The wealth of hot springs in British Columbia is one of the province’s most exemplary contributions to humankind. Although some are well-developed, with sparkling clean pools and spa facilities, some, including St. Leon Creek Hot Springs, are off the beaten path, harder to reach, and a little more mystical.
St. Leon Hot Springs is located just north of Nakusp (and south of Halfway Hot Springs), along a woodland path, on the edge of a wooded slope. It has attracted increasing attention in recent years, and as interest increases, so does the effect on the spring.
History Of St Leons Hot Springs
Because of its location and beautiful sandy beach, St. Leon Hot Springs was one of several hot springs that were developed in the early days. Mike Grady, the springs’ owner, advertised in 1898 that baths were free but lodging was $1.25 per day, which was a lot of money in those days. The lodgings were clearly designed for men only due to their rustic appearance, but lumberjacks and miners were used to living in such conditions.
Mike was still trying to persuade the CPR to turn this beautiful site into a Banff-style operation at the time, but he was having no luck. This was most likely due to the company’s ties to Halcyon Hot Springs, which discouraged competition.
Mike sold his Standard Mine in the Slocan in 1904 and used the proceeds to build his dream hotel on the St. Leon and Halfway Creeks delta. The hotel was built entirely out of clear lumber. Even the pools, which were centered near the lobby and had the ladies’ pool directly above the men’s, were made of wood. The mouldings and bannisters were all made of wood, with no paint or varnish applied. Mike’s nieces, Molly and Louise Smith scrubbed the woodwork every day.
The water was piped nearly two miles from the source, which was a challenge. It was only luke warm by the time it arrived at the hotel. Mike dug a large ditch and built a series of coils for the water to run through and be reheated. Throughout the summer and winter, a cordwood fire was kept going. It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done. The hotel drew a large number of visitors, and the business thrived.
Each year, tourism increased, and a plan was promoted for the Arrow Lakes to capitalise on the hot springs’ potential for growth. In 1910, the CPR announced that the Bonnington, the southern interior’s largest sternwheeler, would be built in Nakusp shipyard beginning that fall. It was finished in 1911 with much fanfare, sporting events, and an evening dance. However, because St. Leon lacked a wharf like Halcyon Hot Springs, passengers and freight were unable to be loaded and unloaded. Instead, the boats had to land on the beach.
The war had a significant impact on both Halcyon and St. Leon. At times, patronage came to a halt. Many loyal customers were also deterred from making the long trip, especially during the off-season, by the repeal of Prohibition in 1916. Finally, the hotel was closed and the hot water was turned off, with the exception of a few months during the summer. Mike was persuaded to divide a portion of his 230 acres into lots to sell as cottages and tents. Ten small houses had been built by 1915, and tenting had become very popular..
John Olson of Galena Bay visited Mike on a regular basis over the years to make sure he was okay. He and his son Peter decided to take him to the Olson home to be looked after because he could no longer care for himself. He moved to a senior home in Kamloops two years later, where he died in 1944.
Mike sold the springs to Grace Rixon of Revelstoke in 1933, and she sold them to Ed Gates in 1945. He renamed the springs Gates of St. Leon and attempted to turn them into a spa. Ed wanted the springs to be only accessible by boat at the time, but Nakusp businessmen believed a highway was required. The CPR was dead set on decommissioning the SS Minto, leaving Halcyon and St. Leon stranded without food, goods, patrons, or services. This was completed on April 24, 1954, and hotels could only be reached by small pleasure boats from then on. After a few years, it became impossible to keep the hotel open, so Ed closed it and sold the contents at a Nakusp garage sale.
In the 1950s and 1960s, when talk of a dam on the Arrow Lakes became serious, a recommended Low Arrow dam would have caused little damage and minimal flooding on the Arrow Lakes. This, however, was not to be. The decision was made to build the High Arrow dam, which forever changed the lakes. The St. Leon Hotel would have been completely covered. When a mysterious fire destroyed the building on November 9, 1968, Ed and BC Hydro were in the middle of negotiating a settlement.
To get there, head north from the highway 6 junction in Nakusp for 23.2 kilometers along highway 23 (just past the Halfway River Bridge). To the right, there will be an unsigned St. Leon Creek forest service route. The pools are situated about 9.9 kilometers up this path in a clearing alongside the stream.
St. Leon Creek Hot Springs is not a tourist location, but its frequent visitors created it. A concrete pool has been built. Warm and hot water is delivered through plastic pipes from sources above. there is a very hot upper pool. The other source is a two to the three-meter-deep grotto in the rock.
In the higher tub, it is covered with light algae, making it feel like you’re lying in a velvet-lined bathtub! It’s also extremely humid.
Featured photo by ashleypiper
If you would like to stay in the area, there are lots of cabins and lodges with excellent prices, relaxing after a good soak helps. booking well in advance is recommended.
Here is a list of accommodations in the area to check out
Resorses: Arrow Lakes
Historical Society Archives
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