The History of Revelstoke
From Farwell to Revelstoke
March 1, 1899 was the date of Revelstoke’s incorporation as a city, but the community was founded much earlier, during construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1885. Front Street, the main business street in the townsite of Farwell, laid out by surveyor A.S. Farwell, was originally very much a wild west town complete with general stores, hotels, brothels and saloons.
A fire swept through the new townsite in May of 1885 leveling many of the buildings, but within two weeks, many of them were rebuilt. When the CPR reached here, they disputed Farwell’s claim to this land and, refusing to deal with Farwell, located their station and yards east of his land.
In 1886, the CPR asked the federal post office department to change the name of the settlement to honour Lord Revelstoke, whose banking firm had provided the funds to ensure the completion of the railway. A court case between the CPR and Farwell delayed development of the town for many years, and it was 1897 before landowners could get clear title to their property.
A Booming Community
Revelstoke was once one of the largest and most prominent communities in the interior of the province, mostly due to its importance as a railway center. Steamboat traffic from the south connected with the Canadian Pacific Railway making this an important transportation center. The city had many facilities that would only have been seen in a large city, such as an Opera House, a fully-equipped YMCA gymnasium, and many large businesses, including C.B. Hume’s Department Store, which in the early 1900s was the largest department store in the interior of the province. Revelstoke was once famous as a ski-jumping center, and boasts the first ski-jump in North America, established in 1915. Many Scandinavian families settled in Revelstoke and brought their ski sports with them. Local man Nels Nelsen was the world champion ski-jumper for several consecutive years in the 1920s. The ski-jump was in use until the early 1970s and the international competitions attracted athletes and spectators from around the world.
A Diversified Economy
Mining and forestry have always been important parts of Revelstoke’s economy. A gold rush along the Columbia River just north of Revelstoke took place in the 1860s, prior to the establishment of a townsite here, and it is estimated that in two years, over $3,000,000 in gold was mined. Mining in this region has taken place intermittently since that time. There have been sawmills in Revelstoke since the 1880s and logging is carried on throughout this region. Revelstoke began an innovative program in the 1990s when the Revelstoke Community Forest Corporation was set up to purchase a treefarm licence for the community.