One hundred thirty-third in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
Last week we saw that Nelson was known to First Nations as kaia’mElEp or k’iya’mlup and to early prospectors as Toad Mountain.
By 1888, the area around the Silver King mine was better known as Hall’s Camp while two names were proposed for the infant town on Kootenay Lake: Salisbury, after Robert Arthur Talbot Gasconye-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury (1830-1903), then prime minister of Great Britain; and Stanley, after Frederick Arthur Stanley, 16th Earl of Derby (1841-1908), then governor general of Canada — and namesake of Stanley Park and the Stanley Cup.
Stanley was actually what’s now downtown Nelson while Salisbury was the Fairview neighborhood, but this distinction probably wasn’t clear to those not on the ground. (Salisbury/Fairview also had two other names that we’ll deal with later in this series.)
According to Nelson: A Proposal for Urban Heritage Conservation, mining recorder Henry Anderson “proposed to purchase a block of property associated with the eastern low water landing. He decided this site might prove to be a good location for a settlement. Since the name of a recording location was needed on mining forms, Anderson elected to call his ‘settlement’ Salisbury. This location was entered on all of Anderson’s government documents and would later confuse historians commenting on Nelson’s first name.”
The earliest mention of both Hall’s Camp and Salisbury was in the Victoria Daily Colonist of July 20, 1888: “In a letter to a friend in this city Mr. R.B. Atkins … writes under date of July 11th from Salisbury Landing, Kootenay, whither he and his companion, Mr. E. Ramsay, of Helena, went to take a look at the Toad Mountain mines … [T]hey hired three horses, two to ride and one to pack, and proceeded on their way to Hall’s Camp, Toad Mountain.”
In the following months, several more references to Salisbury appeared in the Colonist and the Donald Truth, whose proprietor, John Houston, became Nelson’s founding mayor.
There were hardly any mentions of Stanley, although a letter survives, mailed from Spokane in October 1888 to “Elmer E. Alexander, Stanley, BC, c/o Kootenai, Idaho.”
A letter from an anonymous correspondent published in the Truth on Oct. 27, 1888 also said: “The miners think that Mr. Anderson, the recorder, should have his headquarters in Stanley, and not out in the bush a mile distant.”
Historian Tom Collins wrote in the Nelson Tribune of Sept. 25, 1897 that Gilbert Malcolm Sproat, the gold commissioner, picked the name Stanley, and that he feuded with Anderson over it.
“When Sproat got down here he did not pull very well with Anderson, and he commenced to undo what the recorder had done before his arrival,” Collins wrote. “Among other things, he decided to rename the place, calling it Stanley. Both men were bullheaded and for a time the town was officially designated as Salisbury by the mining recorder and Stanley by the gold commissioner.”
But in The Tribune of Oct. 9, 1897, Sproat denied this.
“[The] story of a conflict upon names down here between me and the recorder is mythical … I cannot imagine how a difference of opinion between the magistrate of a district and a recorder could have anything to do with the history of Nelson … As a fact, no such difference was known to me.”
Sproat said he and Anderson were friends and during their brief time together in Nelson, “I only saw him on three occasions and never had an unpleasant word with him.”
In any event, we can pinpoint when the town was renamed Nelson: on Oct. 12, 1888, the Colonist carried an ad for an “Important sale of town lots at Stanley, Kootenay Lake, BC.” The next day the ad appeared again — but Nelson had replaced Stanley.
Why the change?
According to Sproat, “I believe that the first intention was to give the name of the governor-general, Stanley, to the town, but as there was a Stanley post office in the Cariboo, the name of lieutenant-governor Nelson was selected. I remember that on hearing this I immediately wrote to Mr. Nelson about buying lots at the coming sale, but he did not ‘catch on.’”
Sproat added: “Ever since I was thrashed at school for misspelling Constantinople, I have been fond of short words. Most of my own towns, you may observe, have two syllable names.”
Stanley and Nelson both met that criterion, although Sproat didn’t actually take credit for them. He did, however, acknowledge choosing the first street names — Baker, Vernon, Ward, and Josephine. Another street was later named Stanley.
The Colonist of Oct. 19, 1888 announced: “Two stores have been erected at Salisbury Landing, which the provincial government have now laid out into a townsite, calling the new place ‘Nelson’ in honor of our much respected lieutenant-governor.”
The next day the Donald Truth reported, not quite accurately, that “Owing to the fact that a hamlet in another part of the province is named Salisbury, the name of the Toad Mountain Salisbury has been changed. It is to be called Nelson hereafter.”
It’s sometimes claimed Stanley became Nelson when a post office application was filed, but the earliest correspondence on the subject from November 1888 only mentions Nelson. The post office opened Aug. 1, 1889.
Next: Hugh Nelson vs. Lord Nelson
Previous installments in this series