Fairmont Hot Springs (Community and Hot Springs), Fairmont Mountain, Fairmont Ridge, Fairmont Creek

Other Names: Radium Springs, Radium Hot Springs, Brewer Springs

“From the springs a particularly fine view can be enjoyed, and to many it will prove a very novel experience to sit comfortably immersed up to one’s neck… enjoying with luxurious ease an open air hot bath, while at one’s feet is spread out one of the most glorious views imaginable, ranging far over lake, river, forest, and glacier-clothed peaks.”35

Early Encounters

The first settler record of what became Fairmont comes from Sir George Simpson, who in 1841 was guided to the hot springs by Edward Berland on Simpson’s “Overland Journey Around the World”. Simpson makes note of three hot springs, ranging in temperature from approximately 90 to 120 degrees, and relates how Berland had bathed in these springs “while suffering from a severe illness… and he either was, or believed that he was, benefited by them.”1

Just three years later, in 1845, Father Pierre Jean De Smet also came across the springs, which were “of the same temperature as the milk just drawn from the cow.” De Smet hints at the somewhat unavoidable nature of these springs, remarking that they were noticeable even at a distance from which the slope “had the appearance of chalk.” As one got closer, the slope looked like, “an immense concreted cascade, its undulating surface resembling a body of water suddenly checked or indurated in its rapid course.”2 That the springs were an obvious feature in the landscape meant that they drew much more early attention than did the hot springs hidden up in the canyon on Sinclair Creek (Radium Hot Springs).

Land Purchase

An application to purchase the land around the Fairmont springs was made 1 May 1885 by John Thompson Galbraith (Lot 18, 160 acres), and surveyed just months later.3 Having acquired the land John Galbraith did not do much with it. John, his wife Sarah LaRue, and his brother Robert Leslie had arrived in the Kootenays in the late 1860s and all three had become quite active in land speculation: purchasing land at a time in which it was extraordinarily cheap and holding onto it until such a time as it could be sold for a profit.

The Galbraith family was certainly keen on acquiring land at Fairmont. John’s wife, Sarah, purchased the lot adjacent John’s hot springs claim (Lot 46) in August 1886,4 and the lot adjacent next to that one (Lot 4084) in May 1899.5 Robert and John’s sister, Catherine (Kate) Radish Stopford Clark also purchased a lot (47) in 1887,6 and her husband Charles had Lot 52 surveyed in 1888.7 John Galbraith himself passed away just two years after acquiring the Fairmont property8 and his lot at Fairmont passed on to his brother (R.L.T. Galbraith).9 (The Galbraith’s also, at one time or another, owned the townsites of Windermere, Fort Steele, and Cranbrook, among others).

Why Fairmont?

It is from John Galbraith’s wife, Sarah LaRue (sometime Leeper) that we purportedly get the name “Fairmont.” According to at least one source, it was Sarah who named the springs, “after her old home in the Eastern States.”10 This is plausible, although we can only speculate about which American Fairmont this was. Sarah was born 16 June 1849 in District 63, Taylor County, Virginia. Her birthplace later became West Virginia, and Taylor County is directly south of the city of Fairmont, West Virginia. By age eleven, Sarah’s family had moved to Chariton Township in Missouri, which is itself located some fifty odd miles from Fairmont, Missouri. It’s unclear which Fairmont Sarah would have had such a childhood attachment to.

An Attraction and a Service

Fairmont Springs themselves remained open and freely accessible so long as the Galbraith’s owned them. There was no swimming pool, but rather a series of person-sized baths in the tuffa-like rock (these baths were formed through some combination of natural processes and human interference). In addition to the three springs on the hill another cluster of springs (both cold and hot water) were located down alongside Hot Springs Creek (now Fairmont Creek).11

The springs were visited for the novelty of them by those passing through, and for longer periods of time by laborers living in the area who found relief by bathing in the hot waters.12 Occasional talk emerged about the construction of a health spa or sanatorium at the site, but nothing came of it.13 Without any facilities onsite, in the early years visitors had to “strip and dress in the open air, taking all chances.”14

A make-shift structure at Fairmont Springs. Windermere Valley Museum and Archives, C1461.

The closest accommodation to the springs, and arguably the beginning of the settlement of Fairmont, was the “Fairmont Hot Springs Hotel.” This was located on land originally purchased by George Geary, and operated from 1888 by Samuel Brewer (Sam later purchased the ranch from Geary). The ‘hotel’ was over half a mile down the hill from the springs,15 and consisted of the Brewer’s private residence.

Fairmont in 1887. J.A. Lees and Walter J Clutterbuck, B.C. 1887: a ramble in British Columbia (London: Longmans Green and Co, 1888), p 161.

A very similar view, some years later, with the early Fairmont Ranch and Brewer’s stopping house. Windermere Valley Museum and Archives, c162.

Change of Ownership

The land and hot springs were purchased in 1910 by William Heap Holland, a worsted spinner of Alderley Edge, England.16 Holland had great plans for the springs and surrounding area, and he soon also purchased the farmland formerly owned by Sam Brewer to develop into a large working ranch. By 1921, the Holland properties included over 3,000 acres and two large cattle ranches, as well as the hot springs.17

A Popular Vacation Spot

Under Holland the springs became a popular vacation spot, particularly after the First World War with visitors from Fort Steele and Crankbrook, who would make the four hour journey to spend the weekend.18 By this time, the various individual sized tubs had been replaced by a large concrete swimming tank.19 Dressing rooms were also provided, and visitors could chose to pitch their own tents on the grassy bench alongside the pools, or to sleep in one of the large tents provided, “erected and equipped most completely with fly roof, verandah, tables and benches and comfortable beds.”20 There was also a large building with further accommodation, a restaurant, and an open fireplace.21

Part of the tent camp underneath the Fairmont Range. “Camp Radium B.C.” MSC130-5538-02 courtesy of the British Columbia Postcards Collection, a digital initiative of Simon Fraser University Library.

The concrete swimming pool with changing rooms and one of the accommodation tents behind, 1920s. “Several People in a Swimming Pool in Radium B.C.” MSC130-5539-01 courtesy of the British Columbia Postcards Collection, a digital initiative of Simon Fraser University Library.

A Marketing Opportunity

The popularity of Fairmont Springs was aided by a 1913 report published by the Royal Society of Canada analyzing its waters. The results showed slightly less radon gas (known at that time as radium emanations) and more radium than that found in the Sinclair Hot Springs (now Radium Hot Springs) up the road.22 As discussed in the previous post on Radium Hot Springs, it was believed that the slight radioactivity in the waters of the hot springs around the world gave a scientific explanation for the beneficial and therapeutic effects that many experienced from bathing in them.23

As radium became well-known to the public for its purported health benefits, its presence in a hot springs could be used to encourage visitation. Owners in the Windermere Valley saw an opportunity. A petition was lodged to have the future train station at Fairmont Springs named Radium, and up the road the name of the post office at Sinclair Hot Springs was changed to Radium Hot Springs (in 1915). The result was a great deal of confusion. The Fairmont Post Office was located at the Radium train station and the Radium Hot Springs post office was located somewhere else entirely.

Advertising, too, became increasingly unclear. A CPR advertising pamphlet in 1923 suggests that travellers might want to visit Sinclair Hot Springs, in Sinclair Canyon, as well as Radium Hot Springs to the south.24 By the following year the CPR had shifted to referring to the northern hot springs as Radium Hot Springs, and soon failed to mention the Fairmont Springs at all.

This 1924 CPR pamphlet gave visitors to the Lake Windermere Bungalow Camp mixed messages. In print it encouraged visitors to go to Radium Hot Springs in Sinclair Canyon, while the attached map shows Sinclair Hot Springs to the north and Radium Springs Camp to the south. Canadian Pacific Railway Company, ‘Motoring in the Canadian Pacific Rockies,’ [cropped] Lake Windermere Bungalow Camp (1924), p 5.

Meanwhile the settlement of Fairmont was being enthusiastically advertised as Radium, B.C. and the springs were referred to as Radium Springs or even Radium Hot Springs (the tents around the hot springs were called “Radium Camp).25 In reference to the purported health benefits from exposure to radium emanations (radon gas), in 1926 three new rock bath houses were built on top of what was then called “Emanation Hill” to be used for “cures.”26

The entrance up the hill to the hot springs at Fairmont, 1920s. “Entrance to Springs, Radium B.C.” MSC130-5535-02 courtesy of the British Columbia Postcards Collection, a digital initiative of Simon Fraser University Library.

1920s postcard “Sunset from Hot Springs on Emanation Hill.”

Advertisement for Radium Tavern at Radium B.C. Cranbrook Herald, 20 May 1926, p 8.

The 1920s, in short, were a confusing time for visitors to hot springs in the Windermere Valley. Visitors were left struggling to determine which Radium Hot Springs they wanted to visit: postcards could be found for both Radium B.C. and Radium Hot Springs, and maps guiding travel through the area often had two “Radiums” labeled.27 This confusion survives today as photos from the period of “Radium Springs” are attributed as being from Radium Hot Springs.

Postcard for Radium B.C. Swimming Pool at Radium B.C. (late Fairmont Hot Springs), 1920s.

The mountains across the valley from the hot pools at Radium B.C. (late Fairmont Hot Springs), 1920s. Postcard.

There are a number of maps and tourists pamphlets around with two “Radiums” labelled (I’ve seen ones with two ‘Radium Hot Springs’ labelled). This one seems to try and reduce the confusion with a “Radium Hot Springs,” and a “Radium.” Automobile Club of British Columbia, Official Motorist’s Guide of British Columbia (Vancouver: Automobile Club of British Columbia, 1931), Map 25A.

The confusion was finally resolved in 1933 when the railway decided to change train stations to better reflect the postal addresses of the respective towns. The station called Radium was changed to Fairmont Hot Springs, and the station known as East Firlands became known as Radium.28 Locals breathed a sigh of relief, and the following year the post office then known as “Fairmont” was officially changed to “Fairmont Hot Springs,” suggesting that the change was embraced.29

Still, the fog of radium was not entirely lifted. As late as 1965 newspaper articles encourage visitors to vacation at Fairmont Hot Springs by making mention of the “soothing relief” that might be gained from bathing in hot waters containing such “valuable radium emanations.”30 (This same article also states that the water gives off ozone and that this would help those suffering with asthma: scientists now seem to agree that exposure to ozone makes asthma symptoms worse)

New Owners Again

The owner of Fairmont Springs, William Heap Holland, passed away in 1952 and the resort passed on to his son. In 1957, it was sold to a group of local men including Earl and Lloyd Wilder, Charles Osterloh, and Corbin Mitchell.31 The Fairmont Hot Springs Resort Ltd was incorporated to carry on business at the springs (including an extremely diverse set of activities).32 The Wilder brothers soon bought out the other investors, with extensive renovations being done including an expansion to the hot pool in 1958, an airport in 1959, and a further pool expansion in 1964 to create the present three-pool system.33

By 1966 Lloyd Wilder was the sole owner, and the following year he announced an ambitious development plan to make Fairmont a year round resort with a glass covered swimming pool, an extension to the Fairmont golf course, and a ski hill.34 The ski hill was opened the following year, and the small but conspicuous hot springs on a hill had become just one part of a resort town.35

Other Descriptions

It’s interesting to read early descriptions of the springs at Fairmont. They are quite consistent in that they note not just the novelty of the hot waters, but the spectacular views of the valley to be seen while bathing in those waters. The concrete pool complex, constructed down the hill from the original springs and now behind the large Fairmont Lodge, fails to showcase the scenery in quite the same way.

William Adolf Baillie Grohman, c.1888, remarks: “From the springs a particularly fine view can be enjoyed, and to many it will prove a very novel experience to sit comfortably immersed up to one’s neck in a bath-tub provided by nature … enjoying with luxurious ease an open air hot bath, while at one’s feet is spread out one of the most glorious views imaginable, ranging far over lake, river, forest, and glacier-clothed peaks.”36

Bathing in the Hot Springs at Fairmont, c.1888. As much as the hot waters were an attraction, so too was the view! William A Baillie-Grohman, Fifteen Years’ Sport and Life in the Hunting Grounds of western America and British Columbia, (London: Horace Cox, 1900), p 295.

Another description from just a couple years earlier makes note of the largest of the springs up on the hill, “about seven feet in length and two feet deep… From this spring there is a glorious view. You may sit at your ease in the warm water and overlook the whole country. In one direction can be seen the lower Columbia Lake from end to end, with the mountains extending in a long line to the north, on each side of the valley. Right in front is the channel connecting the two lakes, a very rapid and crooked stream, its white waters Glistening in the Sunlight, and made more effective by the dense mass of dark firs along its banks. To the south is the upper lake, with Dutch Creek coming out of a great gorge in the mountains directly opposite, then winding through a pretty piece of bottom land and emptying into the lower end of the lake; while to the east and almost overlooking the spring are some very high and rugged mountains.”37

It’s not just the hot waters that held appeal!

An artistic impression of the view north from Fairmont Hot Springs, c.1911. Windermere B.C.: Orchards, Sports, Homes (Columbia Valley Irrigated Fruit Lands Ltd, c.1911), p 20.

See Also

Radium Hot Springs
Samuel Brewer

We’re going to get away from hot springs in the next post, and instead start a two-parter on the history of Mineral King Mine. Check back in two weeks.


1. George Simpson, An Overland Journey Round the World, during the years 1841 and 1842, (Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1847), p 83.
2. P.J. de Smet, Oregon Missions and Travels Over the Rocky Mountains, in 1845-46, (New York: E. Dunigan, 1847), p 133. http://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.40687
3. “Notice – Jno T. Galbraith,” The British Columbia Gazette, Vol 25, No 22 (4 June 1885), p 184. https://archive.org/embed/governmentgazett25nogove_t4t9
“Notice of Claimants of Land,” The British Columbia Gazette, Vol 25, No 35 (3 August 1885), p 318. https://archive.org/embed/governmentgazett25nogove_u4i9
4. “Notice – S.L. Galbraith,” The British Columbia Gazette, Vol 26, No 36 (9 September 1886), p 320. https://archive.org/embed/governmentgazett26nogove_c6r6
“Kootenay District,” The British Columbia Gazette, Vol 27, No 29 (28 July 1887), p 403. https://archive.org/embed/governmentgazett27nogove_d7u2
5. “Land Notices – Sarah LaRue Galbraith,” The British Columbia Gazette, Vol 39, No 28 (13 July 1899), p 1149.
“Lands and Works – East Kootenay District, Southern Division,” The British Columbia Gazette, Vol 39, No 51 (21 December 1899), p 2253.
6. “Land Notices – K.R.S. Clark,” The British Columbia Gazette, Vol 27, No 7 (17 February 1887), p 103. https://archive.org/embed/governmentgazett27nogove_c4v9
“Lands and Works – Kootenay District,” The British Columbia Gazette, Vol 27, No 29 (28 July 1887), p 403.
7. “Lands and Works : East Kootenay District, Northern Division,” The British Columbia Gazette, Vol 42, No 13 (27 March 1902), p 413.
8. “Suddenly Striken,” The Daily Colonist (Victoria, B.C.), 8 November 1887, p 1. https://archive.org/embed/dailycolonist18871108uvic
9. “A ‘World’ Man on the Wing,” The Golden Era, 22 July 1893, p 2.
10. Basil G. Hamilton, “Down the Columbia From its Source in a Canoe,” Cranbrook Herald, 28 November 1924, p 3. https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0069830
11. “A Future Sanitarium: The Hot Springs of Columbia Lakes, Kootenay,” The Victoria Daily Times, 14 September 1886, p 1.
12. “Kootenay News,” The Victoria Daily Times, 2 August 1888, p 2. https://www.newspapers.com/image/504709660
“District News,” The Outcrop (Wilmer B.C.), 3 July 1902, p 1. http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/newspapers/OTC/1902/07/03/1/Ar00104.html
“District Croppings,” The Outcrop (Wilmer B.C.), 27 August 1903, p 4. http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/newspapers/OTC/1903/08/27/4/Ar00402.html
13. “A ‘World’ Man on the Wing,” The Golden Era, 22 July 1893, p 2. https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0227097
14. “Fairmont Springs,” East Kootenay Miner (Golden B.C.), 25 November 1897, p 1. https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0081398
15. “From Windermere,” The Calgary Tribune, 15 August 1888, p 4. https://cdm22007.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p22007coll2/id/191205
16. “Lake Windermere Will be Scene of Big Development,” Vancouver Daily World, 16 May 1911, p 32. https://www.newspapers.com/image/64538786
“Local News,” The Prospector (Cranbrook B.C.), 26 November 1910, p 4. https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0304922
17. “Estate Manager at Invermere Honored by his Associates,” Calgary Herald, 22 July 1921, p 25. https://www.newspapers.com/image/478943896
18. “Fairmont Springs Attracting Many Week-end Visitors,” Cranbrook Herald, 26 June 1925, p 1. https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0069283
19. [No Title], Cranbrook Herald, 10 June 1920, p 4.
20. “Fairmont is Beauty Spot – Easy Four Hours’ Run From Cranbrook,” Cranbrook Herald, 8 August 1924, p 7. https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0069448
21. “Fairmont Hot Springs,” Cranbrook Herald, 21 September 1923, p 2. https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0069411
22. R.W. Boyle and D McIntosh, “On the Amount of Radium and Radium Emanation Present in the Waters of Several Western Springs,” (read 28 May 1913) In Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, Vol 7, Series 3 (1913), p 163. https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/11208014
23. John Satterly and R.T. Elqorthy, Mineral Springs in Canada: The Radioactivity of some Canadian Mineral Springs, Bulletin No 16, Part 1 (Ottawa: Gov Printing Bureau, 1917), p 50. https://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.79027
24. Bungalow Camps in the Canadian Pacific Rockies (Montreal: Canadian Pacific Railway Company, 1923), p 12. https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0229347
25. “Finds Radium Camp Ideal Spot for Recuperation,” Cranbrook Herald, 22 July 1926, p 7. https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0069293
26. “Finds Radium Camp Ideal Spot for Recuperation,” Cranbrook Herald, 22 July 1926, p 7. https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0069293
“Local Happenings,” Cranbrook Herald, 29 July 1926, p 10.
27. Boards of Trade of South-Eastern British Columbia, The Canadian Rockies and how to see them by the South Eastern British Columbia Motor Route, (Calgary: Western Print and Litho Co, 1920) p 17. https://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.65299
28. “Lake Windermere Notes,” The Golden Star, 8 December 1933, p 1.
29. “Item 27670: Fairmont Springs,” Post Officers and Postmasters, Library and Archives Canada. Date modified: 27 May 2014. Date Accessed: 30 December 2020. https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/postal-heritage-philately/post-offices-postmasters/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=27670&amp
30. “Fairmont Springs Famous,” Calgary Herald, 1 May 1965, p 70. https://www.newspapers.com/image/481765938
31. “Local Men Purchase Bungalow Resort,” The Lake Windermere Valley Echo, 14 June 1957, p 6..
32. “Companies Act – No. 39023,” The British Columbia Gazette, Vol 97, No 23 (6 June 1957), p 2227. https://archive.org/embed/governmentgazett0097gove_n3v8
33. “Fairmont Hot Springs Gets Added Facilities,” Calgary Herald, 15 May 1958, p 28. https://www.newspapers.com/image/481555382
Winnifred A. Weir, “Fairmont Hot Springs Improvements Made,” Calgary Herald, 28 May 1959, p 39. https://www.newspapers.com/image/481222442
“Opening Set for Resort Expansion,” Calgary Herald, 2 June 1964, p 21. https://www.newspapers.com/image/481807788
34. “Re-Development Program Underway at Fairmont,” The Lake Windermere Valley Echo (Invermere, B.C.), 7 December 1967, p 1.
35. “Fairmont Ski Hill Plans November Opening,” The Lake Windermere Valley Echo (Invermere, B.C.), 17 October 1968, p 1.
“Fairmont Ski Hill in Final Stages,” The Lake Windermere Valley Echo (Invermere, B.C.), 12 December 1968, p 4.
36. William A. Baillie-Grohman, The Kootenay Valleys and the Kootenay District in British Columbia (London: Kootenay Valley Co, 1888), p 8. https://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.14076
37. “A Future Sanitorium: The Hot Springs of Columbia Lakes, Kootenay,” The Victoria Daily Times, 14 September 1886, p 1. https://www.newspapers.com/image/505043359

Other Resources

BC Geographical Names, “Fairmont Creek,” Accessed 13 January 2021. http://apps.gov.bc.ca/pub/bcgnws/names/11401.html
BC Geographical Names, “Fairmont Hot Springs,” (Community) Accessed 13 January 2021. http://apps.gov.bc.ca/pub/bcgnws/names/11403.html
BC Geographical Names, “Fairmont Hot Springs,” (Hot Springs) Accessed 13 January 2021. http://apps.gov.bc.ca/pub/bcgnws/names/11400.html
BC Geographical Names, “Fairmont Mountain,” Accessed 13 January 2021. http://apps.gov.bc.ca/pub/bcgnws/names/11402.html
BC Geographical Names, “Fairmont Ridge,” Accessed 13 January 2021. http://apps.gov.bc.ca/pub/bcgnws/names/11404.html

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