Dipping into History

Oral history tells us that the Ktunaxa (formerly Kootenay) bathed in Radium Hot Springs - perhaps to ease the pain of arthritis or to help cleanse and heal injuries received in battle. A number of other tribes, such as the Piegans, Bloods and Stoneys, may have also come to soak in the hot water.

In the 1880s, a settler, John McKay, staked a homestead along the Columbia River. His claim happened to include Radium Hot Springs. In 1890, a gentleman called Roland Stuart paid the lavish sum of $1 an acre to receive a crown grant for the 160 acres surrounding the pool. He was the first to see the economic potential of the springs, but initially he expected to reap his rewards from sales of bottled water, not from bathers.

In 1911, a British medical journal suggested that there might be radium in the water. Research by McGill University in 1913, showed this to be true. Stuart realized that his slightly radioactive spring water might have more curative power than the famous springs at Bath, England. He envisioned even more financial possibilities if he could come up with enough money for development. That dilemma was solved, at least temporarily, by multi-millionaire St. John Harmsworth. Harmsworth was paralyzed from the neck down when he first came to Radium Hot Springs and spent several hours each day suspended in the hot water. Apparently, after four months of treatment, he was able to move his feet. That meant a $20,000 contribution to Stuart, who constructed a concrete pool and a log bath house before heading for England at the start of the First World War.

Stuart still hadn't returned in 1920 when negotiations between the federal and provincial governments were concluded and the formation of Kootenay Dominion Park was announced. Stuart's agent, Earle Scovil, couldn't get any communication from his boss and encouraged the government to expropriate the springs. The feds complied in 1922, a year before the Banff-Windermere Road was completed. Stuart eventually received about $40,000 for his $160 investment, but even at that time, others placed the value of the springs at half a million dollars.

In the years to follow, the pool was modified slightly and a more elaborate bath house was built. It burned down during the winter of 1948 and was replaced by the present stone building. The new facilities, including a cool pool, were officially opened in 1951. The actual inlet of the springs permanently disappeared from the public's eyes under the concrete of the hot pool.

Major renovations during the winter of 1967-68 meant removal of the old pool and the installation of a collecting system for all the hot water sources. Recently, extensive renovations have refreshed the entrance foyer and the change rooms so that they provide all that visitors have come to expect in a modern facility. There are now food and gift concessions in the lobby as well as a new 4000 square foot day spa that restores the historic spa services and offers a wide variety of treatment options to patrons.