Whites Dam (Informal name, Westside Road, Windermere Lake)
At some point Whites Dam collapsed under pressure, causing a flood all the way down to Windermere Lake.
Whites Dam is a long time local (but still unofficial) name for a small, man-made lake located up on Brady Creek on the west side of Windermere Lake.
Isaac Albert White
Whites Dam is named for Isaac Albert White, who usually went by Albert or “Ab”,1 and who was born in Ontario on 28 February 1873 as the eldest child of Isaac and Jane White (née Gilbert). Albert grew up in a farming family in what is now part of the Muskoka Lakes township,2 and he had an eventual five siblings the youngest of whom, Dollie, was born in 1900, some twenty-seven years Albert’s junior (circumstantial evidence suggests that their mother, Jane, died in childbirth with Dollie).3
Albert remained quite close to home in his early years, still living with his father and remaining siblings in 1901, at which time he also lists his occupation as a farmer.4 Three years later, however, in November 1904, Albert was a “lumberman” when he was married to Minnie Nixon in Bracebridge, Ontario.5
Minnie, born 1883 to parents John Nixon and Susan Henshaw, was younger sister to Walter Nixon, who would become a very well known guide/outfitter in the Windermere Valley. In 1904, Walter was already living in the Valley, which likely had something to do with Albert and Minnie moving there as well.
A Lumber Boom
It helped that there was then quite a bit of work available in the Valley for “lumbermen” such as Albert White. With immigration rates on the prairies increasing, there was high demand for building materials, and expanding railway companies were also looking for railway ties. For example, in 1903 the Columbia River Lumber Co (CRL), based in Golden, shipped some thirteen million feet of lumber and 135,000 railway ties.6
With business booming, the CRL’s attention through 1904 turned towards timber reserves to the south, upriver from Golden, and they staked out a number of reserves along Toby Creek that summer.7 Lumber camps were also established up Dutch Creek, including one by Captain Francis P Armstrong who had, “made a contract with the CPR to purchase all the ties he can deliver.”8 Further tie camps were set up including one on Salter Creek,9 as well as one “near Goldie Creek” (Salter and Goldie Creek are adjacent to each other, so these could be referring to the same thing).10
These lumber camps tended to be relatively isolated and self sustaining, each operating independently under a camp foreman. Although the Columbia River Lumber Co (CRL) was the largest operator, they did not hold a complete monopoly, and there were smaller operators as well (the plant up Salter Creek, for example, is initially identified as being operated by the Windermere Lumber Co).
Still, by the close of 1904 the CRL is reported to have purchased all the land then owned by the CPR between Toby and Dutch Creeks with the intention of taking off timber and then selling the cleared land to ranchers.11 It was a promising plan, as by this time the lumber industry in the Windermere District was, “never so brisk,”12 with, “more real activity to be seen in the lumber camps on the west side of Windermere lake than in any other part of this district.” 13
The Whites Arrive in the Valley
It is into this rush of activity that the newly married Albert and Minnie White arrived in May 1905.14 Albert had been hired on as foreman on Captain Armstrong’s tie camp up Johnston Creek, a camp that was then just becomming established. A portable sawmill, previously up at Toby Creek Lake (Lake Lillian), was moved in January to a place on the creek, and a flume was erected from the mill down to Windermere Lake. Ties and lumber would be towed in booms down the lake to the mouth of the Columbia river, where they were released during high(ish) water to float down to Golden.15
It was hoped that three million ties could be taken out from Johnston Creek over a period of four to five years, and Albert White had been tasked with leading the operation.
Ownership of the Johnston Creek camp, meanwhile, seems to have changed at some point in 1905, with the CRL taking over. By November 1905 the CRL were operating three lumber camps on the west side of the lake, very likely including the Salter Creek camp, and definitely including the Johnston Creek one.16 To aid in these activities, in June 1905 the CRL had purchased a large block of land on Main street in Athalmer, fronting the river, to construct a large warehouse,17 supplying its many lumber camps and the estimated 300 men employed in the area that season.18
On Johnston Creek, by February 1906 a force of CRL men under Albert White were rebuilding Captain Armstrong’s flume, widening and lengthening it. They were also at work constructing a dam to hold the water necessary to work the flume.19 This flume down to the lake was reportedly about three miles (five kilometers) long, and in June 1906 was still not quite completed all the way up to the dam.20 By that October, however, Albert White sent a raft of 22,000 ties down to Athalmer, totalling a quarter million ties for the CRL that year.21
The dam constructed up at White’s camp became known as Whites Dam, and careful observers might notice some problems with geography. All records from the time place Armstrong’s railway camp, which White became foreman of, up Johnston Creek, while Whites Dam today, with evidence of a mill below the dam, is located up Brady Creek.
I’m not quite sure how to explain this. Johnston Creek was well established in the early 1900s based on the presence of Edmund T Johnston’s ranch towards the mouth of it, so it’s unlikely a case of mixing up names. It could be that reports of the camp up “Johnston Creek” were used to refer to the general area, encompassing Brady Creek as well.
But there are problems with this as well. Although I have been unable to find any primary sources, at some point Whites Dam collapsed under pressure, causing a flood all the way down to Windermere Lake. Evidence of this flood (fallen trees etc) is still noted as being visible in 1921 not on Brady Creek, but downstream on Johnston Creek.22 So while the dam was on Brady Creek, evidence of the flood from the dam could be seen on Johnston Creek, suggesting perhaps some connection between the two waterways. I don’t have a conclusive explanation for all of this: further investigation is needed!
Further Lumbering in the Valley
Meanwhile, logging activity carried on in the Valley. With a high demand and high profit for railway ties in the summer of 1906,23 work began at the end of the year in Golden for a new mill for the Columbia River Lumber Co, which was by then “by far the largest holder of timber lands in this province.”24 Winter again promised to be busy in the Windermere District.25
By spring 1908, however, the lumber industry in the province had largely collapsed, with mills providing far in excess of demand and most camps becoming “inactive through want of a market.”26 There’s no record as to when the Johnston Creek camp closed down, but it very likely correlated with the collapse of Whites Dam.
The Whites Leave
There’s also no record of when Albert White and family left the Windermere Valley, but they appear (then with four children) on the 1911 Canadian Census in South Fort George, British Columbia. Albert was employed there as a teamster at a logging camp.27
In June 1915, the White family (now with five children) moved again, this time to take up a homestead near Spirit River, Alberta (north of Grande Prairie). Albert spent that first winter working for a lumber mill close by,28 but aside from that he became a farmer again, and he and Minnie remained there for the rest of their lives. Albert passed away in August 1960 in Spirit River.29 He was predeceased by Minnie, who passed away in 1958.30
The White Children
I was unable to access great depths of information about the White family up in Alberta, but there are pieces, as well as some hints as to where one might look for more.
Of the five children the eldest, Roy Albert, born in 1906, was married in February 1936 to Mary Carson Kerr.31 Roy was then a resident of Blueberry Mountain, and would be buried at the Blueberry Mountain Cemetery after his death in 1983.32
Daughter Alberta White, born June 1910, was working in 1936 as a registered nurse, and was the matron of the Spirit River hospital.33
Of the other White children, Francis William (Frank) White, born in May 1909,34 was married July 1941 to Ethel Mildred Atkins, with the couple anticipating to make their home in Spirit River.35 Both Ethel and Frank are buried at the Spirit River Cemetery, with Frank having passed away in 2006.36
Younger brother Fred White, born in July 1912, would pass away in September 1995 and is also interred at the Spirit River Cemetery.37 I was unable to find anything further about the fifth White child (Ethel May, born July 1907).
I will include some sources down at the bottom of the page of some other books of Spirit River area history in which Isaac and Minnie’s names are indexed. Unfortunately I don’t have access to these books, but if anyone is interested in learning more that’s where to start looking!
What is left of Whites Dam continues to be accessible, and remnants of the log mill are apparently still visible just downstream. Restoration and strengthening of the dam was carried out in 2006, improving access for spawning trout. It is now on SRL – K2 Ranch property.