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TIME WINDOWS: Bonanza Pass connections

I have been busy this autumn working with friends on the Gordon Keir Shelter and adjacent ski trails.
In September 1999 David Keir visited the shelter named after his son. He brought his metal detector along. Sitting in front of the entrance annex to the cabin are (from left to right): Rita Keir-Bos

I have been busy this autumn working with friends on the Gordon Keir Shelter and adjacent ski trails. The shelter, which is located on Mount Grenville at an elevation of 1,610 meters, overlooks the approaches to Bonanza Pass by Highway 3. Much of the work involved evicting packrats that had entrenched themselves to the point of making it uninhabitable, and bolstering its defences against rodents by various means.

We originally built the shelter in 1995 and dedicated it to the memory of recreation officer Gordon Keir, who had died of brain cancer earlier that year. He had been very supportive of our efforts to develop the area as a ski touring paradise that is steeped in history and offers superb snow and excellent views.

He was also instrumental in resolving conflicts with snowmobilers, and eventually a sharing arrangement was worked out. The work was done by some of Selkirk College staff, students, and Peter Wood’s scout troop from South Slocan. Our perseverance paid off and in 1996 Bonanza Pass received two new recreation site designations from the Ministry of Forests: one for the shelter itself, and one for the 1,476 hectare Bonanza Recreation Area.

Also fundamental to the developments were family members, which included Gordon’s widow Lynda, his sister Rita, and his father David. We invited them to the shelter when it was completed, and subsequently Rita and her husband Jan regularly attended our September work parties that saw additions and other improvements, as well as the provision of firewood, and work on various nearby trails.

In 2002 a second shelter, known as the Andromeda cabin, was built on the western shore of Lower Orian Lake by Paul Beattie and his group of supporters. The name fits in with the stellar nomenclature I had adopted for all the ski trails that were developed in the Bonanza Pass Recreation Area over the years.

We assembled a record of the initial work, including photographs, my design plans and history research, and sent it to Lynda. Rita then took it a step further. She started working on a memorial album about her brother’s life, and combined the record we had sent with her own photographs, memories, poetry, and records from Gordon’s memorial service. Nineteen copies were produced, and one was sent to me. A copy of that touching tribute is kept in the cabin.

David Keir made it to the shelter at age 86. He was fascinated by the area history, which included the Inland Empire Mine. The townsite, built around the mine and its supporting sawmill and concentrator, eventually included a school. The Norway Mountain Road and a telephone line linked it to Bonanza Siding on the railway, 610 meters below. I did not know the full extent of David’s historical pursuits until Peter Wood and I visited his home in Rutland.

One could hardly move around as the entire house was jammed full of historical artifacts that documented his life as a rancher and pilot, amongst other things. His particular and unique speciality however were his many comical dioramas populated by his apple people. These were carved out, allowed to dry, and painted with preservative to last indefinitely. David slipped away in his sleep on Oct. 12, 2013, at the age of 100.

The other special connection we had was with Jan and Rita and their heronry. Jan owns industrial property in Vernon, which includes a grove of cottonwoods that house the largest heron rookery in the Okanagan. They have worked tirelessly, and at personal cost, to have the rookery protected from development that is encroaching upon it. It is a magnificent sight to behold, and an intimation of what we could have had here at Waldie Island, had we been successful in getting full protection for the Waldie Wetland.

The herons, which include some 200 juveniles, typically depart from Vernon for their overwintering grounds in August and reappear in February in time for the mating procedures. Our herons are scarce during spring and summer, and appear in somewhat greater number in September as they congregate for overwintering here. Their numbers, however, are slipping.

What started as an outdoor adventure for a small group of skiers evolved into more organized events like stargazing sessions, moonlight ski parties accompanied by poetry readings, and what became our department’s New Year’s Day ski tour. New management by the Friends of Bonanza Pass Recreation Area and that group’s affiliation with the Friends of the Rossland Range has opened up new funding support that has enabled some major improvements.

Walter Volovsek’s website can be found at

Previous installments in this series

Macao to Capilano: A Life Journey, Part 5

Macao to Capilano: A Life Journey, Part 4

Macao to Capilano: A Life Journey, Part 3

Macao to Capilano: A Life Journey, Part 2

Macao to Capilano: A Life Journey, Part 1

The Old Glory weather observatory

David Thompson: Mapping our region

Echoes from Savary Island

Reappraising the Franklin Expedition

Connecting with Albert McCleary

A story behind a photograph

Tribute to a photographer

Farron summit industry

Farron memories

Ben Shaw: Myth and reality

Lilette Mahon: Art in living

Lilette Mahon: A mentor’s gift

Edward Mahon: Searching for a legacy

Edward Mahon: A stimulating childhood

Ole Skattebo: Fishing legend

Ingenuity: Milking the river

Intrigues: Castlegar’s lacklustre childhood

Perceptions: Adrift on the River of Life

Local history interwoven with rivers

Drawn into the currents of time