One-hundred sixty second in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
The origin of Riondel’s name is no mystery, but its pronunciation has been controversial for generations.
To begin with, however, the town was originally called Hendryx or Hendryx Camp after Dr. Wilbur Alson Hendryx (1849-1918), a mover and shaker during West Kootenay’s early mining years. Hendryx received his medical degree in Chicago in 1874, but a promising claim on Kootenay Lake set him on a different path in the mid-1880s. He and brother Andrew Benedict Hendryx (1834-1907), who owned a brass foundry in Connecticut, obtained a controlling interest in the Bluebell mine.
Hendryx appears on George M. Dawson’s 1890 Reconnaissance Map of a Portion of the West Kootanie [sic] District and was first mentioned in the Nelson Miner’s debut issue of June 21, 1890: “[T]he first locations in the Kootenay Lake country were made at Galena bay, now known as the Hendryx camp.”
Hendryx shows up as a place on Keen’s Map of Kootenay (1892) and Perry’s Mining Map (1893), but according to Impressions of the Past, “After the Blue Bell mine and Pilot Bay smelter closed in 1896, the name Hendryx disappeared. It was replaced by ‘Blue Bell Camp’ and ‘Blue Bell Mines’ on maps.”
(The only known newspaper mention of Blue Bell Camp was in the Nelson Miner of Dec. 27, 1890: “A report is in circulation that the Hendryx company has purchased outright the Ainsworth interests in the Blue Bell camp …”)
In 1905, the Canadian Metal Company, which owned a zinc smelter in Frank, Alta., acquired the Bluebell. Its president was a French banker named Riondel about whom remarkably little is known. His first name is given variously as Edouard, Edward, and Edmond and he’s usually described as a count. We also know he ran the Banque Lilloise.
Riondel’s presence in the Kootenay is first noted in the Fernie Ledger of Sept. 20, 1905: “Messrs. Fernau, Edward Riondel, and Octave Liegeart, who spent last week in British Columbia inspecting the mines of the mental company, returned Saturday in anticipation of the visit of Earl Gray …”
Riondel was also president of a reduction works in Goldfield, Nevada. He was there in 1906, then returned to France, never to be heard from again. However, he appears in a couple of photos taken at the Bluebell, and in the 1980s, two sets of descendants visited Riondel, but didn’t spell out their precise relationship to Edouard or explain what had happened to him.
In any case, he evidently made an impression on S.S. Fowler, the Canadian Metal Company’s on-site manager.
As Fowler related in a 1919 letter to provincial mineralogist W.F. Robertson (quoted in the November 1958 issue of Cominco Magazine): “In 1907 the writer was desirous of establishing a post office here and intended to call it by the name of Bluebell; but the post office department declined to permit its use. Other names were suggested such as Hendryx as the landing here was formerly known but none of them, for one reason or another, seemed to fit so I finally decided upon Riondel. It is or should be pronounced Ree-on-del with accent very slightly on the first syllable … I trust he [Riondel] derived some satisfaction from having his name perpetuated for the time through its association with a place of which he was very fond.”
Fowler’s letter proves the proper pronunciation. But you’ll often hear RYE-on-del as well as ree-ON-dul and even a few other variations.
Historian Ted Affleck was aghast when he visited in 1997, relating in an unpublished manuscript in the Touchstones Nelson archives: “My reaction was that the settlement has not only been misnamed for the better part of the century, but the post office name … is now a mispronounced misnomer. S.S. Fowler, no mean amateur historian, must have pondered well before eschewing the name Hendryx and assigning the name Riondel to the mining camp … As soon as the Hendryx brothers ceased pouring money into Kootenay mining enterprises they became non-persons. By 1907, the name Hendryx was decidedly tarnished, so it is understandable that Fowler, wishing to start a new operation at the old Bluebell mine in 1907 chose not to perpetuate the name of Hendryx.”
Hendryx is still honoured with a Nelson street and a creek near Riondel, but in the December 2001 issue of the East Shore Mainstreet, Affleck insisted “Wilbur Hendryx deserved a better deal in the Kootenay place name stakes.”
The Riondel post office opened Feb. 1, 1907. According to the Winter 1988 issue of Canadian West, besides Bluebell and Hendryx, Fowler also considered Douglas, McDonald, and Hammill — presumably after botanist David Douglas, Fort Colvile factor Archie McDonald, and murdered claim jumper Thomas Hammill.
Why was the name Bluebell denied? Possibly because of an existing post office in Blue Bell, N.B.
The confusion over the pronunciation has inspired at least two poems. Sherlynne Green’s winning entry in a limerick contest was published in the East Shore Mainstreet in May 1993: “Ryeondel, Reeondel, Rinedel/It really is hard to spell/If we’d all commit/On how to pronounce it/The name would then ring a bell.”
Meanwhile, Capt. West of Kaslo came up with this verse, recorded in Terry Turner’s book Bluebell Memories: “RI-ondel, Ri-ON-del, Rion-DEL/Oh hell/Just call it good old Bluebell.”
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