One hundred thirty-eighth in a semi-alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
It’s fairly well known that New Denver was formerly called Eldorado. But it’s not at all well known that before it was Eldorado, it was briefly called Slocan City.
The earliest reference is in the Nelson Miner of Dec. 12, 1891: “William Hunter and W.C. McKinnon arrived at Nelson from Slocan City at 6 o’clock this afternoon, having left the lower end of the lake yesterday morning. They report no snow in Slocan valley and none on the lake shore at the mouth of Carpenter creek, where they have built a log store … They will hire every pack animal in the country and take in several tons of merchandise, as they claim Slocan City is bound to be the supply point for Slocan district.”
This leaves things ambiguous, as though they might have been talking about the Slocan City where it is today, at the foot of the lake. But the next issue of the Miner, a week later, removes any doubt: “From the boat landing at the end of the trail to Slocan City at the mouth of Carpenter creek is about 20 miles. Slocan City is reported to be four miles from the junction of Carpenter and Seaton creeks …”
Another week went by and the Miner suggested the town hadn’t actually been named yet: “There is already a nucleus for a ‘city’ at the mouth of Carpenter creek, and by spring it will probably be named.”
On Jan. 9, 1892, Eldorado City was mentioned first the first time in an ad for Hunter and McKinnon in the Miner. The same issue changed the location of Slocan City: “Arthur Dick, B.H. Lee, and Alfred Bunter arrived at Nelson on Thursday evening from Slocan City, at the lower end of the lake. They will return in about 10 days and put in the time until spring clearing streets and making trails in the ‘city.’”
Although the most obvious explanation is that the newspaper initially misidentified the location of Slocan City, when a post office application was submitted that July, inspector E.H. Fletcher noted: “Since the date of the petition, the townsite at the mouth of Carpenter Creek known as Slocan has been registered under the name of New Denver …” (Oddly, there was no mention of Eldorado City.)
So an alternative explanation is that Hunter and McKinnon haggled with Arthur Dick and his partners over the name Slocan City. Somehow Dick won, so Hunter and McKinnon changed the name of their town to Eldorado City — el dorado being Spanish for “the golden one,” and the name of a mythical city of gold.
Eldorado City was a squatters camp until the provincial government arrived in the spring to do a proper survey. From the Miner of June 18, 1892: “Eldorado City. So called for the last time. It has been decided that the name of this camp is to be changed. What name is to be given it is not yet known.”
The Revelstoke Kootenay Star of June 25 suggested that “Eldorado … will hereafter be known as Seaton, Eldorado being altogether too common.” However, this proved incorrect.
The Spokane Review of July 9 speculated: “The town the government will no doubt name Slocan instead of Eldorado … The views of this glorious, eternal snow peak … give an especial charm to the site of Slocan City.” Also wrong.
In fact, an ad had already appeared in the Miner of June 25 for an auction of lots of “the government townsite of New Denver” — the first time that name was mentioned — although there were also ads in the same issue for businesses in Eldorado City. Both names were used for several weeks.
The Kootenay Star of July 2 officially announced: “The name of the town on Slocan Lake formerly known as Eldorado has been changed to New Denver.”
By mid-July, the Miner was referring to New Denver instead of Eldorado in its news stories. However, there was still an ad for Hunter and McKinnon of Eldorado City as of July 23. Most of the August papers are missing; the Aug. 27 edition carries no ads mentioning Eldorado or New Denver.
On Sept. 10, there’s an ad for Hunter and McKinnon identical to their previous one, except that ‘Eldorado City’ had been replaced with ‘New Denver.’ (It still said Eldorado City in the fine print.)
So the town was known as Slocan City or Slocan for approximately one month, as Eldorado City or Eldorado for seven months (give or take), and has been New Denver for the last 124 years.
Next: Wherefore New Denver?
Previous installments in this series