Happiness is Castlegar
Located within the Selkirk Mountain Range at the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers, is the City of Castlegar, the second largest city in the West Kootenays. Castlegar has a fascinating history, which includes the Doukhobors, who arrived in 1899 and were integral in the growth and development of the city. As you begin to approach the surrounding area, you will see signs with names such as Ooteschnia, Brilliant, Robson, Tarrys, Thrums, Glade and many more that were original settlements for the pioneering Doukhobors.
A peaceful, hard working people, the Doukhobors started the Doukhobor Trading Company within the first year of their arrival. In 1908 the first parcels of land were purchased at Waterloo, which was renamed “Brilliant” by Peter V. Verigin, leader of the Doukhobors. The site was directly across the Columbia River from where present day Castlegar is located. There was much growth between 1908 and 1913 with land holdings growing to over 14,000 acres and a population of over 5,000.
In 1910, a ferry service was implemented by the Doukhobors connecting Brilliant to Castlegar, and soon roads were developed at their own expense. It became apparent to Peter “Lordly” Verigin that getting across the Kootenay River using a different method than a ferry was needed to link Ooteschenia to Brilliant and the notion came to build a bridge.
The original bridge spanned 331’ in length with concrete towers at each end rising 48’ above the roadbed. Sitting on a platform of concrete approximately 12’ thick and 34’ wide the towers had a massive base. Four 2” diameter cables ran the length of the bridge on each side and passed over a saddle at the top of the towers for support.
The bridge officially opened in October 1913 at a cost of $60,000 paid by the Doukhobor community. After the fact, the BC government subsidized $20,000 leaving 2/3 of the construction costs to the Doukhobors. Despite hard times during this part of the century, the community enjoyed a time of prosperity.
The bridge operated until 1966 when a new bridge was constructed to serve the growing population of the nearby communities and the airport. The old bridge was now unused for many years and in 1970, it was discovered that the Department of Highways was going to demolish the historic bridge. The structure was saved when the historic value was proven with the government relenting, saving the bridge from certain demise.
In 1991, a Working Group was formed to explore the possibilities of restoring the bridge and in 1995, after much lobbying by certain members of the community it was declared a National Historic Site of Canada. The bridge restoration has now been completed, and it is a sight to see. Impressive doesn’t begin to describe the structure or the terrain and river it traverses. For more information regarding the Brilliant Bridge, go to brilliantbridge.ca or stop by the Visitor Information Centre at 1995 6th Ave, just one block off Columbia Ave.
While you are visiting Castlegar, a trip to the newly completed Millenium Ponds is simply a must. The city has worked hard at planning and developing the beautiful 23 acre Millenium Park with the natural swimming ponds located adjacent to the Columbia River. Great for all ages, from toddlers to seniors, the ponds attract both locals and visitors to the rivers edge. Varying depths of ponds are ringed with sandy beaches, and compliment many other recreational opportunities making Millenium Park a destination that should be on everyone’s travel plan.
Two full sized soccer pitches and the Rotary Green Gym are now in place with plans for a set of sand volleyball courts and an off leash pet area connected to the Millenium Walkway. The Millenium Walking trail is just one of the many community trail systems to enjoy and maps can be picked up at City Hall or visit Castlegar.ca/ parks to download one. While you’re here, don’t forget to check out the Sculpture Walk that showcases local artists and sculptors.
The Columbia & Western Rail Trail has many access points from Castlegar and is a popular trail system for both hikers and cyclists. Some of the trails connect with the Trans Canada Trail, so be sure to research your route before heading out. Visit trailsintime.org for more information.
A visit to the CPR Station Museum won’t disappoint as this is the location of the birth place of Castlegar. Located in a century old station house, there are artifacts and newspaper archives as well as an original caboose you can tour. The CPR Station Museum is in a park like setting within walking distance to downtown.
To learn more about the history of the Doukhobors, a trip to the Doukhobor Discovery Centre is a captivating experience. While you’re there, stop into Kootenay Gallery of Art and Gift Shop located right next to the centre. Regional artists sell and display their own works in the on site gift shop where you’re sure to find a treasured souvenir. For those who still like to stick to their exercise routine, the Castlegar and District Recreation Centre has an indoor pool with whirlpool, steam bath and weight room.
There are three ways to reach the City of Castlegar. You can come via the Crowsnest Hwy3, take Strawberry Pass over Hwy 3B through Rossland and Trail, or you can fly into West Kootenay Regional Airport. Whichever way you choose to get here offers scenic vistas and an unrushed feeling of freedom.
Make your next Destination, Castlegar! And Do it Outdoors.