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Top Historic Hot Spots to Explore Around Yahk, Creston and Kootenay Lake

The iconic grain elevators are key landmarks in downtown Creston.

By Brian Lawrence

The history of any place is far deeper than meets the eye, and the Creston Valley is no different. From the history of the local Yaqan Nukiy-Ktunaxa people living here to for millennia to boom-and-bust logging and mining towns to steam-powered sternwheelers traversing up and down the lakes & rivers, the area is rife with stories and historic spots worth exploring.

Let's dive into the captivating history of the Creston area, embarking on a journey that takes us from the quaint village of Yahk in the east, and gradually leads us west through Creston and north to the historic communities of Kootenay Lake.

Lumber and Booze built the Boomtown of Yahk BC!

Some reports say over 1 million railroad ties were cut in a single winter in the early days of Yahk. BC Archives photo

It’s a peaceful little hamlet now, but over a century ago, Yahk was a booming lumber town building rail ties for the incoming rail line. Rumours still swirl that the community’s close proximity to the U.S. border also made it an ideal cross-border bootlegging hub during the dark days of Canada’s alcohol prohibition.

Today, there are scant remnants of this booming era, with just the railroad and the old Yahk Hotel building remaining from that time, the latter now a private residence. Yahk has mostly returned to nature, offering a tranquil setting for camping, hiking and fishing. This charming community is also a popular day trip destination for visitors, where you can drop by the Yahk Soap Company & Two Scoop Steve Ice Cream shop. Here, you can enjoy a delicious snack, meet the famous rooftop goats, and discover an array of superb soaps and unique gifts.

The Early (and Really Early) Years of the Creston Valley

The Yaqan Nukiy used the yaksumit, or sturgeon-nosed canoe, for transportation and gathering food.

The entire region is the traditional territory of the Yaqan Nukiy Ktunaxa, with the Creston Valley at its heart. For countless generations, the Yaqan Nukiy people navigated the reed-filled wetlands that once covered the valley floor in their birch-bark made yaksumit canoes, hunting, fishing, and foraging. By the late 1800s, European settlers arrived, traveling up the Kootenay River by sternwheeler, on horseback along the Dewdney Trail, and eventually by train, seeking their fortunes in mining and forestry. Diking of the Kootenay River in the 1940s eventually transformed the vast wetlands into fertile farmland. Finally, the construction of Highways 3 over Kootenay Pass and 3A up Kootenay Lake, brought in more newcomers, shaping the area as we know it today.

While much of the original landscape has changed due to these settlement efforts, you can still get a glimpse of the Yaqan Nukiy's traditional world by exploring the 17,000-acre Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area (CVWMA), the last remnant of the valley's historic floodplains. Visitors can experience what the area would have been like by traversing the extensive network of trails in the CVWMA or by visiting the Kootenay Columbia-Discovery Centre, which offers guided educational tours on foot or in a canoe.

Railroad hub to Mid-Century Farm Town - Creston

Munro Hotel, now the Kokanee Pub, built in 1898 in Creston, BC
Munro Hotel, now the Kokanee Pub, built in 1898. Creston Museum Photo

Creston itself grew rapidly thanks to its location at the junction of two competing rail lines that arrived in the late 1800s. Today it boasts several buildings that bring a hint of this past into the present. Among these, the venerable Kokanee Pub stands out, originally constructed as the Munro Hotel in 1898 to welcome people coming off the trains. Remarkably, this fall marks its 125th anniversary, a testament to its enduring charm!

Tragically several fires claimed most of these original wood buildings downtown during the 1910s and '20s. However this subsequently led to a spree of buildings going up in the then chic Art Deco style afterwards. Notable examples include the still-thriving Creston Hotel, an elegant relic from 1936, and the newly renovated Casey's Community House, which first graced the town as the Kootenay Hotel shortly after Victory Day in 1944 (look for the "V's" on the façade of the second floor that memorialized the historic event). However, the most outstanding Art Deco building from the era is the the iconic Tivoli Theatre, which was built in 1938 and famously showed Gone With the Wind! It’s one of the last historic single-screen theatres operating in BC today and with a fully upgraded sound and projector system, it's still a remarkable place to see a movie in a classic atmosphere!

A 1940s shot of the downtown Creston grain elevators. Creston Museum photo

Heading west out of downtown It’s impossible to miss the two six-story grain elevators at the west end of downtown Creston, a visual reminder of the Creston Valley’s deep agricultural heritage. They were built in 1935 (white) and 1936 (red elevator) to house grain harvested from the rich farmlands of the area and are some of the last remaining elevators in BC. Bought by a regional trust in 2018, the Red Elevator has been recently restored and is now home to the Kunze Gallery.

the East Shore of Kootenay Lake: Trains, Paddle Wheelers, and Old Orchards

Heading north from Creston on Highway 3A to Kootenay Lake's East Shore, your first stop is Sirdar. This century-old community served as the last stop on the original train line, which concluded at the south end of Kootenay Lake, where stern wheelers awaited to transport passengers and cargo up the lake. Today, remnants of the main switching yard can still be found near the Sirdar General Store, a well-preserved 1913 gem, which still features it original floors, walls and ceiling along with a quirky collection of antiques!

SS Nasookin at Boswell Landing on Kootenay Lake, BC
SS Nasookin at Boswell Landing on Kootenay Lake. Kootenay Lake Historical Society Photo

Heading Further along the highway, you'll reach Kuskanook, a once thriving orchard community, most of which was tragically lost in a 1900 fire. Now, Kuskanook boasts an excellent harbour, a nostalgic nod to its past when watercraft were the primary mode of transportation. Continuing north through Boswell, you'll encounter old farms with heirloom apple trees, and the Public Boat Launch, originally the landing point for paddle wheelers bringing supplies and loading apples from this remote orchard community before Highway 3A was constructed in the 1940s.

End of the Road Mining Towns & Lighthouses - Gray Creek, Crawford Bay, Riondel & Pilot Bay

Gray Creek Hall on the edge of Kootenay Lake
Gray Creek Hall on the edge of Kootenay Lake

As you venture to the north end of Highway 3A, you'll encounter a series of charming historic communities, beginning with Gray Creek. Before the Kootenay Lake Ferry Landing was built at Kootenay Bay in 1947, Gray Creek was the original landing for cross-lake sternwheelers and ferries. At the landing you'll still find the famous Gray Creek Store, in operation since 1913, with the original building still standing. While in Gray Creek you also should check out both the 111-year-old Gray Creek Hall nestled beside the lake, as well as the elegantly wood-framed two story Harrison Memorial Church, which now serves as a community art space and concert hall.

Continuing north, you'll reach the artisan haven of Crawford Bay. While lacking in historic buildings, this spot boasts numerous artisan studios and cafes dotting that the roadside that are worth exploring. Heading further north and east toward the Kootenay Lake Ferry, a right turn will lead you to Riondel, a former mining town turned charming lakeside getaway. While there isn't much left of this history the Riondel Historic Waterline Trail offers a glimpse of early 20th-century remnants, following the old waterline to a small dam that once supplied power and water to the mines.

The historic Pilot Bay Lighthouse overlooking Kootenay Lake, BC, Canada
The historic Pilot Bay Lighthouse overlooking Kootenay Lake

Alternatively, continue to the end of Highway 3-A at the Kootenay Bay ferry landing. From here, take a left southward to explore the Pilot Bay Peninsula. In the 1800s, this area was home to another mining town of about 1,000 residents as well as site of the tragic sinking of the SS City of Ainsworth in 1898. Today, the area is mostly reclaimed by thick forest inside Pilot Bay Provincial Park, though you can still discover some relics like Sawmill Bay, a sawdust filled cove fittingly named after the mill that previously stood there, now a quiet campground accessible by trail or boat. However, the must-visit spot is the iconic three-story Pilot Bay Lighthouse , which was built in 1904 and is the last remaining inland lighthouse in BC. The lighthouse stands tall on the west side of the bay, offering a breathtaking panoramic view of Kootenay Lake that is sure to impress and well worth the short hike to it.

tours, Museums & Cultural Centres for HIstory BUFFS To Explore

the Crseston Museum in Creston BC is a must stop for History Buffs
the Crseston Museum is a must stop for History Buffs

As I said, this is only the briefest overview of the Creston Valley's history — the more I wrote, the more I felt like I was missing! To learn much more about local history a visit to the fascinating Creston Museum is a must. Alternatively to learn more about the culture of the Yaqan Nukiy people be sure to visit Legend Logos & Yakan Nukiy Heritage Centre, which also offers historical guided boat tours of Kootenay Lake in the Summer , aptly named the Legend Lake Tours!

More To Explore

And there you have it! You've taken a remarkable virtual tour of some of the most noteworthy historic spots to explore around the Creston Valley and Kootenay Lake area. I hope that's piqued your interest and sparked your curiosity enough for your you to put a few of these places on your bucket list for a visit.

But don't forget there is more to the area than these old buildings and museums! Once you've finished exploring the local historical hotspots, be sure to check out the Play and Events sections of our website for even more ideas for things to do while you are in the area. Alternatively for more trip inspiration and ideas check out the other blogs in our Get Inspired section!

Until next time, enjoy all the history of the Creston Valley!

Brian Lawrence

Freelance writer Brian Lawrence is a former editor and publisher of the Creston Valley Advance. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking and trail running, and acting in and directing productions with Creston's Footlighters Theatre Society.


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