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Waneta in postcards and other ephemera

Updated: Feb 3

Six rare or never-before-seen real photo postcards of Waneta sold last month on eBay for $35 US. The seller was in Mission, Kansas, of all places. They were unused but a few had writing on the back. They probably date to the 1910s. I present them below and have supplemented them with other Waneta postcards, photos, and ephemera, all from my collection except where noted.

Three of the six cards show the Waneta bridge, now the oldest bridge in BC, having been constructed at the confluence of the Pend d’Oreille and Columbia Rivers in 1893 for the Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway. It was converted to a one-lane highway bridge in 1947 after a new railway bridge was built immediately adjacent to handle heavier trains.


Some interpretive signage has been installed in recent years explaining the bridge’s significance, but I don’t think it gets the credit it deserves, either as an historic monument, an engineering feat, or a symbol of international co-operation.


In the view above, looking north, just beyond the bridge you can just see the few buildings that made up the town of Waneta, including the train station and Fred Adie’s general store/post office. Waneta also had a couple of hotels, but one burned down in 1899.


Citizens who braved a walk across the bridge could visit their twin town of Fort Sheppard (not to be confused with Fort Shepherd, the Hudson’s Bay fort on the opposite side of the river that had long since ceased to exist), home to Adie’s Fort Sheppard Hotel. Slightly further south was Boundary City, which was in Washington state, but residents went back and forth across the border with impunity.


The penciled message on the reverse reads: “To Leslie from Guy. This is the bridge at Waneta. I guess you’re smart enough to read this by now. Merry Xmas and Happy New Year.”

The bridge, looking south. Nothing on the reverse of this one. The Trail Historical Society also has this one and pegs its date at about 1917.

The reverse tells us this is “Waneta from railway bridge,” looking north. At far left is the railway station and at right is the Adie store, both of which will be better presented below. I’m not sure whose house is seen at centre, although it may well have belonged to the Adies as well.

A view of the bridge looking south from the bluff. I can only make out “G N Ry” in the letters at bottom (i.e. Great Northern Railway). But Malcolm Fitz-Earle, whose eyes are better than mine, thinks the rest reads “Pend d’Oreille” followed by Falls or River (or maybe “Bri” as in bridge?). The back of this one is blank.

No info on whose ranch this is. When I first looked at this card, I didn’t realize a woman was posed at centre right.

I wish we knew who she was.

The caption says “The spring” but there is nothing on the reverse to elaborate on what we’re looking at.


Next some other Waneta cards that were not part of the Kansas batch.

This card has an image by Spokane photographer Frank Palmer. I don’t know when he took the photo, but this coloured version was published by the Spokane Postcard Co. and printed in Germany sometime before July 1909, when this one was mailed from Spokane to St. Paul. The BC Archives has a print of the original photo. Note the misspelling “Pend O’Reille” as though the name was Irish.

A different version of the same card, with a different misspelling of Pend d’Oreille. Note a little more foliage has been airbrushed on to the tree in the foreground left.

Similar view but a much poorer lithograph. Published by the Heliotype Co. Ltd. of Ottawa, ca. 1919-20.

A circa 1920s view looking southwest by Hughes Brothers of Trail, showing what was left of the townsite of Fort Sheppard in the background. Below is a detail view.

The Fort Sheppard Hotel is seen at right. I don’t know what the other buildings are, but you can see the railway track cutting between them.

Another version of the above on a snapshot.

A rather curious caption.

This amazing card got away on me. Showing the rough and ready Adie store, it sold on eBay in February 2022 for $75 Cdn when I wasn’t looking. What is the significance of the white toques the fellows are wearing? The card is postmarked July 1914 and the writing on the front reads: “Waneta Store and P.O. [post office]. Miss Galbraith, Douglas Bay [?] in front. Rod McIvor [?] the other side. Rob Irvine and D. Galbraith at back.”

This side is addressed to “Mrs. Kingwell (of England)” at Kamloops but I have a hard time reading the message: “20th July 1914, Waneta, BC. Dear [illegible]: I hope [illegible] baby is improving by [illegible] Trust you got my letter all right with enclosure sometime. [Illegible, illegible, etc.] Put these cards in the album I gave you. I hope to come home some day.”


At the time the Galbraith brothers of Vulcan, Alta. (known by their initials D.H. and A.C.) were running the store and post office. They took over from Fred Adie in February 1913. D.H. was appointed postmaster July 1, 1913 and continued until April 22, 1916 whereupon he quit and Adie resumed the post.


In January 1914, someone broke into the store and stole the contents of the till. According to the Nelson Daily News, “R. Irvine, the local fire warden, was crossing the railway bridge about this time and met two persons going in the direction of the American side. On his arrival at the store he found the door open. He at once summoned Mr. Galbraith and the burglary was discovered.”


Although search parties set off in different directions, it doesn’t appear the crime was ever solved.

I don’t have the original of this card either, which is postmarked 1912 and apparently shows a railway camp near Waneta. Interestingly, it was mailed to the same person as the card above, or a relative, but by someone else.

Addressed to Mrs. W.F. Kingwall, care of Mrs. Cecil Guillaume (?) of 39 Park Road, Polsloe Park, Exeter, Devon, the message says “This is the CPR camp [illegible] up the Samon River. Love to all and all good wishes for the coming year. Ethel.”

Amy Larsen sent me this card, which shows the sawmill of the Waneta Development Co. Ltd, somewhere on the south side of the Pend d’Oreille, circa 1922. This company formed in 1912 with plans to build a power plant at the confluence of the Salmon and Pend d’Oreille to provide electricity to the mines of Sheep Creek. They were still working on the project as of 1921 but it did not happen. Things ended up in court in 1924.

I’ve written extensively about this card before, which shows pals Anna Norris of Boundary and Velma Shields of Waneta on the international border in 1908. Another Frank Palmer card. Maybe he even took the one of the bridge on the same day.


Now we get into other images that are not on postcards. The next three are cabinet cards I was very lucky to acquire, for they show some of the earliest known images of Waneta, taken around 1892-93.

The reverse says “Waneta Landing,” a name by which Waneta was briefly known. That is probably the SS Lytton puffing down the Columbia River, a sternwheeler built and operated by the Columbia and Kootenay Steam Navigation Co. It was in service from 1890 to 1904, whereupon it was dismantled.

The reverse just says “The Pend d’Oreille.”

Very unfortunately, we don’t know who any of these guys are. Although one of them is marked with an X, the reverse only says “Our Party, Waneta, BC, 1892.”


The history of Waneta goes back much further than 1892-93, but two things around that time put it on the map: the construction of the aforementioned bridge for the Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway, and the start of large-scale hydraulic mining by an American company.

This is my all-time favourite stock certificate. It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of paper I’ve ever seen, between the curving typography, the lovely green border, and that wild engraving of miners furiously wielding pickaxes.


The Kootenai Hydraulic Mining Co. was incorporated in Colorado for some reason, although its head office was in Rochester, New York. This certificate, good for 10,000 shares, is signed by president Henry M. Goodhue and made out to his brother George J. Goodhue, the local manager.


I also love that “Waneta” is featured in big letters. This is significant because I believe the company was actually responsible for the name. (I’ve written before of a few different ways that the town did not get its name.)


The first mention of Waneta was in the Denver Daily News of May 10, 1892: “The Kootinai [sic] Placer Mining company was incorporated yesterday to operate near the Pend de O’Reille [sic] river, British Columbia. The company’s principal office is at the town of Waneta, BC.”


About 120 km south of Rochester, where the Goodhues came from, is Waneta Lake, named for the daughter of a Seneca chief. It would not surprise me if that is the origin of our Waneta. Other examples exist of eastern mining types transplanting names to the West Kootenay, most notably the town of Erie and the Shanango Canyon.

This is a lantern slide showing the Kootenai Hydraulic Mining Co. operation.

This is what the slide itself looks like, manufactured by T.H. McAlister of New York.


The company and a sister firm, the Kootenai Water Supply Co., built a wing dam on Seven Mile Creek to power a sluicing operation. But in 1896, their hydro plant shut down and they went into receivership, leaving creditors crying foul. In 1899, shareholders demanded to know where their money went, but got few answers.


In 1911, BC’s registrar of joint-stock companies sent letters to a long list of mining firms, telling them they were about to be deleted from the corporate ranks. Most had long ceased to exist anyway, so it didn’t matter. The letters themselves often bounced around, accumulating numerous postmarks, before being returned to sender. Many of these envelopes have survived and are prized by collectors. Here are three such examples sent to the Kootenai Water Supply Co., including two from my collection.

I have several other envelopes bearing Waneta postmarks, but have included the one below that’s not from my collection just because it’s nicer looking.

Finally, here are a couple of photos of the Waneta train station and telegraph office.


This one is courtesy Harold Hall and is from the 1910s. It also shows the customs office at right.

This one is from my collection and was taken in 1931. I don’t know who the guy pictured is. The depot was removed in 1950 and replaced with an altered boxcar body that was classified as a customs building. It remained at least into the mid-1960s.

Stan Styles took this photo on Aug. 15, 1964, which Harold Hall provided.


I don’t know how long the Adie store or other early Waneta buildings lasted. Fred Adie died in 1934, a few years after retiring as postmaster. The post office did not go out of business, however, until 1950.


Adie’s Fort Sheppard Hotel seems to have last operated in the late 1920s, but stood until the early 1950s when it was torn down to make way for Cominco’s construction camp to build the Waneta Dam. Presumably any other buildings that survived that long were also demolished in service of dam construction.


However, one early building survived much longer. The customs house, built in 1896 adjacent to the train station, was sold in 1949 and sent by train to Fruitvale where it was placed at the end of Main Street and became a private home. Despite the efforts of village council to preserve it, it was torn down in 2018. It is seen below in a photo by Craig Horsland.

— With thanks to Harold Hall, Craig Horsland, and Amy Larsen


Updated on Feb. 3, 2024 to add the postcard of the Waneta Development Co. sawmill.

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Smith Rock
Smith Rock
Sep 27, 2023

Greg,

Thank you so much for putting this together. I own a cabin a few hundred meters from Waneta Dam and this had such special meaning for us. The photos of the mining company spraying the bank are surreal; the scars they left can still be seen on the google maps satellite image just down stream from the dam on the south bank of the river. The bridge photos are such a time capsule, it must have felt very remote back in the day. I'll keep an eye out for the hill in the background of the woman on the farm pic. It would be cool to know where that was. Thanks again!

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Smith Rock
Smith Rock
Sep 27, 2023
Replying to

I'll make sure next time I go out but these Graves are a few hundred yards south much closer to the actual intersection, between the roads. I didn't know about the cematary you pinned here. I'll check that out as well.

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I would love to see pictures of the customs house as it was in Fruitvale. Lived there all my life and never knew that👍🏻

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Greg Nesteroff
Greg Nesteroff
Feb 08, 2023
Replying to

I will post one later today.

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Greg do you know where and when did the Dewdney Trail link to Waneta and Fort Shepard?

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Nichol Kevin
Nichol Kevin
Feb 07, 2023
Replying to

In 1863, gold was discovered in Wild Horse Creek, in the East Kootenays. The new governor of British Columbia, Frederick Seymour, believed that the trail should be extended to Wild Horse Creek in order to keep the gold from being transported south via a shorter route into the US, rather than into British coffers. Thus in 1865, Dewdney, then 28 years old, was awarded the contract, and completed the much longer second section (300 miles, or 480 km.) in seven months, for a cost of $75,000. The second part of the trail passed through wilderness and required the builders to penetrate three mountain ranges.

Dewdney headed north of Christina Lake with five men, walking over the Rossland Mountains farther north…


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Nichol Kevin
Nichol Kevin
Feb 07, 2023

Don't forget that Richard Fry (Dick Fry) and his Sinixt wife Justine Soqu'stik'en built a trading post at the northern mouth of the Pend Oreille River in 1860, and ran it with George Montour until 1864 while Fort Shepherd across the river was closed. Gorge Montour was the great grandson of Nicolas Montour who crossed the Rockies with David Thompson. Back then, there were alot of Chinese cleaning up what was left of the gold in the lower Pend Oreille.

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Greg Nesteroff
Greg Nesteroff
Feb 07, 2023
Replying to

Yes, there is a lot more to the history of the area than is presented here.

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There use to be a gravel road you could take just before Nelway border and travel to Waneta, I drove it one time around 1961 or 62. Also had a girl friend in Trail BC and we drove down to Waneta and remember the bridge. Can't remember if we drove across it or not. Waneta dam was already there, but just up from the Bridge. According to records I've found, the Dam opened in 1954. Interesting history.


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