Kootenae House National Historic Site
Kootenae House National Historic Site visitors stand in a seemingly empty field, surrounded by majestic mountains which overlook the peaceful Columbia Valley. Not a sound can be heard in the still mountain air and yet, the quiet seems to contain the voices of a time long ago.
In 1806 the Columbia Basin remained one of the largest unexplored areas of North America west of the Rocky Mountains. The North West Company sent David Thompson to explore and map the basin and to establish trade in the region. He and his party, desperately short of food, arrived and found the Ktunaxa people were willing to trade provisions, even though the aboriginals themselves had limited food supplies. The Ktunaxa provided much more than food, however — they shared information about where to construct fish weirs to harvest salmon and also traded some of their horses to the party.
The next spring, Thompson established a busy fur trading post overlooking the Columbia River. He named it Kootenae House, and used it as a base while he launched his explorations and traded with the Ktunaxa people.
For the next five years (1807-1812), Thompson explored and mapped much of the Columbia Basin, encountering many First Nation groups and establishing trading posts in several key locations. Aboriginal people served as his guides and provided valuable information about the land and people of the Columbia Basin. Thompson returned to eastern Canada in 1812, having left a legacy that would remain to this day. In his absence, Kootenae House gradually fell into disuse.
In 1910 a newspaper reporter and entrepreneur named Basil Hamilton identified the location of the old trading post from references in portions of David Thompson’s journals. From some limited exploratory excavations, he found the remains of stone chimney mounds, palisade trenches and building foundations.
In May of 1934, the Kootenae House National Historic Site of Canada was established and today, the spot is marked with a stone cairn and plaque. In 2009 interpretive signs were placed on the property, describing to visitors the story of this important part of the Columbia Valley’s history.
To get to the Kootenae House site turn west from Highway 93/95 at the Invermere turnoff. Turn right onto Panorama Drive and right again onto the Wilmer Road. The property is less than a kilometre along this road.