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Visiting Sparwood, British Columbia: Isolation — If Not Isolationism — Evoking an Even More Isolated Past

Updated on January 2, 2019
Provincial flag of British Columbia
Provincial flag of British Columbia | Source
Sparwood, BC
Sparwood, BC | Source
Welcome sign for Sparwood, British Columbia
Welcome sign for Sparwood, British Columbia | Source

Wild and remote, 969 kilometres from Vancouver

It is true that as isolated communities go, there is a lot of British Columbia which is more isolated than Sparwood. Particularly in comparison with Metro Vancouver.

Nevertheless, close to the Continental Divide, Sparwood, in the Kootenay Rockies in the south east of the Province, seems very remote from other significantly populated areas of British Columbia; not least from Vancouver (all 969 kilometres away!), even though Sparwood very approximately shares Vancouver's latitude. The particular area of the Kootenay Rockies in which Sparwood is situated is the Elk Valley.

So Sparwood is certainly southern British Columbia, but very isolated.

In fact, until as recently as 1873, no European is recorded as having crossed the Crowsnest Pass which lies approximately 20 kilometres east of Sparwood along British Columbia Highway 3.

One does well sometimes to remember the origins of the Province of British Columbia as a separate British colony, essentially west of the Rockies, and to recall that historically its outlook has been in some ways considerably different from other outlooks in other parts of Canada.

The picture of the town sign, above, with its coal trucks either side of the displayed name 'Sparwood', is a reminder of the mining past — and present. Close to Sparwood were the former mining villages of Michel (1) and Natal; indeed, some decades back, the dwindling population of Michel — along Highway 3, east of Sparwood, was compulsorily removed to the town. Local murals - for which a self-directed tour map is availalblef from the Chanber of Commerce, depict various aspects of the mining past. What is claimed to be the world's largest truck — the Titan, which I have described elsewhere — is displayed in the Downtown area of Sparwood, vividly reflecting huge economies of scale in the mining industry.

Indeed, the Elkview open-pit coal-mine offers tours to visitors during the months of July and August (2).

North of the town is Elk Lakes Provincial Park, situated above the tree line, and classified as sub-Alpine (3).

January 2, 2019


(1) The Michel Creek Loop is a popular mountain bike path.

(2) See also:

This resource also gives details of local wildlife spotting, canoeing, kayaking, hiking and snowmobiling activities which are popular pursuits in the area.

(3) See also:

Walking north of Line Creek , Sparwood
Walking north of Line Creek , Sparwood | Source

Also worth seeing

Fernie, British Columbia (distance: 30 kilometres), like Sparwood, attracts many campers and hikers, notably to the Fairy Creek and Mount Proctor trails; there is a Fernie Museum and a nature centre. The Three Sisters Mountain is a local landmark in the Elk Valley in which Fernie, like Sparwood, is situated. Many of Fernie's attractive Downtown buildings, executed in brick, date from the early 20th century. Interestingly, in this strongly Anglophone Province, Fernie has a Francophone school operated by the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique.

How to get there

Air Canada flies to Cranbrook / Canadian Rockies International Airport (distance from Sparwood: approx. 125 kilometres), via Vancouver, with wide North American and other connections, from where car rental is available. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada

Map location of Sparwood, British Columbia
Map location of Sparwood, British Columbia | Source

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