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Blewett was once Belford
Fifteenth in a semi-alphabetical series on West Kootenay-Boundary place names
There’s a street sign in Blewett, the residential area adjacent to Nelson, that reads Bedford Road. It almost certainly should say Belford Road, the name by which Blewett was formerly known.
The Belford post office opened on October 1, 1911 but its etymology is a mystery. No one by that name lived there, though it may have been christened by someone from Belford, Northumberland, England. The prime suspect is Collingwood Gray (1867-1955), a Bonnington Falls fruit rancher who immigrated to Canada from Belford in 1909.
In Granite Road Memories, Mabel Atkinson (nee Sharpe) recalled the community was already known as Belford when her family arrived from England in May 1910, but the earliest reference yet discovered in the Nelson Daily News is dated January 4, 1913.
During the latter year, the Belford school opened on land donated by postmaster A.J. Laviolette. The post office closed on December 31, 1918 following Laviolette’s death, but reopened in an adjacent lot on May 1, 1923. It was then called Blewett, honouring storekeeper and postmaster William John Blewett (1870-1953).
In the Daily News of May 1, 1953, historian R.G. Joy described Blewett as a Cornish blacksmith who sharpened steel in the early days of the Silver King mine and also worked at mines in Rossland and elsewhere.
“He told me that he prospected in Montana and Idaho. He founded Blewett and later supervised the delivery of His Majesty’s mail from the store ... His store burned down later [so] he went home to Cornwall for a time for he was heir to a shoe store; he sold this and was in good financial standing for some time after ... Old-time miners gave him the title BABPM; maybe it stood for Blewett, a Blacksmith and Post Master.”
Blewett died in Rossland at 83.
For a while, Blewett and Belford were used interchangeably. Social notes with a Belford dateline were published into the 1920s and the community appeared in civic directories as late as the mid-1940s. Eventually, however, Blewett became firmly entrenched, although the post office closed on May 10, 1958.
Belford was perpetuated only through the school, which burned down on January 3, 1960 — thanks in part to its name. According to the Daily News, due to a misheard phone call, “Fire department and school officials rushed to Balfour instead of Belford. Chairman R.A. Phillips remarked that the two names could easily have been confused. By the time the fire department realized its mistake, and reached Belford, the school was a smouldering ruin.”
The school was rebuilt in 1962-63 and may have still been known as Belford in the planning stages, but as of September 1963, the name was officially changed to Blewett elementary.
After that Belford fell out of use, although it remained on the books until 2001, when the BC Geographic Names office finally rescinded it.
Curiously, in the last decade Belford has inadvertently appeared three times in Nelson newspapers. Twice in 2005, interviewees for The Express’ Street Talk column gave their hometown as “Belford, BC.” A caption in the Daily News of May 14, 2008 also claimed: “This photo was taken near the ferry dock looking back towards Belford.” Presumably Belford should have read Balfour.
The late Freda Mawer insisted Bedford Road was a highways department error, and should read Belford, but oldtimer Dave Norcross suggested it was just a coincidence.
Previous installments in this series