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  • Writer's pictureKarl Koerber

The Falls


I’ve been writing down some of my childhood memories lately and, in the process, was led down to the Beaver Creek falls—the waterfall that is the namesake of Beaver Falls, the rural area where I grew up.


When I was eight or nine, I was deemed by my father to have achieved sufficient proficiency at swimming that I was allowed to go fishing in Beaver Creek on my own. I got bitten, badly, by the fishing bug and spent as much of my free time as possible down at the creek trying, usually with some success, to catch a string of trout to bring back home.


Beaver Creek falls, August 2018


It was only a short hike, less than a mile, from my home to any of my favorite spots along the last few miles of Beaver Creek before it merged with the Columbia River. Along with the ‘Canyon,’ the ‘Pump House’ and the ‘Mouth,’ the pools below and above the falls were my go-to fishing holes, and I have fond memories of carefree summer days, wading along in my sneakers from pool to pool, waiting for that thrill of hooking a fat trout and reeling it in.


Back then, I was unaware of the history surrounding this spectacular sixty-foot-high cataract, but I learned over time that the falls were at the centre of a series of interesting and also tragic events. As time went by, I heard bits and pieces of these stories, but recently I discovered the book Tracks of the Beaver Valley and the Pend Oreille, by Anna Reeves, and learned more of the details.


One of the more colourful stories is the unconfirmed but persistent rumour that Bing Crosby, before his rise to stardom, would sometimes hop a ride on a Great Northern freight train from Spokane, jump off at the Beaver Creek crossing, and fish in the big pool at the base of the falls. Local historian Greg Nesteroff drills down into the Bing Crosby story in this blog post.

I took this photo with my first camera sometime in the mid 1960s, when the old powerhouse and remnants of the supports for the pipe that brought water to the generator were still in place.


Around 1920, Boyd Affleck, who had purchased 225 acres just north of the falls in the early twentieth century by way of the Soldiers’ Settlement Act, built a small hydroelectric plant that employed a wooden-stave pipe to deliver water from the top of the falls to a Pelton wheel and generator located near the bottom. The old powerhouse, Pelton wheel and portions of the pipe that ran along the sheer cliff were still there when I was a boy, but have since all disappeared, washed away by a combination of mudslides and high spring freshet flows.


This is a later photo from the 1970s or '80s, not long before the powerhouse was swept away during high water. The mudslide that contributed to the building's demise is also visible on the left.


The plant provided electricity to the homes above from 1921 until 1948, when West Kootenay Power and Light Company service came to the area, although it had to be rebuilt after it was destroyed by a forest fire (along with some of the homes above) in 1937. Tragedy also struck in 1923, when Boyd Affleck lost an arm while trying to clean slush out of the pipe with a boring machine. This was not the first, nor last, tragic event at the falls. In 1905, a derailment sent the buffet car and day coach of the Nelson and Fort Sheppard train into the ravine, killing five people and injuring five others. In another sad incident, a twelve-year-old boy was swept over the falls to his death while on a boy scout camping trip in 1933.


The Pelton wheel that drove the generator was still in the powerhouse in the mid to late 1970s.


For me, though, the falls hold only good memories: catching trout in the pools both below and above the falls, swimming and horsing around with friends, and snorkeling, when the water was low and warmer, to observe the fish and other aquatic life. Once I watched a pair of otters playing in the pool just above the falls—the pool Boyd Affleck created back in 1920 by lodging a timber across the lip of the falls to make a low dam.

Although some recent photos show that it’s since been washed away, the dam was still there in 1971, when I was twenty-two. That summer, I was housesitting while the rest of the family was on a holiday in Germany, and for a week or two I had some good friends—a couple—staying with me. One pristine August day, we took a picnic down to the falls and just lazed around for the afternoon. In the spirit of the times, we took off our clothes and sunbathed on the big flat rock that is perched at the edge of the pool. When it got too hot, we slipped into the pool and paddled around to cool off. The current was gentle, and we could safely swim up to the dam and peer over the edge at the water falling down into the depths.


It was a moment that, even though by then I was no longer a child, somehow captures the idyllic flavour of my boyhood in that still relatively untarnished rural Eden. The sense of utter, joyful freedom I felt the moment I crossed the highway and began the dusty scramble down one or another of the rough trails leading to the creek was something I took for granted at the time, but have since come to understand as rare and precious: the gift of a sojourn in a landscape akin to paradise. Looking back through the decades I can still conjure its dim reflection: beckoning, shimmering, bittersweet yearning in the pools and eddies of my dreams.


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4 commenti


saminwinlaw
08 gen 2023

Thanks Karl. interesting history of the private electricity generation on the creek. Your younger self, with fish, sure looks like Jessa!

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Karl Koerber
Karl Koerber
08 gen 2023
Risposta a

Thanks Sam! Yes, Jessa and I both take after my mother's side of the family more than my father's.

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Rose Millett
Rose Millett
08 gen 2023

Thanks for the bit of history, Karl! I remember you going to "the creek" to fish, and a few years later, Hans too. I went once with Hans and some friends, remember getting my hook caught in the bushes behind me when casting, got bored after awhile and realized fishing wasn't going to be a passion for me. I did enjoy the outing though, because it was a new place to explore. Forever grateful to our parents for instilling a love of the outdoors in all of us.

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Karl Koerber
Karl Koerber
08 gen 2023
Risposta a

Thanks Rose! Yes, me too.

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