Boundary History

excerpted from Church in the Kootenays: The Story of The United Church of Canada in Kootenay Presbytery  — Elsie G. Turnbull,  Published for Kootenay Presbytery United Church Women by Trail Times Limited, 1965



In 1920 the mines at Phoenix were closed. The city wound up its  affairs, ending with a surplus in the treasury which was remitted to provincial government. The inhabitants moved away; buildings were torn down and the once thriving community became a ghost town. Eholt also vanished. Hotels and houses disappeared; the railway spur was torn up and Eholt became a siding, with nothing left but a station depot mouldering stones.

The town of Greenwood lay in a constricted valley between Phoenix Mountain and Deadwood Ridge. Surrounded by mines on all sides it was a logical site for the smelter which the B. C. Copper Company erected in1901 to treat ores coming from Summit Camp and the Motherlode in Deadwood Camp. A boom town of twelve hundred people it attracted both Presbyterian and Methodist missionaries.

Old St. Columba erected by Presbyterian missionaries in 1900

By 1900 the Presbyterian cause was self-sustaining and the church of St. Columba had been built under the direction of Rev. Duncan Campbell. In 1910 Greenwood and Phoenix charges were united with Phoenix as headquarters.

The Methodist church had also established a mission in Greenwood under Rev. B. H. Balderston in 1899. He was followed in 1901 by Rev. George Knox, in 1905 by Rev. S. Hastings and in 1907 by Rev. F. J. Rutherford and a church was erected. Pastors were stationed in Greenwood until 1914 when Rev. Mr. Hobden of Grand Forks took over the charge.

During these years one hundred families and many single men lived near the glory hole of the Mother Lode mine in Deadwood Ridge. Religious services were supplied to them by ministers from Greenwood who took turns in conducting worship in the big boardinghouse, while Sunday School was held in both Mother Lode and Deadwood camps. The mine closed in the autumn of 1918 and by next summer all residents had left.

Boundary Falls was a smelter town three miles south of Greenwood where the Dominion Copper Company treated ores from the Brooklyn, Stemwinder and Rawhide mines in Phoenix and from the Sunset in Deadwood Camp. The site of a hydro-electric plant, it soon had a population of several hundred and acquired hotels, stores and a school, but never a church building. However services were provided by the Greenwood ministers. With the collapse of copper operations about 1920 Boundary Falls disappeared as a town and for many years only the rotting frame of a smelter and a slag dump marked its site.

The town of Midway attracted the Presbyterians in their missionizing efforts. At first served from Greenwood it was placed under the charge of Rev. W. R. Ross in 1904. The following year Rev. A. H. Cameron became resident minister and in his time the white frame church with its green spire was erected. For the next few years various ministers acted as supply and from 1910 the Midway pulpit was filled by students from Westminster Hall, preaching during the summer months.

Rock Creek was a point in the Midway charge. It had been the scene of placer mining in the eighteen-sixties but at the turn of the century it was a station on the supply route of freight teams between the Okanagan and the Boundary country. Logging and sawmills centred on the Kettle River and a few years later a group of Englishmen took up land for fruit farming on the meadows below the town. At first church services were held in the Riverside Hall but soon all denominations used the Anglican church erected by the English colony.

Closing of the copper mines and smelters about 1920 embarrassed the work of the church and led to a change in administration of the field. The Presbyterian Church made Greenwood its headquarters for the district while the Methodists centred in Grand Forks. The Greenwood minister travelled as far west as Bridesville and Rock Creek to hold services in community halls. He also journeyed up the Kettle River to the mining community of Beaverdell where worship was in the school. In Christian valley and at Myncaster near the American boundary he preached in private homes while the church at Midway also came under his charge.

In the summer of 1922 a Presbyterian student from Toronto, Bruce Gray worked the field. The story is told that Alex Greig, an ex-sailor and logger who was proprietor of the Pacific Hotel in Greenwood suggested that Gray have a service for old toughs like himself who did not care to mix with respectable sinners. Young Gray complied. At the end of the meeting the hotelman interrupted: “Say, Mr. Preacher, it’s time for the collection, and if any of you so-and-so guys put anything but folding money on this plate you’ll get a punch on the jaw from me!” The collection amounted to nineteen dollars and Greig announced: “Now Mr. Cray, this is all for you. The church doesn’t get a penny of it!”

Rev. Wingate R. Walkinshaw was appointed to the Greenwood Presbyterian charge in 1922. At this time the Methodists sold their church building in Greenwood and Mr. Walkinshaw secured the pews for St. Columba while the pulpit and Bible were given to a church in Oliver. A manse for the Greenwood pastorate was donated by Duncan McIntosh, owner of the Bell mine in  Beaverdell.

Meanwhile in the Boundary district west of the Columbia and Kootenay valleys missionary work was begun by the Presbyterian Church. This was primarily ranching country where cattle grazed on the lush meadows along the Kettle River and on the rolling slopes of Anarchist Mountain. In 1886 the Presbyterian Church formed the presbytery of Columbia and sent ministers into this vast interior to travel by foot, horseback and preaching at widely-separated points. One of the first of was Rev. John Chisholm who in 1889 journeyed east through the Kettle  River valley as far as the Columbia River. Using two or three horses, sleeping outdoors or in Indian camps, he held six services and reported the need for a resident pastor. Acting on this suggestion Dr. Robertson sent Rev. Smith Whidden to the Kettle River the following year. Rev. Mr. Whidden spent eight months visiting ranches and mining camp as he rode and tramped over rough trails in a charge covering two hundred square miles. He built a rude log church near the present Grand Forks but was forced to retire when funds for his support were not forthcoming.

It was not until 1893 that a second missionary entered the Kettle valley when the district was attached to Kootenay Presbytery. Travelling by foot from the Okanagan in a long circuitous route, Rev. Thomas Paton arrived at the Covert ranch in early spring. He found Rev Whidden’s little log church still without doors or windows. Securing a gift of three acres from local ranchers  he moved the log building to a site on which today the cemetery lies but at that time was outside the town of Grand Forks and in the rival townsite of Columbia.

Using this building as a manse he began erection of a new church with lumber donated  by a sawmill operator. Forced to do much of the carpentry himself Paton soon exhausted his funds but appeals to eastern Canada provided the sum of four hundred and thirty-seven dollars. A bell and stove, rag carpeting and a chandelier come as gifts from a Hamilton church and finally the First Presbyterian Church at Kettle River stood completed within its picket fence. At its opening Mr. Paton acted as beadle, bell ringer and janitor while a hand-organ carried on his back provided music for the service. As the town of Grand Forks grow in size Mr. Paton found much opposition from those people desiring a “wide-open” town. He was told that Grand Forks would prosper more if he were away. Discouraged by this animosity and beset with the demands of a family of seven, Mr. Paton left in 1897 to return to Ontario.

Successors to Mr Paton found so much rivalry between the settlements of Columbia and Grand Forks that one service each Sunday was held in the Columbia church and in a hall in Grand Forks. Dr. Robertson, visiting the field in 1899 found it expedient to send a missionary to each town. Rev. W.A. Alexander going to Columbia and Rev. J.R. Robertson to Grand Forks. The latter held services in Albert Hall, a building cold in winter and hot in summer. Since it was used for gatherings of every description it proved quite unsatisfactory. Steps were soon taken to build a church which was ready for dedication on August 5, 1900. It was called Knox Presbyterian. The Columbia mission continued a while but in February 1901 the towns of Columbia and Grand Forks amalgamated and the churches united, holding worship in Knox church. The Columbia church burned some time later.

In the nineties large ore bodies were uncovered in the hills encircling the valley and the town of Greenwood came into existence while district offices of the provincial government were established at Midway. Rev. Mr. Paton travelled to these towns by horseback holding service in a hall in Greenwood and in a livery barn in Midway. A number of student missionaries carried on the work when he left and in 1900 Greenwood attained the status of self-support. St. Columba Church was erected that year. Unique in construction, St. Columba had a chancel curtained on both sides of the pulpit and divided by pillars into two rooms. To the left of the minister was the choir, hidden in a loft until the members stood up to sings while to the right was an office. Pulpit and communion table were fine examples of cabinet work while the words “Columba Presbyterian Church” were carved on the offering plates. Chairs provided seating for the congregation.

In a shallow depression on top of the ridge separating Grand Forks from Greenwood, forty-five hundred feet above sea level, lay rich copper mines. Here the settlement of Phoenix grew up and in 1898 the Presbyterians sent a young David A. Stewart to carry the gospel message to the miners. Energetic and smart, he was as able speaker and very keen on his work, often going into saloons to take home a man who had drunk too much. He left the following spring to study medicine and was succeeded by Rev. Joseph McCoy, lately of Cascade City.

In the summer of 1898 the CPR started construction of its Columbia & Western rail line from Robson to Midway. Headquarters for the work were established at Brooklyn, twenty miles above Robson at the point where the railway left the Arrow Lakes to climb over the height of land to the Christina Lake valley. All along the route camps of tents provided accommodation for hundreds of workmen engaged in the undertaking and the towns in the Boundary country expanded in population. Aware of the opportunity for service the Presbyterian Church sent missionaries to labour in this field as chance would allow. Rev. John Munro whose charge was Trail journeyed occasionally to the gaudy, raucous town of Brooklyn where he preached to casual crowds in the barroom of some hotel. It was not for long. When rail construction moved West Brooklyn caught fire and burned to the ground, a brief eighteen months after its inception.

Late in the fall of 1898 Dr. Robertson sent Rev. Joseph McCoy to establish a mission at Cascade City, primarily to serve the men building the railroad. Disembarking from a stern wheeler at Brooklyn, McCoy set out with a team and sleigh to travel the tote road to Cascade. For the sake of the horses he walked up the steep hillside to the summit and for the sake of his own neck he preferred to walk the downgrade along McRae Creek to Christina Lake. There on a wide flat he found the usual hotels, saloons, stores and a few houses, as well as a school building. Securing the use of the schoolhouse he opened his mission on the Sunday of December 18. Before the winter was out he acquired a lot close to the railway station where a small shack was made comfortable for the minister. Then with ten contributions of twenty-five dollars, eked out by a loan from the church building fund, he erected a “commodious” church. Attendance was good, ranging from twenty-six to eighty-four and including Presbyterians, Methodists, Congregationalists, Anglicans and members of the Salvation Army. Outlying camps of construction workers at Gladstone and the Bulldog tunnel were supplied and Mr. McCoy’s heart was gladdened by one man’s statement: “Come again, parson; no place needs religion worse than we do here.” Late in 1899 Mr. McCoy went to Phoenix and Rev. E. G. Robb followed him to Cascade City. With  the completion of the railway Cascade City declined in population and a disastrous fire wiped out most of the town in 1901. Records are scanty in 1901. Records are scanty in regard to the next few years but in 1906 John Fernie was stationed at the church. As time went on the inhabitants worshipped at Grand Forks.

Methodist work in the Boundary country did not begin until 1899. In that year Rev. G. K. Bradshaw was stationed in Grand Forks where he secured a site for the erection of a church and parsonage. Rev. B. H. Balderston took charge of the Greenwood pastorate and sometime during those early years built a Methodist church for worship.