ABOVE: The Lion's Head

Mystery behind Castlegar took century to solve

For the past two weeks, we’ve been looking at Castlegar, named for Edward Mahon’s Irish ancestral home — a fact locals swiftly forgot.

Thirty-first in a roughly alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names

For the past two weeks, we’ve been looking at Castlegar, which townsite founder Edward Mahon named in 1897 for his Irish ancestral home — a fact locals swiftly forgot. Several alternate theories emerged:

• That during railway construction, a building resembled Castle Garden, the 19th century New York immigration port, which led to the shortened Castlegar.

• That ‘Castle’ referred to a prominent rock formation overlooking Robson (otherwise known as the Lion’s Head) and gar was Gaelic for ‘rock.’ However, gar does not mean rock in Gaelic.

• That ‘Castle’ was for the Castle Rock, but ‘gar’ was after Algar Johnson, an early settler, sometimes nicknamed ‘Gar.’

• That two homesick CPR engineers, Sullivan and Murphy, named a water tank Castlebar, after the capital of County Mayo, Ireland. A mapping error somehow changed it to Castlegar.

It was also suggested Castlegar might have been named directly after a place in Ireland, but usually assumed the namesake was a community in County Galway, not the Mahon estate.

Only once was the true origin hinted at locally: the Castlegar News’ 1967 centennial edition told of Robson resident J. Heslop, who visited the manor in Ireland and met George “Mahan” — Edward’s nephew.

The mystery persisted despite several dead giveaways. When Edward died in 1937, his Vancouver Sun obituary explicitly stated Castlegar was named for his family seat.

In the 1970s, Edward’s son Bryan visited Castlegar with his family but was dismayed that no one seemed to know or care how the city got its name.

In 1988, Eleanore Dempster wrote The Laughing Bridge: A Personal History of the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which also said Edward Mahon named Castlegar, but locals failed to notice.

In fact, it wasn’t until 2002, when Phil Markin, the city’s director of development services, looked at the original townsite plan and found Edward Mahon listed as the owner that Castlegar’s founder began to receive his due.

Bryan Mahon died in 2005 but his wife Marolyn has since visited Castlegar a few times and received a much warmer reception.

Local historian Walter Volovsek last year published The Green Necklace: The Vision Quest of Edward Mahon, a comprehensive biography that devotes considerable space to Castlegar’s early evolution. Using Mahon family artifacts, he also curated an exhibit in Castlegar and North Vancouver.

Edward Mahon didn’t live to see his beloved townsite flourish into West Kootenay’s second-largest city. The difficulties that stunted its development appear to have finally been resolved in the 1940s, when larger blocks were subdivided into housing lots. Today Mahon’s original townsite is mostly residential.

The 200-year-old home in Ireland that gave the city its name still stands, although it’s no longer in the family. The old stable is now a bed and breakfast.

Previous installments in this series

Introduction

Ainsworth

Alamo

Anaconda

Annable, Apex, and Arrow Park

Annable, revisited

Appledale

Applegrove, Appleby, and Appledale revisited

Argenta and Arrowhead

Aylwin

Bakers, Birds, and Bosun Landing

Balfour

Bannock City, Basin City, and Bear Lake City

Beasley

Beaton

Bealby Point

Belford and Blewett

Beaverdell and Billings

Birchbank and Birchdale

Blueberry and Bonnington

Boswell, Bosworth, Boulder Mill, and Broadwater

Brandon

Brilliant

Brooklyn, Brouse, and Burnt Flat

Burton

Camborne, Cariboo City, and Carrolls Landing

Carson, Carstens, and Cascade City

Casino and Champion Creek

Castlegar, Part 1

Castlegar, Part 2

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The house is located near two schools. Photo: Connor Trembley
Dog attack seriously injures young boy in Castlegar

Despite investigating the incident, city staff aren’t confirming if the dog has been put down

COVID-19. (Courtesy of CDC).
Interior Health reports 12 additional COVID-19 cases

The total number of cases in the region is now at 644

Moderator Lindsey Lock speaks to participants prior to the start of the forum. Photo: Aaron Hemens
Fridays For Future West Kootenay hosts Nelson-Creston candidates online forum

More than 50 residents throughout the riding tuned into the webinar, which lasted for just over an hour

International Pronouns Day is among the events being marked by School District 8. Illustration: Shutterstock
School District 8 initiatives mark LGBTQ+ History Month

Pronouns and SOGI are among this year’s priorities

Brittny Anderson is the B.C. New Democratic Party candidate for Nelson-Creston. Photo: Submitted
ELECTION 2020: Brittny Anderson

The final of four interviews with the Nelson-Creston candidates

Actor Ryan Reynolds surprised a Shuswap family with a special birthday message to their son who was worried he’d be alone on his 9th birthday on Nov. 24. (Tiffanie Trudell/Facebook)
Ryan Reynolds text almost gives away Shuswap boy’s birthday surprise

Deadpool actor helps remind eight-year-old Canoe resident he’s not alone

Vancouver police reactivated the search for Jordan Naterer Thursday Oct. 22. Photo courtesy of VPD.
Mom of missing Manning Park hiker believes her son is waiting to come home

‘He’s going to come out of a helicopter and say ‘what took you so long?”

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Environment Minister George Heyman, Premier John Horgan and Energy Minister Michelle Mungall announce that B.C. Hydro is proceeding with construction of the Site C dam, Dec. 11, 2017. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
Site C actions, costs won’t be known until after B.C. election, Horgan says

Peace River diverted for construction of reinforced dam base

One of the squirrels who ended up having their tails amputated after getting them stuck together with tree sap. (Facebook/Wild ARC)
Squirrels recovering from tail amputation after sap situation near Victoria

BC SPCA Wild ARC says squirrels will be released back into wild, fifth sibling was euthanized

More and more electric cars are on the road, but one Chevy Bolt owner was shocked to see how much his BC Hydro bill skyrocketed once he started charging the vehicle. (Black Press file photo)
Lower Mainland man sees significant spike in BC Hydro bill after buying electrical vehicle

An increase should be expected, but Brian Chwiendacz experienced a 200-plus per cent hike

Most Read