Elkford – Looking back & moving forward
Elkford is a picturesque Rocky Mountain town in southeastern British Columbia that was founded in 1971 as a home for miners working at Cominco’s newly established Fording Coal operation. In the early days the town was a collection of mobile homes, a one-room school, and a single general store. Dave and Kathy Scott were some of the first residents, moving to Elkford on March 21st, 1971. “I was working at Fording at the time when we moved to Elkford,” says Dave. “All that was here were some bunkhouses and nothing else. We did a lot of volunteer work to get things going in the community. That’s how the community began, with the help from Fording and volunteers,” he says.
The upper Elk Valley, where the town site of Elkford is presently located, has a long history of exploration and settlement activity. The first people to know and use the Elk Valley were the Ktunaxa people, who engaged in a roaming and hunting lifestyle, utilizing trails and camping spots throughout the valley.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the exploration and extraction of the abundant resources in the lower Elk Valley continued, but few settlers braved the challenges of the wilderness frontier in the Elkford area. One prominent character – ‘Wildcat’ Charlie Weigert – was a trapper well known for his hospitality in the area, and of which the annual Elkford celebration ‘Wildcat Days’ is named. Another early settler was Mathias Baher, the ‘Elk Valley Sourdough’, who lived on and owned much of the land that is present day Elkford.
By the late 1960s, the coal fields of the upper Elk Valley were attracting significant attention, and in 1969, the mine site for Fording Coal was started. Cominco purchased the initial 50 acres of land from Mathias Baher to establish the Elkford settlement at the junction of the Elk River and Boivin Creek.
During the early to mid 1970s, the community of Elkford experienced significant growth – to the point that it was dubbed “B.C.’s Fastest Growing Community” – and the mines, the District of Elkford, and residents worked diligently to develop the community. The first street ever constructed and named was called Fording Drive. The first garage was built by Fording and ran by Karl Maartman, who was also a Fording Coal employee. In 1972, a one room pre-fab trailer was brought in as a school house for the young community.
As the mines experienced continued success and prosperity throughout the 1970s, so did the village of Elkford due to the demands for additional housing for new residents. Prior to the 1980s, Fording Coal almost exclusively developed phases 1 through 6 of the community to satisfy its employees housing needs; however, in 1980 Fording began working with the municipality on additional residential developments and phases 7 and 8 were developed. In 1982 the municipality developed the last subdivision – phase 9.
In 1971, the Elkford Project Society was formed, with a significant proportion of funds coming from Fording Coal employees who donated $2 of their monthly pay towards the society. The Elkford Project Society is still active today and provides various community groups with funding for special projects. In the early 1970’s Fording donated $30,000 towards the construction of the Recreation Centre, and Fording’s equipment and financial support helped build Elkford’s ball diamonds, tennis courts, campground, and cross-country ski trails – just to name a few. Dean McKerracher, current Mayor of Elkford relocated to Elkford in May 1971, his wife Joanne recalls how her and their children had to remain in Sparwood for another year because of the lack of housing. “I remember when there were no houses, everything was just mobile homes,” says Dean. “There were dirt roads all the way up here, sometimes they were muddy and hard to pass,” says Joanne. “We had a General Store, Post Office and Community Centre all in one building,” she says.
The plan to develop a ski hill began in the autumn of 1972 through a cooperative effort between the Elkford Project Society and Fording Coal, and following an $18,000 grant from Fording, construction began. The company provided equipment, manpower, and technical assistance.
Specialized work and advice from Fording employees was utilized to design and build the original 1,200 sq. ft. A-frame lodge, install the power lines and night lights, and design the technical aspects of the ski hill. Due to the tireless dedication of community volunteers, the Wapiti Ski Hill is a great success story for the community.
The desire to create a welcoming, active and vibrant community continued, and in the summer of 1973 the development of the Mountain Meadows Golf Course commenced. Fording Coal purchased and donated the land to the community, and provided grant money and employee labour for the construction. The nine-hole golf course was completed almost entirely by volunteers and opened on August 1, 1976. “When the golf course began, our kids as well as the other children in the community helped out by picking rocks,” says Dave Scott. Today, the Mountain Meadows Golf Course is a community golf course managed by a volunteer board.
The Elkford Pool and Library Complex opened its doors on July 1, 1991. Fording donated $515,000 towards the project, and the complex was constructed with additional donations from residents of Elkford, several local companies and the District of Elkford.
Elkford is now a thriving, bustling community with a population of approximately 3,000 residents.