Fort Steele, British Columbia

Fort Steele is a heritage town in the East Kootenay region of British Columbia, Canada. It is located north of the Crowsnest Highway along Highways 93 and 95, 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) northeast of Cranbrook.[1]

Fort Steele, British Columbia
Some of the original buildings at Fort Steele
LocationEast Kootenay, British Columbia, Canada
Governing bodyFriends of Fort Steele Society (non-profit); Heritage Branch of British Columbia


Fort Steele was a gold rush boom town founded in 1864 by John Galbraith. The town was originally called "Galbraith's Ferry", named after the ferry set up by the city's founder over the Kootenay River. It was the only ferry within several hundred miles so Mr.Galbraith charged very high prices to get across. The town was renamed Fort Steele in 1888, after legendary Canadian lawman Superintendent Sam Steele of the North-West Mounted Police solved a dispute between a settler who had unjustly accused one of the local First Nations men with murder. This dispute had caused a great deal of tension between the town and the native people. Sam Steele, finding no real evidence against the accused natives, had the charges against them lifted. Both the town and the First Nations people were so grateful that they renamed the town Fort Steele. Much to Steele's dismay, the "Fort" part of the name comes from the NWMP setting up a station in the town, whereas the town itself was never a real fort.

In the late 1890s, Fort Steele was growing rapidly, becoming the heart of the East Kootenays. The Canadian Pacific railway showed interest in Fort Steele. It was decided that a station was to be built. But as the document stating the railway was to go through Fort Steele was on its way to be approved, a gentleman named Colonel James Baker had other ideas. Baker, a member of the British Columbia legislature, owned a small logging camp named Joseph's Prairie. Baker bribed and blackmailed his fellow Members and convinced them to bypass Fort Steele and bring the railway through Joseph's Prairie. This was final after the document stating the railway was to go through Fort Steele was "lost" in the mail. After the railway was completed, Baker renamed the town to Cranbrook. He later sold the people of Fort Steele land. Fort Steele's population quickly dropped as the population moved to the more appealing Cranbrook.

After Fort Steele was abandoned, the site slowly started to decay. A highway was even built right through the town's current main street. In the mid-1960s, B.C parliament started to preserve many historic sites. In 1967, Fort Steele was designated a historic site and restoration began. The highway was abandoned in the early 1960s for a more favorable route.

In 1969 Fort Steele opened to the public as Fort Steele Heritage Town. Over the past 45 years, millions of tourists have visited the site, and Fort Steele has become one of British Columbia's premier tourist attractions.


Fort Steele offers many attractions, many operated under the auspices of the non-profit Friends of Fort Steele. These attractions include horse-drawn carriage rides, blacksmithing demonstrations, ice cream making, gold panning, and leather working. Other attractions include an old style candy shop, a store with old-fashioned goods for sale, and a full service restaurant.

The town also has several vintage buildings on site. One such building is The Wildhorse Theatre, which has plays every afternoon in the summer. It was constructed in 1972 and has presented a variety of productions, most notably the Fort Steele Follies - a historic revue starring professional actors. It is staged every afternoon from July 1 until Labour Day. The theatre has a capacity of 500. Another venue is the Riverside Photography Studio, an "old-time" photo parlour located in the Windsor Hotel.

Locomotives and train rides

Fort Steele Train Ride
Commercial operations
Original gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Preserved operations
Preserved gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)

Fort Steele offers seasonal train rides behind one of three preserved steam locomotives, two of which are in operation. The railway operates between June through September, starting on Father's Day and ending on Labour Day. The short 25-minute 2.5-mile (4 km) figure-eight loop gives passengers an idea of a steam locomotive in use. The trip includes a short stop at the "St. Mary's look-out", a small platform overlooking the St. Mary's valley where the conductor gives a short talk about the area.

Locomotives on display include:

  • A Pacific Coast Shay locomotive ("115") built for logging operations on Vancouver Island. The 115 is unusual because it was constructed out of two damaged shays. The 115 is currently the largest shay class locomotive in Canada. Due to major issues with the boiler, the 115 is not in operation.
  • A 2-6-2 prairie class locomotive ("1077") built in 1923 for logging work on Vancouver Island. The 1077 is the main locomotive used at the fort. The 1077 was retired by its owner in the early 1960s, making it one of the last steam locomotives in active service in Canada. After being sold to the B.C government, The 1077 was re-built and used as a rolling museum train until it was put into storage in 1979. The 1077 was moved to Fort Steele in 1989 to replace the 115 Shay. The 1077 was featured in several movies, including The Grey Fox, The Journey of Natty Gann, and Shanghai Noon.
  • A 0-4-4 type "Dunrobin" ("397") built in 1895 for private use by the Duke of Sutherland and was used in Europe during both world wars. In 1965, a Victoria business man purchased the Dunrobin, then sold it to the B.C. government two years later. The Dunrobin, with one of its original coaches, was the first locomotive used after the fort's conversion to a historic park.[2] The Dunrobin and its coach have since been purchased by the Beamish Museum, in County Durham, UK.[3]
  • Two vintage 1950s diesel switching locomotives, both in near-derelict condition. Originally slated for restoration, these units are currently for sale.

Other rolling stock include three flat cars (two of which that have been modified for use as open air passenger cars), a British coach, a small parlour car matching the Dunrobin (originally used as the main car but retired due to interior damage), a Morrissy, Fernie and Michel railway baggage/coach combo, a Canadian Pacific Railway caboose, Morrissy, Fernie and Michel railway snow plows, and two tank cars used for fuel storage.

See also


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