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Places / Canada / British Columbia / Central Kootenay
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I visited this wonderful bit of history many times in starting in the early 90s.

The Silver Ledge Hotel in Ainsworth Hot Springs, B.C., was a two-storey building of approximately 5000 square feet built in 1896. It was used as a hotel until 1949. After being closed for 14 years it was purchased by two Calgary families and used as a “summer cottage”. During the 60s and 70s cosmetic and structural restoration produced local interest in the building and historical research was started about the exciting history of this first community in the West Kootenays.

The photographic collection grew and filled almost every room. In 1976, the building was opened to the public as a museum, showcasing the history of the Ainsworth Mining District and the nearby communities associated with the Blue Bell mine and the Pilot Bay Smelter. During the 80s and 90s additional archival material was exhibited and extensive structural as well as cosmetic repairs completed. The hotel is furnished with original and turn-of-the-century furniture.

The hotel has a lobby, ladies’ sitting room, dining room, kitchen and 18 small bedrooms. The east wing addition was added before WWI. It had a full basement and two stories of bedrooms. The property was sold in 1932 and the lower floor was converted into a 42-seat “beer parlour”. This area has been used as construction space since the 60s and additional basement space created in the coal bin area.

The building has been featured in several historical and tourist publications and is open May 24 until Thanksgiving as a museum.

In the 1980s extensive improvements were made to the Ainsworth Hot Springs pool, and a new resort hotel constructed adjacent. The Mermaid Lodge added housekeeping motel units and a new owner of the Ainsworth Motel renovated that 8-unit property in 1985.

The two outstanding buildings on Sutton St. (the main street of the town) are the Silver Ledge Hotel and the Fletcher Store, which were both rebuild after the fire that wept the town in 1896.

Kootenay Lake is the center of the West Kootenays. (Cranbrook, the Columbia River and the Kootenay River are in the East Kootenays.) The Columbia – Kootenay river system starts south of Golden, B.C., draining into the Kootenay River, which flows south adjacent to Ft. Steele near Cranbrook into the United States. Just south of the border are Tobacco Plains, traditional home of the Kutenai Indians. The river flows south, then west and back north again in Idaho, near Bonner's Ferry and continues north to Canada. The river widens into Kootenay Lake, which is about 85 miles long and up to 3 miles wide. At the north end of the lake, another south-draining river system enters the lake. Roughly at the middle of the lake on the west side at Balfour, the lake drains westward through the city of Nelson and south as the Kootenay (Columbia) river system, entering the Pacific at Vancouver, Washington.

Probably the first white man to record the area was Chief Factor MacDonald from the Hudson’s Bay Company, Kootenay Fort (Collville, Washington), who was taken to Metal Mountain by Kutenai canoe in 1844 (Galena outcroppings at Riondel). Canoes, rafts, boats, ships, and barges made the lake and river the highway to riches of lead, zinc and silver ore.

Captain John Ainsworth and his son George obtained a land grant in 1883, and in July 1884, Charles Olson and A.D.Wheeler stared development of the town and mineral prospects. The town boomed. In 1891 Ainsworth prospectors explored Kaslo Creek, 10 miles north, and the “Silvery Slocan” was discovered; Kaslo, 10 miles north, became center of that development. Several prominent businessmen, including Geigerich, a storekeeper, Rettallac, a livery, moved to Kaslo, which continued to boom as a distribution center even after a disastrous fire and flood in 1896.

Ainsworth continued to boom with a school, church, many hotels, bars and stores. Almost all of them were wiped bout by the disastrous fire in April 1896. The Vancouver House, which stood on the site of the present Silver Ledge Hotel Museum, was destroyed, and rebuilt as McKinnon House. That building is the main north-south portion of the hotel today. The hotel was sold to Grant King in 1897. Mr. King died of miners’ pulmonary problems in 1910 and Mrs. King operated the hotel until 1932. She had added the east wing of the basement and two stories before WWI. That is the format of the building today.

The mines are closed, the tramways fallen, the concentrators abandoned, the wharfs destroyed, ships sunk and most early families have moved away. On the walls of the Ledge are a record of the perseverance, ingenuity, invention, shipbuilding and family life in this first community of the West Kootenays. Visit, and appreciate a gem of B.C. history.

source: members.shaw.ca/silverledge/hoteltoday.htm


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