West Kootenay museums and heritage sites allow visitors a step back into history
Become a time traveler in your own community with a visit to a local museum
Have you visited a museum recently? If you’re like most Canadians, chances are you have. According to a survey conducted by the Alberta Museums Association, over 82 per cent of people in our country have visited a museum in the past five years.
Why are museums so popular? Obviously, they’re a great way to get to know the history of a particular region, but beyond that, local museums provide a sense of community and fun. They are the places where you’re allowed to climb into the past and exercise your sense of curiosity and imagination, places of hands-on and immersive learning. They are the family-friendly places we take our children and grandchildren to visit. They celebrate our collective heritage and provide perspective—by looking into our past, we are better able to envision a brighter future for our towns and cities.
Our list of museum and heritage sites across the West Kootenay is fascinating and diverse. Take a scenic jaunt along the lakeshore in Nelson on a fully-restored streetcar, visit one of the oldest family-owned-and-operated general stores in the province or try your hand at being a railway engineer on a diesel locomotive simulator.
There’s an equally interesting selection of museums and heritage sites to visit in the East Kootenay too. Check out that list here.
Museums and heritage sites in Ainsworth Hot Springs
Once the largest general store on Kootenay Lake, this fully renovated mercantile contains a wealth of original features including counters, gas lights, string holders and paper dispensers for wrapping packages. Lovingly restored to its former glory, the building now acts as a museum as well as a gift shop showcasing local artisan wares.
Location: 3602 Sutton Street, Ainsworth Hot Springs
Hours and contact: Open Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Phone 250-353-0312
Museums and heritage sites in Castlegar
This small museum, housed in a fully-refurbished turn-of-the-century Canadian Pacific Railway train station, is full of interesting artifacts, household antiques, items and railway memorabilia. Visitors will also find Castlegar’s first police station and a restored train caboose to explore. The museum also houses a small gift shop with many items made by local craftspeople and artisans.
Location: 400 - 13th Avenue, Castlegar
Hours and contact: Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Sunday and Monday, closed. Phone 250-365-6440
Some of the first settlers in the Castlegar region, the Doukhobors have a rich and fascinating history in the area. The Doukhobor Discovery Centre is one of the few places in Canada where visitors can experience life in an authentically-recreated Doukhobor village setting. The park consists of 10 historical buildings including a blacksmith, communal dwelling house and implement shed. Many traditional handicrafts are on display, such as spinning and weaving demonstrations and examples of textiles.
Location: 112 Heritage Way, Castlegar
Hours and contact: Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Phone 250-365-5327
Situated in a beautiful woodland setting, the Zuckerberg Island Heritage Park is named after immigrant Alexander Zuckerberg, who built the unique Russian Orthodox Chapel House on the land. Discover the natural history of this location where—thousands of years ago—Lakes Salish people once fished and made their winter homes. Visitors can wander along wooded pathways. There are picnic tables and benches dotted throughout the park, as well as a suspension bridge.
Location: Located at the corner of 9th Street and 7th Avenue, Castlegar
Hours and contact: Open 7 days a week, May through August. Phone 250-365-6440
Museums and heritage sites in Gray Creek
The Gray Creek Store has been a mainstay on Kootenay Lake’s eastern shore since the days that sternwheelers plied the lake’s waters. Founded in 1913, the store has seen many incarnations over the years but what hasn’t changed is the owners—the mercantile is one of the oldest family-owned-and-operated stores in the province. Home to an eclectic mix of items—everything from tools and timber to wood stoves and woolies—the unique store is well worth a stop for history buffs. Be forewarned if you are visiting via the Gray Creek Pass from Kimberley, as the unpaved road doesn’t open until well into July because of the harsh mountain conditions.
Location: 1979 Chainsaw Avenue, Gray Creek
Hours and contact: Monday to Saturday, 9 am - 5:30 pm; Sunday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Phone 250-227-9315
Museums and heritage sites in Kaslo
The Kootenay Star Mining Museum—tucked away in the basement of a local coffee shop on Kaslo’s Front Street—is a hidden gem and not to be missed. Kalso was once known as the “mineral metropolis of the world” and the region was home to hundreds of mines. The museum celebrates the spirit of this bygone era. Visitors will find a fascinating collection of old mining tools, equipment, artifacts and photographs lovingly compiled by the owner. There is also a room dedicated to the early days of forestry in the region. Admission to the museum is by donation.
Location: In the basement of Teresa’s Coffee Shop, 402 Front Street, Kaslo
Hours and contact: Phone for hours: 250-353-2115
Built in Nelson in 1898, the S.S. Moyie began its storied career as a ferry for railway passengers. Commissioned by the Canadian Pacific Railway, the sternwheeler carried passengers from the railway’s western terminus at Kootenay Landing across the lake to Nelson and Procter. By 1906, another boat had taken over passenger ferry duties and the S.S. Moyie was tasked with carrying freight, excursions and other duties. In 1957, the sternwheeler was officially retired from service and eventually found new life as a National Historic Site and museum.
Situated at the bottom of Front Street in Kaslo, the S.S. Moyie is the world's largest intact sternwheeler. Guests can take a self-guided tour of the decks and rooms, getting an authentic glimpse of what life was like back in the day. The site is also home to the Kaslo Visitors Centre.
Location: 324 Front Street, Kaslo
Hours and contact: Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Mother’s Day through to Thanksgiving weekend. Phone 250-353-2525
Museums and heritage sites in Nakusp
The Nakusp & District Museum was originally established back in the 1960s. Due to manmade flooding to form the Arrow Lakes in 1967, many families were forced to relocate to other areas and much of the region’s history was being sold, destroyed or moved to other locations. In an effort to help preserve some of these precious artifacts, the museum was founded. Nowadays it is home to an extensive collection of over 5,000 items that celebrate Nakusp and the region’s history.
Location: 92 - 6th Avenue Northwest, Nakusp
Hours and contact: Phone for hours: 250-265-0015
Museums and heritage sites in Nelson
Local transportation needs in Nelson were once served by the Nelson Street Railway and its fleet of streetcars. In operation from 1925 to 1949, streetcars may seem like a novel form of transportation nowadays. Luckily, visitors to the city can experience the fun of riding a streetcar for themselves. Streetcar 23 is a fully-functional tram that takes visitors for a scenic ride along Nelson’s beautiful waterfront. The Nelson Electric Tramway Society is run by volunteers. Visitors are welcome to ask questions and chat to the friendly volunteers about the fascinating history of streetcars in Nelson.
Location: Rotary Lakeside Park/Prestige Hotel - 701 Lakeside Drive, downtown Nelson
Hours and contact: Streetcar 23 runs on a seasonal basis (approximately) between Easter and Thanksgiving, 7 days a week from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. Hours can vary, so it’s best to phone ahead: 250-352-7672
Housed in a beautiful 1902 heritage building in the downtown core, the Nelson Museum, Archives, and Gallery comprises a range of interesting galleries and exhibits that document the local history of the region. Visitors can explore local First Nations history and the beginnings of European exploration and settlement in the area. The Queen City exhibit showcases some of the interesting stories and people that have helped shape Nelson over the years.
Location: 502 Vernon Street, Nelson
Hours and contact: Open Wednesday & Friday, 12 p.m. - 4 p.m.; Thursday, 12 p.m. - 8 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.; Sunday, closed. Phone 250-352-9813
Museums and heritage sites in New Denver
Designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 2007, the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre tells the story of the plight of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War. During the war, over 22,000 Japanese were forcibly removed from their homes across the West Coast of British Columbia and housed in internment camps, many of which were built in rural areas of the province. The Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre is located on the site of the original “Orchard” camp and consists of the original buildings, period artifacts and interpretive displays. The site also contains the Heiwa Teien Peace Garden, designed by a prominent Japanese-Canadian gardener.
Location: 306 Josephine Street, New Denver
Hours and contact: Open May 14 to September 30, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Tours are available. Phone 250-358-2316
The remote town of Sandon is a shadow of what it once was in the 1890s: a booming and bustling mining town home to over 5,000 miners, mercantile owners and many a woman of “ill repute.” Those boom-and-bust days are long gone, but Sandon still attracts a wealth of history buffs and seekers of stories. Visitors to this fascinating site will find the remains of the long-forgotten town—a few dilapidated buildings to explore, a fleet of abandoned buses, the restored fire hall, Western Canada’s oldest operating hydro-electric station and a museum.
Location: Slocan Star Street, Sandon
Hours and contact: Phone 833-501-1700 to contact the Sandon Historical Society Museum.
The Silvery Slocan Museum, located in an historic building that once housed the Bank of Montreal, is spread over two floors. The main floor showcases the area’s commercial history, including memorabilia and artifacts such as an 1897 brick bank vault. The second floor is devoted to the faithful reproduction of a Victorian-era bedroom and kitchen, along with items from local churches and the community hospital. Admission to the museum is by donation.
Location: 202 - 6th Avenue, New Denver
Hours and contact: The museum is open weekends starting on the May long weekend through to Labour Day in September. Open daily in July and August. Phone for hours: 604-702-8632
Museums and heritage sites in Revelstoke
The 3 Valley Gap Heritage Ghost Town has over 25 restored heritage buildings—including an authentic 19th-century bar— that have been collected from locations all across British Columbia. Originally started as a small coffee shop and motel in the 1950s, the location has grown over the years to include a world-class chateau, a railway roundhouse and an antique auto museum.
Location: 8903 Trans Canada Highway, 19 kilometres (12 miles) west of Revelstoke
Hours and contact: 3-Valley Gap Heritage Ghost Town is open from mid-May to October, 9 a.m. to dusk. Phone 888-667-2109
A celebration of the forestry industry in British Columbia, this small non-profit museum features indoor exhibits of antique forestry equipment, tools and First Nations history as well as an outdoor display of large forestry equipment and a replica fire tower. The Riverside Forest Walk allows visitors to take a leisurely stroll through the adjacent forest and along the nearby Columbia River.
Location: 5205 Highway 23 North, Revelstoke; located at the entrance of the BC Hydro Revelstoke Dam
Hours and contact: The museum is open May to October: Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. The Riverside Forest Walk is open year-round. Phone 250-837-8078
Housed in a beautiful heritage brick building in the community’s downtown core, the Revelstoke Museum & Archives consists of both permanent and rotating exhibits showcased over two floors. Visitors can learn about the Sinixt First Nations history of the region, explore a Victorian-era parlour room, jump into the history of skiing in Revelstoke and discover a wealth of information about how life in the community has evolved over the years.
Location: 315 First Street West, Revelstoke
Hours and contact: Open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Sundays, closed. Phone 250-837-3067
Known as one of the best railway museums in Canada, The Revelstoke Railway Museum tells the story of the role the Canadian Pacific Railway played in this mountainous region of B.C. Visitors are treated to a fascinating glimpse of the hard work and ingenuity that went into establishing Canada’s first transcontinental railway. Revelstoke has a rich history as a railway town, and this is evident in the museum’s impressive collection of railway-related artifacts, including 17 locomotives and cars. Try your hand at being a train engineer by driving the museum’s diesel locomotive simulator!
Location: 719 Track Street West, Revelstoke
Hours and contact: Winter hours are Friday to Monday, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.; Tuesday to Thursday, closed. Summer hours vary. Phone 250-837-6060
Museums and heritage sites in Rossland
Take an intriguing walk through local history at the Rossland Museum & Discovery Centre. Visitors will find an interesting collection of exhibits to explore that are located both indoors and outdoors. Learn all about Rossland’s early mining days, including a section on local geology and mineral formations from around the world. Visitors will also learn about the skiing history of the region and uncover stories of the area’s many colourful characters.
Location: The museum is located on the Black Bear/Le Roi Mine site, 1100 Highway 3B, Rossland
Hours and contact: Regular hours are Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.; June, July and August, 7 days a week, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Phone 250-362-7722
Museums and heritage sites in Salmo
This small museum pays homage to the history of Salmo and area, including the communities of Ymir, Sheep Creek, Pend O’Reille and Erie. The collection includes photographs, scrapbooks, tools and equipment related to the early mining days of the region. Explore the Sheep Creek Laundry and Bathhouse exhibit and learn about the Dewdney Trail, once used by early prospectors to access the rich ore deposits in the region. The museum shares its space with the Salmo Public Library.
Location: 100 Fourth Street, Salmo
Hours and contact: The museum is open daily from June to October, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Winter hours vary. Phone to find current opening hours: 250-357-2200.
Museums and heritage sites in Trail
The Trail Museum & Archives opened in 2018 and features two floors and several different galleries, all dedicated to the history of Trail and area. Sports fans will enjoy learning about the local renowned senior amateur hockey team, the Trail Smoke Eaters, as well as other local sports history. Upstairs, visitors can explore the History Gallery, which examines the social and cultural history of the region. Admission is free to the Trail Museum & Archives.
Location: 1505 Bay Avenue, in the Trail Riverfront Centre
Hours and contact: Phone for opening hours: 250-364-0829.