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
On an 1879 map blueprint by George Dawson, the entire
Ridge region is still marked “Unexplored Area”.
The oldest known maps of the Tumbler Ridge area were discovered
a library in Wisconsin in 2004. These priceless treasures
were made by the Grand Trunk Pacific surveyors in 1906,
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
the area. The presence of Europeans was initially mostly
fleeting, with visits by the explorers Vreeland, Holzworth,
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,
up residence before the land was surveyed. Vic and Kathleen
Peck epitomized this frontier spirit, arriving in 1914,
here while raising a family of four boys in incredibly
difficult isolated circumstances. In the same year the
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
One of the most inspiring tales in the area’s history
was the Monkman Pass Highway epic in the 1930s, in which
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
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
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
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.