The Ktunaxa people have always been here, but in the 19th century, it was the spirit of adventure that brought the first explorers over the Rocky Mountains and the treasures of Golden that made them stay. The area still exudes the same feeling of discovery and exploration the first pioneers felt.
In 1807, David Thompson - renowned fur trader, surveyor and map-maker tasked by the North West Company to open up a trading route to the lucrative trading territories of the Pacific Northwest - first crossed over the Rocky Mountains and travelled along the Blaeberry River to the future site of Golden. In search of the Columbia River and, ultimately, a passage to the Pacific Ocean, Thompson’s travels took him to the junction of the legendary Columbia and Kicking Horse Rivers.
The Palliser Expedition explored and surveyed western Canada between 1857 and 1860. Led by John Palliser, the expedition discovered a high mountain pass across the Continental Divide which later became the route of the main line constructed by Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) between Lake Louise and Field. The pass and river were named Kicking Horse when Sir James Hector, a naturalist, geologist and surgeon, was kicked by his horse and was initially believed dead by expedition members.
In 1881 the CRP hired surveyor A.B. Rogers to find a rail route through the Selkirk and Rocky Mountains, and in 1882 he found the pass now named for him. Rogers established a base camp for his survey crew led by a man named McMillan. Initially known as McMillan's Camp, the settlement was the beginning of the town of Golden. By 1884, in response to a nearby lumber camp naming itself Silver City, the residents of McMillan's Camp decided not to be outdone and renamed the settlement Golden City, Soon the term "City" became a little too pretentious for most and the town became known simply as Golden.
Golden would simply not exist without the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). In fact, the railway’s presence helped establish Golden’s place in Canada. As the CPR constructed its cross-country network of rails, it used Golden as a base camp as it extended further into the western part of B.C. The railway was completed in 1885 and Golden soon became a prominent stop on the line. The CPR also paved the way for the Trans-Canada Highway, which helped to transform the area from a forest outpost to a true community.
The building of the CPR line, which required huge quantities of timber for railway ties, trestles, snowsheds and buildings, was the catalyst for the growth of the forest industry in Golden. For over a century, the CPR and the forestry industry have provided employment and well-being to the town.
The Sikh community history runs deep in Golden and early settlers employed by the Columbia River Logging Company date back to the 1890s. They were housed in company-built residences and carried out their religious ceremonies in a Gurdwara (temple) built on mill property. Located on what is now 13th Street South, the Gurdwara is reputed to be the first Sikh temple in North America. Although the original Gurdwara and the company houses are long gone, the Sikh community made and continues to make, significant contributions to the settlement and development of the town of Golden.
On May 8, 1886, Captain Frank P Armstrong, launched the steamboat "The Duchess” at Golden. Departing from the Columbia Lake she was charged with transporting supplies for Golden and the never-ending appetites of the busy CPR crew. However exciting, it was a short-lived era, for the construction of the southbound CPR tracks in 1914 executed the quick demise of the romantic era of steamboat transportation.
The CPR recognized that many travellers through Golden would want to stay, explore and discover the incredible area for themselves. To this end, the CPR hired professional Swiss guides to assist in providing connections to this compelling yet rugged landscape. In 1899, Eduard Feuz Sr. and Christian Haesler came to Canada from Switzerland to serve as mountain guides. In the early 20th century they were joined by brothers Ed, Ernst and Walter Feuz, Christian Haesler Jr., Rudolph Aemmer and Christian Bohren. Between 1899 and 1954 there were a total of 35 Swiss guides who not only provided the expertise for thousands of climbs and the safe ascents of many peaks in the Selkirk and Rocky Mountains surrounding Golden - with the admirable record of having not a single fatality - but also became tourist attractions in their own right.
Recognising that working in Canada whilst their families remained in Switzerland was not ideal, the CPR management constructed permanent homes for the Swiss guides and their families and in 1912 the Edelweiss Village was complete with six chalets which became the homes of the second generation of guides and their families. The homes still exist today and thanks to the family of Walter Feuz are preserved along with memorabilia and stories from that time.
Mountaineering activity in the region attracted international visitors, including Alpine Club of Canada members, who based their mountain explorations on Golden.
Read Swiss Guides Shaping Mountain Culture by Ilona Spaar. courtesy of the Consulate General of Switzerland Vancouver
Images courtesy of the Golden Museum and Archives. Visit the Golden Museum’s permanent and new exhibits. Call 250.344.5169 or visit www.goldenbcmuseum.com.