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A Brief History of Sicamous and the Eagle Valley

First Peoples

Prior to the arrival of settlers, the land was occupied by members of the Splatsin Indian Band, a tribe within the larger Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation. Villages existed in Sicamous and on Mara Lake.

Before the arrival of the smallpox epidemic in 1862, there were 32 bands within the Secwepemc territory. Today there are only 17 of those bands remaining, with the Splatsin band now located by Enderby.

The Early Years

The discovery of gold on the Columbia River in the 1860's brought with it a rush of people hoping to make their fortune. It was this early rush of treasure hunters that sped up the process of development in Sicamous and a frontier town began, called Eagle Pass Landing, now known as Old Town Bay. During this time, Walter Moberly was commissioned to find a route for the transcontinental railway. in 1865, Mr. Moberly and his team were success and discovered the Eagle Pass which would become the route for the overland railway.

In 1883, the Provincial Government commissioned the construction of a wagon road from Eagle Pass Landing to Revelstoke which allowed even more settlers to arrive in the area. This road gave gold seekers an all Canadian route through a relatively low pass to the Columbia gold fields. The eventual route of the railway in 1885 destroyed a good part of this road, but but there was now a reliable route not only between Sicamous and Revelstoke, but also to markets both East and West. While this was the first Provincial road in the area and was eventually rebuilt as the Southernland Highway in 1922, a second wagon road joining Sicamous to the Okanagan Valley was built along the west side of Mara Lake in 1891, and again was mostly destroyed by the building of the Shuswap and Okanagan railway line in 1893.

Another road to the Okanagan was not built until the years of 1917-1919 by Ukrainian internees. The road from Sicamous to Canoe was not built until the years of 1932-1934.

The C.P.R.

After Mr. Moberly's discovery of the Eagle Pass, plans began to bring the Canadian Pacific Railway through the area. However, even though the pass was found in 1865, the railway line would not be completed until 1885. But this development changed life in the Eagle Valley and Sicamous area forever.

The building of the railway required large amounts of timber for bridges, railway ties and necessary buildings gave a boost to a growing lumber industry. Regular train service also opened up outside markets. This led to an establishment of a number of large sawmills in the area, one large complex was at the west end of Three Valley Lake. At about the same time in Malakwa, a large farm developed providing railway car loads of early potatoes, celery and lettuce for Calgary markets. 

With jobs and more available land, the valley became attractive to settlers, a growing number of whom came from Finland, drawn especially to the Cambie and Malakwa area. 

With settlers came children and also the necessity of schools:

  • Craigellachie-Malakwa Schoo - 1902

  • Three Valley School - 1908

  • Sicamous - 1910

  • Solsqua - 1912

  • Taft - 1914

  • Eagle Valley School (Sicamous) - 1921

Before and during the construction of the C.P.R. a fleet of paddlewheel steamers traveling between Savona, Kamloops, Chase, Seymour Arm, Salmon Arm, Eagle Pass Landing, Sicamous and Enderby provided most of the transportation for people and freight. But with the completion of the railway and the building of roads, virtually all of the paddlewheelers disappeared. 

Sicamous Continues to Grow

With its proximity to the railway, roads and its deep and protected waterways, Sicamous was for many years the main distribution point for inaccessible areas of Shuswap Lake.

As development occurred along the new railway line at Sicamous, the C.P.R. was steadily expanding their infrastructure. Adding in the late 1890's and early 1900's necessary junction equipment, a world class hotel with water and electricity, which was also supplied to all their facilities plus homes on what is now C.P.R. Hill. They remained the largest employer in Sicamous until the 1950's. 

From the early 1920's to the late 1940's, the R.W. Bruhn Company, with its head office on C.P.R. Hill, railway tie loading facility at Sicamous, pole yard at Pole Yard Point on Mara Lake (Below Mara Hills Golf Resort), and sawmill at Old Town Bay (Eagle Pass Landing) was a large and influential employer. 

From the 1890's until the mid-1950's the M.J. Finlayson family was a generous and integral part of the development of Sicamous, operating the post office for 60 years and a general store.

By the early 1960's, and with improvements to the highway system, tourism began to play an increasingly important part in the economy of Sicamous. The houseboat industry starting in the late 1960's led the way, followed by snowmobiling in the early 1990's. 

Sicamous incorporated in 1989 and became the District of Sicamous in December of that year.

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