In 1889, Charles Wesley Busk came to the West Kootenays working for W.A. Baillie-Groman. While surveying boundaries and canals at the south end of West Kootenay Lake, Busk decided to establish roots in the area. Staking two hundred acres on the west lakeshore about thirty miles from Nelson, he named his property Balfour after the British Prime Minister whose family had mining interests in the region. Within weeks, he commenced establishing his future home high above the lakeshore. Here his home would be safe from any flooding from the lake. With grandiose plans in his head, he used his surveying expertise to lay out a complete town site. In1891, he established the first building, the Balfour House Hotel, with rooms upstairs and with his general store, “Wholesale, Retail, and Commission Merchant” on the main floor.
Disheartened when the HendryX (Bluebell) Mine chose another location for their smelter in 1894, Busk sold his interests to Joseph and Mary Gallop, new arrivals from New Brunswick. Balfour thrived until the closure of the Pilot Bay smelter in 1896. In 1897 construction of the Southern Railway (later the CPR) from Crowsnest to Nelson established Proctor and Kootenay Landing as the ” Lake” points for the crossing.
To attract visitors to ride their line from the Crowsnest to Nelson, the CPR constructed a hotel at Balfour overlooking the Lake. Using Tudor and the famous CPR chateau-style architecture as inspiration, William W. Bell from Winnipeg designed a three-story structure high above the shoreline. “Featured in the design were long, open verandas supported by:- large square pillars, overhanging balconies, dormers, decorative eaves, and tall brick chimneys.” The design conveyed the wilderness surroundings and provided a luxurious ambient temperature for the eastern guests.
On May 10th, 1912 the grand opening for the Kootenay Lake Hotel resembled an occasion fit for royalty. Three hundred guests arrived by motor launch from convenient pick-up points along Kootenay Lake. At the wharf, the white-shirted hotel staff invited the guests to traverse the hillside to the “castle on the hill” by a steam-winched cable car, by a hack drawn by two horses, or by a long series of steps illuminated with electric lights.
Since the hotel operated as a summer hotel only from June until November, guests mainly hunted, fished, and hiked in the surrounding mountains and lakes. Near the Hotel, the CPR provided tennis courts, walking trails, and golf.
In 1911 during the construction of the hotel, John Burns and sons from Nelson included tennis courts and a nine-hole golf course in the overall landscaping plans for the property. To provide water to the fairways during the dry summer weather, the steamer SS Nelson was moored below the hotel and pumped the necessary water to the irrigation system.
The hotel provided an infusion of continuous summer business activity for the Balfour residents from 1912 – 1916. Unfortunately, tourism diminished during World War 1. The hotel closed in 1916. At this time conditions in the War turned grave. The enemy introduced chemical weapons. The Canadian forces suffered from the effects of the gas on the battlefields. Seeking locations with a favourable climate and clean fresh air, the federal government chose three locations in British Columbia to transfer the injured soldiers by leasing the Qualicum Beach Hotel and golf course, the Tranquille Hospital near Kamloops, and the Kootenay Lake Hotel in Balfour.
“The Balfour Golf Club was formed at the beginning of 1917 by the patients and staff of the Balfour Military Sanatorium. Some of the initial work on the golf course and all the start-up expenses were undertaken by the patients. As our health did not permit strenuous manual labour, we had to call in outside help. This we had to pay for, and so a committee waited on the citizens of Nelson, who very generously responded. We are now in good financial standing and have our links in as good shape as is possible.. Golf is the only exercise we are allowed, so you can imagine how we appreciate our links.”
The ten-hole links course measured 1936 yards. C.R. McDougal held the course record 43 for the par 36 course.. On a nationwide tour to thank returning soldiers for their efforts during the War, the Prince of Wales played the Balfour Links on Thursday October 1st, 1919. “The next two and a half hours of the afternoon were spent on the golf links, the Prince playing 18 holes against Major-General Sir Henry Burnstall, a member of the Royal Party. That the golf course was a sporty one was the opinion of the Prince after his game which he stated he thoroughly enjoyed.”
In December 1921, the last patient at the hospital transferred to Tranquille. “At the final meeting of the golf club the balance of funds on hand was given to a family of a soldier in straitened circumstances.” Because of the influence of this course W.C. Wragge, a barrister from Nelson, became the moving spirit to develop the Nelson Golf Club opening in 1919.
As life in the Kootenays returned to normal after the War, the Kootenay Lake Hotel no longer attracted tourists to its doors. The CPR could not overcome the stigma of the hotel as a former hospital. In 1929, the CPR sold the property and building. In the early 1930’s, Mr. Hogan, a Spokane executive and tremendous supporter of the West Kootenay region, invested funds to kick start golf in the region again. This venture proved futile and ceased by the mid-thirties.
The Royal and Ancient game resurfaced in Balfour in 1985 at a meeting of the Balfour Recreation Committee. The members joined the wave of golf course construction throughout the province.