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The Kootenay (// KOOT-nee) region (in common parlance "The Kootenays") comprises the southeastern portion of British Columbia. It takes its name from the Kootenay River, which in turn was named for the Ktunaxa (or Kootenai or Kutenai) First Nation first encountered by explorer David Thompson.
The Kootenays are more or less defined by the Kootenay Land District, though some variation exists in terms of what areas are or are not a part. The strictest definition of the region is the drainage basin of the lower Kootenay River from its re-entry into Canada near Creston, through to its confluence with the Columbia at Castlegar (illustrated by a, right). In most interpretations, however, the region also includes:
- an area to the east which encompasses the upper drainage basin of the Kootenay River from its rise in the Rocky Mountains to its passage into the U.S.A. at Newgate. This adds a region spanning from the Purcell Mountains to the Alberta border, and includes Rocky Mountain Trench cities such as Cranbrook and Kimberley and the Elk Valley of the southern Canadian Rockies, centred on Fernie. This region also includes part of the Flathead River drainage basin. (illustrated by b)
- an area to the southwest encompassing the Columbia's drainage from the Kootenay confluence south to the U.S. Border plus the Salmo River basin. This adds the communities of Rossland, Castlegar, Fruitvale and Salmo (illustrated by c)
Some or all of the following areas to the north, which drain into the Columbia River, are also commonly included in the Kootenays:
- The Arrow Lakes area, which adds Nakusp. (illustrated by d)
- The Upper Columbia Valley, which parallels the first section of the Kootenay River, including the communities of Invermere and Radium Hot Springs (illustrated by e)
- The Columbia drainage between the Kicking Horse Pass and the Rogers Pass, in and around the town of Golden. (illustrated by f)
- The Columbia drainage between the Rogers Pass and the Eagle Pass, in and around the town of Revelstoke. (illustrated by g)
When the above regions are added, sometimes the region's name is morphed into Columbia-Kootenay or Kootenay-Columbia, although that terminology also includes the Big Bend Country and Kinbasket Lake, to the north of Golden and Revelstoke, which is not generally considered part of the Kootenays, though part of the Kootenay Land District.
Finally, the Boundary Country, a southern east-west corridor between the Okanagan and the Bonanza Pass and drained by the basins of the Kettle and Granby Rivers, is sometimes mentioned as being in the West Kootenay, and in other reckonings as being part of the Okanagan. In actuality, the settlement of the Boundary Country predates development in either of the regions it is now attached to, as is also the case with the Similkameen Country to the west of the Okanagan. In some descriptions, the Boundary Country includes Osoyoos and Oliver in the South Okanagan (rather than the other way around). The Boundary Country is (illustrated by h) In the event of its inclusion, the Kootenays could be described as the complete Canadian portion of the Columbia Basin minus lands drained by the Okanagan River.
Naming and subdivision
Contingent on the above boundaries, the Kootenays are commonly split either into East and West, or East, Central and West.
- The usual East-West separator is the northward leg of the Kootenay River (mostly Kootenay Lake) with the Duncan River as a northern extension. This places Creston and points east in the East Kootenay (or East Kootenays) and Kaslo and points west in the West Kootenay (or West Kootenays). The Slocan Valley, though something of a region in its own right, is also considered to be part of the West Kootenay, and is in a strict geographic sense as the Slocan River is a tributary of the Kootenay River.
- The usual East-Central-West separators are the Purcell Mountains splitting East from Central and the Selkirk Mountains splitting Central from West.
It remains unclear why both Kootenay and Kootenays are used somewhat interchangeably to describe the area. The plural form is in reference to The Kootenays, both East and West; the singular is in reference to the Kootenay Region. In practice the two terms are used interchangeably, although one indicates a geographical region and the other a legal boundary, the Kootenay Land District, which was identical with the original federal and provincial Kootenay ridings.
Originally settled by miners and smelter workers, the district now includes an important fruit-growing section (Creston Valley) and numerous commercial centers, including Grand Forks, Robson, Ymir, Warfield, Montrose, Fruitvale, Salmo, Trail, Nelson, Slocan, Playmor, Winlaw, Cranbrook, Kimberley, Fernie, Castlegar, Rossland, Erickson,and Creston.
A number of Community Radio stations have developed in the region, most notably CJLY-FM in Nelson and CIDO-FM in Creston. These stations usually operate either as a Cooperative or as a non-profit Society.