Over the last 200 years many intrepid explorers have visited Christina Lake and the surrounding area. When David Thompson explored the Arrow Lakes to the east in 1811, he heard about En-Chalm (as it was known then), from the First Nations people who hunted and fished in the area.
Later, when John Palliser and the British North American Exploring Expedition came through on September 26, 1859, he made the following note: “Proceeding along the crest of this hill for several miles, we at length came in sight of a lake, called by the Indians Lake Nichelaam, to which they repair to fish late in the autumn from the south.” Next was Charles Wilson, part of the Survey of the 49th Parallel in 1860, followed by Edgar Dewdney in 1865, forging the famous Dewdney Trail from Hope to Fort Steele. Dewdney finally settled his Trail between Christina Lake and Rossland by way of the Cascade-Rossland Highway (Santa Rosa Road); he had also considered a route over the north end of Christina Lake, coming out at the Arrow Lakes, but it had proven too arduous.
Prior to, and during the time of these first European explorers, Christina Lake was part of the region inhabited by the Sinixt First Nations. Also known as the Arrow Lakes People, the Sinixt were an Interior Salish people whose territory stretched roughly from the Monashees to Kootenay Lake, from Revelstoke to north-east Washington. Christina Lake was an important fishing ground, as was the Kettle River around Cascade. Age-old pictographs located at various points along the north-east lakeshore are evidence of these first inhabitants, and offer a tantalizing glimpse into a past that remains largely unspoken.
The most famous First Nations person in this area was Christina MacDonald (1847-1926), daughter of Angus MacDonald and Catherine Baptiste, whose father was an Iroquois Frenchman. Christina’s family moved to the Hudson Bay Company’s Fort Colville when her father became Chief Factor.
Christina acted as book-keeper for her father, and also accompanied her father and the brigade to Kamloops each year. The brigade travelled the east bank of the Kettle River to Christina Creek, which was crossed 1/2 mile below Christina Lake. One fateful trip, the raft on which Christina was crossing this creek went to pieces and she was thrown into the rushing water along with the buckskin sack containing her father’s HBC books and papers. She was carried downstream for some distance before being rescued, but when finally dragged ashore, still had hold of the satchel of books, thereby saving its precious contents. For this deed the Council of Chiefs of the Colville Indians gave her and her heirs the sole right to trap and fish in the country tributary to this lake.
From Christina MacDonald’s Autobiography: “My first husband, James McKenzie, a Scotsman, was the last clerk at the post of the Hudson’s Bay Company under father at Fort Colville. The post was abandoned in June 1878 and Mr. McKenzie and I left overland for Victoria, B.C. with the records. We took Joe LaFlure, one of the old Hudson’s Bay Company men with us. When we came to the Creek, LaFlure said to me, ‘Here is your Creek, Christina.’ Christina Lake and Christina Creek are named after me.”
In the early 1890s, prospecting had spilled over from Rossland into the Christina Lake region. There was much development in the area of Cascade, also known as Cascade City, and by the late 1890s Cascade City was a bustling community of approximately 1,000 residents, even sporting its own newspaper, The Cascade Record. The Cascade Water, Power & Light Co. Ltd. was incorporated in 1898, and started building its dam across the Kettle River. The Cascade Powerhouse would provide electric power to Grand Forks, Phoenix and Greenwood, as well as to various local mines and smelters, and was a marvel of its time, built on Nikola Tesla’s revolutionary model of Alternating Current.
The construction of the railroads was vital for the expansion of Cascade City and the surrounding area. The Columbia and Western Railway came over from Castlegar, down to Farron, through Christina Lake, and reached Grand Forks in Sept of 1899. (In recent times, the Columbia and Western rail grade between Christina Lake and Castlegar has been developed as a world-class recreational trail, and recently the Trans Canada Trail Society has adopted it as the official Trans Canada Trail route).
The other railroad which was important to the area was the Great Northern. This line was built in 1901, and it ran from Marcus, Washington (near Kettle Falls), parallel to the current US Highway 395, clearing at Cascade Customs, carrying on west to Grand Forks, and going south again at Danville, Washington to Republic. This rail, at the least the portion from Kettle Falls to Grand Forks, is still running cargo today under the ownership of Kettle Falls Railway (Omnitrax).
The arrival of the railroad brought more permanent settlement to the region, and by the turn of the century Christina Lake had multiple town sites, with a total of at least five hotels. Beginning in the first decades of the twentieth century, Christina Lake provided summer cottages, fishing, swimming and other entertainment to visitors. The 1920s saw Christina Lake grow as a recreational community and tourism destination with the completion of the Cascade-Rossland highway in 1922. In the 1920s, Prohibition in the United States encouraged an influx of visitors from Washington State, who were attracted by the Lake’s saloons and dance halls.
A summer resort hotel was erected on English Point in 1929, and was run by George Brown and subsequent owners until 1942, when the hotel and its surrounding cabins were used to house Japanese interred for the duration of WWII. A few Japanese families remained in the area after the last of the restrictions were lifted in 1949.
In the early 1960s the highway connecting Castlegar to Christina Lake was completed, saving vacationers from the east many hours of travel time, as they no longer had to follow the old Cascade-Rossland highway. In 1963 the Christina Lake Golf Club opened a 9 hole course at Cascade, and in 1986 the course was expanded to a full 18 hole course that is now one of BC’s premier attractions.
Certainly, as you drive through on the highway today, Christina Lake can appear quiet and secluded. The frantic energy of the prospecting era and the expansive optimism of the years surrounding the turn of the century may be hidden behind today’s laid-back community, but the legacy of the lake’s early residents lives on in the entrepreneurial spirit of the lake’s booming tourism sector. Christina Lake remains one of British Columbia’s best kept secrets. Come and explore the region for yourself – who knows what you may uncover.
(Originally Published in the Christina Lake Brochure 2016)