- Glamping Site Three and Four, Kaslo, British Columbia
- N49 Degrees, W116 Degrees, Altitude 591 Metres
Every small town has its story, its treasures, perhaps its aching past. With its serene beauty nestled along Kootenay Lake, we chose Kaslo for our next glamping spot for all of those reasons.
I couldn’t have anticipated that we’d be sheltered under the grandeur of one of the town’s treasures – a magnificent more-than-century-old elm tree – at Kaslo’s Municipal Campground.
Situated at the end of Front Street, Kaslo’s main street, only a narrow road separates the campground from the indigo waters of Kootenay Lake. The narrow fjord-like lake divides the Selkirk and Purcell mountain ranges. As one of the largest in BC, the lake is a traditional waterway to the Sinixt and Ktunaxa peoples. Once part of their seasonal migration and trading route, Kootenay Lake is now more likely to be arrayed with kayaks, canoes, paddle boards and sailboats than traditional birch bark canoes.
We were fortunate to be offered the elm site, its outspread branches like an expansive umbrella protecting her, and us, from the intense but glorious summer heat. As with previous campsites our canvas tent, named Lupin, only just squeezed under the tree’s majestic leafy canopy.
Lupin and the elm quickly became the darling of the campsite. “What’s it like inside? How long does it take to set up? Looks like a movie set, especially with that tree.”
And a comment that really intrigued me. “Have you heard the history behind the elm?”
We noticed what looked like a graft on the tree, as if two trees had merged into one. I was even more curious when our campground hostess revealed that Lupin was pitched under a Camperdown Elm, a name has nothing at all to do with camping. In fact, the ulmus glabra camperdownii’s history is firmly rooted in Scotland.
Around 1840, in the grounds of Camperdown House near Dundee, a young forester made a discovery. David Taylor worked for the Earl of Camperdown and on a jaunt in the woods discovered a young contorted elm tree. Taylor speculatively grafted it onto a larger Wych Elm in the Earl’s estate garden. As the years passed, the twisted yet elegant branches formed into a vast, lush canopy. The tree and those that derived from it became a status symbol, satisfying a mid-Victorian passion for curiosities in ‘Gardenesque’ style gardens. Eventually they graced the gardens of stately American universities and it seems Kaslo’s camperdown elm made its way to Canada from across the border.
Arriving in town in 1893 with Mr. C.W. McAnn, Kaslo’s first solicitor, the tree was just a two-foot high treasure and planted at his residence on 5th and Avenue B. In 1910, Charles F. Caldwell moved the elm to his home in Upper Kaslo, only for it to be dug up thirty years later by A.F. McPhee. McPhee envisioned it as a shelter at the fish hatchery and it there it remained, even as the hatchery evolved to become part of Vimy Park that eventually surrounded the campground.
In Kaslo, the presence of the elm is said to reflect the perseverance and strength of the community. And, as we strolled the charming streets, I was reminded that this was a place where resilience came very much into play – the serene mountains and majestic views belying darker episodes in its history. Yet Kaslo is also a town of welcoming verandahs and profuse gardens, of tinkling wind chimes and wide rambling streets; fondly proclaimed as the Lucerne of the Kootenays.
The town’s roots harken back to 1889, first a sawmill site, then rapid expansion due to a silver boom. When, in the early 1890’s, a 120 ton galena boulder was discovered nearby, the massive lode of silver and lead beckoned prospectors and speculators. Many arrived flat broke – some left as newly minted millionaires in only a matter of years.
Dozens of silver mines traverse this area and by 1893 Kaslo was a boomtown with a population of 3000, the fifth largest settlement in British Columbia. As with many mining towns, along with the more dignified settlers and ladies in finery, a more salacious wild atmosphere prevailed that catered to miners – gambling, saloons and brothels. Much of that new money flowed south to Spokane, Washington where mansions of the silver barons stand still today.
The unbelievable wealth came to a crashing halt as the price of silver plummeted. Businesses shuttered, banks foundered, and depression ensued. The final blow came in 1894 when a ravaging flood, then a devastating fire brought the town to its knees. Yet despite a large decrease in the population, the town didn’t fade away. The great number of ghost towns in British Columbia attest to the many that did.
Kaslo holds onto this past in the form of elegant buildings, spired churches, frontier-like storefronts, perhaps best embodied in the oldest intact passenger steam vessel of its type in the world. The S.S. Moyie carried passengers on Kootenay Lake for fifty-seven years. Now dry-docked, refurbished and an impressive tourist site, fondly referred to as the ‘sweetheart of the lake’, she pays homage to the vital role that sternwheelers played in mountain regions.
‘She pulled in and blew her whistle like a trusted old friend – there weren’t yet roads to these mountain communities,’ is one quote I read. The S.S. Moyie carried everything from fruit to sheep, from locomotives piece by piece, to automobiles and passengers; some of very little means and those few who could indulge in the refinement of a state room.
I’ve also heard Kaslo referred to as ‘one of the prettiest towns in British Columbia’… quiet charm in soulful surroundings. For me its sublime and soulful setting on the shore of Kootenay Lake is heightened by knowledge of the towns profound history as one of numerous sites where Japanese Canadians were interned during World War Two. The story of how these Canadian citizens were grievously wronged deserves to be told, it is a story of pain and loss and yet also of resilience and triumph of the human spirit. Of this I will devote a full blog soon.
We canoe and paddle board, and even have the good fortune, by happenstance, to sail the waters with friends. In such moments I gaze out towards the layered mountain ranges and hope that this serene view offered solace for those who had been interned and cut off from previous lives, for those whose tribal lands had been sequestered in the expansion of Canada, for those who arrived in Canada from afar – and perhaps even a fleeting thought for those who hadn’t realized their fortune in the ephemeral silver boom.
Early each morning we enjoy our coffee, lakeside. The rising sun glints on the carpets of green pines, the peaks with already-snowy-wraps, the gentle rippling of the waters. I hear the great cawing and flapping of the resident crows and the odd splashing of trout. I feel glacial-deposited pebbles on bare feet. I savour the moment.
I muse on how edifying and giving these glamping experiences have been. How they’ve helped define our summer, enabled us to explore in our own backyard and spend more meaningful time together.
Ambling along the shoreline, pebbles in autumnal arrays seem to hint at the approaching change of seasons. And in all of us, perhaps an overwhelming feeling of gratitude, especially during this pandemic… a reminder to savour the simple moments.
As I return to the campsite, the morning shadows are dancing beautifully on Lupin…