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Early West Kootenay Boundary photography ...

The very first known photographs of Grand Forks and Rock Creek were created by Royal Engineer sappers in 1859-60 (Link) (Link). Photographs of the Boundary district in the following years however, appear to be quite rare, and perhaps understandably so, as settlement was sparse and there was relatively little interest in the "interior" until the early stages of the mining boom in the 1890s. When photographers did venture into this region, they were more often than not, professionals who generally bypassed the ordinary activities and settlements of human beings, focusing their attention on the machinery of the railroads, mines and smelters of their industrial clients.

The famed photographer J.W. Heckman photographed and documented hundreds of miles of Canadian Pacific Railroad infrastructure across Canada in the 1880s, including the construction of the C&W railway over the Paulson Summit between West Robson and Midway. His photographs have preserved a visual record of an important aspect of our common Canadian history, and many can be seen on the walls of remaining CPR railway stations in the West Kootenay-Boundary, now serving as local museums, pubs or restaurants. And we can also enjoy and learn from them on interpretive signage along hiking trails on the abandoned railroad beds of the CPR throughout the district. Read more about Joseph Heckman and a book about his work, in a recent 2018 Ormsby Book Review, #199 What the Heckman, by Walter Volovsek. (Link)

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Access to railroads accelerated the growth of the mining industry and the developent of mining towns, and it wasn't long before photographers were motivated to investigate and photograph the next discovery of precious minerals and the birth of a new interior metropolis. The two mining bonanzas receiving the most attention in the West Kootenay Boundary were in Rossland and Phoenix.

The discovery of gold and copper at Red Mountain, and the anticipation of wealth and prosperity in "Ross-Town" by miners, investors and entrepreneurs, attracted the attention of two Vancouver studios, the Edwards Brothers and Stephen J. Thompson. Their street scenes of Columbia Avenue and lower Rossland's Sour-Dough Alley in 1895 are among the best photographs ever taken of Rossland in the early days of its frenzied genesis. A simple search for these photographers on the City of Vancouver Archive and the Vancouver Library Archive websites reveals a wide selection of their stunning, high quality photographs, from which a small sampling is posted here. (Link)

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Melvin McKay Stephens lived in Rossland for a number of years in the following decade where he maintained a real-estate, investment and telegraph agency. Also an amateur photographer, he likewise produced a remarkable series of images depicting Rossland mines and various local commercial and public buildings (Link). His visual curiousity also took him into the Boundary country to photograph the Grand Forks smelter and the Phoenix townsite which he captured in a four-part set of high quality images. Remarkably, as demonstrated on our Phoenix web page, he may have shared the same exact vantage point with Walter J. Carpenter on the Spion Kop hillside, perhaps even at the same moment. (Link).

The extraction and smelting of Phoenix copper ore was initially financed and supervised from Quebec by the Granby Mining and Smelting Company. Recognizing the potential historical significance of their operations, they contracted the prestigious Montreal Notman Studio to send photographers great distances into the B.C. wilderness to photograph their Granby Mine workings at Phoenix and smelter in Grand Forks. These images, largely printed from 8x10 inch glass plate negatives, are now preserved in the Montreal McCord Museum. (Link)

And as discussed in following paragraphs, the famed Vancouver photographer, R.H. Trueman, was not sitting by idly, either. He travelled B.C. widely at that time, seemingly especially interested in Kootenay sternwheelers and railroads. He too, photographed Phoenix and periodically operated a studio in Grand Forks.

But a good part of the West Kootenay's industrial history was documented by an American photographer, W.J. Carpenter, who was specifically commissioned by the CM&S and West Kootenay Power and Light Co.s, to photograph the new Trail and Boundary District smelters and local mines, as well as the hydro-electric power installations on the Kootenay River. Walter J. Carpenter had acquired a reputation photographing mining activities in the Colorado mountains around Telluride, later moving to Spokane where he mastered the use of the fascinating new Cirkut camera. This clock driven instrument was capable of capturing breathtaking wide-view panoramic images on long strips of flexible plastic film negatives with relative ease, making it a popular choice for picturing big groups of peopele, wide city views and landscape vistas. We have examined one of Carpenter's best images in this format on a previous web page ... the stunning view of the Phoenix townsite from the Spion Kop hillside (Link). But his smelter panoramas are especially well known (Link), and many local museums currently display one or more of his Trail, Grand Forks, Greenwood or Boundary Falls smelter photographs on their walls.

The Hughes brothers, Robert and Leslie, operated a retail art and photo shop in Trail for over two decades, individually and as a partnership, between 1922 and 1945. Aside from selling cameras, photo gear and art supplies, they were also very capable studio photographers with a varied skill-set, including the use of the Cirkut camera and large format traditional glass plate cameras, preferring the large 8x10 inch negative format which could produce large, highly detailed images that could be printed by direct contact with the negative without requiring enlargement. Possessing a well informed awareness and a constant visual curiosity about their surroundings, the brothers photographed a diverse range of subjects, industrial and otherwise, capturing on film, the gradual growth of Trail and its surrounding communities over the years. Robert left for Vancouver in 1938 and Leslie closed shop in Trail and moved to Nelson in 1945 to pursue other interests. Some years later, local historians were pleased to find a virtual treasure trove of their photographs and negatives in cardboard boxes in the basement of their old shop. Many of these photographs, as well as those of W.J. Carpenter, have now been posted online, thanks to the Trail Historical Society (Link).

A significant collection of the Hughes brothers' panoramic and glass plate negatives depicting the CCUB Doukhobor Brilliant jam factory and other related subject matter from the 1920s, was also discovered in these boxes, and the collection was graciously donated to the Doukhobor Discovery Centre in Castlegar, where the extraordinary historic photographs have been printed and are now on permanent display. (Enlarge Photo)

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Photography in the news ...

The rapid growth of Phoenix, as a central player in the local mining economy, was accompanied by professionals with technical expertise in other fields or disciplines other than engineering, including skilled journalists and newspaper print technicians, making use of the latest trends and developments in print media. The Phoenix Pioneer and the Grand Forks newspaper staff also included capable cartographers, illustrators, and photographers whose maps, drawings, and advertisements were routinely featured in their papers and promotional booklets. An outstanding example of their workmanship is the following beautifully rendered pen and ink illustration of Grand Forks which appeared in the Grand Forks Evening Sun in 1907. The drawing was dated and helps us authenticate the date of the actual photo itself from which it was adapted. (click to enlarge the illustration)

Grand Forks newspapers also included advertisements for other local printing shops, photo studios and photographers, and it was of particular interest to find Richard Henry Trueman's ad periodically appearing in the Evening Sun between 1904 and 1908. The famed Vancouver photographer was known to have travelled southern British Columbia extensively in those years maintaining temporary studios in Sandon and Revelstoke. He is well known for his crisp, thoughtfully composed and methodically photographed images of railroads and sternwheelers plying the waters of the Columbia River and Kootenay Lake. His photograph of a steam engine and passenger train precariously clinging to the narrow gauge Kaslo & Slocan rails at Payne's Bluff near Sandon is claimed to be one of the best-known railroad photographs ever taken in British Columbia. Trueman himself is seen in the following image perched on the rocky Kaslo waterfront with his massive camera and tripod, creating a photograph of the S.S. Nelson in 1894. Newspaper ads confirm that he rented space in Grand Forks in Blome's Old Studio on Bridge Street, and another on Winnipeg Avenue, where local citizens could benefit from his photo expertise in portraiture. It appears however, that Trueman didn't find the streets, townsite or local landscape particularly photogenic. His imprinted trademark appears on at least one fine photograph of Greenwood and Phoenix, but not on any known photographs of Grand Forks. R.H. Trueman died in Revelstoke in 1911, having otherwise, made an immense contribution to the historical visual record of the West Kootenay Boundary.

R.H. Trueman photographs, Vancouver Public Library Archives (Link to enlargement)


The Grand and Commodious Grand Forks Yale Hotel ...

William Rone McPherson was a successful architect working in Grand Forks between the years 1899 and 1904. His name appeared in local newspapers in connection with the design of many well known commercial buildings and family residences in the Grand Forks townsite at the time. The following is a listing of his commercial designs, and their location and date as published in the Vancouver Province newspaper in 1899. Three of the buildings were designed and constructed for Commodore Biden, an eastern American capitalist and occasional visitor to Grand Forks.

1. YALE HOTEL, Riverside Avenue at Bridge Street, for Commodore Biden, 1898-99
2. WINNIPEG AVENUE, near First Street, commercial block for Commodore Biden, for offices of The Grand Forks Miner Newspaper Co., and with Public Hall above, 1899
3. BIDEN BLOCK, First Street at Winnipeg Avenue, for the Eastern Townships Bank and the Granby Smelting Co.,
4. 1899 RIVERSIDE STREET, near Winnipeg Avenue, store and office block for Frank Coryell, 1899
5. WINNIPEG AVENUE, near Riverside, two stores, with flats above, for Miss May Stark, 1899
6. RIVERSIDE AVENUE, near the Alberta Hotel, a commercial block for Charles Cummings and James Addison, 1899
7. FIRST STREET, at Winnipeg Avenue, a commercial block for Mrs. Margueretta Folger, 1899

Two of McPherson's buildings can be seen in this panoramic image of Winnipeg Avenue and First Street, likely taken in approximately 1907. The building at centre appears to be second on the list (No. 2), Biden's commercial block, with the Grand Forks Miner newspaper offces below and a public hall above. The building across the street on 1st Ave. (No. 3) would be another Biden block for the Eastern Townships Bank and the Granby Smelting Company. These buildings can be identified on a detailed 1901 fire insurance map of downtown Grand Forks, posted on the Boundary Historical Society website. (Link).

Number one on the list, undoubtedly the most notable building, was the famed Yale Hotel on Bridge Street and Riverside Avenue, which appears below on a screen cap of a portion of the aforementioned map, as well as in the following photographs.


Newspaper stories describe Biden's initial concept for the building as a multi-storey, multi-purpose, business block, on riverfront property purchased from ex-mayor Manly in 1898. But the concept and design was abruptly modified in a matter of days to serve as a hotel instead. The hotel was celebrated then for its grandeur and "commodious" facilities. But sadly, it is mostly now remembered for its demise in an extraordinary fire in 1908 that also swept away a good portion of the city of Grand Forks itself. Two Manlys and two Bidens appear in the following 1899 Kootenay Standard Board of Trade photograph, the latter standing fourth and fifth from the right edge of the photograph. Presumably the elder Biden would be the Commodore himself.

The following newspaper clippings decribe this hotel and the fire that consumed it. The photo below shows the smoldering ghostly remains of the Yale Hotel with a dozen electrical power lines dangling dangerously from the remaining power pole. An account of this, and a subsequent fire of 1911, by local witnesses to the events, can be found in the Second Annual Report of the Boundary Historical Society, 1959, pg. 1.


Read Newspaper articles    (Link: Building the Yale Hotel)     (Link: The 1908 Fire and the Yale Hotel)


Views of Grand Forks from the B.C. Provincial Archives ...

(Link to composite enlargement)

We have purposely identified the Yale Hotel in advance for its significance as a landmark in the above chronological sequence of 11 photographs of Grand Forks between 1895 and 1908, as well as the following three photographs depicting views from Observation Mountain. Most of the images appear in the British Columbia Provincial Archives, Bureau of Mines Collection. The photographers are unknown although the B.C. Archive dates the first three photos as 1895, the rest are estimates. The photographs are not up to Trueman standards in terms of quality, but we must be thankful that the Bureau of Mines cared enough to take them, presumably to document and preserve the early growth of what they anticipated would become a truly significant Boundary district city, as the proposed site of the new Granby smelter. Knowing the dates of the Yale's brief existence between 1899 and 1908 helps us roughly determine the date of the photographs themselves, ie.  ... were they pre-Yale or post-Yale. The Yale bridge is visible in most photos, as is the barn-like structure, the Black Hawk Livery Stable, and the new Manly house just north of the Yale bridge, across the river.

Views of Grand Forks from Observation Mountain ...

A comparison of three views of Grand Forks, presumed to be taken ca. 1899-1908 and 1932. The creators of Photos 01 and 02 are unknown. Photo 03 is the first of four images in the Rosalie Moore collection, discussed on this page below. (Link to full size images)

Looking at these images from left to right, we can see the gradual chronological development of the townsite street pattern between 1899 and 1932. The street layout had been surveyed and developed by 1901 and the streets named relative to their distance from the two rivers at their confluence, the North Fork of the Kettle (now Granby) emerging from the north at left, and the Kettle River flowing from the west at right. An excellent online copy of the central portion of the Manchester Fire Insurance 1901 map of the Grand Forks townsite can be found on the Boundary Historical Society website here: (Link).

Street Names then:
Working west from the Granby: Riverside Avenue, First Avenue, Second Avenue, Third Avenue.
Working north from the Kettle: Main Street, Bridge Street, Winnipeg Street, and Victoria Street.

Street Names now:
Since 1932, these same streets were renamed as follows:
Working west from the Granby: Riverside Drive, Second Street, Third Street, Fourth Street.
Working north from the Kettle: 72nd Avenue, Market Avenue, Central Avenue, and 74th Avenue

A 1932 Grand Forks panoramic composite ...

Bill Moore and Wally Cuff, two local Grand Forks residents, spent one afternoon in 1932 scrambling over the rocks of Observation Mountain looking for the best vantage point from which they might capture a scenic view of the complete Grand Forks valley below. Lacking a specialized panoramic camera, they hoped to accomplish this wide-field view by careful alignment of several individual side-by-side images. They have left us at least four photographs taken that afternoon. Although their quality and resolution may not be as high as one would hope, the images are certainly better than casual snapshots taken with a Brownie. In consultation with a surviving family member, these four photographs have been stitched together here digitally, to create the seamless breathtaking "fish-eye" panoramic effect that the two photographers were originally after. The resulting image spans the Grand Forks river valley from the confluence of the Kettle and Granby (North Fork) Rivers at left, to the foot of Spencer Hill in West Grand Forks at right.

(Link to full size panorama)

A considerable amount of manipulation, and careful realignment was required to create the composite and unfortunately, the curvature of the distant background was an unavoidable, unintentional result of distortion. A second two part composite is included in the lower right section of the composite to better represent the portion of the composite most affected by distortion. Also ... unlike typical maps which are oriented northward up, this image is unfortunately a southern view and a bit of visual gymnastics would be required should one like to reference a map to identify specific place names.

Close inspection of these images will reveal a road bridge and two railway bridges spanning the Kettle River, and a single road bridge across the Granby River to Bridge Street (now Market). Local residents will also recognize many familiar landmarks, including the Court House, the old post office (now city hall), the old Elementary School and the original High School to its right. Several hotels are also recognizable. With even closer scrutiny, and previous knowledge of where they might be found, there is evidence of what appears to be a road on its way west beyond the CPR tracks, its route presumably becoming the current route of Highway 3. We can also see evidence of railway infrastructure.

Two postcard aerial views of Grand Forks in the early 1950s ...

  Postcards: J. Kalmakov photo collection

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