One-hundred eleventh in a somewhat alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
Lardeau — or Lardo — is one of the most puzzling and complicated place names in West Kootenay, so we’ll devote a few installments to it.
The name has been applied to a river, creek, park, mountain pass, range, valley, and two towns between the north end of Kootenay Lake and northeast arm of Upper Arrow Lake. This week we’ll look at its origin, which is still undetermined despite several theories.
The earliest mention, spelled Lardo, is in the Victoria Daily Colonist of March 24, 1885, although the name might be much older than that: “To reach the objective point at Farwell … one may either run up the Columbia river valley, or take the Kootenay lake and Lardo river route …”
The first use of the spelling Lardeau was in the Kootenay Star of Revelstoke, reprinted in the Vancouver Daily World on Oct. 1, 1889: “The Stewart engineering party, having made the trip through the Lardeau Pass …”
A seldom-used third spelling, Lardeaux, first appeared in George W. Dawson’s Report on a Portion of the West Kootanie [sic] District, British Columbia in 1889 and in the Vancouver Daily World on July 23, 1889, quoting the Kootenay Star: “Frank J. Goldsmith, David Lowry and John McDonald started on Monday in a row boat for the North Arm and will cross to the Lardeaux, 18 miles, where they will make a camp for placer mining, remaining all winter.”
The first observation on the varied spelling was in the Nelson Miner of Dec. 17, 1892: “[T]he Lardo or Lardeau district — what is the correct way to spell the name of this river, we wonder?”
The first comment on the origin appeared in the Kaslo Claim on May 12, 1893: “The word Lardo is the subject of much dispute regarding the correct orthography. The maps of the province spell it Lardeaux in the United States and along the Arrow Lakes preference is given to Lardeau, but along Kootenay Lake and in most of the towns in the district it is written Lardo. The derivation of the word is in doubt but it is said to be the name of a French voyageur who visited the country in early days.”
When the Geographic Board of Canada asked postmaster Chris McDonald in the early 1900s where the name came from, he replied that it was after John Lardo, a prospector. However, the 1881 and 1891 censuses of Canada finds no one with the surname Lardo or Lardeau.
Some have suggested the region was named after a prospector, Lardo Jack McDonald, but it was almost certainly the other way around. The earliest mention of his nickname was in the Nelson Miner of July 2, 1892.
The late Bill Laux wrote in the Winter 2003 edition of BC Historical News that Lardo was the name given to the region in 1865 by surveyor and mapmaker James Turnbull, who was sent by Joseph Trutch to check out a route from Upper Arrow Lake to Kootenay Lake and a possible pass from there to Lake Windermere.
However, Laux didn’t give any sources and the name doesn’t appear on Trutch’s 1871 map of BC. In any case, Laux speculated that Lardo came from “the prospectors’ term for a rich or ‘fat’ country, probably referring to the abundance of fish and game … Lardo was, in the 19th century, a vulgar adjective for a rich or fat prospect.”
Indeed, lardo is a type of Italian cold cut made by curing strips of fatback with herbs and spices while lardon is a strip or cube of bacon used to lard meat. But despite what Laux wrote, no 19th century examples have yet turned up of lardo being used to generically refer to something fat.
R.E. Gosnell wrote in his 1897 British Columbia Yearbook that Lardo was “Properly Alado” provided no further explanation. (Alado means winged in Spanish.) In 1949, A.G. Harvey wrote to the BC Provincial Archives inquiring about the Alado reference. Archivist William Ireland responded: “To date we have not been able to find anything.”
Next: Historians stumped
Previous installments in this series