The history of Grand Forks is a study in contrasts. Although Aboriginal people used the area for seasonal hunting and fishing thousands of years ago, they appear not to have set up permanent settlements.
Mining and smelting were the engines that drove economic boom times in the late 1890s and early 1900s and the area's rich soil has always supported a strong agricultural base. This potential for self-sufficient farming attracted the Doukhobors, a Russian sect that came to Canada to escape religious persecution. Grand Forks is also a crossing point on the Canada-US border.
In 1846, the Oregon Treaty established the 49th parallel as the boundary between Canada and the United States across most of what is now the province of British Columbia. Look to the south from Grand Forks to see a distinct line across the forested flank of Galena Mountain cut along the border as a relief project during the Great Depression in the 1930s.
The term Boundary Country evolved from the designation of the surrounding region as the Boundary Mining District in the late 1800s.
Gold & Copper Mining
Placer gold, discovered at Rock Creek (72km/45mi west) in 1859, brought the first prospectors to the region. The first hard rock claim was staked and copper was discovered at Phoenix (28km/17mi west) in the mid-1880s, but it wasn't until the Columbia & Western Railway was pushed through in 1899 that mining really took off.
Hikers and mountain bikers travel the old rail bed, which is now part of the Trans Canada Trail.
Phoenix Interpretive Forest
People interested in mining history can take a driving route (maps available at the Grand Forks Visitor Centre) to explore the few remnants of this once bustling town in the Phoenix Interpretive Forest.
The Phoenix mine prompted construction of a massive smelter in Grand Forks by the Granby Smelting Co. "Blown in" in the autumn of 1900, it was the first smelter in the district and grew to become the largest copper smelter in the British Empire. The Granby River, then known as the North Fork of the Kettle River, was dammed and a power plant constructed. See ruins of the dam on the North Fork driving route.
The smelter operated until 1919 when the world copper market plunged. The plant is gone, but take a look at the mountain of black slag (waste rock from the smelting process) that runs more than a mile in length. There's a good view from Barbara Ann Park on the Granby River.
The Doukhobors, a pacifist sect that broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church, settled in Grand Forks between 1909 and 1913. While their self-contained, communal lifestyle initially kept them apart from the rest of the community, in the long-term, they have largely integrated and have a strong influence on the region's culture.
Dine on Russian dishes like borscht soup at many local restaurants; visit the Doukhobor Mill and the Fructova School that now hosts the collection of the former Boundary Museum.
Take the heritage walking tour of Grand Forks for a reminder of the town's glory days when money from mining, smelting and logging built fashionable homes, a striking post office (now City Hall) and the imposing Courthouse (1912). Browse the permanent and temporary galleries and see storyboards illustrating the history of the area.
Grand Forks and the Arts
The centerpiece of the Grand Forks arts community is the impressive gallery space in the heritage courthouse. Beyond the double-door entrance of the former provincial courtroom on the second floor, the light and spacious gallery features an ornate ceiling, rows of stained glass windows (depicting the agricultural heritage of the area) high in the walls and hanging space for the works of local to international artists.
This space transforms to a 60-seat theatre for live performances by musicians and the town's two theatre groups. Side galleries display more artwork. Exhibitions change several times annually. Drop by the gift shop and browse the paintings and crafts for sale by regional artists and artisans.
Grand Forks Art Walks
For a look at the big picture, follow the Grand Forks Art Walks guide and tour the collection of murals that depict historic structures and events.
In the community, visit the studios of potters and painters or shop and chat at the town's three quilting emporiums.
Staff at Grand Forks Visitor Centre for details on what's happening around town. The centre also stocks brochures on the historic and heritage sites, cultural attractions and the art gallery.