History and mystery of Archibald House

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It’s a brick house – rare in our town. It sits by itself, empty, surrounded by enormous trees. Pictures from when it was first built show it sitting on bare land, so those trees were planted by someone. It’s called the Archibald House although that is not a name, just a description. It was built by a wealthy man with a purpose; he needed to be able to commute to work but his commuter vehicle was an airplane and his work was in Trail, Fernie and Kimberley.

William Archibald was the chief engineer for what is now Teck, once Cominco, and before that, the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company, known as CM&S. His wife, Mary was a notable gardener and probably planted the trees and oversaw the extensive landscaping of their property in Creston. She won awards for horticulture.

William Munroe Archibald, was born in Truro, Nova Scotia, on February 23, 1876. He was educated there and at McGill University, Montreal, where he graduated in 1897 with an engineering degree in mining and eventually went to work for Cominco in Trail.

This property on Erickson Road now houses the Creston and District Therapeutic Riding Centre and Spectrum Farms. Before that, it was known familiarly as The Endicott Centre, and was used for the care and housing of mentally disabled children and adults. The house was probably built in 1929, when the Archibalds moved from Rossland to Creston.

Most of the landscaping has disappeared although there are still rock walls, beautiful rose bushes, and giant maple and fir trees. The house has been partly restored, but mostly sits empty. But even a brief tour shows that it must have once been a beautiful home with its high ceilings, beautiful bay window, and large living and dining areas.

It’s hard to find much about William and Mary. However, William Archibald is in the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame, so it is possible to find a little bit more information about him than his wife. He also spent much of his working life in Rossland, before moving to Creston and he died in Toronto, so perhaps that is one reason why people in Creston seem to know little about him.

His biography on the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame website notes that he was an aviation pioneer, opening up many new flying routes in Canada, in particular he was the first aviator into Yellowknife and responsible for opening a mine there, as well as pioneering the first air route into Stewart BC. He was the first aviator to make a wheeled airplane flight from coast to coast across Canada. He was known as Canada’s Flying Businessman.

Besides commuting by plane, one of the things that Archibald did as well was open a flying school, an airfield somewhere just below Creston, where pilots were trained to fly for Cominco.

Called the Cominco Flying Service, this pilot training school was staffed with World War I aviators who were hired to train young company engineers to fly planes for prospecting, and transporting crew and equipment.  By 1932, ten aircraft were in use almost daily. Strangely enough, Archibald himself didn’t learn to fly until he was fifty-three and bought his first airplane. Until then, he had always flown with a pilot.

Archibald retired in 1939 after 38 years with Cominco. He became a senior mining consultant, maintaining an active interest in mining engineering from his Toronto office. He served for many years as a Director of de Havilland Aircraft of Canada. He died in Toronto, Ontario, on November 10, 1949.

However, Mary stayed on in Creston, becoming a notable woman of the town, serving on many committees and renowned as a gardener. She died in 1951 in the Creston Hospital

William and Mary had two children, Donald and Alice. Alice married Frederick Rutley and moved to Ontario and Donald stayed on the property in Creston and then moved to a house near the Anglican Church.

In 1962, Donald Archibald sold this large family estate to the Kootenay Society for Handicapped Children, which had been established by Dr.W.F. Endicott, of Trail, in 1951. The Archibald property then consisted of forty acres of orchards, gardens and hay fields.  There were some brick outbuildings which included a double garage, a steam heating plant and a gardener’s home. All of these buildings were supplied with Creston water and there were wells for irrigating the orchards and fields. The Archibald House originally served as the administration centre for the Endicott Centre, and then in 1971 it was renovated and furnished as “adult residential accommodation.”

Stories do circulate in the community about this house, whether or not it is haunted, what or didn’t go on there. One story I heard was about the “man in the wall,” possibly an escaped mental patient who lived in the basement and was fed and cared for by the handicapped adults living there at that time.

The house itself is a beautiful landmark in Creston and I personally very much look forward to the day when it can be fully restored and refurbished as the historical and beautiful place that it once was. I would love to know more about the gardens and the trees and it would be fantastic if part of or all of them could be restored as well. The good news is that the Kootenay Regional Society for Community Living will begin renovations on the house in September this year, in order for it to be used as an agri-tourism destination.