Updated: May 2
The Ainsworth Hot Springs resort opened in June 1930. While there was a previous attempt to commercialize the springs in 1911, for some reason it was not successful. Thomas Procter and W.J. Wilson, and J.W. Smith built a swimming pool and either built or expanded the caves before giving up.
The degree to which the caves are natural or man-made has been hotly debated (pun intended) but the evidence suggests that while there may have been a small opening in the mountain to begin with, it was greatly enlarged by humans.
The caves were first mentioned in the Winnipeg Tribune of July 13, 1911:
The hot springs, which for ages have gushed down the slopes of the hill above the town, and in winter painted the snowy hillside a combination of ochre and green, have been tapped at depth, to use a mining term, by a tunnel, which crosses the strata through which the lithia water percolates, this tunnel acting a reservoir for the collection of the water. Cement tanks have been built, a row of summer cottages is planned by the syndicate that owns the springs, and probably the new resort will be in actual use this season.
When Clara Graham arrived in 1912 to teach school at Ainsworth, she found “A concrete swimming tank had been built adjacent to the hot springs some time before, but a corner of it had been blasted out apparently to prevent a drowning accident.”
In 1930, John Burns of Nelson created a resort at Ainsworth, including a new $50,000 hotel with room for 75 guests and several cottages (seen below in a Gowen Sutton Ltd. postcard).
Tom Heise was the hotel’s first manager and William Swain the first chef. Burns also hired local miner Bob Sherraden to blast out a second tunnel and cross passage for the caves. At this time, a Spokane Spokesman-Review story stated:
To the rear of the chalet the hot springs pour out their medicated waters from steaming caves. The larger cave, in which one can walk erect, has a temperature of 117 degrees Fahrenheit and its waters fill a concrete tank 30 by 60 feet …
In 1949, John Burns sold the resort to the Yale Lead and Zinc Co., which was then mining at Ainsworth. They leased the pool operation to several proprietors including Betty Olson and Claude Carpenter. In 1962, Sam and Belle Homen bought the resort and operated it until 1979, when it was taken over by their daughter Joyce and son-in-law Norm Mackie, who were responsible for many improvements, including new change rooms in 1983 and a new hotel and restaurant in 1987. The Mackie family sold the resort to the Yaqan Nukiy (Lower Kootenay Band) in 2015, who have since made further improvements.
Here is a series of postcards and brochures showing the resort from the 1930s to the 1960s, all from my collection, followed by a few vintage newspaper ads. The first three postcards all show the old Hot Springs Hotel. The photographer is unknown, but the first two were published by Gowen Sutton Ltd.
The old hotel stood on the parking lot of the present hotel. Here is a photo of it from the Arrow Lakes News of March 11, 1987, not long before it was torn down.
One more postcard of the pool and change rooms, ca. 1930s. Photographer unknown.
Two postcards of the pool and caves, ca. 1960s, as photographed by Ellis Anderson.
Two more postcards of the pool and caves from the 1960s, photographed by Dorse McTaggart.
Two eye-popping brochures from sometime after 1962.
Below is a terrific 8x10 handbill from the 1960s that was in the Lawrie Duff collection and is now in the Kootenay Lake Archives. Note “20-mile” was scratched out and replaced with “20-minute.”
And finally, some early ads. The first two items are both from the Spokane Spokesman Review, June 27, 1930. The “natural cave” referred to in the caption is actually the Cody Caves, not the hot springs caves.
Next, from the Nelson Daily News, May 3, 1935.
Now from the Spokesman Review, May 3, 1964. Not just a hot spring, but a “hydro kinetic mineral whirlpool bath”!
And finally from the Spokesman Review of May 5, 1968.
The change rooms seen above were demolished after the current ones were built in 1983.
Updated May 1, 2023 with the 1960s handbill.