Take me home Kootenay roads

Abandoned Kootenays: Abandoned Buildings, Old Barns, Phantom Signs, Rusty Relics
by Keith G. Powell

Cranbrook: Wild Horse Creek Press, 2023
$34.95 /  978177828220

Reviewed by Ron Verzuh


Remember driving down a country road and spotting an old wreck of a car, a rusted-out farm implement, a dilapidated old building or an old sign for Coca-Cola? Remember saying how you’d like to stop and take a photograph of it, but didn’t have time? Well Keith Powell has saved you the trouble with his Abandoned Kootenays photo book.

Author and photographer Keith Powell has saved you the trouble of taking a photo of that interesting collapsing barn you’ve driven past really fast on a Kootenay highway. Photo Keith Powell

Every page of this beautifully presented book of images takes me home to the Kootenays with colourful remembrances of growing up amidst the old barns and discarded tractors. Several memories pop out of the forested backgrounds of the abandoned churches, a CPR water tower and the many old vehicles and log structures.

One memory in particular was resurrected. When I was about ten, my friend Andy O., from a local Doukhobor family, suggested we defy our parents warnings and tramp into the bush in search of “Iverson’s Cabin.”

Andy was always smarter and more courageous than me and I was easily led on such an adventure full of mystery and intrigue. We passed the New Road being built to Christina Lake and Grand Forks in the neighbouring Boundary district.

Suddenly, out of the dense tree growth we sighted the cabin farther up the heavily bushed trail. It was like striking gold to us. We were being a bit wicked and on entering the crumbling structure we spotted some broken dishes, an old wood stove, and stacks of old newspapers. There was no buried treasure to speak of, but we were captivated by the artifacts of Iverson’s life as a hermit.

A classic example of abandoned truck. Photo Keith Powell

Returning through the Killough and Johnson farms, we saw some old farm equipment and other implements of a bygone age. It was a voyage of discovery not to be forgotten. Abandoned Kootenays brought it all back in a flash of photographs.

The book visits many locations in the Kootenays: the old East Trail train bridge (its survival a local historian’s cause), the giant water wheel at Fort Steele (it once supplied power to local gold mines), the old fire hall at Rossland (built in 1901 and still looking pristine), and my favourite of the many old cars, the bright red 1959 Ford Galaxie in Wasa (replete with continental kit).

A collapsing barn. Keith Powell’s photographs appear throughout Abandoned Kootenays

There are also some odd shots: Happy Hans in Kimberley with his mug of Bavarian beer, the big tree stump in Invermere with a plaque noting explorer David Thompson camped there in 1807, and under the heading “The Forgotten Biffy” we find a yellow-doored one at Gray Creek and an old outhouse at Brisco and Westport.

Yahk, Creston, Fernie, Jaffray, Procter/Harrap, Hosmer, Champion Lakes, Moyie, Salmo, Zincton, Wardner, and several other locations, some of which I didn’t know, are commemorated with a historical image.

The old mining town of Sandon gets honoured with several images, including a Kenworth dump truck, an ancient fire hydrant (or “plug”) and one of the Brill trolley buses that found their final resting place there.

Through his writing and photography, Keith Powell attempts to show the “disappearing icons of yesteryears.”

Travelling through the Kootenays with author and photographer Powell is a genuine pleasure that not only revives old memories but offers many historical reference points. To take just one example, he tells us that a 2,000-pound safe sitting in a parking lot in Nelson was made by Hall’s Safe and Lock Company in the mid-19th century. Another accompanies a shot of a Doukhobor Communal House in Trail. In 1901, the building was sold to Doukhobor leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin to be used as his headquarters.

Under his Wildhorse Creek Press logo, Powell’s quest is to capture some of the “disappearing icons of yesteryears.” If it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, then Abandoned Kootenays has supplied me with about 120,000 of them. Thanks for the memories.

What is the story behind this collapsing cabin? Chances are that author Keith Powell knows. Photo Keith Powell


Ron Verzuh made an appearance at the recent Celebration of SFU Authors – 2024

Ron Verzuh is a writer, historian and documentary filmmaker. He has recently written two essays for The British Columbia Review regarding British Columbia links to the film industry: Hello Oscar, Eh! and When Hollywood Calls. He’s recently reviewed books by Geoff Mynett, John Farrow, Andrea Warner, Barry Gough, Elaine Ávila, and Ken McGoogan for BCR; he also contributed an essay on trade unionist Harvey Murphy.


The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-25: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an online book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

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