THE GRAY CREEK STORY
The Oliver family were settlers in Gray Creek coming from Portage La Prairie in 1905, purchasing property that professional gambler Sydney Cummings had won on a turn of the cards at the Klondyke Hotel in Nelson.
Henry Croasdaille came with the Royal Navy to Esquimalt near Victoria and purchased 200 or more acres at Gray Creek where he built a house and planted apple trees in 1908. We consider him the father of Gray Creek as his impetus brought the Post Office with Tom Oliver, senior becoming Postmaster.
More settlers arrived to plant fruit trees including Arthur Lymbery in 1911. As he lived closest to the beach where the sternwheelers docked he was persuaded to open Gray Creek Store in 1913 and took over the Post Office from Tom Oliver.
By 1912 a school was needed so residents built the Gray Creek Hall of squared cedar logs hewed by Sam Birkbeck. At that time if the community supplied the building the BC government would pay a teachers salary so in 1914 our one room school with grades 1 to 8 started.
The Dominion government built a large new wharf in 1928 and in 1931 this became the ferry landing once the highway had been constructed from Kuskanook to Gray Creek. The largest sternwheeler anywhere, SS Nasookin became the only sternwheeler ever to carry a daily Greyhound bus carefully balanced across the bow, Canadian Greyhound having been incorporated 1929 in Nelson BC. So Gray Creek became the hub where mail and passengers were transferred to Crawford Bay, Port Crawford and Kootenay Bay.
The Gray Creek Relief Camp was set up on Weazel Creek from abo22222ut 1934 – 1937 . Single unemployed were given board and 20 cents per day for improving the highway using hand labour. They constructed culverts using cedar split from trees on the right of way.
In 1935 D’arcy Bacon and Fred Wilmot built a luxury resort – Kootenay Cottages with all amenities in cabins as opposed to the basics available at Lakeview and Gray Creek Auto Camp which had been serving the travellers waiting for the ferry as this was the only road across Canada. So we saw all those escaping from dust and drought ridden Saskachewan in the Great Depression of 1930 to 1940.
Many residents joined up in the Canadian Services in the war of 1939 – 1945, including 10 Olivers in the Canadian Navy and Army.
1945 – 1947 Dawson and Wade Construction used the former Relief Camp to house some of their workers constructing a new highway to Kootenay Bay replacing the previous 8’ single track. A new ferry landing served a new ferry, MV Anscomb from June 28 1947 which carried all the Trans Canada traffic until the Rogers Pass opened in July 1962. From 1960 to 1962 we had 4 daily Greyhound trips each way with many triple headers. Greyhound had priority ferry loading but other traffic was lined up nearly 3 miles.
1951 saw the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Co reopen the Bluebell mine at Riondel so local employment surged. Our earlier Gray Creek school had closed in 1944 but a new Gray Creek School was built above the highway for Grades 1 to 3. Grades including 12 were at both Crawford Bay and Riondel.
The Creston – Salmo road opened in October 1963 so we saw the end of 32 years of daily Greyhound service across the ferry. Red Sutherland was the driver of the Last Trip which was sadly celebrated by Gray Creek people. This new highway bypass required our Kootenay Lake Resorts Assn to operate a second information booth in Creston to try and regain the lost tourist traffic.
Gray Creek forest Products was operated by the Wirsig family from 1951 to 1962 when it was sold to Ken Jennings who was the promoter of a new 18 hole golf course in Crawford Bay. This closed the mill operation which had employed 35 and given many 17 year olds their first job. Kokanee springs was launched as an intended 4 season resort with golf course, boating and ski hill but only an excellent Norman Woods designed golf course has survived, giving seasonal employment.
Catherine Anthony Clark published two children’s books “the Golden Pine Cone” and “ the Sun Horse”. She then moved to Victoria where she wrote 5 more books.
T.A.Lymbery Insurance services started in 1956 and this grew considerably when ICBC took over all vehicle insurance including issuing licence plates. After some years from over the counter of the old store this had a much better office when the new store building was completed. After 40 years of all types of insurance the business in 1996 was sold to the local branch of the Nelson & Dist. Credit union.
Gray Creek Store opened a new 3 story building in 1979, constructed of timber frame by Gerry Abele of East Kootenay Construction. Gerry and also Ziggy Whitmoser built several new homes in the district before the 1980s slowdown.
1979 saw the incorporation of our Kootenay Lake Chamber of Commerce replacing the earlier KL Resorts Assn. The same year Bob Egland organized the incorporation of Kootenay Lake Lions Club. Major Lions projects were a bus used for community events and the more lasting Bluebell Manor in Riondel that has 5 units for seniors.
Gray Creek Auto Camp after 75 years was sold to become 8 lakefront houses. Tom Lymbery published in 2014 and 2018 two editions of “Toms Gray Creek – a Kootenay Lake Memoir” detailing local history from 1911 to 1980.