Tumbler Ridge possesses a fascinating human history, and one of the intriguing things about it is that it needed to be rediscovered, as there was no oral history available when the town was created out of the forested foothill wilderness in 1981.

Sixty-two archaeological sites date back as far as 5000 years ago, followed by hundreds of generations of First Nations inhabitants whose history remains elusive.

Alexander Mackenzie traveled close to the Tumbler Ridge mountains in 1793, and his description of a “valley of snow” on Mt Vreeland is the first written description of a Rockies glacier.

On an 1879 map blueprint by George Dawson, the entire Tumbler Ridge region is still marked “Unexplored Area”. The oldest known maps of the Tumbler Ridge area were discovered in a library in Wisconsin in 2004. These priceless treasures were made by the Grand Trunk Pacific surveyors in 1906, searching for potential railway passes through the mountains, led by R.W. Jones.

In 1914 S. Prescott Fay led a party of five men and twenty horses from Jasper to Hudson’s Hope via what is now Tumbler Ridge, and left engaging descriptions in his journal, which is scheduled for publication soon. En route he took the first photographs of, and named, Kinuseo Falls.

In 1919 and 1920 BC’s Department of Lands sent John Gwillim and Edmund Spieker respectively to explore the region’s petroleum potential. Both expeditions were unsuccessful, but led to increasing knowledge of the area and better maps. Gwillim’s map used the words “Tumbler Range”, and Spieker used “Tumbler Ridge” for the first time for the feature north and east of the current townsite.

The Metis settlement of Kelly Lake was established to the east around 1910, and its hunters and trappers became familiar with the area. The presence of Europeans was initially mostly fleeting, with visits by the explorers Vreeland, Holzworth, Gray, Sheldon and Borden, and the interprovincial Boundary Commission. Each of these contributed new knowledge to the region. But the first settlers had recognized the potential of the area where the Murray River, Wolverine River and Flatbed Creek joined, and had taken up residence before the land was surveyed. Vic and Kathleen Peck epitomized this frontier spirit, arriving in 1914, finding fulfillment here while raising a family of four boys in incredibly difficult isolated circumstances. In the same year the legendary “Aunt Kate” Edwards established a ranch up the Wolverine River valley. She was followed there by another phenomenal long-time resident John Terry, who operated the ranch for almost fifty years until his death in 2000 at the age of 88.

One of the most inspiring tales in the area’s history was the Monkman Pass Highway epic in the 1930s, in which a bunch of dedicated volunteers built a pass through the mountains to form an export route for their grain. Only World War II put paid to their efforts, but their legacy endures.

After the war there was increasing discovery and appreciation of the region’s resources: coal, natural gas, coalbed methane, fossil fishes, and trees. The looming global energy crisis of the 1960s enabled new thinking about what was economically feasible, and the coal resources were further explored. Any development would have to be vast in scope. The twin barriers of the distance to export markets, and the mountains themselves were overcome, and the Japanese were identified as the prime customer for what became known as the Northeast Coal project, the biggest single industrial enterprise in BC’s history. The last spike of the railway was driven in in 1983, and in 1984 a plunger was pushed to open the Quintette Mine.

The town of Tumbler Ridge had to be built from scratch, and a model community was created, one that is still BC’s youngest community. For almost twenty years the town enjoyed good fortune, but the decreasing price of coal led to the premature closure of the Quintette Mine in 2000, and the Bullmoose Mine completed its predicted lifespan in 2002. The future of what had been a one-industry town truly hung in the balance. An enormous housing sale at bargain prices which resulted in an influx of retirees and others seeking the magnificent mountain lifestyle and tranquility, and the development of the region’s tourism potential and discovery of the dinosaur heritage were some of the factors which helped save Tumbler Ridge, fired by the passion of residents who refused to admit defeat.

The coal price has recovered and the second generation of mines is being developed, and the oil and gas industry is flourishing. A mood of optimism pervades the community, and its population has virtually doubled in the past five years.

The role of the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation is firstly to record and archive the area’s remarkable history, but also to aid in the diversification of the community and the region through its programs and exhibits. The human history as summarized here lends itself to many exhibits, lectures and field trips. The Monkman display, which was opened in June 2004, was the first TRMF display to focus on human history, to which the coal mining display was added in December 2004.

An historic map exhibit opened in 2005, soon followed by photo exhibits of the Fay and Gray expeditions, the Peck family, Kate Edwards and John Terry. All these exhibits are housed in the Tumbler Ridge Community Centre. The Interactive Display also highlights much of the area’s human history.

In 2006 Tumbler Ridge celebrated its 25th anniversary.

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