Sentinel

Sentinel was never much of a settlement top begin with. After a major railway boom in the late 1800's there was hope to make it an attraction for tourists to diversify the Pass' economy. However, Sentinel never became a tourist destination and became a hub for industrial activity in the Pass. Sentinel is now known as the "Sentinel Industrial Park", which looks more like a junkyard than anything else.
Legend:
Yellow: Sentinel Industrial Park
 
White Border: Entire area "considered" Sentinel.
 
 
Directions from Coleman to Sentinel, AB.
          Sentinel is a ghost town that thousands of people pass by each year and don’t even realize it. Today Sentinel is known as the “Sentinel Industrial Park”. Even though it was not much of a settlement to begin with, it did have a lot of traffic from both locals and tourists enjoying the recreational activities the area had to offer before it became the most industrialized area in the Pass. This activity early in Sentinel’s life has given it a particularly interesting history. The industrial activity in the area has died out in the 90’s, and now most of the area is a junkyard with only a few active businesses running such as Hy-Ridge Helicopters Ltd., Summit Storage, and Blairmore Precision Ltd occupying the original townsite.
          Initially, from 1896 to 1898, Sentinel was known as “Sentry Siding”. It was set up as a facility to load clay mined in the area onto CPR train cars to be shipped to Medicine Hat to manufacture pipelines. The clay shipping ended as quickly as it started once clay was discovered in Medicine Hat (Wilson, 2002). The first boom period took place when the railway was being constructed by the townsite, which at the time was located between Crowsnest Cave and the abandoned Calgary Power plant. People like Henry Johnson Sr. operated a store and Mrs. Taylor ran a boarding house (CPHS, 1979, pg. 241). A prospector named W. Jordan ran the Lake View Hotel until 1903 when Mr. Wilson purchased the hotel. Unfortunately the boom was short lived and in 1905 it became a ghost town for the first time. Fortunately George Bradley Sr., who decided to enter the ranching business, purchased the land (CPHS, 1979, pg. 243). Throughout the year of 1911, when the socialist United Mine Workers of America decided to strike against the coal companies in the Pass, Bradley opened his property to be inhabited by miners and their families as refugees until an agreement could be reached. It was a rough time for the workers, having to truly live off of the land with the lack of funds they had (CPHS, 1979, pg. 243). With the only road to BC going straight through the Bradley property, many strangers travelling through the Crowsnest Pass would find themselves at their house. The Bradleys took them in when they needed help, and any stranger was found to be a welcomed guest on their land. Unfortunately in August 1914 George Bradley Sr. died at the age of 68 years old. Bradley’s Bay was named to remember the generosity and resilience of this early pioneer family (CPHS, 1979, pg. 243).
          By this time almost the entire area spanning between Coleman and Crowsnest Lake was referred to as Sentinel. By 1915 there was an increasing interest of using the area as a tourist destination. Wes Johnston tried to capitalize on this early by operating a passenger boat every Sunday for visitors to enjoy the lake (CPHS, 1979, pg. 243). Not too long after, the interests of industry decided to take precedent. In June of 1922, the East Kootenay Power Company started to provide electricity to the Pass from Bull River, BC. As they started to build more power plants in BC to meet the increasing demand of electricity, there was a proposition to open up a plant in Sentinel – now a designated recreational area (CPHS, 1979, pg. 243). The negotiations, which began in March of 1924, demanded 2.9 acres of land on the east shore of the Crowsnest Lake. The East Kootenay Power Company argued that Sentinel is an idea place for generating power with the water supply from Crowsnest Lake and its access to coal at their disposal (CPHS, 1979, pg. 243). It was also a strategic location to be a center of distribution for power. Later that same year the construction of the plant began. This power plant used a method of firing pulverised coal by blowing the powder into fireboxes by pressure, which then burned the powder in suspension, thus eliminating 90% of residue by carrying it off by a smoke stack 200 feet high. This plant was the first of its kind in the West, requiring 200 tons of coal and 10,000 gallons of water daily to operate (CPHS, 1979, pg. 244).
          In spite of the Great Depression, Sentinel was seeing a large amount of human activity it has ever seen with prospectors and entrepreneurs hoping to find a cash cow. A labour camp was established in the area and there was a 210-acre airfield cleared so planes could enter the valley. In 1930, regardless of the Power Plant, Alex Morency created the Crowsnest Lake Dance Hall and supplied boats to tourists to enjoy the Lake. Evidently his venture was a lot more popular than Mr. Regner’s recreational facilities. In 1935 he set up gas pumps and three log cabins near the base of Sentry Mountain to cash in on the tourist hub Sentinel was becoming (CPHS, 1979, pg. 241). Unfortunately the cabins were never completed, nor were the pumps used. Even a Swede, who went by the name of “Gus”, was stretched thin from his fly-by-night coal operation in the early 30’s, located at the base of Chinook Mountain. This mine was not very well known, and was informally called “Gus’s Mine”. Apparently the operation was dried out quite quickly, and a tipple that stood until 1951 proved the only trace of mining activity. Today there are no traces left of the operation (Kerr, 1979, 243). 
          During the early existence of the Sentinel Power Plant there were seven fine homes built for the married employees, and a three-storey staff building for single men and visiting executives. Up until 1946 equipment upgrades were frequent on the plant to keep the production unhindered. The same year, tragedy struck in the valley for seven passengers of a RCAF Dakota aircraft. The pilot accidently crashed into Andy Good Peak and crashed 4,000 feet into the valley below killing everyone on board. It took the dedication of three forestry officials, Harry Boulton, Bill Liddell, and Jim McGilligett, to find the burned remains of the men. After 10 days they recovered the bodies by using toboggans and snowshoes (CPHS, 1979, pg. 244).  You can visit the crash site by taking the York Creek Road south from Coleman and park at the bridge that crosses York Creek. Go across the bridge and follow the path that leads up the south bank of the reek and up the North York Creek drainage. After about 6.2km you should reach the decrepit wreckage.
          The 40’s also presented more attempts at making Sentinel a hub for tourism. A couple, Mr. and Mrs. Huffman, established the Glacier Cabins on the west side of Crowsnest Lake. These cabins still operate to this day under the moniker Kozy Knest Kabins. Jim Kerr, one of the original settlers, opened Chinook Motel in 1951 on Allison Creek, again trying to capitalize on the tourism demand they were desperately hoping to capture (CPHS, 1979, pg. 241). As is evident today, many of these businesses did not last because the demand for tourism in Sentinel just was not what it used to be. Eventually the Sentinel Power Plant was taken over by the Calgary Power Company, but even the power plant was closed down in 1969 and the holdings are now privately held. It seemed like after the power plant closed down that there would be no hope for development in the Pass. There was the Atlas Lumber Mill that operated in Sentinel until 2002, employing about 100 people to cut spruce, pine, and fir and produced 40 million feet of kiln-dried lumber per year (McDougall, 1996). The lumber plant was forced to close down due to broader political circumstances with the United States embargo on Canadian lumber.
          Even though Sentinel never really disappeared and still has a presence as an industrial area of the Crowsnest, the area never really achieved economic growth. This town does fit in my definition of a ghost town because of its initial growth and decline period, but ever since the 1920’s the locality has maintained a state of mediocrity and steadiness.
    
        
Photos
  1. Junkyard Car
    Junkyard Car
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  2. Sentinel Train Station
    Sentinel Train Station
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  3. Sentinel
    Sentinel
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  4. Industrial Park
    Industrial Park
    Photo by Jason Ferris
References
Crowsnest Pass Historical Society (CPHS). "Sentinel", “Railway Construction
Town 1896-1898”, “East Kootenay Power Plant”, “Aeroplane Tragedies at Sentinel”. Crowsnest and Its People. Coleman, Alta.: Crowsnest Pass Historical Society, 1979. Print. Pg. 241-246.
 
Kerr, James R. “Gus’ Mine.”  Crowsnest and Its People. Coleman, Alta.: Crowsnest
Pass Historical Society, 1979. Print. Pg. 243.
 
McDougall, S. “Assessment of Log Yard Runoff in Alberta: Preliminary
Evaluation.” Alberta Environment, June 1996. Print.
 
Wilson, D.M. "Train Hold-up at Sentinel” Crowsnest Highway. 2 Feb. 2002. Web.
25 Aug. 2015.     
Photos taken by:
Deadwood Imaging (Jason Ferris)