One-hundred and seventh in a semi-alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
The naming of Kuskonook (or Kuskanook) is intriguing on so many levels that we’ll devote a few installments to it.
The town near the south end of Kootenay Lake came to life during railway construction in 1898. It was previously — and for a while, simultaneously — known as Goat River Landing, Armstrong’s Landing, and Kalama.
It’s hard to know which name came first. The earliest mention of Armstrong’s Landing was in the Nelson Miner of Jan. 8, 1898: “The CPR is opening a route to Fort Steele by the new wagon road from Armstrong’s landing on Kootenay river.”
Goat River Landing and Kalama were both first mentioned four days later in The Kootenaian.
Armstrong’s Landing was named for Vancouver railway contractor William Henry Armstrong (1857-1922), as it was his headquarters during construction of the CPR’s Crowsnest Pass line.
Although the name Kalama was short-lived, it nevertheless had a presumably apocryphal story attached to its origin, related in the Nelson Economist of Feb. 2, 1898 by fictional correspondent Larry Finn:
“I had a letter from Tom Carey the other day, Tim. He has a job on the railway that they’re building up [by] Goat River, an’ he tells me that there’s a big town springing up at the landing. They calls it Kalama. That’s a quare name, but Carey tells me it was an Italian what gave it to it. A few ov the boys he says, got a bottle ov whiskey into the camp, an’ it was so bad that they were all giving it the worst name they could think ov … An Italian dropt in, an’ Carey axed him to have a drop of calamity water. The Italian went back to his camp an’ towld all his friends about the drink ov — he couldn’t think ov calamity-water an’ called it Kalama-water. They went looking for the Kalama-water, an’ when they found it at the landing they called the place Kalama, an’ the name stuck to it.”
The British Columbia News of Jan. 28, 1898 complained: “Goat River Landing, Armstrong’s Landing, Kalama, and perhaps more to follow! Will the new town be named to death? That is what the people of the bustling burg at the south end of Kootenay Lake want to know. They do not like the name of Kalama that some non-original person fasted upon it, probably in memory of the old town across the line … and are willing to take almost any other old thing rather than that.”
That “old town across the line” was Kalama, Wash., in the southwestern part of the state, which has three possible etymologies. The first says it was named after the Kalama River which in turn took its name from a native Hawaiian named John Kalama (fl. 1837-70).
Alternatively, Gen. J.W. Sprague of the Northern Pacific Railroad named the town in 1871 for a Native American word calama, meaning “pretty maiden.” And in 1811, Gabriel Franchere wrote of a village at the mouth of the Kalama River called Thlakamah.
Kalama also resembles Kalamaka, a lake and railway point south of Vernon, apparently named after an Okanagan chief named Tanamalka. The Kalamalka Hotel opened in Vernon in the early 1890s but the lake didn’t share the name until the 1910s.
Why so much fuss over the name? Competing railways. The Great Northern’s Kaslo and Slocan Railway, which owned the townsite property, planned to use it as the terminus of their Bedlington and Nelson line, and certainly wouldn’t accept the name of a rival company’s contractor.
They weren’t big on Kalama either, though a post office application had apparently been filed under that name. When president Daniel J. Munn and chief engineer John Hamilton Gray moved in to lay out the townsite, they chose yet another name.
Next: Kuskonook vs. Kuskanook
Previous installments in this series