This section is adapted from Charles Helm's Tumbler Ridge: Enjoying its History, Trails and Wilderness.
While Tumbler Ridge, the town, is barely 30 years old, the history of this area extends much farther back. Indeed, the paleontologic record predates the Triassic period, with trace fossils and crinoids. More info on these can be found in the Dinosaur section.
The history of human habitation of this area is much shorter, though it may extend back up to 5000 years. The first European through these parts was Alexander Mackenzie, and although he didn't wander through Grizzly Valley itself, he does mention climbing a peak farther west and gazing east into what is now Monkman Park. There are hints and rumours of archaeological evidence of early trappers, but very little surviving literature.
The first formal expedition into this area was by Prescott Fay, who explored the area north of Jasper in 1912-1913. This area was extremely rough going for the party, with steep mountains, loose rock, and serious dead fall. But his efforts were rewarded, and he discovered many of the important features of the area.
The next explorer of note was Prentiss Gray, who came through in 1927. By this time, there were a number of trappers in the area, and a permanent settlement at Kelly Lake, near the Alberta Border, and Victor and Kathleen Peck, who had a cabin near the confluence of the Wolverine and Murray Rivers.
Kate Edwards, a widow, was the first permanent settler in the area. She moved into the Wolverine Valley in 1921, at age 51, to establish a ranch. She had to drive the cattle 300 km to the nearest railway. In 1946, she met John Terry and persuaded him to take over the ranch. He lived there until his death in 2000.
Alex Monkman and His Road: The Monkman Pass Era
The area around Tumbler Ridge began to garner fame in the late 1930s. Alex Monkman discovered a pass (with the help of Pierre Gauthier) through the Rocky Mountains in what is now Monkman Park. Monkman Pass is the lowest pass through the Canadian Rockies, and Monkman and his supporters lobbied the government to build a road through the pass so that farmers in northeast BC/northwest Alberta could get their grain to market easier.
They formed the Monkman Pass Highway Association, and in 1937, an advance crew blazed a trail through the pass. In 1938, amidst much publicity, a group ceremoniously delivered the first symbolic bag of grain through the pass.
As they made their way, pushing the highway into present day Monkman Park, people began to take an interest in the area. The area was touted as the next national park in the Banff/Jasper chain, and the names of Kinuseo Falls and Big Spring (where a creek gushes out of the earth and off a cliff) became household names.
They pushed into the heart of Monkman Park, into Hell's Half Acre, where a massive rockfall slowed progress.
They were within 28 km of pushing the trail through, when Britain declared war, entering into World War II. Workers on the Monkman pass lay down their shovels and went to war. Many didn't return. When the war ended, the BC Government prohibited any further work on the road.
The citizens of Dawson Creek and Fort St. John were given the choice between a road through Monkman Pass that would not pass through their communities, or a road through the Pine Pass, which would. They chose the latter, and the Monkman Pass Highway was left to be reclaimed by nature.
I remember when you were just a gleam in the Socred's eyes...
By the late 1970s, a number of coal deposits had been identified in the Tumbler Ridge area. These deposits were lucrative but remote and a number of studies were commissioned to check out the viability of developing the Northeast Coal Fields.
In 1981, representatives of Denison Mines, Teck Corporation, the Government of BC and the Japanese Steel Industry signed an agreement that allowed the Northeast Coal Development to proceed, and in the space of three years, the town, the infrastructure, and two mines were built from scratch. A paved road was built into the area, as well as a transmission line and a rail line, which had to plow through two mountain ranges: the two tunnels (6 km and 9 km respectively) are among the longest in North America. At the other end of the line, Ports Canada built a coal terminal capable of handling 12 million tonnes of coal annually (the combined output of the Quintette and Bullmoose Mines was projected at 8 million tonnes).
An Era of Change
With the arrival of the new millennium, Tumbler Ridge experienced a great deal of social and economic upheaval. In August, 2000, the Quintette Coal Mine shut down. Bullmoose Mine shut down in April, 2003. It seemed as though the town's heyday as a coal mining town had come and gone. At that time, the District undertook an international marketing campaign focusing on affordable housing and superior lifestyle within a magnificent natural setting. People from around the world answered the call and today they still call Tumbler Ridge home. Not long after, the community saw the return of coal mining with the opening of Western Coal's Wolverine Mine in 2005, followed by Peace River Coal's Trend mine. These projects, combined with a new population base and the community's efforts towards diversification, have resulted in the greatest level of private investment in the community since its construction.
In 2021, the town celebrated its 40th Anniversary. Today Tumbler Ridge's heart is beating stronger than ever as it works to build a new reputation as one of the most beautiful and remote areas left in the province.