Settlers would arrive with expectations of a rural British utopia, and so Edgewater was created in the image of an idealized English country village.
Edgewater was created as a company town for an ambitious land settlement scheme, the Columbia Valley Orchards Ltd (CVO).
The origins of the Columbia Valley Orchards project purportedly came about around 1908 by James Lorenzo McKay, who owned at least 1,280 acres of land just north of Sinclair Creek (Lots 352, 673, and 7578).1 McKay thought to have this land, and the land surrounding, irrigated and brought under cultivation.2
A British Columbia Trend
This plan to establish a large scale irrigation system for farming was just one of many schemes across the province. In Kelowna, the Central Okanagan Land Company was by 1910 completing its own up to date irrigation system to bring water to the previously named “Starvation Flats” in “Dry Valley” (now Glenmore) to supply small orchard properties.3 The growing success of the Central Okanagan Company did not go unnoticed. Back in the Windermere Valley, a similar irrigation scheme for orchard farming was begun on the benches above Wilmer (the Columbia Valley Irrigated Fruit Lands Company), and another company was floated around the town of Windermere (the Windermere Orchards Company).
These irrigation projects were part of a trend in British Columbia development and settlement, and it is notable that such projects were developed to facilitate orchard farming. Orchard farming was a bit of a fad among conservative Britons at the time as a backlash against industrialization and urbanization.4 Working the land was seen as a wholesome alternative to working for industry, and unlike farming crops such as wheat, which were deemed menial work, fruit farming was seen as a gentlemanly pursuit: a return to the Garden of Eden.
Unfortunately land was expensive in Britain, but British Columbia provided an affordable space on which to create this idealized fruit farming utopia. The proliferation of orchard companies in B.C. was the result of attempts to cater to this market of conservative middle and upper class British settlers.
The Columbia Valley Orchards Company
With the popularity of orchard farming growing, the company financing the Central Okanagan Land Company, the Dominion Trust Company of Vancouver, was eager to see the success of its Kelowna scheme replicated elsewhere in the province. The proposal from James Lorenzo McKay to irrigate the bench lands north of Sinclair Creek seemed an appropriate project. The Columbia Valley Orchards Company Ltd was formed in February 19115 with the Dominion Trust Company as its main financial backer.6 The purpose of the new company (the CVO), as well as its subsidiary irrigation company (the Vermillion Irrigation Company) was to oversee development of the irrigation and orchard project.
The townsite of Edgewater was begun as the service and settlement centre of the CVO project. Settlers would arrive with expectations of a rural British utopia, and so Edgewater was created in the image of an idealized English country village. Even the name, Edgewater, was likely chosen to evoke a peaceful, quiet, rural country town. Promotional material for the CVO promised purchasers the, “opportunity to secure the conditions of life calculated to make you most prosperous, contented and consequently happy.”7 (A 1967 letter to the Provincial Archives from Mrs H.H. Moore of Edgewater states that the “townsite” was called Marlborough in 1910-11 in papers of the CVO.8 I have been unable to corroborate this.)
By November 1911, it estimated that the Columbia Valley Orchards Company held some 14,600 acres of land between Sinclair and Deadmans (Body) Creeks,9 including what was later reported to be $420,000 worth of land from J.L. McKay.10
The plan of the CVO was to subdivide the property into five, ten, and twenty-five acre parcels, priced at $150 and upwards an acre. These they offered to purchasers with the option of having the Company plant and care for the land for a number of years as desired: a solution for those who either had no intention of moving to British Columbia, or for those who wanted to wait until fruit had begun to be produced before relocating.11
At the beginning of 1912, the managing director of the Dominion Trust Company, W.R. Arnold, went to London to attract investment capital for the scheme and make arrangements for publicity agents to attract prospective immigrants.12 It is likely that the company pamphlet, Columbia Valley Orchards Ltd: apples and alfalfa was distributed as part of this campaign.
The CVO was somewhat unique for the time in that the bulk of its irrigation system was constructed using steel pipes, reported to be the first of its kind in the province (irrigation systems tended to use open ditches and wooden flumes). Through the summer of 1913 the company completed a dam and intake on what is now Kinderlsey Creek, and built a four mile long flume line to supply 2,500 acres of land with water. They intented to complete the supply of water to another 2,500 acres shortly after, and another 5,000 acre block of land was projected to be irrigated with water from Sinclair Creek.13 The section of the irrigation system that was completed is the basis for the irrigation system still used outside of Edgewater today.
The Town of Edgewater
Of the CVO’s holdings, the company set aside 300 acres for a townsite. In the summer of 1912 a tent camp was put up, a domestic water supply was established from McCauley Creek, and a sawmill was established to saw lumber for the irrigation system and the townsite.14 By October the townsite of Edgewater was being laid out and houses under construction.15 The company constructed a combined office-residence building, a summer house for the resident manager, farm buildings, and an elaborate hotel.16 The Hotel Edgewater was a “pretty structure,” planned, “as a tourist resort in the beautiful valley,” and cost about $15,000.17
Further details on the early Edgewater townsite are somewhat hard to come by as the CVO did not last very long as an enterprise. By mid 1914, the company had brought the first portion of land under cultivation with alfalfa and young fruit trees. Optimism about the success of the project was high, but premature. Even at this time, there were rumours circulating that the Columbia Valley Orchards company was not doing as well as reported, and in September a committee was appointed to look into its financial position.18
Collapse of the CVO
In January 1915 a number of investors filed against the Dominion Trust Company, the Columbia Valley Orchards Ltd, and the Vermillion Irrigation Co for non payment of debts.19 A liquidator for the Dominion Trust Company was appointed, and its subsidiary Columbia Valley Orchards company was dissolved.20 In October 1915, the still incomplete Hotel Edgewater burned to the ground, “by a fire of mysterious origin.”21
Blame for the failing of the CVO seems to fall primarily on its parent company, the Dominion Trust Company, which was described as a “mismanaged institution”22 and took its subsidiary companies down with it. There is likely a great deal of truth to this, but the success of the CVO was doubtful to begin with. The climate and soil of the Windermere Valley, described in earnest as being “similar to those of the Okanagan valley,” was not nearly so mild, and it is unlikely that prospective settlers would have ever been able to make a living growing apples, pears, and plums in the area.23 As we will see, the orchard part of the settlement scheme was quietly dropped following the war.
After the Collapse
The small town of Edgewater remained following the collapse of the CVO, and although its founding image as a rural English town dissolved, settlement remained closely tied to agriculture. Even as the CVO was being liquidated, an advertisement was put out to rent the company’s holdings as grazing land.24
The Kootenay Central Railway line reached the young town in the summer of 1914, just before the First World War, and a telegraph line was opened to the town that October.25 Edgewater was one of the stops when the Kootenay Central Railway officially opened to passenger service from Cranbrook to Golden on 1 January 1915.
Post First World War
Following the First World War, in 1920, rumours emerged about the sale of the Columbia Valley Orchards Co land to the Rattenbury Lands Co for the purpose of a large colonization scheme in the area.26 Nothing much more seems to have come from this particular sale, as it wasn’t until two years later that the 14,000 acres were purchased by former CVO manager, Dr William H Gaddes, his brother Herbert, and Dr JW Thompson, all of Vancouver. The sale was made at $30 per acre, and was agreed to as the land was about to go back to the province for unpaid taxes.27
The idea of planting orchards on the property had been dismissed by this time. The intention of the purchasers was to go into mixed farming, with both crop cultivation and ranching.28 The new owners formed the Columbia Valley Ranches Ltd in April 1923 to manage the property,29 and later that year, they brought in stock including sheep, cattle, and hogs, with the idea that sheep raising would be the primary venture.30 Repairs were also done on the steel flumes built by the CVO.
The Gaddes family continued to be involved in the development of the lands into the 1940s. In 1925, the property was sold to a firm co-owned by Dr William H Gaddes’ youngest brother, Mel, who made arrangements to bring in between twenty and one hundred families to settle the land. These settlers were to be experienced in dairy, hog, and sheep production, and would come from Alberta, the Pacific States, and later Europe.31
Income from ranching alone was insufficient to support the community, and by 1927 a large amount of income for settlers was made by manufacturing railway ties for the Canadian Pacific Railway.32 With the stock market collapse of 1929, the source of income from the CPR dried up. In 1930, a small number of Christmas trees were cut from the property, and Christmas trees became a regular winter business for the next ten years.33
A small sawmill also began operating in about 1931 to produce railway ties and lumber, and more cattle were brought in for ranching.34 In 1942, Columbia Valley Ranches brought in Harry H Moore to operate a small portable sawmill in the bush. This became a permanent mill that autumn on the west side of town, and lumbering became an economic mainstay to the town. 35 Various land holdings belonging to the Columbia Valley Ranches were sold off during the 1940s, with townsite lots being purchased by Harry Moore.36
A Growing Town
By 1942 Edgewater had about nineteen houses, a one room school house, the Anglican Church, Community Hall, a general store (Blair’s), and the Columbia Valley Ranches’ house and office. A series of fires in 1948 set back the town, including a fire destroying the sawmill, another the garage, and a third destroying the light plant. The sawmill was rebuilt north of town.37
Growth increased after the Second World War. In 1966 Edgewater was having something of a heyday with eighty homes, three churches, three stores, two coffee shops, a shoe repair shop, a two-room elementary school, a five-room elementary-junior high school, a community hall, medical clinic, fire hall, and credit union. There was also a dairy on the hill above town and an airstrip to the south – this being a major airstrip in the valley before the construction of the Invermere airfield.38
Many of the people living in Edgewater worked elsewhere, particularly in Radium and for Kootenay National Park.39 This period of Edgewater history – of it being the larger centre when compared to Radium, with far greater settlement and more amenities – was completely unknown to me before doing this research.
Due to a large number of factors, including the limits in my source material and the ubiquitous nature of the name “Edgewater” (there are so many search results), I have been unable to find much variety in the way of photos and descriptions of Edgewater through the ages (I would love to see a photo of the Hotel Edgewater!). I am very certain they exist, and my apologies to Edgewater residents for the lack of any early townsite photos in this post. I’m keeping an eye open, and hope some will turn up in the future!
We still own Columbus Valley Ranches, now named Edgewater Sawmills Ltd
There’s a copious collection of company papers and a few maps including the original 16 foot hand drawn contour map that everything was laid out on.
The material is deemed private business tho scored of people were involved thru the settlement years and thus no funds are available for making copies
Thanks Barry! I’m so excited to learn that this documentation has survived. I’d love to take a look at it at some point.