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Although there is some debate as to the origin of our namesake, it is commonly accepted that Telkwa is a native term meaning the "meeting of the waters" and describes the picturesque joining of the Bulkley and Telkwa Rivers in the heart of the town. The history of Telkwa has also ebbed and flowed with the dramatic changes of the community with the Telegraph Trail, the rush of settlers at the turn of the Century, and the arrival of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.
The first townsite in the area, Aldermere, was originally established on the bluff above the Bulkley River (and above the present day townsite of Telkwa). The townsite was the central stopping spot for travelers and prospectors following the Telegraph Trail and the call of the Gold Rush. The town of Aldermere was first staked by John Dorsey in 1904 and was home to the first Hotel, Post Office, Newspaper (the Interior News), and General Store for the Bulkley Valley.
The first settlers had to travel by steamboat up the Skeena from Prince Rupert to Hazelton. Many treacherous canyons had to be traversed and in some areas the passengers had to unload and walk while the steamer was winched through the dangerous waters.
From Hazelton, the settlers followed a wagon road (dismantling the wagons through the rougher parts of the trail) and finally (after many days) they would arrive in the Bulkley Valley and the townsite of Aldermere.
As the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway began constructing the western section of their railway in 1907, many businesses and settlers began to move down the hill to the present site of Telkwa to be closer to the anticipated railway and an easier water supply.
The community of Hubert, located just east of Telkwa on the opposite side of the Bulkley River, was originally chosen as the divisional point for the G.T.P.; however, speculators, hoping they could turn a profit at the railway company's expense, had bought up the land.
Consequently, the attention of the G.T.P. then turned to a swampy section of land at the foot of Hudson Bay Mountain. The surveyors in Hubert were withdrawn and the planning of Smithers was underway.
In 1914 Telkwa suffered a major fire and many of the downtown buildings were destroyed. Although the efforts to rebuild started immediately, many businesses were expanding and moved to the new G.T.P. townsite of Smithers.
Today a number of buildings remain as a tribute to Telkwa's heritage and tell the stories of pioneering in the Bulkley Valley. Located on Highway 16 in downtown Telkwa stands the first pioneer church, St. Stephen's Anglican Church, which was built in 1910 and serviced by the "traveling parson". The first main Telkwa school house, built in 1920, also remains and today houses the Telkwa Museum where memories and stories of the past come together. Many other residential and commercial buildings also remain as testaments of Telkwa's past and can be toured with a self-guided walking tour of the downtown core.
Visit Walking Tour of Historic Telkwa
Photographs and history courtesy of the Telkwa Museum. Contact Doug Boersema, 846-9642.
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