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British Columbia:  East Kootenay (Radium Hotsprings,  Fairmont Hotsprings, Canal Flats)
Kootenay National Park
Paint Pots & Mt Vermillion (2600 m = 8450 feet)
This is a native spiritual place "from where the red earth spirit is taken". Lootenay, Stoney, Cree and other tribes travelled great distances to gather pigments to make cermonial body paints and to adorn their teepees. Minig for commerical paints use was stopped in 1920 when Kootenay National Park was created, enabling us to continue to enjoy the beauty of this sacred place. A huge fire in 2003, a massive fire burned for 40 days, clearing a large portion of the forest you see in this pre-fire photo.

The Ktunaxa (formerly Kootenay), as well as the Stoney and Blackfoot tribes, collected ochre here for important ceremonies and for trade. The yellow ochre was cleaned, kneaded with water into walnut sized balls, then flattened into cakes and baked. The red powder was mixed with fish oil or animal grease to paint their bodies, tipis, clothing or pictures on the rocks. These paintings depicted many objects from day to day life as well as more abstract drawings from dreams or to represent supernatural beings. The Paint Pots site is still considered a sacred site by First Nations today. Please treat it with respect - stay on the trail and do not remove the ochre.

Dr. James Hector of the Palliser Expedition was likely the first European to visit the ochre beds. In August of 1858, Hector and his party crossed Vermilion Pass from the Bow Valley and descended the Vermilion River. In his journal he gives the first written description of the area: "Here in the corner of the valley on the right side is the Vermilion Plain, which is about a mile in extent, with a small stream flowing through it. Its surface is entirely covered in red ochre ...the Kootenaie Indians come to this plain sometimes and we found the remains of a camp and a large fire which they had used to convert the ochre into the red oxide which they take away to the Indians of the low country and also to the Blackfoot..."

In the early 1900s the ochre beds were mined for use as paint pigment. It was dug by hand shovels, put in sacks then taken 25 km by horse-drawn wagons to the C.P.Railway at Castle Mountain where it was sent by train to Calgary paint factories. In the 1920s on-site horse-drawn scoops, clay tiles, and grinding machinery was used to collect, roast and grind the oxide. Lower rows we see today are the last loads abandoned when the park was formed.

East Kootenay: Columbia Valley - Radium, Fairmont, Canal Flats, Fort Steele
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