Seventy-ninth in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
Last week we began looking at how Gray Creek, on the East Shore of Kootenay Lake, got its name. It was on the map by 1893, although it was also known as Grays, Gray’s Creek, Grey’s Creek, and Ironton. Conventional wisdom has it that it was named after John Hamilton Gray (1853-1941), a land surveyor who worked in the area in the 1890s. However, nothing links him to that specific spot.
There’s another more probable namesake: prospector and rancher Alden (or Aulden) Samuel Gray (1849-1942), a native of New Annan, Nova Scotia. In the 1880s, he and brother George operated a lime works at Lakeview, Idaho, near the south end of Lake Pend Oreille, where a sternwheeler stop came to be known as Gray’s Landing. Later they ran the steamer Spokane on the Kootenay River.
According to Terry Turner and Susan Hulland in Impressions of the Past, Alden and wife Mary staked claims at Gray Creek and Crawford Bay in April 1893. Alden also pre-empted 160 acres on the west side of Kootenay Lake on June 25, 1894, where another landing took his name, first mentioned in the Victoria Colonist of October 28, 1896. The latter described mining claims at the head of Kokanee Creek as “12 miles from Gray’s landing, which is 12 miles east of Nelson.”
Several more Crown grants were issued to the Grays between 1897 and 1901, although their Kokanee pre-emption was cancelled in 1898.
The Nelson Tribune of August 29, 1900 reported: “Al Gray of Gray’s Landing was in the city yesterday securing signatures to a petition urging the government to extend the Molly Gibson wagon road.”
John Patrick Redding, Gray Creek’s first settler, had a prospecting partner named Gray, who may well have been Al. Redding and Gray discovered the Five Metals mine and according to Kathleen Lymbery’s unpublished history of Gray Creek written in 1958, cut cord wood for the Pilot Bay smelter. They also built a cabin of cedar logs at the upper end of their flume on Croasdaile Creek, which Kathleen’s husband moved to their store’s auto camp in 1933. It stood there until 2008, when it was moved next to the Gray Creek Hall.
Redding filed a pre-emption “north of the mouth of Grays Creek” in 1900, by which time he had his own namesake creek nearby. He, his wife, and son were listed as residents of “Gray’s Creek” on the 1901 census.
What became of Al Gray? He sold his ranch in May 1906 for $3,500. The Ledge reported on July 19 that year that he would “leave Nelson on August 7 upon a grand tour of Nova Scotia. Upon his return in November he intends to visit Alaska for the purpose of testing its climate in the winter time.”
The same newspaper stated on April 28, 1910: “Al Gray is planting fruit trees upon his pre-emption near Meanskinisht, 40 miles from Hazelton. He was one of the pioneer ranchers of Kootenay lake and says that fruit will grow up the Skeena river equally as well as it will around Nelson.”
The paper added on September 12, 1912 that Gray was busy tunneling a copper claim adjoining his ranch. He was dealt a setback that fall when his house burned. However, he spent more than 30 years in the district before he died in Hazelton at 94.
— Thanks to Frances Roback and Tom and Sharon Lymbery
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