Homesteading in the Kootenays

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Photo by Fotolia/Rojo Images
After moving to the Kootenay Mountains in Southern British Columbia this young family started a true homesteading adventure by raising their own animals, building a log cabin, and going without many modern ammenities.

When we were married 18 years ago, we talked of making a move to Canada. But, at that time, we were not really ready to make such a move. As time went on we acquired property and built a home, but even then we still talked of a future in Canada. Our definite decision to leave the States came when our property was reassessed, and the taxes raised.

We knew then that, instead of talking about it, it was time to make plans to move. My husband resigned from his steady job at a plywood plant, and we sold our place. As soon as school ended in 1961 we left for British Columbia, Canada to search for land. Our first place was in Northern British Columbia where we found the growing season so short that even some vegetables are difficult to grow and fruit trees are non-existent. So, within a year, we moved to the West Kootenays in Southern British Columbia. The place we located here was just what we were searching for; an abundance of gravity water, timber for buildings and wood, better climate, good soil and isolation.

Here we can raise all the vegetables we need. We alternate a couple spots for our main garden; that is, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, corn, peas, beans, kale and onions. The year a spot is not gardened, we plant it to oats. (To keep grass from encroaching on our garden, we plant a thick border of oats or wheat around it.) As we have a frost problem, we plant early varieties of tomatoes, corn and beans. The corn we mainly use is Amazing Early Alberta. It doesn’t grow very tall, but produces nice sweet corn. Most years we don’t get dry beans, but we save them by shelling and canning them after the first frost. We have smaller garden spots near our house where we raise lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, squash, etc. Each year we try out a new type or variety of vegetable. Last year we tried Kindred squash; this year we will try a new early tomato.

We have a variety of tree fruit; such as apples, cherries, plums, prunes, and pears. Strawberries, raspberries and other bush fruit do well here, too. Some fruit trees were already established on this place, but we have since set out many more, in order to have plenty of fruit of our own in the future. At present there are still old orchards in this area where fruit goes to waste, and it can be had just for the asking. These orchards are mainly apples and cherries. (This used to be a commercial fruit growing area.) We store at least 20 boxes of apples for winter use. From the rest we make apple juice, cider vinegar, and slice many for drying.

Presently, we raise only part of our hay needs, but hope in the future as more land is cleared, we can raise a sufficient amount of hay here.

Our livestock consists of goats, rabbits, chickens, and four horses. One horse weighs about 1,400 pounds, so he is used mainly for work, but we do ride him at times also. The other three are saddle horses. Although, when necessary, we can harness one of them to help the work horse on the mower and plow.

Our place was an old homestead, so the buildings were old but useable until we could replace them. The first one to be replaced was the cellar as it is very important to have adequate storage for fruit and vegetables. We feel that food storage should be separate from the house, because of the possibility of fire. Our cellar is built out of tamarack logs with two walls four feet apart and planer shavings between for insulation. It has a gambrel type roof so as to allow area above the cellar for storing empty fruit jars, boxes and other odds and ends.

Next came the log house, which my husband worked on between jobs. The timber for it came off the mountain just across the field from our house. We used horses to skid the logs to the building site, and a hand winch was rigged to handle the logs into position on the walls. The foundation is rock and mortar. Tamarack logs were used because they are long, straight and durable. Because of my husband’s excellent ability with hand tools (axe, adze, broad axe, etc.) he hewed all the floor and ceiling joists, stringers, and even the necessary 2-by-4’s used in partitions. The only bought material used was the lumber for floors and ceilings. Our house is 28-by-30 feet with three rooms upstairs. The stairs are spiral to save floorspace. In the kitchen we have a dumbwaiter to carry the wood up from the basement for our old style cookstove. The house is heated by a woodheater in the basement, a cookstove in the kitchen and an antique Franklin fireplace in the living room. A lot of our furnishings are considered antique, but to us they are a necessity. A hand operated washing machine, and sad irons take the place of an automatic washer and electric iron. By use of a pelton wheel we can produce a small amount of electricity for lights from our gravity water system.

For ourselves, and our children, this move to Canada didn’t cause us to have to adapt to a new way of living as we had always lived in the country. My husband was raised on a farm, and has spent most of his life working in the woods. I was raised in logging and sawmill camps. To do without electricity, and being isolated is not new to us.

Homesteading has a different meaning now than it did years ago, but in the new meaning we are “homesteading.” By raising our own meat, vegetables and fruits we try to be as self-sufficient as possible, and can get by on seasonal employment. It is quite a satisfaction to be out of the so-called “rat-race,” and to be individuals rather than “cogs-in-a-wheel.”

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