One hundred fiftieth in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
When James White of the Geographic Survey of Canada inquired about how Pilot Bay on Kootenay Lake got its name, he received an intriguing reply from J.W. Cockle of the Kaslo Board of Trade, dated Aug. 26, 1905:
“This is a later corruption of Pirates Bay, by which name it was known to the earlier settlers. The derivation of the name Pirates is from the Kootenay Indians who called it Yakhsoumah, or Thief’s Bay. In early days the Kootenays and Colville Indians were at war. The Colvilles in one of their raids succeeded in stealing (whilst the Kootenays slept) all of their canoes. These they towed or paddled down the lake for a distance of 30 miles and cached them in the secure refuge of what was subsequently called Thief’s Bay.”
Although no other ethnographic source recorded it as the original name of Pilot Bay, yaqsuʔmiǂ is in fact the Ktunaxa word for canoe, specifically the sturgeon nose canoe. The bit about Thief’s Bay or Pirates Bay, however, is probably a misremembered joke, as we’ll see shortly.
The earliest reference to Pilot Bay is in a legal ad dated June 30, 1890 and published six days later in the Nelson Miner by the Sayward-Davies Lumber Co., applying to buy a sawmill site.
A pilot is an expert ship handler who maneuvers a ship through dangerous or congested waters. According to East Shore historian Susan Hulland, “Pilot Bay is the most protected harbour on the whole of Kootenay Lake. It was a place where the boat pilots ran for cover from bad weather. The area near the Outlet is one of the stormiest parts of the lake — the winds often meet there. I think the name came from people who were navigating.”
A townsite was planned at Pilot Bay. The Hot Springs News of Jan. 27, 1892 said “The promoters … intended calling the town Galena, but on making inquiries they found that there was already a post office in the province by that name. Why not call it Hendryx? Certainly the Hendryx family have put into the Kootenay Lake country as many hard licks and good dollars as some other families who have towns named after them. Call the new town Hendryx by all means.”
(Hendryx was already the name of the camp at the Bluebell mine, today known as Riondel. We’ll get to it later in this series.)
The Spokane Review of March 29, 1892 noted: “Thirty-two miles away, and almost lost to view, can be seen on the promontory at Pilot bay on which Galena City is being built …”
On June 19, the same newspaper carried the dateline “Pilot Bay, BC, June 17 – The town of Galena, with its large force of men … presents quite an animated appearance …”
However, when Charles E. Perry surveyed the townsite on Nov. 30, 1892, it was called Pilot Bay. The streets were named Columbia, Davies, Hendryx, and Sayward, plus 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. The plan was cancelled in 1962; none of the original street names survive.
The name Galena stuck around on Kootenay Lake: it is the bay closest to the Bluebell.
While there is no indication Thief’s Bay was ever used, Pirate Bay did appear in the Nelson Miner of Aug. 16, 1890: “For several years past rich float galena has been found on the mountain slopes to the east of Pirate bay, behind cape Horn, but a ledge could never be uncovered.”
Three subsequent references in the Nelson Tribune were all pokes at merchant and founding postmaster Hamilton Byers:
Dec. 15, 1892: “Kaslo has the only poet in the lake country. His latest production is a poetical tribute to a merchant prince who does business at ‘Pirate Bay.’”
March 2, 1893: “Hamilton Byers can no longer be called ‘Byers of Pirate’s Bay’ as he severed his connection with the Galena Trading Co. on the 1st instant …”
July 13, 1893: “Since ‘Byers of Pirates’ Bay’ located at Kaslo, a complete revolution has taken place in trade and commerce …”
But for the 1890 reference, we might conclude that J.W. Cockle was mistaken when he told James White that Pilot Bay was originally called Pirates Bay, as it was actually a derogatory nickname.
The Pilot Bay post office opened on Aug. 1, 1892 and closed Apr 30, 1908. Although postal records indicate that it moved to Kootenay Bay the following day, in Four Score and More, William Fraser writes that it was actually relocated to what was then called Bakers Landing.
While nothing is left of the townsite, Pilot Bay is still home to several historic landmarks: the chimneys and other ruins of a smelter which operated in 1895-96, a giant sawdust pile from the Davies-Sayward sawmill, and a lighthouse built in 1904 that operated until 1993 and is now cared for by the Friends of West Kootenay Parks.
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