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Christina Lake named for woman’s bravery

The Boundary’s most spectacular body of water is named for Christina MacDonald McKenzie Williams, who saved her father’s valuable papers. - Greg Nesteroff photo
The Boundary’s most spectacular body of water is named for Christina MacDonald McKenzie Williams, who saved her father’s valuable papers.
— image credit: Greg Nesteroff photo

Thirty-second in an almost alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names

Few local place names honour women, much less ones with First Nations ancestry. The major exception is Christina Lake, named after Christina McDonald McKenzie Williams (1847-1925).

She was born in present-day Idaho, the second-eldest child of Angus McDonald, chief Hudson’s Bay Company trader at Fort Colville, Wash., and Catherine Baptiste, a cousin to a Nez Perce chief.

Christina was close to her father, whom she travelled with and acted as interpreter and bookkeeper for. Their annual trip to Fort Kamloops followed a trail along the Kettle River, which had to be crossed at one point.

According to a 1945 manuscript on Boundary place names by Rupert Haggen, during one trip Christina’s raft fell apart and she was thrown into the water along with the buckskin sack containing her father’s books and papers. She was swept downstream, but upon being rescued was still holding the satchel.

Some sources state the Hudson’s Bay Company was so impressed with her courage that they named the lake in her honour. However, Haggen said the name was not bestowed directly by the company, but rather “In appreciation of her efforts … the Council of Indian Chiefs bequeathed ‘to her, her heirs, executors and assigns forever’ the sole right to hunt, fish or trap over that area tributary to Christina Lake and Creek. Henceforth, the stream and consequently the lake, bore the name Christina.” (Unfortunately, Haggen’s source is unclear.)

In an autobiography published in the Washington Historical Quarterly of April 1922, Christina McDonald acknowledged she was the lake’s namesake but didn’t explain the circumstances. She recalled that in 1878, she and her first husband, Hudson’s Bay clerk James McKenzie, left for Victoria along with Joe LaFlure, another company man: “When we came to Christina Creek, LaFlure said in French, ‘Here is your Creek, Christina.’ Christina Lake and Creek are named after me.”

There’s also an alternate and undoubtedly wrong origin in the Canadian Geographical Names Database which states the lake was named “after an Indian girl, born on its shore, and baptized Christina by a priest; later drowned in same lake.”

Christina Lake first appeared on an 1871 map by J.W. Trutch, but the earliest newspaper reference isn’t until the Victoria Daily Colonist of January 13, 1893.

Previously geographer John Palliser wrote in his journal entry of September 26, 1859: “Proceeding along the crest of this hill for several miles, we at length came in sight of a lake, called by the Indians Lake Nichelaam, to which they repair to fish late in the autumn from the south.” The translation of Nichelaam isn’t known.

The Christina Lake post office opened on August 16, 1912, became a summer post office in 1923, closed September 30, 1930, re-opened as a summer post office from July 1, 1939 to 1944, and then became a year-round office again. It amalgamated with the Cascade post office on June 30, 1973.

A much more detailed biography of Christina McDonald by Jack and Claire Nisbet, along with a photo of her, can be found at historylink.org.

Previous installments in this series

Introduction

Ainsworth

Alamo

Anaconda

Annable, Apex, and Arrow Park

Annable, revisited

Appledale

Applegrove, Appleby, and Appledale revisited

Argenta and Arrowhead

Aylwin

Bakers, Birds, and Bosun Landing

Balfour

Bannock City, Basin City, and Bear Lake City

Beasley

Beaton

Bealby Point

Belford and Blewett

Beaverdell and Billings

Birchbank and Birchdale

Blueberry and Bonnington

Boswell, Bosworth, Boulder Mill, and Broadwater

Brandon

Brilliant

Brooklyn, Brouse, and Burnt Flat

Burton

Camborne, Cariboo City, and Carrolls Landing

Carson, Carstens, and Cascade City

Casino and Champion Creek

Castlegar, Part 1

Castlegar, Part 2

Castlegar, Part 3

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