The Archives also include a sizable collection of maps and structure plans, several collections of local publications, and over 11 meters of textual records.

The Archives are open from 9 am to 4 pm, Monday to Friday. If you would like access to any of these documents, it is recommended that you call ahead to schedule an appointment, at 250-364-0829.

The Trail Museum is currently located in the Trail Memorial Center, at 1051 Victoria Street. It houses displays demonstrating the history of the Trail Smelter and associated organized, as well as the original development and settlement of the Trail region. The museum is open to the public via appointment (250-364-0829), or by walk-ins June through August, from 1 pm to 4:30 pm.

In 2014, Trail taxpayers voted in a referendum to build a new library an museum on a river-front location. Upon it’s successful completion, the Archives, as well as other documents governed by the Trail Historical Society, and the Sports Hall of Memories memorabilia, will all be housed in this new location.

The Italian Archives

The Colombo Lodge is responsible for the maintenance of photographs, artifacts and memorabilia or the Lodges’ history, which includes vivid memories of many of the towns original Italian inhabitants. To arrange for a viewing of the Italian Archives, call 250-368-8921. 

The “Home of the Champions” Monument

In 1996, a monument was constructed outside of the Kootenay Savings Credit Union building to honor the people, past and present, who have excelled in a chosen field of either sport, industry, or lifestyle. This monument has been called the “Home of the Champions” monument, and to date there are 117 names on the monument. The Greater Trail Home of Champions Society is continually accepting nominations for names of “Champions” to be added to the monument.