Fort Steele Heritage Town
NWMP Kootenay Post
Links and documents
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
Fort Steele, located at the site of the former Galbraith's Ferry crossing, is comprised of a North West Mounted Police post and a late nineteenth century town. It is located in the Rocky Mountain Trench, on the bench land of the Kootenay River, and is bisected by Highway 93/95.
Fort Steele is significant as a time capsule of white settlement and the changing fortunes of a pioneer community in nineteenth century British Columbia. The value of this place lies in the remaining physical evidence of the four distinct stages of settlement which occurred here: the Galbraith's Ferry era established in 1864-65, the Kootenay Post era of the late 1880s, the Fort Steele era of the 1890s, and the period of decline which began in 1898.
The physical geography of this part of the Kootenay River is significant, as it prompted the establishment of John Galbraith's lucrative ferry business here in 1864. The narrow point of this part of the river was ideal for the transportation of thousands of miners who sought their fortunes at the nearby Wild Horse Creek gold rush. Galbraith's Ferry Office is valued as the only surviving evidence of the small settlement of Galbraith's Ferry, the first permanent non-native settlement in the area and the original antecedent of the town of Fort Steele.
The Officers' Quarters of Kootenay Post - established here in 1887 by Superintendent Samuel Steele and Division 'D' of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) - survives as a lone testament to the need for regulation and order which arose in response to conflicts between the burgeoning non-native population and the local Ktunaxa people. The influence of the NWMP on this place was significant; it secured subsequent white settlement and growth, and inspired its renaming to Fort Steele in 1888, in honour of the commander of this, the first North West Mounted Police post west of the Rocky Mountains.
Evidence of Fort Steele's heyday - which began with construction of the Crow's Nest Railway, the discovery of rich silver-lead deposits, and the advent of large-scale mining in the area in the early 1890s - lies in the significant collection of stores, hotels, administrative buildings, and houses which remain within the historic town site. The variety of forms and uses of the late nineteenth century wooden structures attest to Fort Steele's prosperity as the former commercial and administrative center of the East Kootenay region.
Bypassed by the Canadian Pacific Railway in favour of nearby Cranbrook in 1898, it was the subsequent general abandonment of the town which preserved it as an example of its time period. Purchased for use as a historic site by the provincial government in 1961, Fort Steele survives as a notable reminder of the evolution of white settlement in nineteenth century British Columbia.
Source: BC Heritage Branch Properties files
The character-defining elements of Fort Steele include:
- views of Fisher Peak and the surrounding Rocky Mountains
- location of the town on the bench above the Kootenay River
- evidence of Galbraith's Ferry, as seen in the Galbraith's Ferry Office
- evidence of Kootenay Post, as seen in the Officers' Quarters building
- the layout and sight lines of the four primary streets of the Fort Steele town site: Main Street, Riverside Avenue, St. Mary's Street, and Selkirk Avenue
- the layout and spatial configurations of historic roads, lots and buildings, which illustrate the urban pattern of the town
- structures pre-dating 1961
- the presence and juxtaposition of various types of buildings, such as residences, churches, government offices, hotels, and stores
- evidence of various construction methods as seen in the buildings within the site, such as the piece-sur-piece construction of Galbraith's Ferry Office and the Officers' Quarters buildings, and wood/balloon frame techniques found in various residential and commercial structures
- evidence of the wealth of building materials available in the area, as seen in the architectural detailing and structural elements of pre-1961 wooden buildings
Province of British Columbia
Heritage Conservation Act, s.23, s.13(1)(a)
Provincial Heritage Property (Designated)
1888/01/01 to 1888/01/01
1898/01/01 to 1898/01/01
1887/01/01 to 1887/01/01
Theme - Category and Type
- Peopling the Land
Function - Category and Type
- Historic or Interpretive Site
- Police Station
- Landing Point
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
BC Heritage Branch Properties files
Cross-Reference to Collection
Fort Steele Historic