Fort Point (unofficial name), Fort Point Close (Invermere)
The years following the Second World War were not so kind to the Memorial Fort. … Maintenance was lacking, and the building was gradually falling into a state of disrepair.
This is the second of two posts discussing the history of Fort Point in Invermere, and particularly the David Thompson Memorial Fort. The first post, including how the fort came about and a description of the opening ceremonies, can be found here.
The elaborate opening of the David Thompson Memorial Fort in August 1922 came with hopes that the building would become a major tourist attraction. The fort was conceived as a museum: “a gallery to be used for a permanent exhibition of the Hudson Bay Company, the nucleus of a library of Canada, Indian bead work and other things relating to the history of Canada. The whole place will be a wonderful reminder of bygone days for the younger generation to whom the very name of the HBC was fast becoming a myth.”1
This was not to be. Artifacts were loaned by the HBC and CPR for the grand opening ceremonies, but these were loans only, whisked away once the ceremonies were finished, and no one in the local area could replace them. Instead the Fort became a museum without artifacts, without a curator, and without anyone with the knowledge or skills of how to create displays.2
We can’t be too hard on Invermere – there was no museum at the time in interior British Columbia to emulate (the first would not be until 1930). There were also attempts to make the best of it. In December 1922, amateur Invermere historian Basil G. Hamilton could be found travelling through Creston in search of examples of basket work from the Ktunaxa Nation, “in a quest [for]… specimens for the museum being established at the Memorial Fort.”3
Hamilton’s quest was in vain, and hopes to make the Fort an attraction faded. In 1923, just a year following the opening ceremonies of the Fort, and as the Banff-Windermere Highway finally opened, if tourists happened to stroll over to the Memorial Fort they would find it locked up and unoccupied.4 This was rather unfortunate, as lodgings at the Lake Windermere Camp showed at 250% increase in July 1923, the first month that the road was open, compared to July of the previous year.5
Yet no one could be convinced to take responsibility for the fort – not the Windermere Board of Trade, the HBC, the CPR, the National Parks Branch, the Canadian Historical Association, or even, really, the Columbia Valley Irrigated Fruit Lands Co, whose representatives had lobbied so hard to get the fort built in the first place.6 As late as 1925 the fort was still being advertised in CPR brochures as an “Indian museum,” but it very much was not.7
An Alternate Use
Just because the fort never lived up to its promise as a museum does not mean that it went unused, however. The first large community event at the fort was in February 1923, with a film shown of its grand opening, and there was also a dance held in celebration of the opening of the Banff-Windermere Highway on 30 June 1923.8
Such events and dances continued, and the Memorial Fort very quickly became the local community hall. That fir floor made ““The Fort” an ideal place to dance,”9 and soon if there was a dance held in Invermere, chances are it was held at the fort – the log building clearly provided both the space and the ambiance far preferable to that of any other large building in the area.
Through the next couple of decades, dances were held in aid of the Hospital,10 the Great War Veterans Association (the Canadian Legion),11 the Invermere Golf Club,12 and to help pay medical costs for three members of the football team injured in a car accident in 1926. 13 The local cricket club also held their dance there (who knew Invermere once had a cricket club),14 as did the Windermere District Farmers Institute.15
It wasn’t just dancing done at the fort, either. Basketball games were frequently held there,16 and it became a favoured location, after the local badminton club was formed in 1927, to hoist the nets for badminton tournaments and local club practices.17 In short, the fort played host to just about any community event that a community hall might be expected to hold.
Through all of this, the fort was managed by the Invermere Gold Club Limited, whose directors and officers took responsibility for collecting rent (which, in 1931, they had, “experienced some difficulty,” in doing).18 The Golf Club had incorporated in spring 1923, but it’s unclear exactly when the company took over management of the fort.19
Elsewhere on the Point
While the fort turned into a community centre, there were other changes afoot on Canterbury Point. The Invermere Golf Club, for example, had moved by 1924 to a new location on the other side of Kinsmen Beach behind the railway tracks (roughly the later Wilder subdivision/behind Station Pub).20
The Lake Windermere Bungalow Camp also changed face. In 1927, a more northern motor road was opened between Banff and Golden via the Kicking Horse Pass, allowing motorists in the Canadian Rockies to do a loop through Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay parks while missing the southern reaches of the valley entirely. Business at Lake Windermere Camp declined, and the CPR ceased operations there before the 1929 season.21
Instead, the site became a girls camp, “a summer retreat for wealthy young women,” directed by American women Miss Mary E Culter and Dr Harriett E Cooke.22 This lasted until 1933, when the Camp was purchased by the Invermere Contracting Co,23 and seems to have once again been operated as a tourist bungalow camp,24 occasionally being let out for larger group gatherings and functions.25
After this records get a bit hazy. At some point the Camp was acquired by George Jewell, Carl Stroble, and Hans Younk, who subdivided the property and sold off the cabins in the 1950s as summer homes.26
The main clubhouse, meanwhile, was purchased in 1965 by Ian and Lucy Weir, who used it as a summer home for three years before having it winterized and moving in permanently.27 The building was inherited by their daughter, Nancy Ballard, who in 2007 with her husband decided to sell the land the building stood on. First, however, they wanted the lodge to be moved and preserved. It was a long process, but in May 2009 the District of Invermere voted to support the relocation of part of the building.28
In the end, the northeast section of the Lake Windermere Camp clubhouse, complete with open rafters and stone fireplace, was trucked in May 2010 to a new location just over the hill adjacent to the Rotary Ball Park.29 Reconstruction on what is now known as the “CPR Lodge” was completed in 2012,30 and the building is now available to rent.
Back to David Thompson
David Thompson, meanwhile, had gained a more solemn memorial, when on Labor Day 1939 a monument was unveiled at the former location of Kootenae House itself. Basil G Hamilton had passed away by this time, but he had purchased the land where Kootenae House once stood, and his widow gifted the land to the federal government with the request that a monument be installed. Hamilton’s sister-in-law, Dr Mary E Crawford, did the honours.31 The site remains a National Historic Site of Canada.
The Fort Decays
The years following the Second World War were not so kind to the Memorial Fort. Even with some attempt to monitor use of the site, maintenance was lacking, and the building was gradually falling into a state of disrepair. In June 1946, the community decided to build a new community hall to commemorate local soldiers who had served in the war, and The Lake Windermere Memorial Community Center was opened with a dance on 1 July 1947.32 The new building took the place of the fort for, “dances, meetings and athletic events.”33 There were advantages to this new hall – it was closer to the town centre, and it was not falling apart.
Now largely abandoned, even for community events, in 1958, the owners of the land on which the fort stood, the CVIF, sold the property for $7,000 to a group of Calgarians, brothers Doug and Don Sinclair, CS Smith, and one other unnamed.34 It was reported that the men planned to build summer cottages around the fort.
The new owners began renovations on the structure in the summer of 1959, including work on the roof. At the end of the year they announced a new contracting firm, Highwood Construction Ltd, under the ownership of the Sinclair brothers and their brother-in-law, Tom Andruschuk.35 The firm was unable to both repair the fort and carry on their business, and so placed the fort back on the market in October 1960.36
There were no immediate buyers, and the fort languished in real estate purgatory, reportedly used as a base for the contracting firm, until August 1965, when it was purchased for $15,000 by Mr and Mrs Sepp Wenger of Invermere.37 Their plans go unannounced, but two years later the Wenger’s announced that they would gift the fort to anyone who could move it, and that otherwise it would be demolished.38
A local effort emerged to save the fort, and appeals were made by the Village to Willard Ireland, Provincial Archivist and Librarian, for help. Ireland responded that as the fort was not a faithful replica of Thompson’s fort on the original location, “he could not feel any justification in recommending its preservation.”39
The Windermere District Historical Society made similar appeals to the National Historic Sites and Monuments Board, which gave a similar response, asserting that there was no point in preserving a replica. That the fort might be historically interesting in its own right, say as the first purpose-built historic tourist attraction and museum in western Canada, was not either argued or considered.40 (Also: let’s take a moment to appreciate that the Fort had not been constructed on the original site of Kootenae House.)
An Inglorious End
After a whole lot of arguing, the fort was burnt down in May 1969. By then the Wenger’s had sold the property, including four acres of land, to Aubrey L Young and Fred Becker in Invermere, real estate developers who planned the area as a residential subdivision. As reported in the local newspaper at the time, “The fort stood upon sandy soil, which was a detriment throughout its years of use but is now an asset as it will be pushed to lake level to form an extensive sandy beach which will be a part of the subdivision lots.”41
There were already homes built on what was still referred to as Canterbury Point. Back in 1964, an overpass was even constructed over the railway to improve access – an amusing piece of local trivia as this CPR overpass predated the (far more central) railway overpass in Athalmer by about sixteen years.42 Waterlines were also extended out to the point in 1968.43
But this subdivision on the former fort plot proved to be slightly more contentious, with the Rod and Gun Club speaking out against the possibility of pollution to the lake caused by pushing the sandy hill over into the lake, while summer home owners already living on the point were, “concerned with the dust problem which some state has made their lives at their lakeside homes intolerable.”44 Work carried on, however, and houses were built.
One Remaining Piece
Meanwhile, although the main building of the fort had been turned into ash, the fort as a whole was also not altogether gone. One of the bastions/blockhouses, originally built at the corners of the stockade, had been moved by Dr Harry Oborne of Invermere to his property, very likely when the Wenger’s offered the building for free to anyone who could move it.
In spring 1974, Oborne offered the blockhouse to the Windermere District Historical Society for the cost of the removal – $279. Museum members, “spent a frantic few days trying to find some means of financing the project before the end of April deadline. Just as they had the ways and means within their grasp they learned that Mr Oborne had sold the blockhouse for re-erection on another site.”45
That other site turned out to be across the bay from the original fort location, on what is known locally as Kpokl Beach, where the tower stood between the lake and the train tracks for years. The beach, and the property behind it, were owned from 1971 by Bryon Knight, with Knight expressing an intention to fix up the tower in 2009 and again in 2014 (I’m told that Kpokl stands for “Knight property on Knight land” – can anyone confirm?).46 This never happened, and the fort tower, the last remaining structure of the original fort, has since been removed to locations unknown.
Anyway, aside from some remaining unanswered questions, that’s all for now on the David Thompson Memorial Fort. Hopefully this clears up some of the history about Fort Point! (Also: this is the 100th post I’ve published, so if you’re wanting to read more about Windermere Valley history, there are a lot of topics now to choose from!).