One hundred sixtieth in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
Retallack (pronounced Rih-TAL-ick) is another place in the Valley of the Ghosts along Highway 31A between Kaslo and New Denver known by several names.
It was first called Bell’s Camp (plus Bellsville, Bellville, Belleville, Bellona, and The Bells). The earliest reference is in an anonymous letter in the Nelson Miner of July 1, 1893: “The wagon road runs out for some miles, and we did very well until we reached Bell’s camp, about 17 miles out on the road.”
The namesakes were James (Jim) Bell (1832-1903) and his sons John Warren Bell (1867-1951) and James Allan Ward Bell (1873-1951). They had a sawmill there and were also prospectors and miners. According to the Mining Review of July 24, 1897, Warren “cut down the first trees preparing the way for [railways] out of Kaslo and Nelson.”
The Nelson Tribune of Dec. 22, 1894 reported: “Bellville, on Kaslo creek, 17½ miles from Kaslo, has suddenly sprung into a place of some importance … James Bell has received notice that a post office to bear the name of Bellville, would soon be one of the local fixtures, and he could in the future sign ‘P.M.’ after his name.”
This report was premature. An application for a post office, to be called Bellsville, was referred to the postal inspector on Feb. 4, 1895 and a report was filed a month later. On April 5, the office was approved under the name Bellona. (Presumably to distinguish it from Bellevilles in Ontario, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.)
Bellona was mentioned in the Kaslo Claim of Sept. 21, 1895: “Jim Bell, daddy of Bellona and the best shake maker this side of Missouri, was in town recently …”
Bell was to be postmaster. However, Kaslo postmaster Sam Green asked the postal inspector to reconsider: “Mr. Bell is an honest man, but he is drunk a good part of his time … I also understand that he can hardly write his own name.”
The inspector apparently heeded Green’s warning, for he deferred establishment of the office until another postmaster could be found. He also felt there was no immediate necessity for it.
In the meantime, the Kaslo and Slocan Railway completed its line and its first timetable, issued in September 1895, called the siding “Whitewater Creek or The Bells.” The creek was named after a mine located by J.C. Eaton in 1892.
On Aug. 4, 1896, J. Warren Bell wrote to MP Hewitt Bostock, asking that a post office be opened at Whitewater, and suggesting an alternative reason why his father didn’t get the postmaster job: “About 12 months ago a requisition was sent to the department requesting my father James Bell be appointed postmaster at … ‘Bell’s Camp’ … Being unable to give it the necessary attention that the position requires he declined, and in consequence there has not been anyone appointed.”
Having previously worked in the Nanaimo post office, Warren successfully applied for the position of postmaster himself. The Whitewater post office opened May 1, 1897. Thirteen days later The Kootenaian reported: “The townsite of Whitewater owned by Bell Bros. is being surveyed.” John Hamilton Gray did the work; his plan was dated June 10, 1898.
Jim Bell met a tragic end when he burned to death in his cabin in 1903. His sons appear to have left the area by 1905. The post office closed in 1908.
Meanwhile, Major John Ley Retallack (1863-1924) and his associates leased the Whitewater mine. After fire destroyed the camp in 1910, they purchased the property. The fire also burned bridges and show sheds on the Kaslo and Slocan Railway, putting it out of business.
Retallack was secretary of a Kaslo syndicate that revived the line and leased it to the Canadian Pacific Railway. In recognition of his efforts, the siding at Whitewater was renamed in his honour. It was on the timetable by Sept. 27, 1914. According to Don Blake’s Valley of the Ghosts, Retallack “was such a prominent man for so many years and most of the freight coming up to Whitewater was for him and was addressed simply to Retallack.”
Retallack was in the North West Mounted Police during the Riel Rebellion and came to the Kootenay in 1889, where he was prominent in mining, banking, and townsite promotion. He served on Kaslo city council and twice ran unsuccessfully for MLA. After returning from World War I, he was named BC’s first public utilities commissioner.
The Retallack post office opened on May 16, 1928 — four years after its namesake’s death — although the name Whitewater continued to be used as well. A late example of the latter is in The Kootenaian of Jan. 13, 1927: “W.R. Winstead, of Whitewater, spent Tuesday in the city …”
The post office closed in 1955 and the Whitewater mine ceased operations the following year.
Today a couple of bunkhouses from the 1940s survive, probably the most noteworthy landmarks along Highway 31A. Only a few people live there, but the name is perpetuated in Retallack Lodge, a cat ski and mountain biking destination, whose lodge is on the original Whitewater townsite.
Whitewater, of course, is better known today as a ski resort between Nelson and Ymir, named after another Whitewater Creek, which first appeared on George M. Dawson’s 1890 Reconnaissance Map of a Portion of the West Kootanie [sic] District.
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