The Meadow Creek Museum recently received a very unique artifact of local historical significance: a pair of snowshoes made by pioneer Billy Clark of Howser.
In 1907, when he was only 20, William (Billy) Clark waved his England birthplace goodbye and ventured to Canada. The following year he arrived at the hamlet of Howser on Duncan Lake and settled quickly into the challenges of living in wilderness.
He became a local legend for his friendly, easy-going personality, his quick learning of pioneer skills, and his interest in wildlife. During his life he worked in the upper Lardeau and Duncan valleys as cook, watchman, river-freighter, trapper, guide, and prospector.
Driven by gold fever, he and a partner discovered the lead-zinc vein that became the nucleus of Cominco’s Duncan Lake mine. Also, Clark and two other Howser friends — Charlie Mallock and Bertie Board —operated the nearby Bullock mine for a year or two before it became famous for its gold production.
During his middle years, Clark started making snowshoes — following the distinctive Ralph Kenyon pattern — that sold throughout North America. It is said that even at 175 pairs per year, Clark was unable to keep up with demand. He constructed the frames of vine maple that he steamed for bending and then strung with strips of raw cowhide. It became his morning routine to string a pair of snowshoes before getting on with the rest of his day.
Forced from his cabin by water rising behind Duncan dam, Clark moved to Nelson and passed away there in 1970. Snowshoes bearing the initial “K” were made by his mentor, Ralph Kenyon, and those bearing the initial “C” were made by Billy Clark. His tools were turned over to the Kaslo Boys Scouts.
Recently, Janet Stevenson, who grew up in Argenta and well remembers Clark, contacted the museum from her present-day home in Oregon to announce that she owned a pair of snowshoes made by Clark and would like to donate the pair to the Meadow Creek Museum. Needless to say, the museum board is thrilled.
Stevenson herself is to be considered a Kootenay Lake old-timer. In 1952, at age six, she moved with her siblings and her parents, John and Helen, to Canada from California. They were among the first Quaker settlers of Argenta. Stevenson remained in Argenta until 1964. Although she has always longed to return to the Kootenays to live, so far the opportunity has eluded her.