Our winery proudly honours the name and spirit of one of the region’s most legendary pioneers, William Baillie-Grohman, who had an adventurous nature and love of the wilderness. Relocating to the area in 1890, Baillie-Grohman had a vision that the area along the Creston Valley Flats could be converted into rich farmland .
‘Like the Okanagan Valley, ground crops were first planted in the Creston Valley; the evolution of this rich agricultural area led to orchards and tree fruits, and today, in select microclimates, vinifera grapes emerge.’
William Baillie-Grohman was a European aristocrat raised in a wealthy and privileged home. Despite these comforts, he was most at ease in the wilderness exploring new land, bearing little tolerance for society and its constraints. An avid outdoorsman and adventurer, Baillie-Grohman wrote many books on hunting, mountain climbing and wildlife.
Legend has it that during the summer of 1882, Baillie-Grohman first came across the Creston Valley in British Columbia while hunting goats on Mount Thompson with his friend (and future United States president) Teddy Roosevelt. He immediately saw the possibilities that the region held and began investigating ways of reclaiming land from the annual flooding of the Kootenay River. In 1883, he travelled to Victoria to propose a reclamation scheme that involved the removal of a natural dam at the narrow mouth of Kootenay Lake, and the creation of a dike system that would divert water and ultimately expose new land for farming.
Baillie-Grohman’s trip to Victoria was fruitful, as he was granted a ten-year lease on 47,500 acres of land in addition to being named Justice of the Peace for the Kootenay district. However, the government placed conditions on the land lease, one in particular requiring Baillie-Grohman to run a steamboat on the navigable sections of the Kootenay River to transport people and goods.
Baillie-Grohman travelled to England to raise funds for his scheme and returned, bringing with him the tiny steamboat named ‘The Midge’. The Midge had an interesting journey to its new home, travelling first strapped to the deck of a freighter between Britain and Montreal, then overland by rail to Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho, and finally floated up the Kootenay River.
Armed with the necessary funding and tools, Baillie-Grohman first set his attention to ‘The Narrows’. His blasting of the stubborn natural rock dam was unsuccessful, which forced him to turn his attention to diking the river and 8,000 acres were briefly reclaimed in an area known as Creston Flats. Unfortunately, the following year a flood destroyed the dikes. Another unsuccessful attempt was made at The Narrows in 1898. It was finally finished in 1930 when the West Kootenay Power and Light Company completed the job.
Folklore has it that Baillie-Grohman encouraged British farmers to locate to the area in 1884 to assist with building a general store, sawmill and the dike system. But these hard-working people also cleared and planted orchards on the slopes in the town of Creston and are credited as the first to see the area’s potential for tree fruits.
Despite his reclamation schemes being thwarted, Baillie-Grohman’s efforts did not go unnoticed. He holds a rich place in the history of the Creston Valley as one of its most colourful pioneers. Today 25,110 acres in the Creston Valley lie secure behind 53 miles of dikes. The remains of his steamboat, the S.S. Midge, can be found in the Creston Museum.