Heritage Tradesmen and Women were essential to daily life. They made, repaired, and invented the goods that were needed to live and work each day. Our skilled interpreters use pioneer techniques to create both historic and modern day items. They perform demonstrations throughout the day and are happy to visit with you and show you what they are working on! Check out our giftshop to purchase products made by hand right here at Fort Steele.
The activity of gold panning is more than a recreational activity or an industry, it is an art form for many. To understand, one has to try it for themselves. Some get hooked right away and some just never understand. The allure of gold, however, remains as strong today as it ever was and its pursuit continues! The existence of Fort Steele as a boom town is thanks to the pursuit of gold. Europeans were first lured by its discoveries on nearby Wildhorse Creek in 1864. Jack Fisher discovered gold while overwintering by the creek one year earlier and the race was on to stake a claim. He was almost beat by Bob Dore for the first claim. A rag tag collection of prospectors, loafers, and merchants raced to the area and the makeshift mining camp of Fisherville sprang up overnight. By the end of the first season the town boasted six general stores, four saloons, a brewery, two butcher shops, a blacksmith’s shop, and a large number of miners' cabins. The ferry service was established at nearby Galbraith’s Ferry by Mr. John Galbraith, the Gold Commissioner got involved, the Dewdney Trail was built, and the race began to strike it rich! The town was destroyed only a few years after, however, when gold was discovered while digging under an ‘outhouse’ (as the story goes) and the residents burnt the town down and started digging. A resurgence of prospecting occurred around 1884 that was followed by many ‘hydraulic’ mining operations right through the 1960s. Today, the Wildhorse Creek is still ‘claimed’ its entire length and mining continues. The site of the town of Fisherville is part of the Fort Steele Heritage Town Provincial Heritage Site. Located 6km away from the townsite, self-guided brochures are available that interpret the remains of this colourful chapter of East Kootenay history. Here at Fort Steele, you can learn the art of goldpanning at "Nugget Norm's Gold Panning Co."
The Barr & Combs Blacksmith Shop, built in 1897, is operating in its original structure much as it did when the blacksmith was king. Coal is burned in the forge, fanned by the bellows. Traditional tools, materials and techniques are used. You can get right up close to see our craftsmen turn normal iron bars into beautiful and functional works of art. You could even discuss a custom project. Demonstrations are conducted throughout the day on a seasonal basis. The blacksmith interpreter visits one-on-one with visitors if he’s not striking while the iron is hot. A selection of quality retail goods produced in the Blacksmith Shop are available for purchase.
The highly respected leather craftsmen ply their trade at Jack Corrigan’s original building, in the style and technique used over 100 years ago. Quality leather goods are still crafted one painstaking stitch at a time. Leatherwork demonstrations are conducted two to three times a day on a seasonal basis and the craftsmen are happy to discuss their work and their lives with visitors.
Closely allied to the blacksmith was the tinsmith. In 1897, T.C. Armstrong opened a tin shop in Fort Steele and advertised himself in The Prospector Newspaper as a “Manufacturer of Tinware, Galvanized Iron, Sheet-Iron, Stove Pipes and Copperware.” His jobs included “Buildings heated and ventilated, plumbing, pipefitting and all kinds of sanitary work. Air Tight Hot Blast Stoves. Hydraulic and Air Pipes for Mines. Special Attention paid to job work.” His own shop was a testimonial for his work because it displayed a tin roof with galvanized iron siding. Today, the tinsmithing trade is interpreted at Fort Steele, however Mr. Armstrong’s shop has long gone. His handiwork is still visible around town though and includes the tin roof portion of the Carlin & Durick General Store and the metal “G” symbol hanging in the lodge room of the Masonic North Star Lodge No. 30.
Even though they were far from urban centres, the ladies of Fort Steele took a very big interest in the fashion of the day. By 1896 the female population of the town was increasing to a point where dressmakers were beginning to set up shop to cater to the needs of local residents. The Victorian era boasts an elaborate history of fashion that changed quite significantly from year to year. Accessories were essential to dressing ‘properly’, and fashion houses out of the larger urban centres directed the ‘must have’ styles of the season. Today, our dressmakers continue this traditional trade while doubling as our staff costuming department. Stop by and visit with the ladies for a lesson in 1890’s fashion you will not soon forget! Old fashioned bonnets, blouses, men’s shirts, hats, nightgowns, and other period appropriate apparel available for purchase.