Ninetieth in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
For the last two weeks, we’ve been looking at how Howser got its name, but stopped short of investigating possible namesakes. While there is no definitive answer, there is a good deal of conjecture.
• Answering an inquiry from the Canadian Geographic Survey in 1905, postmaster William Simpson said Howser was “named after an old prospector Hauser who, report has it, found placer gold on Hauser Creek, brought out one summer several hundred dollars worth of gold dust, and the following summer, going back with a partner, neither of them was ever heard of again.”
• In the Arrow Lakes News of July 23, 1942, Charles J. Taylor wrote of prospecting on the Duncan River, ca. 1890: “We sold or rather bonded our claims to a man named Houser. (I think his full name was Harry Houser if my memory serves me right.)”
• In a ca. 1949 letter to A.G. Harvey held by the BC Archives, A.L. MacPhee wrote: “Bill Houser, prospector, lived in a cabin there alone … He left shortly after the CPR built the road in there. Where no one seems to know.”
• In a 1991 letter held by the Touchstones Nelson archives, the late Martin Lynch of Shutty Bench — an authority on Canadian place names — wrote that “The greatest mystery I know of in the naming of geographical features in the Kootenays is that of Howser.”
He then added “it is generally known that Howser is a misspelling of the surname of Fred Hauser or Houser, an early prospector in these parts. Fred Hauser came up from the States in  as a passenger aboard the original steamer on the Canadian part of the Columbia, the Forty Nine …
“It carried goldseekers on their way to the Big Bend rush. Hauser was among them. The Big Bend didn’t pan out. Hauser and a brother, or possibly brothers, were active in the various creek basins draining into the Duncan River and their counterparts that drained the eastern slopes of the Purcells to the upper Columbia. What I find interesting about the Hausers is that there is so little information on them.”
Lynch said he discussed the matter with Phillip and Helen Akrigg, authors of British Columbia Place Names, who saw a letter from a nephew or great-nephew of Fred Hauser, who lived near Sacramento.
Lynch repeated some of this in a letter to the provincial toponymist in 1997, in which he referred to Fred’s brother as John. Unfortunately, he didn’t provide any sources.
• B.R. Atkins wrote in the Vancouver Province of April 1, 1922 that one of the passengers on the maiden voyage of the Forty Nine was “Hauser of Hauser Lake.”
(Paul and Marion Howser of Reigate, Surrey, England, who have spent years trying to figure out how Howser was named, looked at the passenger manifest of that journey, held by the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane, only to discover the relevant pages were torn out at least 90 years ago.)
Mr. Hauser — Fred, Bill, or Harry — seems to be of a class of phantom prospectors who allegedly gave their names to local places. Others include Jean Kasleau and John Lardo, neither of whom probably existed (we’ll get to them later in this series).
• The BC vital events index lists only one Howser — Shade R. Howser of Vancouver, who married Maude M. Bonavitz in 1912. But as he was then 33, he would only have been eight in 1887 when Howser Creek was already named.
• There is only one Howser in all of Canada on the 1881 census, Mary W. Howser in Ontario, but plenty of Hausers and Housers. On the 1891 census, there are ten people named Howser in Ontario and one in Manitoba. On the 1901 census, there are no Howsers in BC, although there is a William Hauser, 30, in West Kootenay, plus a John and William Houser, ages 33 and 35.
• On the 1898 BC voters list, there is one Hauser, and two Housers, but no Howsers.
• The Miner of March 27, 1897 mentioned “Howser and LaPoint have purchased the lots formerly occupied by the Windsor hotel [at Ainsworth] and intend erecting a large hotel …” W.S. Houser was listed as a miner in Ainsworth in the 1899 BC directory.
Even if the exact namesake remains elusive, Paul Howser is convinced Howser is the correct spelling, based on the cartographic record: before 1900 there were at least 28 uses of Howser on maps but none of Hauser. Furthermore, the first mentions of Howser Creek and Howser Lake, in newspapers and on maps, all used that spelling.
Is there a relationship between Howser, BC and Hauser, Idaho? The latter and its corresponding lake were named by 1888 for former Montana territorial governor Samuel Thomas Hauser (1833-1914).
While Paul doesn’t think S.T. Hauser is Howser’s namesake, he does suspect he may have indirectly influenced William Simpson and Shirley Keeling when their townsite on Duncan Lake was resurveyed in 1900.
They called it Hauser, perhaps hoping it would help convince the Great Northern to use their town as the terminus for their Kaslo and Lardo-Duncan line. The company was already familiar with that name, since one of their railways ran through the Idaho town. But if that was the idea, Simpson and Keeling were unsuccessful.
While he was an influential position, Simpson was unsuccessful in convincing others to use his preferred spelling. Although his store’s billheads read Hauser, he stamped mail with a cancellation that said Howser.
Next: Who was Duncan?
Previous installments in this series