by George P. Markin
In 1929-1934, eight Independent Doukhobor families from Saskatchewan established a farming hamlet at Hill Siding in the Slocan Valley of British Columbia. Other families of different backgrounds followed, and it soon became a busy lumber village. The following article written by the late George P. Markin (1905-1975) describes some of his early memories of Hills, British Columbia. Reproduced from the Arrow Lakes News (Nakusp, British Columbia, December 16, 1981).
To my knowledge, no written record exists of the beginnings of Hills, therefore, the events herein will necessarily be personal recollection and experiences.
Hills originally consisted of only a C.P.R. siding to which two brothers by the name of Hill lent their name. As accurately as I can remember the information related to me, the brothers came to the area sometime in the late twenties to conduct a sawmill operation at the head of Slocan Lake and used that siding from which to transport the finished product of their mill.
The first farm settler was Pete Vanin who, with his family, immigrated from Saskatchewan where he managed grain elevators, first to the Castlegar area, and subsequently to Hills Siding, as it was then called, in 1929 where he was to cut out a farm out of the wilderness with the aid of his strapping sons. Other pioneers following Mr. Vanin were Bill Saprikin, Fred Chernoff and Helmer Flodin.
CPR lumber siding in the Slocan Valley of British Columbia, c. 1925.
There was yet no road into that area, and belongings necessary to start a farmstead, complete with stock, had to be transported first by rail, then by sternwheeler (S.S. Rosebery) down Slocan Lake and again by rail to the Siding from which stemmed a future community.
It is my wife’s vivid recollection making her first trip to this far away new frontier where her father, Pete Vanin, pioneered. As was necessary and the only way, she, along with our daughter Ann, who was one year old at the time, in 1929 came by rail and boat to Rosebery, where her two brothers, Fred and Nick Vanin met them. They came by horseback along the railway track. My wife was to have ridden one of these animals seven miles back to the farm, however, as the circumstances were such that she was with child once again and never having straddled a horse before, she refused to be put on it, so walked all the way. It all seemed par for the course at the time.
Land was purchased from the government at $2.50 an acre and cleared by hand.
I trundled my family of wife and four children to Hills Siding in April 1934. With my parents, Mr. and Mrs. P.W. Markin, we hacked a place out of the wilderness, built a log and mud-chinked house, a customary rectangular one with a door smack in the middle of each of the short walls and a window on either side of it.
Farming on the scale that this land allowed was not of sufficient reward to sustain one’s needs, so I went to work for the C.P.R. where I remained for 18 years.
The first school was opened in a log cabin on the property of Marc DuMont, with his daughter, Rosalee, as teacher. The class consisted of about 12 pupils, including the children of the C.P.R. Section foreman at that time. Mr. DuMont came to Hills Siding from the Castlegar area with his wife and seven children and started up a sawmill operation shortly after, where a number of men from Hills Siding were employed.
A one-room school house was built soon after and averaged 20 pupils throughout the year.
In 1950 began the process of transferring the pupils to New Denver, ten miles away, and the first three Gr. 10 pupils were taken there by car. A few years hence, all grades were transferred to New Denver and the old school house doors closed for academic purposes when it was bought by the Hills Community to be used as a community hall.
The first grocery store was opened by John A. Poznikoff in 1938 and consisted of a few shelves tacked up in the wall of his living room. He later moved his stock to a separate location and added a gas pump.
View of the Bonanza Creek valley from Hills, British Columbia.
A second grocery store was opened by George P. Markin (the author) in 1947, to which was added a Post Office in June of 1952, George P. Markin, Postmaster. Prior to this time, mail had to be posted and collected in Rosebery, seven miles away.
At this time, it must of necessity be mentioned, that without the special efforts of a good friend, the late Bishop H. Embling of New Denver, and the fair consideration of our M.P. Bert Herridge (also now deceased), the granting of postal services may never have occurred as there was considerable opposition from a number of sources to this venture. So these men also figured in the development of this community.
To distinguish from other “Sidings” throughout the Slocan Valley, the postal department deemed it advisable to change the name of Hills Siding to “Hills” shortly after its inception and thus it remains.
The Post Office closed in 1970 as did many such small Post Offices, due to the Government’s austerity program.
by 1970, the logging boom was over in the Slocan Valley and the village slowly disappeared. The siding was discontinued in 1981 with the abandonment of the Canadian Pacific Rail line from New Denver to Rosebery. Today Hills, British Columbia is a rural residential area dotted with small farms.
The annual Hills Garlic Festival. Since 1982, this harvest festival has become the highlight of the Hills community and attracts over 5000 people of all ages with lively music, great food and entertainment.