The Kootenays evolved from the discovery of gold and silver in the mid 1800’s. The City of Nelson grew along with the mining frenzy and it was incorporated in 1897. With the new city, came railroads, hydroelectric dams, infrastructure and new immigrants to settle here. Englishmen, Doukhobors and Quakers pioneered the area and all made the Kootenays their home.
Nelson was particularly attractive to many because of its location on the water and this opportunity created a unique means of transportation for the people and their goods. The extreme topography of the Kootenays slowed the developments of highways so sternwheelers were commonplace on the lake during this era. These large steam powered vessels were designed with a shallow draft so they could nose into the shore anywhere along the lake as they steamed to and from Nelson.
While Nelson is situated near the end of the West Arm, the small town of Balfour is located at the mouth of the West Arm, about 30 kilometers upstream. Balfour has an abundance of flat land with rich soils so farming and orchards were commonplace here and it became a major stopping point for the sternwheelers.Also, Balfour once had one of CPR’s grand railway hotels – the Balfour Hotel.
Generations later, this integration of lifestyles has created a unique community style and heritage. Perched on the hillsides of the south shores of the West Arm of Kootenay Lake, the City remains picturesque with its tree lined streets, historic old buildings and its spectacular lake and mountain views.