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
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).
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).
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
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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
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
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!
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.