Water under the bridge

Cottonwood Falls Park. (Darrell Noakes)

Cottonwood Falls Park, Nelson, BC. (Darrell Noakes)

Deep in the recesses of my mind is a distant memory of a place my parents took me to once. It was a beautiful place, a canyon with groomed pathways, a lush garden, and a long waterfall that saturated the air with a cool mist. The water seemed to flow out of the sky. It splashed over rocks into a creek and then ran under a bridge and out into a wide, deep, slow moving river that shimmered with hues of green and blue.

I doubt I could have been more than two or three years old at the time, and we spent barely an afternoon there on a hot summer day, and we never went back. The memory of that place has persisted all my life. Whenever I think of the home where I grew up, I think of that place. Sometimes it enters my dreams, where I can still see myself running up and down the pathways of the canyon.

Whenever I asked my parents where that place was, they always shrugged.

“You’re thinking of Gyro Park,” my dad would say, referring to the park we would sometimes visit in Trail.

“It’s on the way to Sunningdale,” my mom would say. I always took that to mean that it was somewhere between Gyro Park and the Sunningdale subdivision, but no such place exists.

Certainly, the park was of the same era, a cool refuge carved out of the edge of the city in the early 20th Century. It had the lush gardens, the stone walls. It was on a river. Mountains that towered over the park and lined the route to Sunningdale resembled the place I remember. In early days, I walked back and forth along that route, thinking perhaps I had missed a secret passageway into a hidden garden.

Over the years, it became clear that the waterfall was not in Trail, although that didn’t stop me from hiking through parks and up ravines around the city for a closer look, just in case.

“Oh, well, that place you’re thinking of is on the way to Waneta,” my parents would say. Beaver Creek? Beaver Falls, perhaps? But there is no place along that highway that matches my memory.

“Well, we don’t know what it is,” they would finally say in exasperation.

Every time I return to the Kootenays, I renew my search.

I asked some friends this trip.

“You mean Gyro Park?” they asked.

No.

“Oh, it’s on the Old Waneta Road,” they said with some confidence.

No.

“It’s on Columbia Gardens Road, on the old highway to Fruitvale.”

You mean Beaver Falls? I’m pretty sure it’s not.

But we drove out to have a closer look anyway. It was a lovely morning for a walk in the woods and a good opportunity to stock up on wares from Columbia Gardens Winery. But this was not the place I remember.

Could it be in Nelson, I asked later that day?

You could see the light switch on in their heads.

“Cottonwood Falls! You go into Nelson on that road and you turn left at that street, you know, that street, Baker, and you turn left and left and left, or right, but it’s right there. You can’t miss it. It’s actually right under the highway you drive in on.”

Next morning, we strike out for Nelson, via Salmo and Ymir (always loved those towns). By noon, we’re tramping up a trail in Cottonwood Falls Park.

The place looks familiar, although it has changed a lot. Since that first visit so long ago, they’ve gone and built a highway over top of it, and some of the boulders used in construction tumbled into the canyon. The pathways look rougher, but there’s a lush civic garden surrounding the site.

Cottonwood Falls Park is named after Cottonwood Falls, located where Cottonwood Creek passes under Highways 3A and 6. The falls precede the building of the highway, however. In 1892, the young city of Nelson approved the installation of an electrical generating station at this location. This early run-of-the-river facility went online in 1896, ultimately producing 150 kilo-watts of power after various upgrades over the years leading up to 1907. By that time, the city had begun work on the Bonnington Falls generating station, and the Cottonwood Falls station was gradually retired. Remnants of the dam and plant survived until the highway construction in the 1970s. Some of the earlier generating equipment found its way to Mirror Lake, where it is still in operation. (Darrell Noakes)

Cottonwood Falls Park is named after Cottonwood Falls, located where Cottonwood Creek passes under Highways 3A and 6. The falls precede the building of the highway, however. In 1892, the young city of Nelson approved the installation of an electrical generating station at this location. This early run-of-the-river facility went online in 1896, ultimately producing 150 kilo-watts of power after various upgrades over the years leading up to 1907. By that time, the city had begun work on the Bonnington Falls generating station, and the Cottonwood Falls station was gradually retired. Remnants of the dam and plant survived until the highway construction in the 1970s. Some of the earlier generating equipment found its way to Mirror Lake, where it is still in operation. (Darrell Noakes)

 

The original Highway 3A, now Government Road, followed alongside the Kootenay River, a deep slow-moving body of water next to the Kokanee Range in the Selkirk Mountains, held back by Corra Linn Dam 15 km downstream. The original highway entered the city on Baker Street. The route is still discernible on Google Earth.

In the 1970s, Nelson started filling in its downtown waterfront, but that area, down by the rail yards, used to be open river. In the 1950s and 1960s, Cottonwood Creek would have flowed under Highway 3A and the rail line (I don’t remember the rail line) and then into the Kootenay River after only a short run, not the long course it has today.

Is this the place? It seems like it, but it sure has changed. If it’s not, I’ll resume my search during another visit. For now, I’m pretty sure I’ve found the right place.

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