Travel Back in Time at Fort Steele Heritage Town

June 10, 2018 | By Danika

Family outing or romantic adventure, Fort Steele Heritage Town is one stop you can’t miss on your BC road trip. Travel back in time and experience pioneer life in the 1890s. Stimulate all your senses with authentic tastes, beautiful sounds, rugged and classic sights, all in a spectacular setting.

Make sure you grab a map at the entrance, where you’ll receive a warm welcome from costumed characters. Fort Steele Heritage Town will give you a taste of what life was like back in the boomtown era and here is a little glimpse into what you can expect, as if you were a settler yourself.

As a settler, you crossed the Kootenay River, paying quite the price for a seat on the ferry. In the beginning, the town was known as Galbraith’s Ferry, after the entrepreneur John Galbraith.

You had heard about this beautiful place, with the giant mountains that jetted up into the sky with such majesty—where Wild Horse Creek flowed from the peaks, hiding gold in its sediments. The gold-panning days in Fisherville were over, but the stories made this place seem so dreamy.

You arrived and bought some land, and eventually built your house. You had family who lived in the next town over, but by the time your letters ever got to them, the news was three weeks old. You quickly learned that building friendships with the other locals was important.

As you settled into your new life, you spent a good deal of time in the shops. When you needed nails for your house, you stopped in to talk to the blacksmith. When Christmas came around and it was time to decorate the tree, you bought some ornaments from the tinsmith. The barber took care of the hairs on your head, and you purchased bathing time at the bathhouse. Sometimes all you could afford was third-use bath water, but it was better than nothing.

The bakery, owned by the only female business person, was your favourite. It felt like home. The smell of cinnamon buns and fresh-baked bread filled the air. It was baked in the brick oven, which took three weeks to heat at the end of the winter.

When you needed clothes or a new hat, the dressmaker met all your needs. When a tooth started to ache, Painless Dentistry took it out for you—and it really was painless!

After a few years of your wonderful new life, there was a dispute with the local aboriginal peoples, the Ktunaxa. Sam Steele, the superintendent, led negotiations and solved the dispute. Galbraith’s Ferry was officially renamed Fort Steele, after the town’s hero, although the town was never actually fortified.

Unfortunately, in 1898, the Canadian Pacific Railway, which was being built through the Crowsnest Pass, bypassed Fort Steele. It ran instead through Cranbrook down the road, establishing Cranbrook as a major stop for businessmen, settlers, and government officials. Fort Steele’s population plateaued and soon plummeted as newcomers searched for places that were more accessible. Life was never the same and in 1961 the town was declared a historic park.

Today Fort Steele it is one of the most important heritage sites in British Columbia, with over 80,000 visitors each year. The park has many original buildings, with others brought in from nearby towns. There are many authentic craftspeople to see in action, like bakers, blacksmiths, quilters, tinsmiths, tailors, and gold-panners.

You can pet historic breeds of animals like Clydesdale horses, Muscovy ducks, and Blue Slate turkeys. And you will not want to leave without tasting Fort Steele’s new Brookie (brownie-cookie) or original cinnamon ice cream—people come from all over just for that.

Fort Steele made ZenSeekers top four ways to get “Crafty in Cranbrook”, discover them all here.

Note: Historical facts and stories are either referenced from Fortsteele.ca, noted from a previous tour, or are common knowledge. Special thanks to Trevor at Fort Steele Heritage Town for leading our media tour.