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A Timeline of a Timeless Town: Kimberley’s History from Rock n’ Roll to Trailblazing and Trail-Building

Before Kimberley was the “Kimberley” we know and love today, she was a bootleg-blasting, hot-muck oozing community full of outdoor visionaries and a storied history. Let us take you on a ride through the town’s milestones and historical significance, and gain a little insight into what shaped our town into such a good place to be.

The First Peoples of this Land

With a well-documented origin story spanning over 10,000 years, our community and the land it resides on has a powerful and noteworthy indigenous history. Long before the first European settlers arrived and borders were drawn to divide BC, Alberta, Washington, Idaho, and Montana, the ground that is now called Kimberley lay within traditional Ktunaxa territory. We are proud and grateful to be growing, learning, and playing on these traditional lands, and believe it’s important to acknowledge the fascinating history, culture, and resiliency of the Ktunaxa.

Sitting on a Fortune

When we say “rock n’ roll,” do you see hairbands and guitars, or pickaxes and mule trains? In this case, we’re talking about the latter. In the late 1800s, following the Caribou and Klondike Gold Rushes, the East Kootenay region was inundated with miners seeking their own roads to riches. Though most were looking for golden nuggets, some had the foresight to seek mineral wealth of any kind - and goodness, did they find it. The 1890s were when people really started digging this place. While miners had already staked claims and dug tunnels across North Star Mountain (known today as the Kimberley Alpine Resort), an ambitious foursome arrived in town and decided to cross the Mark Creek to dig into new earth. The team of Walter Burchett, EC Smith, John Cleaver and Pat Sullivan hit the jackpot in 1892 with widespread discoveries at the Sullivan Mine.

What’s in a Name?

We may not have gleaming jewelry, but since 1896 we’ve had diamonds in our name. After digging into the hillsides surrounding Mark Creek, the Sullivan Mine hit it big with discoveries of lead, zinc and silver. The founders were so confident in their bounty that they named the site “Kimberley” after the famous diamond mines in South Africa. In 1923, the Sullivan Mine kicked operations into even higher gears after being acquired by Cominco. In fact, in its heyday, the Sullivan Mine had 480 km of tunnels: the underground equivalent of the distance between Kimberley and Vancouver. With over 60 km of railway to boot, the Sullivan Mine secured its status as one of the largest lead and zinc producers in the world.

We Don’t Stop Growing

Though the Sullivan Mine has since ceased operations, its legacy continues. These days, the Cominco Gardens in Kimberley plants over 45,000 flowers annually. Remarkably, this beautiful garden was originally built in 1927 to test the Elephant fertilizer brand, which was developed right here in Kimberley. The grounds have now blossomed into one of Kimberley’s most beautiful areas, and are a not-to-be-missed destination for any summer traveler here.

We Go Big On Snow

In the 1930s, ore wasn’t the only thing moving downhill. Enthusiastic families formed a volunteer group, named the Kimberley Ski Club, and began making turns on Myrtle Mountain. Locals would hike up, slide down, and repeat. Ski jumping was a hit in town during the 1930s as well. The big jump’s landing area was actually located in the present-day Save On Foods. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Kimberley Ski Club moved to North Star Mountain, and community support came in droves as they garnered equipment and a helping hand from Cominco. The original T-bar, aptly called Maverick, was installed in 1959 and quickly became a favourite sliding destination for locals and snow-loving visitors from afar.

Our Outdoor Expertise

At the heart of it all, Kimberley is a community that loves biking, walking, and embracing time spent in the great outdoors. In the 1970’s Kimberley converted its downtown core into a pedestrian-only corridor, and became one of the few communities to do so in North America. Then in 1987, one of the largest municipal parks in Canada, the Kimberley Nature Park, was created. Measuring twice the size of Stanley Park in Vancouver or more than double the size of Central Park in New York, our massive outdoor playground was brought to life. Today, the Kimberley Nature Park encompasses over 800 hectares of land, and includes over 50km of established trails. Our town’s outdoor aspirations aren’t limited to trail-time and skiing alone. In the summer of 1993, golf lovers rejoiced at the newly built Trickle Creek Golf Resort: one of the top new golf courses in Canada at the time. Currently, 3 championship golf courses can be enjoyed in Kimberley: Trickle Creek Golf Resort, Purcell Golf, and Bootleg Gap Golf.

Becoming Intrepid Trailblazers

1998 brought some new twists and turns for North Star Mountain, as the Kimberley Alpine Resort began to build a new lift and village area. This paved the way for the future of alpine skiing in Kimberley, and people began to hit the slopes day and night after the launch of the longest-lit night-skiing run in North America. What’s more? The Kimberley Alpine Resort can happily boast about having the most gladed ski terrain in Canada. Powder days? Yes please! While skiing has been at the heart of Kimberley since the ‘30s, trailblazing here extends to brown powder as well. In 2009, the Kimberley Trails Society was formed. This volunteer group maintains and builds our community trail networks, including the launch of the Bootleg Mountain network for downhill mountain biking. We owe a lot of props and outdoor time to these hard-working folks, and the long-ago visionaries that came before them.

Breakfast of Champions

What’s more? Building future Olympians runs in our veins here. In support of the Canadian Para-Alpine Ski Team, the City of Kimberley, the provincial government, and the Kimberley Alpine Resort came together to build Canada’s first official Para Alpine Training Centre. Now called the Kimberley Conference and Athlete Training Centre, this facility helped prepare athletes for the 2010 Paralympic Games in Vancouver, and is a legacy we can still be proud of today.

Though long and storied, Kimberley’s origin story is one to be proud of. We’ve come a long way since those bootleg-blasting, hot-muck oozing days, but the spirit of discovery and the love for the outdoors have remained steady throughout the years. What’s next for Kimberley? Stay tuned to find out.

About Powder Matt: A self-proclaimed ski bum and story wrangler, Powder Matt is also a strong advocate for getting outdoors and soaking up all of Kimberley’s history and hidden gems. Be sure to check out his other Kimberley stories, which touch on everything from fly-fishing and hiking to rafting and town spirit.

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