Twenty-ninth in an almost alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
For decades Castlegar ranked as one of West Kootenay’s most perplexing place name mysteries, right up there with Howser, Passmore, and Waneta.
But unlike those others, which remain unsolved, its origin has been definitively established. Turns out the answer was there all along — just obscured.
The story of how Castlegar got its name, and how it was lost for a century, is so remarkable that we’ll devote a few installments to it. The short answer is that it comes from the Irish ancestral home of the townsite’s founder.
Castlegar, Ahascragh, County Galway was erected around 1815 by Sir Ross Mahon, and was the third home by that name on the property, where the Mahons settled in the late 17th century. The name, which is also found in several other places in Ireland, is derived from the Gaelic caisleán gearr, meaning “short castle.”
Sir Ross’ grandson Edward Mahon (1862-1937) came to BC from England to make his fortune in real estate and mining. With brothers John and Gilbert, he owned several claims in the Nelson and Slocan mining divisions.
In 1891, Mahon bought the ranch that would become north Castlegar from Albert McCleary, who pre-empted the site three years earlier and operated a ferry across the Columbia River. In 1897, with construction of a railway between Trail and Robson West imminent, Mahon decided to create a townsite.
On May 22 of that year the Nelson Miner reported: “A new town is to be established at the terminus of the northern extension of the Columbia and Western railway, on the west bank of the Columbia river and opposite Robson. The site is better known as the McCleary ranch, a tract of land admirably situated for the building of a town. The new burg has not yet been named.”
Provincial land surveyor Henry B. Smith laid out Castlegar on November 15 and deposited the plan at the land registry in Rossland early the next year. The avenues originally followed a mining theme: Silver, Nickel, Copper, Granite, Quartz, Iron, Steel, Galena, Cobalt, and Platinum, plus Broadway and Park. The streets were Cedar, Pine, Maple, Elm, and Main.
As Castlegar was coming to life on paper, Mahon and his brothers were negotiating with Augustus Heinze, who was building the railway to serve his Trail smelter. On October 12, 1897, Edward wrote in a letter: “We closed with Heinze re: Castlegar Townsite.”
The agreement would see Heinze and the Mahons jointly develop the town — or so Edward hoped. But bitter disappointment lay ahead. More on that next week.
For the full story of the Castlegar townsite and its founder, see Walter Volovsek’s The Green Necklace: The Vision Quest of Edward Mahon, published last year.
Previous installments in this series