Historic Ainsworth, B.C. Oldest Village on Kootenay Lake

Hotels, Saloons and Brothels Served the Public

Photo: Ainsworth, B.C.
Photo: Ainsworth, B.C. | Source

From its colorful past to its present day status as a resort town, Ainsworth, in "Kootenay Country," British Columbia, bears distinction as being the oldest village on Kootenay Lake.

A remote location, plummeting silver prices and a fire should have spelled the death knell for the small settlement, but Ainsworth did not meet the same fate as did other mining towns in the West Kootenay region.

While places such as Cody, Sandon, Three Forks, and Retallack fizzled out and became ghost towns, Ainsworth hung on.

"John A. Retallack, late owner of the Kaslo-Slocan Railway, is firm in the belief that the future of Ainsworth is as bright as a new-minted 20-dollar piece." Ho

Photo: Ainsworth, B.C. was the first village on the shores of Kootenay Lake, an ambitious settlement because it was cut off from other towns and could only be reached by packhorse and sternwheelers in the early days.
Photo: Ainsworth, B.C. was the first village on the shores of Kootenay Lake, an ambitious settlement because it was cut off from other towns and could only be reached by packhorse and sternwheelers in the early days. | Source

Mining and Sternwheelers

Ainsworth's past has shaped its present

When a steamboat captain by the name of George Ainsworth heard tell of silver-lead ore in the West Kootenay region, he traveled northward from the U.S. In the early 1880s, he received a land grant of 166 acres in an area known as Hot Springs Camp and staked out a townsite in 1883.

By 1884, prospecting activity was at an all-time high and ground had been staked from the lakeshore to the summits. Mines such as as Krao, Keyline, and Gallager were in full-swing. At one point, one million tons of ore waited on the dock for shipment. {1}

Optimism knew no bounds. The local paper, Hot Spring News, reported: "John A. Retallack, late owner of the Kaslo-Slocan Railway, is firm in the belief that the future of Ainsworth is as bright as a new-minted 20-dollar piece." {2} Buildings sprang up quickly and Ainsworth, B.C. became a lively place with hotels, brothels and saloons serving the public.

Miners at Ainsworth, B.C.

Photo: Miners at Ainsworth, British Columbia.  George Ainsworth heard tell of silver-lead ore in the West Kootenay region. In the early 1880s, he received a land grant of 166 acres in an area known as Hot Springs Camp.
Photo: Miners at Ainsworth, British Columbia. George Ainsworth heard tell of silver-lead ore in the West Kootenay region. In the early 1880s, he received a land grant of 166 acres in an area known as Hot Springs Camp. | Source

Sternwheelers Plied Kootenay Lake Delivering Supplies and Passengers

Ainsworth was accessible by packhorse and served by the sternwheelers SS Nelson and later, SS City of Ainsworth. These vessels traveled up and down Kootenay Lake, providing transportation to and from the isolated community and bringing in food and supplies.

The boom did not last. The Payne claim at nearby Sandon in 1891 impacted Ainsworth and, after 1893, Ainsworth fell into a decline. A few short years later, in 1896, a fire razed the town, destroying thirteen hotels and most of the buildings.

The village struggled through the Great Depression and by the 1950s mining was once again in the forefront--until silver prices dropped.

Sternwheeler SS Ainsworth

The SS Ainsworth was one of many sternwheelers that plied the waters of Kootenay Lake before modern roads were pushed through the rugged West Kootenay wilderness.
The SS Ainsworth was one of many sternwheelers that plied the waters of Kootenay Lake before modern roads were pushed through the rugged West Kootenay wilderness. | Source

Ainsworth's Hills Offer Something Extra

"There's 'gold' in them thar hills"

In the early years, prospectors scoured the hills around Ainsworth looking to make their fortune but, in the end, the natural mineral springs would play a pivotal role in the survival of Ainsworth and set the stage for its future. The waters were an abundant geothermal resource and proved to be the real "mother lode."

Hot Springs Pool

Source

Hotsprings True Mother Lode

The hotsprings turned out to be the real "mother lode" and has put Ainsworth on the world map.

Hot Springs Boon the Struggling Village

Subsequent decades saw further development (of the pool area and an opening that miners had tunneled out and abandoned upon discovering hot water) and the emergence a modern resort offering pools, cave, lodgings and fine dining. This endeavor preserved Ainsworth and prevented it from fading into obscurity.

The springs and tunnel are visited by people from all over the world. Ainsworth has become a premier vacation spot and favorite get-away for those looking for a different experience.

Further Reading:

  • Turnbull, Elsie G., Ghost Towns and Drowned Towns of the West Kootenay, Heritage House Pub Co Ltd (June 1989)
  • Carlyle, William A. B., Report on the Slocan, Nelson and Ainsworth Mining Districts in West Kootenay, British Columbia, Reproduction, Nabu Press, (August 17, 2011)

Ainsworth, B.C.

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Ainsworth Hot Springs, BC V0G, Canada
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Getting to Ainsworth

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J. B. Fletcher Historical Store and Crafts--A Place for History Buffs

The Fletcher family has established the J.B. Fletcher Restoration Society to preserve the region's heritage and in tandem with that, a Facebook page, J. B. Fletcher Historical Store and Crafts.The page offers a wealth of historical data and photos released from relevant archives.

Ainsworth Today--Some of the Old Buildings Remain

J.B. Fletcher Store in Ainsworth, B.C.
J.B. Fletcher Store in Ainsworth, B.C.

Ainsworth Today

Something old, something new

Ainsworth, B.C., first town in the West Kootenays, has survived and earned its place on the map. Today the village attracts visitors from around the world, who come to enjoy Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort, one of British Columbia's premiere commercial hot springs.

Sources:

  1. Basque, Garnet, West Kootenay The Pioneer Years, Heritage House Publishing Company, 2009
  2. " SS City of Ainsworth " Sternwheelers of Kootenay Lake, Touchstones Nelson, Museum of Art and History, 2009
  3. Barlee, N.L., West Kootenay: Ghost Town Country, Canada West Publications, 1984
  4. Downs, Art, Pioneer Days in British Columbia, Vol 4, Heritage House Publishing Company, 1979 {1} P. 119, {2} P. 117
  5. Mackie, Norm, "Ainsworth History," Travel British Columbia

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Comments 4 comments

Athlyn Green profile image

Athlyn Green 8 months ago from West Kootenays Author

Thank you DDE, it's a special spot. People travel from different countries to experience it.


DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Incredible experiences in an old village, a well researched and explained hub on the Oldest Village on Kootenay Lake


Athlyn Green profile image

Athlyn Green 3 years ago from West Kootenays Author

Hi Ivan, thank you! I love Ainsworth and have spent many happy hours in the springs and cave. Quite the experience.

We one time visited at Christmas and a choir was practicing carols inside the caves--singing in either Russian or Ukrainian--where the acoustics were good. What a wonderful experience: Christmas lights, warm waters, mist and snow coming down and people gathered in front of the caves listening to the choir and singing along with them in English.


Ivan Fraser profile image

Ivan Fraser 3 years ago from Glen Margaret, Nova Scotia

Great Hub Athlyn!

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