British Columbia area lures funky collection of Jews
by DAVID J. LITVAK, Jewish Telegraphic Agency
NELSON, British Columbia -- In the interior of British Columbia, nestled amid the Selkirk Mountains and straddling Kootenay Lake, lies one of North America's most charming and picturesque towns -- and one of its more offbeat Jewish communities.
Nelson is the type of place where strangers exchange pleasantries on the street. Populated by an eclectic mix of ex-hippies, mystics, bohemians, rainbow children, artists, ski bums, Doukhobors -- a persecuted sect of Russian Pacifists who settled in the nearby Slocan Valley a century ago -- and just ordinary folks, Nelson and the surrounding Kootenays area of British Columbia have become home to an unusual collection of Jews drawn from across North America.
Nelson Becker, an ex-New Yorker who publishes The Express, a community newspaper, has brought Jewish musical groups like Toronto's Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band to perform at Nelson's Capitol Theatre. Isaac Romano, formerly of Seattle, has helped organize and lead community events, including a ceremony of tashlich -- casting away sins -- by the sparkling waters of Kootenay Lake last Rosh Hashanah.
There's also a sizeable contingent of Jewish Californians living in the Kootenays. Many came to settle in Nelson and the Slocan Valley in the 1960s to avoid serving in the Vietnam War.
Berkeley native and musician David Feldman formed a short-lived klezmer band in Nelson called The Klezmaniacs.
The group disbanded after one successful gig when two of its members had to return to England because their visas expired. Feldman hopes they'll return to Nelson so "they can continue to expose people to Jewish culture in Nelson."
Photographer Fred Rosenberg, of Redondo Beach, Calif., made his way to Nelson because of a romantic involvement, and then "fell in love with the town." Rosenberg's exhibits have been displayed in California, Vancouver, Australia and most recently as part of Nelson's annual summer art walk exhibit.
Like the majority of Jewish residents in the Kootenays, Rosenberg is secular. He became involved with the Kootenay Jewish Community Association -- the only Jewish organization in the region -- because he "felt a kinship with other Jews and enjoyed the camaraderie."
The association, led by Jeff Shecter of Montreal, serves as the focal point for Jewish life in the region. It meets once a month for Shabbat potluck dinners in members' homes overlooking the mountains and Kootenay Lake. It also meets for holidays and provides members of the Kootenay Jewish community with the opportunity to meet, socialize and share a Jewish cultural experience.
Rosenberg's ex-wife Lilli, a former resident of Toronto who is one of the principal organizers of the association, has held Passover seders and Shabbat dinners at her communal home on the north shore of Kootenay Lake.
She recently brought Vancouver Rabbi Hillel Goelman to the Kootenays to officiate at her son Isaac's bar mitzvah, marking one of the few times a rabbi has come to the area. Like many Kootenay residents, Lilli Rosenberg has an artistic side and plays percussion with Mushana Marimba, a local group that celebrates the music of Zimbabwe.
Another member of the Kootenay Jewish community is Joseph Mark Cohen.
Cohen is a kabbalistic astrologer and author from Niagara Falls, Ontario, who leads kabbalah retreats at a geodesic home in the woods north of Nelson, located on 22 acres of land featuring a waterfall, contemplative creek and mystical garden. His land houses the Tree of Life School of Kabbalistic Astrology and Healing.
Cohen also leads guided tours to sacred sites across the world and hopes that his new home in the woods will serve as a center for Jewish meditation in the region.
SUNSHINE SKETCHES OF A KOOTENAY TOWN
Okay folks, the above article was published awhile ago by The Jewish Telegraphic
Agency in New York. I had published over a half a dozen articles about Jewish life in the Kootenays in a
variety of Jewish newspapers across North America including the Chicago Jewish News, The J in San
Francisco, The Los Angeles Jewish Journal, The Canadian Jewish News in Toronto and the Jewish Western
Bulletin in Vancouver. The articles all had a similar theme and focused on the funky Jewish community
in Nelson and the West Kootenays (well to be honest, almost everyone in the Kootenays is funky).
I felt a little bit like Joel Fleischman of the television program Northern Exposure when I was living there,
except I was a writer and not a doctor (although I have been told that I do have the handwriting of a
doctor) and I unlike Joel,was not a fish out of water in Nelson. In addition, Nelson is also a lot funkier than
Cicely Alaska, a worldly little town located in the mountains of British Columbia. The following stories, I
called More Kootenay Stories but in reality they are Sunshine Sketches of a Kootenay Town. Some of
these are new stories but most of them are updated stories that were included in the original version of
Dancing With Bears on Kootenay Time. There were twelve stories in the original version of Dancing With
Bears and what I was trying to do but did not succeed(okay I admit it, I failed miserably) was to create
a book that was like Stephen Leackon's classic Canadian book Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town
which featured a series of whimsical tales about a little Canadian town, albeit a lot less funky than Nelson.
The following then, are little vignettes about Nelson life that didn't make it into the book. I hope you enjoy
Several years ago, Nelson became known as “Resisterville” because of the scores of draft dodgers who reside in town and in the West Kootenays. The area is indeed filled with draft dodgers in every nook and cranny of the region (particularly in the Slocan Valley where Doukohobors who are also pacifists, reside). However, these draft dodgers (many of who are from California) came to Nelson as conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War in the 1960s to quietly start a new life. Unfortunately, a festival called "A Long Way Way Home" brought unwanted attention to them and resulted in Nelson being called “Resisterville” and labeled as a haven for America draft dodgers (then again they say that any publicity is good publicity).
A Long Way Home was a festival organized by Isaac Romano, a Seattle native. I got to know Isaac because he lived in the basement of Joseph Mark Cohen’s geodeisic home in the woods. He was very involved in Kootenay life and tried hard to get people to notice him and what he was doing. He was also a very complicated person. After I left the Kootenays and moved back to Vancouver, he would drive his beat up old VW van to town and would sometimes crash at my place.
Prior to one of his visits, he called me and said he wanted to meet me to discuss a festival that he was organizing in the Kootenays called A Long Way Home. The festival would honour those folks in the Kootenays who helped shelter the Vietnam vets who had moved to the Kootenays in the 1960s to avoid serving in the Vietnam War. He wanted me to help him publicize the event which included a performance from legendary singer Buffy St. Marie. I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the festival because aside from honouring Canadians who helped Vietnam vets, I knew that it would also bring unwanted attention to the draft dodgers in the Kootenays. Based on my conversations with many of them who I met during my stay in the Kootenays, I knew that they just wanted to life a quiet life in their newly adopted country. As it turned out, Isaac didn’t need my help publicizing the event because before I knew it, Nelson was being branded as “Resisterville” by American media outlets.
In fact an article about the festival was published in the New York Times (which included an interview with Isaac) and Fox Television had also picked up the story. Nelson had made the big time…but the publicity was not necessarily flattering. Many Vietnam veterans were outraged that draft dodgers were being honoured for skipping a war in which they suffered while serving their country. There were calls to get people to boycott the town and avoid visiting “Resisterville.” They had a point but it wasn’t the fault of the draft dodgers who resided in the Kootenays. They didn’t advertise their avoidance of the serving in the Vietnam War to anyone-it was a personal decision they made based on their opposition to the war. It was the festival that brought them to the attention of the media but in the end, maybe it actually helped Nelson cement its reputation as a center of “counter culture” in North America. (Prior to this, Nelson was primarily known as a center for skiing, arts, culture and cannabis as well as being known as the town that the Steve Martin movie Roxanne was filmed in).
Anyway, Isaac organized the festival for two years and then disappeared from the Kootenays. Thanks to him though, Nelson will forever be known as “Resisterville.”
NELSON VS. WAL-MART
It was a beautiful Kootenay summer's eve. Joseph-Mark and I decided to come into town from the North Shore of Nelson to grab a bite to eat and hang out.
When we got to town, there was a crowd milling about outside of Nelson’s city hall building. There were seven year olds, teenagers, baby boomers and feisty gray haired grannies. What I thought to myself, could bring such a disparate group of folks out on a Kootenay summer night? Well, Wal-Mart of course.
Unlike most cities in North America, Wal-mart has a low key and unassuming presence in Nelson. The department store sized Wal-mart is located in a mall overlooking the waterfront where the Greyhound bus station is also located. It’s actually quite a stunning setting as it overlooks Kootenay lake and Elephant Mountain.
Now the good folks at Wal-Mart were not happy with the current state of affairs in Nelson. The waterfront Wal-Mart was simply too small. So, Wal-Mart applied to the city council to build a gargantuan stand-alone Wa-Mart in another part of town. The City Council made a counter proposal to Wal-mart. They asked Wal-Mart to build a second story in the present location. That way, the other merchants in the mall wouldn’t be affected because Wal-Mart was the anchor tenant in the mall. This counter proposal did not appeal to Wal-Mart. They said that it is not company policy to build two story Wal-Marts. The battle lines were drawn.
And on so that particular sunny summer evening when Joseph-Mark and I wandered into town, the good people of Nelson came out in force to oppose the building of a mammoth stand-alone Wal-Mart. And guess what-they won!! G-d bless em. The good folks of Nelson took on the corporate giant which was indirectly responsible for the death of many small town downtowns and won!! Community activism won out over corporate might.Nelson 1- Wal-Mart 0.
So Wal-Mart decided to build its stand-alone store in nearby Castlegar instead. They must be cursing Nelson (or “Resisterville) in the Wal-Mart corporate offices in Arkansas. So it just goes to show you that the little guy- or this case the little town- can sometimes win!
Long Live The Kootenays!!
Hitching in the Kootenays
Prior to coming to the Kootenays, I only had limited hitchhiking experience. On the prairies, it’s too cold to hitchhike. You could freeze to death waiting for a lift. So, I never hitchhiked in my hometown of Winnipeg and I never knew anyone who did. But in British Columbia, in the Kootenays and on funky islands like Denman, Hornby, Cortes and Saltspring, hitchhiking is an accepted way of life.
In fact, my very first hitchhiking experience occurred on Saltspring which is one of BC’s more popular and populated islands (it’s very much like Nelson except that it’s surrounded by water instead of mountains and it’s a lot closer to Vancouver). Hitchhiking in the Kootenays is a primary method of transportation for some Kootenay residents (at least when I lived there it was). There is definitely an art to hitchhiking but sometimes it is just a matter of being at the right place and time. Case and point was the time that I was hitching back from a peaceful day that I spent at the Ashram on the East Shore of Kootenay Lake.
I had spent a blissful afternoon exploring the Kootenay ashram (which is described in detail in the chapter of the book entitled What’s a Nice Jewish Boy Like You Doing at an Ashram Like this?) and was catching a late ferry across Kootenay Lake back to Nelson and the North Shore. Unfortunately, when I got on the ferry, no one stopped to give me a lift. Actually, the proper way to get a ride from the ferry is to ask for a lift while you’re still on the ferry and not when you’ve already disembarked. But I was so blissed out from my day at the Ashram that I really didn’t care. So I took my thumb and the rest of my body and found a spot under a well-lit streetlight on the side of the road facing towards town and waited patiently for a ride. Five minutes later, a car pulled up and lo and behold, the driver was none other than a friend of mine who was on his way from Kaslo to meet me at The Dancing Bear Inn (where I was staying). He was as surprised to see me standing on the side of the road as I was to see him driving by in his car. So I gladly accepted his lift into town and attributed the ride to good hitchhiking karma. But it’s not always that way. Sometimes, I’ve had to wait up to thirty minutes to get a ride. During those times, it was hard not to take things personally. “Why hasn’t anyone stopped for me yet,” you wonder. “Do I look like a serial killer, an undercover narcotics officer or maybe I just look like a pathetic loser?” “Is there food in my goatee, am I drooling or do I just look like a lunatic?” Of course you never find out because they just whiz by you leaving you standing by the side of the road alone with your thoughts. I never despaired or lost hope because I knew that I would eventually get a ride from someone. In fact, the person who eventually picked me up was usually very friendly and obliging, listened to CBC radio(because that was the only station they get on their radio) and usually drove a beater or a VW van or Subaru wagon. Here then are some tips about hitchhiking in the Kootenays successfully (gleaned from extensive research that I conducted while I was in the Kootenays-well actually based on about a half a dozen rides that I got while I was living there).
David’s Do’s and Don’ts of Hitchhiking in the Kootenays
1. Always maintain a positive attitude
2. Try not to take getting a ride personally.
3. When riding the ferry, ask the drivers if they’re going into town while you’re still on the ferry.
4. Pick a highly visible spot to hitch that allows people to pull over and pick you up.
5. If hitching at night, wear bright clothes and choose a well-lit location.
6. If hitching long distances, make up a sign indicating your desired location.
1. Don’t count how many cars have passed you by. It’s demoralizing and depressing.
2. Don’t pick your nose will waiting for a lift.
3. Don’t wear dirty clothes.
4. Don’t snarl or sneer while hitchhiking
5. Don’t hitch after sunset (or try not to).
6. Don’t steal someone else’s lift.
7. Don’t carry an axe, firearm, shovel or farm implement or anything that could be misconstrued as a weapon.
8. If you’re a guy, don’t wear a muscle shirt and a baseball cap. It makes you look like a no goodnick(at least according to my friend Joseph Mark-Cohen, the Kootenay Kabbalist).
And now, I’d like to share with you my inverse law of hitchhiking.
David’s Inverse Law of Hitchiking
The more expensive the car, the less likely the chance that you’ll get a ride ESPECIALLY if it’s an SUV, sports car, camper trailer or family vehicle (of course this law is suspended for an attractive woman-a guy will almost always give a ride to a fetching female).
The less expensive the car, the more likely the owners of the vehicle are likely to give you a lift ESPECIALLY if it’s an old VW van, Volvo, Subaru or an old beater car with a cracked windshield (because these people have probably had to hitchhike themselves at some point in their lives and can emphasize with your plight).
HITCHING (a poem)
Don’t hitch after sunset
Don’t hitch after dark
Don’t hitch in a bar
Don’t hitch in a park
Don’t hitch in your underwear
Don’t hitch in grubby clothes
Don’t hitch if you have
A finger up your nose
Don’t hitch on the ceiling
Don’t hitch on the floor
Don’t hitch in a theatre
Don’t hitch in a store
Don’t hitch with a grizzly
Don’t hitch with a snake
Don’t hitch on a river
Don’t hitch on a lake
Don’t hitch if you’re angry
Don’t hitch if you’re glum
And always remember
Not to hitch without your thumb
Yeah always remember
Not to hitch without your thumb
So there you go, all you will ever need to know about hitching in the Kootenays. Enjoy and be safe
- and don't forget to keep your chin up and your thumb out. Happy Hitching!!
Of Grizzlies and Men (Kootenay Bears)
Bears are a common sight in the Kootenays during the spring and the summer. That’s not surprising
since there are an estimated 16,000 black bears and 2,000 grizzly bears in the area. That’s 18,000 bears in
which is almost double the population of the city of Nelson (which has close to 10,000 non-furry residents)
and a bear for every person in the East Kootenay Town of Cranbrook, which has the largest population in the
Kootenays (and a major junior hockey team called The Kootenay Ice and is the hometown of Scott
Niedermayer,a phenomenal hockey player).
With so many bears in the region, encounters between humans and the fearsome, furry four legged
creatures are inevitable. Most of the encounters have happy endings for both humans and bears alike. Some do not. In fact, in Nelson alone in June 0f 2001, when berries were not ripe, a total of seven “nuisance” bears had
to be shot by police and conservation officers (in B.C., in the year 2000, over 1,000 problem bears had to be
killed). The main reason that bears and people come into conflict (other than accidental encounters between hikers and bears) in the Kootenays and all throughout British Columbia, is the improper care and storage of food,
garbage and even bird seed (which explains why there are sometimes reports of flying bears in the Kootenays..just kidding). However in BC, Steps have been taken to reduce human-bear conflictswith the formation of a
conservation foundation called Bear Aware (www.bearware.bc.ca)
Part of the problem is that bears have an incredible sense of smell and apparently can detect the aroma of
a potential meal from miles away. And bears, whose natural diet consists of berries, green vegetables, insects,
roots and carrion have been known to consume plastic, glass, chemicals and even cardboard-essentially almost anything that is left around or outside by humans. Consumption of these items does not make for a happy and
In the Kootenays, there are in fact many encounters between bears and humans but for the most part,
considering the bear to human ratio in the region, things could be a lot worse. In fact, some of the encounters
between humans and Kootenay bears are even downright humorous. In fact, almost everyone in Nelson has a
bear story to tell.
Take for example the bear in the Nelson suburb of Rosemount. This bear came into town after hibernating for the winter and visited the home of a local resident who saw him through the patio window. The bear, which was scared away, accidentally placed his paws in some fresh white paint. That poor fellow is now part of a new species of bear, not the legendary all white Kermode or Spirit Bear (which resides in the Great Bear Rainforest on BC’s central coast)but a hybrid-a black bear with white paws. Perhaps he will find a mate to start their own community of white pawed black bears.
Then there was the bear that liked birdseed on Nelson’s North Shore who now reportedly chirps like a bird and can be seen flying over the city from time to time (it’s a bird, it’s a plane..it’s a bear??). There is also the bear on the North Shore who mistook a Chevy Cavalier for a bathroom and left his mark on the front seat of the car. Another North Shore bear, catching the alluring scent of freshly baked bread, decided to pay a neighbourly visit
to a friend of mine at his home in the woods. Unfortunately, the bear went home empty pawed (my friend
however, did offer him a grapefruit, which he apparently declined-he probably just wanted the bread).
There was also a very persistent bear that broke into a cabin near Balfour on the North Shore of Kootenay Lake. The
bear wouldn’t leave the kitchen until he was swatted repeatedly on his derriere with a fishing rod (hopefully, he wasn’t so traumatized by the incident that he’ll give up salmon fishing). But not all bear stories in the Kootenays have happy endings (this was an unintentional pun..honest).
In fact, several years ago, a bear climbed into a tree near a bunch of folks who were grooving to music from a floating stage at the Kaslo Jazz etc festival (that takes place every August long weekend in Kalso-which is a beautiful little town that is located about an hour north of Nelson on Kootenay Lake). The poor bear might have been a jazz fan who enjoyed listening to the music. Anyway, he was in a tree happily munching on berries. The problem was that the tree was about 20 meters from the festival grounds and was adjacent to the children’s area.
A conservation officer was called to deal with the problem but unfortunately, he was responding to another
call regarding two problematic grizzles who were seen uncomfortablly close to Nelson (they might have
been trying to get to The Dancing Bear Inn). Instead, an RCMP Constable had to deal with the Kaslo Jazz bear
and ended up shooting him three times with a 12 gauge shotgun. The Constable was concerned that the bear
was encroaching too close for comfort to the festival goers. After being shot, the bear climbed down from the
tree and staggered into Kaslo Bay writhing in agony. This tragic scene was witnessed by festival patrons who
were horrified by what they saw. I am glad that I wasn’t there to witness this unfortunate incident. Given the
high number of bears in the region however, encounters like these are bound to happen (although this particular incident seems like it could have been handled more humanely but then again, it was a very difficult situation).
In fact, my friend Joseph-Mark Cohen and I decided not to test our luck by hiking up a trail leading up to the Kokanee Glacier. There was a sign posted indicating that it was a Grizzly Bear corridor. That sounded kind of
ominous to us so we decided to forego hiking the rest of the trail to prevent an encounter with a Grizzly. I did
wonder however if there were Grizzly crossing guards posted at strategic locations in the corridor to ensure that frolicking grizzly cubs aren’t trampled on by careless humans. I guess I’ll never know. Even though I didn’t see any grizzlies at the grizzly bear corridor, I had seen bears before in Denali Park in Alaska and while hiking in
Actually, while hiking on a trail north of Whistler, some friends and I did get a relatively close peek at a
Black Bear and her cute cubs who had crossed our path. Luckily, we spotted them but they didn’t spot us. We
decided to wait a few minutes after seeing them cross the trail and then as we walked by, we sang very loudly
off key to let the bears know we were there. Bears hate it when you sing off key so they left us alone.
While I was camping with a friend in Alaska, we were warned that bears were numerous but thankfully, we didn’t encounter any while we were camping. However, I always loved reading the sarcastic Let’s Go Passage
regarding Alaska and bears. The passage said something to the effect that if a bear found you in your sleeping
bag while you were camping, it would think that it had found a big burrito. Well, luckily that never happened to
us. Anyway, I digress, getting back to the topic of Kootenay and not Alaskan bears, I should let you know, that I did have an encounter with a real live Kootenay bear while I was in the Slocan Valley. You’re going to hate me for this but you can read about that incident in Chapter Six of Dancing With Bears of Kootenay Time: Embrace the
Unknown in the Slocan Valley. Spotting a psychedelic dancing bear on the sign outside of the Dancing Bear Inn
was the only other close encounter that I had with a Kootenay bear during my stay in the Kootenays. But since I am now a Kootenay bear expert (based on my one close encounter with a real Kootenay Bear) I would like to
share some tips from the folks at Bear Aware as to what to do if you see a bear in your neighbourhood (and a
few tips from me about what to do while hiking in bear country).
1. Remain calm, don’t panic
2. Keep away from the bear and go indoors.
3. Never run away from a bear.
4. Warn others of the bear’s presence but don’t do it by yelling
5. If the bear is threatening, persistent or aggressive, call the Conservation Officer Service.
6. Never separate a mother and her cubs (that’s my advice)
7. Don’t hike alone in bear territory (particularly a Grizzly Bear Corridor) and make enough noise while
hiking to let the bears know you are there..and sing loudly and off key (also my advice).
And now here is some advice about what NOT to do when confronted with a bear.
1. Don’t invite a bear to a potluck dinner (they have terrible table manners).
2. Don’t go drinking with a bear (they get loud and obnoxious, especially Grizzlies).
3. Don’t go swiming with a bear (especially not a polar bear).
4. Never tell a bear that it’s ugly and has bad breath (even if it’s true).
5. Never tell a bear that it would look good on your floor as a bearskin rug.
6. Don’t tell a bear that he/she should go on a diet(particularly a female bear).
7. Don’t challenge a bear to a wrestling match and ask him to demonstrate a “bear hug”.
8. Don’t ask a bear what he/she does for a living (they are very sensitive about being
unemployed for the winter).
9. Don’t ask a bear if they are related to Yogi The Bear, Boo Boo or Smokey (they get asked
that all the time) & don't ask then who their favourite football team-it's obviously
The Chicago Bears).
10. Don’t sleep in the same room as a bear-they snore very loudly.
So there you have it, some bear etiquette tips (Miss Manners eat your hear out). I promise you that in
the event that you run into a Kootenay bear in your travels (or any bear for that matter)if you follow my
sensible and sage and advice, you and the bear will get along just fine (and might even become good buddies).
Kootenay Roads-(Road Trips in the Kootenays)
I love road trips. Discovering new places is something that I have always enjoyed. SometimesI just like to go
someplace I have never been. In fact, it was my desire to explore someplace new that led me to the Kootenays in the
My first road trip to the Kootenays was one of several great road trips that I had taken on the West Coast after I
had moved to Vancouver from Winnipeg. From my home base in Vancouver, I was able to explore Northern British
Columbia and Alaska, The Oregon Coast and the northern and central California coast. My trip to Big Sur in the central
California coast was inspired by reading the Jack Kerouac novel Big Sur. I had only read Jack Kerouac’s classic road trip
novel On the Road after I had moved to the West Coast from Winnipeg and after I had been overseas for almost two
years but it really resonated with me, particularly the prospect of discovering new places. So, it was in the spirit of
exploration and discovery that I set out to discover the Kootenays.
I had originally intended to take my initial trip to the Kootenays alone but a friend from Bellingham heard
my plan to visit the Kootenays and decided to join me. Our goal was to explore the Canadian and
American Cascade Mountains as well as the Okanagan region of both countries. And of course, we wanted
to see the Kootenays.
On the first day of our journey, we drove through the Cascade Mountains of Washington state, passing by
picturesque Ross Lake and then taking a detour to the Grand Coulee Dam. We ended up camping out at a
great campsiteoverlooking a creek at the edge of the Okanagan forest. The next day, we wound our way
north along The Columbia River (which flows from Oregon to British Columbia) following it across the border
to the West Kootenay town of Castlegar, which has the Kootenay’s principal airport. A short time later, we
made our way to Kokanee Provincial Park which is located approximately twelve miles north of Nelson on Kootenay
Lake. On our way to the park campsite, where we were going to spend the evening, we saw a beautiful rainbow
on the lake which set the stage for our brief but memorable visit to the Kootenay’s.It also set the stage for my next
visit to the Kootenays.
By this time, I was already living in the Kootenays and working at The Dancing Bear Inn. While I was working
there, I met a cool English guy, who like me was anxious to explore the Kootenays. So we rented a car and hit
the road to take the scenic 323 kilometer Silvery Slocan Heritage tour (so named because of the silver deposits
that were found in the area in the late 1800s).
On this trip (which I describe more in detail in Dancing With Bears in the chapter Going With The
Flow at The Dancing Bear Inn) we went to Ainsworth Hot Springs, passing Kokanee Creek Provincial Park
and Kaslo (a beautiful mountain town that hosts a great music festival during the August weekend) and followed
The Valley of the Ghosts to the abandoned mining town of Sandon. The region is appropriately named because
at one time, at the turn of the century, it was the heart of the silver-lead-zinc mining district (In fact, Sandon itself
was a boom town).From The Valley of The Ghosts, we wound our way to The Slocan Valley which is home to
an eclectic mix of loggers,Doukhobors, draft dodgers and hemp farms. During World War II, the region housed
thousands of Japanese internees who were considered by the government to be enemy aliens because of Japan's
alliance with Nazi Germany during World War II. The Slocan Valley was one of the most pristine, unspoiled places
that I ever visited and I vowed toreturn for a longer visit (which I did several months later when I worked on my
friend’s land in the Slocan which I describe in detail in Dancing With Bears). My first Kootenay road trip only whetted
my appetite for more.
For my next Kootenay road trip, I rented a car and started my journey in the early evening and decided
to check out a few West Kootenay towns that I hadn’t spent much time in, before embarking on a longer journey
the next day to Nakusp.I I stopped in Castlegar, which is located only 45 minutes from Nelson at the confluence
of the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers. Aside from being the site of the only airport in the region, Castlegar is home
to the Kootenay Gallery of Art, History and Science as well as the Doukhobor Heritage Village and Museum.
After my brief visit to Castlegar, I stopped off and had coffee at a funky café overlooking the mountains in
Rossland, a picturesque ski town. Red Mountain, which is located close to town is known for its soft powdered
snow which makes the town a popular winter destination for snowboarders and skiers. Along the way to Rossland
I stopped off in Trail, which boasts of having the world’s largest zinc and lead smelting complex. It’s not surprising
then that the huge smelter is the most noticeable landmark in town. Aside from the smelter, Trail is also known as
an amazing sports town, which has hosted international baseball tournaments, had a championship hockey team
(the Trail Smoke Eaters) and is the hometown of professional baseball and hockey players. The town also has a
vibrant Italian population therefore and is known for having some of the best Italian restaurants in the region.
Early the next morning, I drove through the stunning Slocan Valley (a region of rugged mountain peaks,
expansive lakes, and unspoiled wilderness) to reach Nakusp, a tiny but beautiful logging town located at the mouth of
Arrow Lake. The town’s main claim to fame are the many hot springs located in and around town and I decided to soak
in the Halycon Hot Springs, a commercial spring located on the way to the Arrow Lakes Ferry (there are also many non
commercial springs in the area that can be found off the beaten path). Nakusp itself is a picturesque, sleepy little town
with a beautiful boardwalk overlooking the lake. On the way back to Nelson, I wound my way back through familiar
territory but the trip to Nakusp allowed me to explore a part of the West Kootenays that I had not yet been to.
Another Kootenay road trip that I took during my extended stay in the region was the International Selkirk Loop.
The International Selkirk Loop (which is named after the Selkirk Mountain range) is a 280 mile (450 KM) circuit
that loops through Nelson, The East Shore of Kootenay Lake and Creston, through beautiful Idaho towns like
Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry and back up through Washington towns like Metaline Falls. The loop got a big boost
when Sunset Magazine, the popular Western U.S. travel journal extolled its virtues and named it the “Best New
Scenic Drive” for the year 2000. I’d been meaning to do the trip for a long time and the opportunity arose when my
friend Joseph-Mark Cohen, the Kootenay Kabbalist was flying to Spokane Washington, the largest city in the region
which is located just a little bit south of the loop. I offered to drive him to the airport in Spokane and drop him off and
then drivethe car back myself through the rest of the loop. He thought it was a good idea.
So, we set out from Joseph-Mark’s geodesic dome I in the woods (where I was staying at the time helping him
write a book) and drove up to Balfour on the North Shore of Kootenay Lake to catch the ferry that would take us
across Kootenay Lake for the first leg our of our journey. Two free-spirited rainbow children who were friends of
Joseph-Mark’s, in typical Kootenay fashion, serendipitously met us at the ferry terminal where they were hoping to
get a lift with us to a rainbow gathering that was taking place in Idaho. We agreed to drop them off in Idaho on
our way to Spokane.The ferry ride across Kootenay Lake was exhilarating and on the deck of the ferry, I met a cute
girl from Sandopint who suggested that we stop off there on our way to Spokane. Actually, when I was working at
The Dancing Bear Inn, Jan Griffitts who was the Marketing Director for the International Selkirk Loop, checked into
the hostel in Nelson. She was traveling through the region promoting the loop and suggested that I stop off and
explore her hometown of Sandpoint. And Sandpoint was indeed going to be one of our stops along the way.
Once we had reached the other side of Kootenay Lake, we drove past some of the funky little communities
that dot the East Shore of Kootenay Lake like Crawford Bay (which is home to many artisans) and soaked up the
spectacular views of the lake and the mountains. Along the way, we found a great spot to swim and Joseph-Mark
decided to take an invigorating dip in Kootenay Lake. I decided just to roll up my pants and beach comb and fell
into the lake anyway, right onto my middle finger. Joseph-Mark and the girls decided to take some cool rocks with
them back to the car as souvenirs while I had for the next few days, a swollen finger to remind me of our stop at
that beautiful East Shore beach.
Joseph-Mark, the rainbow children and me and my swollen finger, continued on our way through the beautiful
Creston Valley which is dotted with orchards and beautiful farms. The town of Creston is home to a renowned bird
sanctuary that is located on 17,000 acres of protected wetlands that are a haven for more than 265 species of
migrating birds. We didn’t actually spend any time in Creston, just passed through the outskirts of town, turning
onto highway 21 which led us to the Idaho border.
This was my first visit to Idaho and I was very impressed by its mountain peaks and unspoiled beauty.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to taste any spuds or potatoes for which Idaho is famous. At Bonners Ferry,
Joseph-Mark who is a kabbalist, decided that we should make a casino stop. I joked that the reason he wanted
to stop was that he wanted to do research for his new book “The Kabbalah of Casinos.” Our two passengers
were casino virgins and Jospeph-Mark thought that they might have beginner’s luck but their luck was no better
than most folks who play the slots. Joseph-Mark didn’t do much better which only goes to show that Kabbalah
and casinos don’t mix (okay so maybe The Kabbalah of Casinos wouldn’t make such a great book after all).
After our somewhat surreal casino stop, we stopped off at Sandpoint, a picturesque Idaho arts town. We
only had a little time to explore the town and after a short stop, continued onto our next destination Coeur d’Alene
where we were going to drop off the rainbow children. As we cruised through town and nearby Hayden Lake,
I half expected to see gun toting Aryan nation adherent and white supremacists walking around town spewing
racial slurs. I joked about wanting to purchase an Uzi submachine gun for protection but actually Coeur d’Alene
turned out to be a beautiful summer resort with a gorgeous lake as the centerpiece of its downtown. The
streets were buzzing with people strolling the streets on a fine summer night. If there were any Aryan Nations or
white supremacists around, I didn’t notice them. We decided to eat dinner in a quaint Italian restaurant before
dropping off the girls so that they could catch a ride to their next destination. After a relaxing dinner, Joseph-Mark
and I dropped the rainbow children off by the side of the highway so that they could catch a ride to their rainbow
gathering in Idaho and they caught a lift right away. Joseph-Mark and I continued on our way to Spokane where
we crashed for the night at some friends of Joseph-Mark’s who lived in a beautiful leafy uphill suburb, close to the
city’s funky co-op. We had a great late night discussion with his friends.
The next day, I dropped off Joseph-Mark at the airport and explored downtown Spokane by myself. There was a
great downtown park overlooking the river, which was a legacy of a world fair that the city had hosted, a great book
store called Auntie’s and some quaint restaurants and cafes. I also drove uphill to check out and take some
photographs of the city’s only synagogue and to conduct an interview for an article that I was writing for the Seattle
Jewish newspaper about Spokane’s Jewish community. After the interview, I was back on the highway and hooked
back up with The Selkirk Loop at Newport and cruised all the way back to Nelson, passing the Leclerc Wildlife reserve
and the quaint towns of Ione and Metaline Falls as well as the The Boundary Dam, which provides power for Seattle.
It was a whirlwind tour of the International Selkirk Loop and the next time, I intended to take it more slowly. On a
subsequent day trip to Metaline Falls with Joseph-Mark, I got a chance to explore the town’s quaint old downtown
and had lunch with him in a cool café.
I also took several mini day trips with Joseph-Mark to places like Ainsworth Hot Springs, Kalso and the charming
rural hamlet of Proctor which is accessible from the North Shore by an on demand ferry. In
addition,we had a memorable drive up a bumpy road to get to the 32,035 hectare Kokanee Glacier Park, where due
to inclement weather conditions, we were only able to take a short hike turning back at The Grizzly Bear Corridor.
On a subsequent trip to the Starbelly Jam (a funky music festival)I did get to spend more time in the laid back
hamlet of Crawford Way, which hosted the event. On another mini-trip to the East Shore, I got a chance to explore an
East Shore lighthouse and marine park trail with two mellow guitar playing Christian missionaries (they didn’t try to
convert me but we did have some interesting theological discussions back at The Dancing Bear Inn).
The next major Kootenay road trip occurred after I had left Nelson and returned to the Kootenays for a visit.
I was determined explore the region north of Kaslo along Kootenay Lake in a region called The Lardeau
which was the site, like many areas in the West Kootenays of a mining rush. I kept looking at this rugged area
longingly on the map and vowed the next time I visited The Kootenays, I would travel there. The jumping off
point for this road trip, like almost all of my trips in the Kootenays, was The Dancing Bear Inn where I had
worked as “The After Hours Guy” several years earlier.
I had met a woman in the kitchen of The Dancing Bear named Roseanne and I told her I was thinking of
travelling North of Kaslo. she told me that used to live in that area and highly recommended that I travel there.
As we were talking, a tall girl was eavesdropping and heard us mentioning Argenta (a Quaker settlement
North of Kalso)and told me that she was a WOOFER (a willing worker on an organic farm) and was going up there
to work on a farm.(I had also volunteered as a WOOFER a few years earlier on a biodynamic farm south of Kaslo-
there is more about that in the Dancing With Bears chapter WOOFING in the Kootenays). I told the girl, whose
name was Marianne that I might be able to give her a lift there and then Rosanne suggested that she might
be able to take both us there. Along the way, we could explore the area together and Marianne could get a lift to
her destination. It sounded like a great idea to me.
The next morning Roseanne announced that she would take Marianne and I on a road trip. So, off we went to
the Lardeau region north of Kaslo. Time for another Kootenay road trip!!Roseanne’s van was one of the coolest
vehicles I had ever seen! It was an old van with high ceilings, a kitchen, wood paneling and two beds in the back-
the perfect vehicle for traveling and road tripping. After a quick stop at the local Safeway for some food, we were on
We crossed the Big Orange Bridge heading north on Kootenay Lake, passing Kokanee Creek Provincial Park,
the Balfour Ferry and Ainsworth Hot Springs. These were all places I had visited before. In Kaslo, we stopped for
some fries and I dropped in to check out the Beach Gables B&B which overlooks Kootenay Lake and the towering
mountain peaks.I spoke to one of the owners of the B&B who had moved to Kaslo from Vancouver ten years ago.
She told me that some people got married on the S.S. Moyie (a retired sternwheeler which was converted into a
museum and was permanently docked across the street from the B&B) and then honeymooned at the Beach Gables.
That sounded like the perfect honeymoon to me!! Anyway, after our brief stay in town (which was eerily quiet-it
was a sleepy Sunday afternoon) off we went to uncharted territory (at least for me) on the road beyond Kalso.
We headed North along a long winding road that hugged the shores of Kootenay Lake. We passed glaciers,
green mountains and unspoiled wilderness. This was Roseanne’s old stomping grounds and she knew the area
like the back of her hand. Before we ventured to Argenta, we ventured to the small unincorporated community
of Lardeau (which is located in a district known as the Lardeau mines because of the mining activity that took
place in the area)to drop in on her old friends. They weren’t in but decided to check out a few beautiful campsites
and walked along Davis Creek untilwe came to a cave. I wanted to explore it but the girls weren’t so sure.
According to Roseanne, there could have been a bear or a cougar lurking in the cave. In addition, we didn’t
have any flashlights, so we decided not to check it out. There was a trail at Davis Creek that Roseanne said
led to a great hike but it was a rainy day and not great for hiking.Roseanne told us that she had hiked there
twice and once was followed by a cougar. Not only are there cougars in the area, but bears, eagles and deer.
From the town of Lardeau, we followed the Lardeau River which at times resembled The Florida Everglades.
We took a short detour to Howser which led us to a stunning beach on Duncan Lake. We had it all to ourselves.
It was so quiet you could hear the wind rustling in the trees. It reminded me of an isolated beach that I visited in
Haines, Alaska. As in Alaska, there were towering glaciers, desolate beaches, escarpment and a beautiful body of
water (Duncan Lake). At one time though, Howser (or Duncan City as it was also known) was home to a mining
townsite and as late as the 1960s, a mine was established only to be preempted by a dam that was built along
the Duncan River as part of the Columbia River project. Today, there are few reminders of that hopeful time in the
little hamlet’s history. Our guide through this colourful region was Roseanne. She knew every nook and cranny of
this region and was so knowledgeable about the area that Marianne and I tried to convince her to start a company
called North Kootenay tours. She could give guided tours of the Lardeau area that she knew like the back of her
hand. She was also a natural tour guide and her van was perfect for small tours. She said she would think about
it but nonetheless we were lucky to have her as our guide.
We continued our tour along a mighty rushing river called what else-The Lardeau until we came to Trout Lake
where huge Gerrard trout were supposed to spawning.We didn’t actually see any of these huge fish but we could
see their large shapes in the water..so we had to imagine what they looked like. There was a bridge that separated
the Lardeau River from Trout Lake and we stood on the bridge trying to spot the gigantic trout to no avail.
Nevertheless,The Lardeau was a fascinating area with an interesting history. We never got as far as Trout Lake City
but if we had, we would have seen The Windsor Hotel, a turn of the century relic of the town’s brief heyday as
an up and coming mining town. The Windsor Hotel, which was established in the late 1800s, is still in operation today
and is a tribute to the dedication and vision of Alice Elizabeth Jowett, a Trout Lake City pioneer who lived in the
city for over 50 years. And there are still hardy pioneers that reside in this isolated region today. Even though
we only briefly explored this region, I felt satisfied that I had almost completed my goal of exploring the entire
West Kootenay region. The only portion I hadn’t explored yet was trip to Galena Bay, a mere sixty miles away.
That excursion will have to wait for another day.
On the way back to Argenta, we saw two juvenile eagles above the river. What majestic and powerful
creatures they are!! At first we thought they were hawks but then we noticed their immense wingspans and
distinctive crowns.We watched these graceful creatures for several minutes and continued driving along the road
when Marianne spotted a baby Black bear ambling in the woods. He was very cute. We wondered where the mother
was but figured she could not be too far away.
We continued along the road to Argenta to drop off Marianne at her WWOOFING destination. Argenta, like
many colourful Kootenay towns, has an interesting history. In the 1950s, American Quakers established The Delta
Cooperative association in Argenta. It was a unique community and it seems like present day Argenta maintains
some of that cooperative spirit.
The approach to this little hamlet is stunning-a windy road leads uphill past beautiful rustic homes surrounded by
trees. In fact, most of the homes were hidden by trees. We drove our way uphill past the post office and Commons Hall
and asked a local where Sean and Oolie’s farm was. There was something very surreal about the place. It felt as it was
frozen in time but then again, almost all of the towns in the West Kootenays (with the exception of Trail and Castlegar)
feel that way.
We continued on our way uphill following a long winding road which eventually brought us to OOlie and Sean’s
farm. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a very friendly dog named Matt who took an instant liking to me (I do seem to
have this effect on most dogs-don't ask me why).We also met Sean and Oolie who showed us around their stunning
property which included a pond, garden, orchards and chicken coop. I spent most my time playing with Matt, my new
found four legged friend. So we left Marianne with Sean and Oolie and wished her well on her Kootenay WWOOFING
adventure(I had my own WOOFING adventure in the Slocan Valley years before). She was a very sweet girl and a
good traveling companion and so was Roseanne. I was very lucky. I always seemed to find good traveling
companions in the Kootenays-and I met most of them at The Dancing Bear Inn-my home away from home in
Roseanne and I went back to Lardeau to see if her friends were back and lo and behold they were. Joe and his
wife (whose name escapes me) lived in a rustic timber home with a climbing wall that overlooked the lake. It was a
beautiful setting. The mountains are right in front of your face, you can almost touch them. Lardeau itself was once a
bustling place but today, it’s very isolated and you have be very self-reliant to live there. So it was the perfect place
for Joe and his wife but it’s a very hard life. It’s definitely not the place that I would want to live-it’s too isolated
for me- but it was a fun place to visit.
After leaving Roseanne’s friends we travelled back along the North Arm of Kootenay Lake and spotted a deer
along the road. It was quite a day. We saw unspoiled wilderness, beautiful mountain vistas, pristine lakes and
raging rivers, two juvenile eagles, a baby bear and the shadows of gigantic Gerard Trout. And Roseanne was a
great traveling companion and guide. She was a very cool person-very independent and a fiery spirit. It was a
pleasure to travel with her on what was up this point in time, my last Kootenay road trip. Hopefully I will get back
to the Kootenays soon so that I can explore more unexplored Kootenay roads in the future.