Highway 3 & 43; approximately 18 km west of the BC/Alberta border; 29 km north of Fernie; 129 km northeast of Cranbrook. Area Population: 4,200. Visitor Information Centre: adjacent to Hwy 3 at 141 Aspen Drive; Phone: (877) 485-8185; Visitor Information: Sparwood and District Chamber of Commerce, PO Box 1448, Sparwood, BC V0B 2G0; Phone: (250) 425-2423; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org ; Website: www.sparwood.ca.
It was over 250 years ago that the first inhabitants settled in the Elk Valley. The Kootenay remained undisturbed here until 1873 when the first white man, Michael Phillipps, traversed Crowsnest Pass. In 1882 Dr. George Dawson came into the valley to research the extent of the coal deposits reported by Phillipps. In 1898 the community of Michel was established for housing the miners who came to work these coal deposits. Within 5 years the population had increased to over 500. In 1907 the subdivision of New Michel was created a mile west of the original town site. Within a couple of years, this village was renamed Natal and the area between there and Michel became the informal community of Middletown. By 1920 the community of Michel-Natal, running the length of the valley, reached its peak population of 2,000 but this decreased during the depression years. Over the next four decades the valley suffered a major fire at the Michel Collieries, which was then rebuilt, and in 1967 an explosion at Balmer North killed 15 and injured 10 more.
Now a panorama of scenic splendor greets visitors to Sparwood, poised at this southeastern gateway to British Columbia. The flow of traffic from Canadian and American centers on Highway 3 makes Sparwood an ideal stop for visitors. The rich coal fields in the area are surrounded by the towering ranges of the Canadian Rockies, with Sparwood as the hub of the industry. Environmental programs have enhanced the natural habitat of the wildlife in the valley.
The land is a mecca for wildlife photographers and in season for licensed hunters. The 9-hole Sparwood Golf Course offers challenge and amazing beauty. The 23 traps and huge greens will definitely put the golfer to the test. Recreational opportunities abound. Well-maintained parks offer baseball, tennis, soccer, horseshoe pits, bocci courts, jogging trails and playground equipment. The Henry Volkman Memorial Leisure Centre is the place to be cool. Swim in the pool, relax in the whirlpool or get hot sitting in the sauna.
The Elk River and its tributaries are home to several varieties of sport fish. Whitewater recreation, including canoeing and kayaking, are enjoyed in Michel Creek and Elk River. Take a walk in the downtown core and visit the larger than life heritage murals depicting the ghost towns of Michel and Natal. Then take a tour of one of Canada’s largest open pit coal mines during July and August. Next take a look at the world’s largest dump truck ever manufactured, the 350-ton Titan located next to the InfoCentre.