There’s a town at the bottom of that lake.
It isn’t the first thought to occur to me as I cast my eyes across Lake Koocanusa.
My love affair with the area started three years ago when a friend invited Shep and me for a weekend at her family’s leased RV property right on the lake. When we go, we zip around in the boat, spin off on the Seadoo or relax in chairs, sipping vodka coolers, as we watch the day go by.
Before I leave Calgary destined for a July long weekend in British Columbia, I do my research. And I learn what lies beneath those waters.
Waldo, founded in 1905, was a bustling lumber town just west of Fernie. Named for a local land owner, William Waldorf Waldo, the menfolk made their trade by cutting down the trees of the Kootenay Mountains.
Churches, schools, shops and homes … some had been there since the early 1900s.
It didn’t matter to government, though.
A cherry deal was pending with Montana. The United States government wanted to build a hydroelectric dam in Libby. The Canadian government liked the idea, signing an agreement to allow stateside Kootenai River and the Kootenay River in B.C. to form a lake.
Waldo got in the way.
Folks were told to skedaddle.
Ghost Towns of British Columbia has done tremendous research in gathering the story of Waldo’s demise.
It recounts the story of Ernie Strauss, whose home is at the bottom of Koocanusa and who still harbours bitter resentment toward the B.C. government.
Ernie remembers the government officials coming to Waldo in 1973 and setting fire to buildings abandoned by those who took their paltry compensation packages and left.
“Strauss felt the heartbreak,” the website declares. “He lost 300 acres of land because of the Libby Dam. He fought the B.C. government for many years but eventually decided to throw in the towel and accept a settlement, as unfair as he felt it was.”
Tangible memories of Waldo exist. The non-denominational church was saved and moved to Baynes Lake.
Ernie salvaged wooden rafters from the school, plus a house which he uses as a garage and work shop, according to Ghost Towns of British Columbia.
But the evidence of his battle is gone.
His fight lies silent beneath the roar of speed boats and the clamour of late-night partying on the squatters’ side of the lake.
And the sound of the waves lapping on the shore, combined with a day of fresh, crisp mountain air, leave me exhausted, sleeping never better with only a tent, a sleeping bag and my trusty companion, Shep, protecting me from the elements.
Waldo sleeps, too … forever.