The Waneta bridge, built in 1893 for the Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway and later converted into a highway crossing, is the oldest surviving bridge in BC. This photo by Frank Palmer of Spokane was taken in 1909 or earlier and published on a postcard. Photo: Greg Nesteroff collection

The Waneta bridge, built in 1893 for the Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway and later converted into a highway crossing, is the oldest surviving bridge in BC. This photo by Frank Palmer of Spokane was taken in 1909 or earlier and published on a postcard. Photo: Greg Nesteroff collection

PLACE NAMES: Waneta

Was Waneta named after a prostitute? A mine? A Dakota chief? A lake in New York?

Greg Nesteroff

Special to Black Press

Two hundred and fifth in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names

Waneta is at the junction of the Pend d’Oreille and Columbia rivers, just north of the U.S. border. Despite the name’s simplicity and ubiquity, its origin defies explanation. Several theories exist but none are wholly convincing.

Waneta is supposedly an old English name meaning “pale-skinned.” Or it’s a Native American name (but of which language?) that means “shape-shifter.” Juanita, meanwhile, is a Spanish name, from Juana, the feminine form of Juan. “Juanita” was also a love song published in 1853 — noteworthy as the first hit ballad composed by a woman.

The earliest mention of our Waneta wasn’t in a local source, but rather the Denver Daily News of May 10, 1892, which reported: “The Kootinai [sic] Placer Mining company was incorporated yesterday to operate near the Pend de O’Reille [sic] river, British Columbia. The company’s principal office is at the town of Waneta, BC. Capital stock, $200,000. The stockholders and officers are eastern men.”

It was also called Waneta Landing, the name suggested on a post office application filed July 18, 1892. It opened simply as Waneta on May 1, 1893.

The first local mention of the town, in the Nelson Miner of Nov. 19, 1892, used a different spelling: “Captain Fitzstubbs is at Juanita on official business.” The Miner also used Wanita for a while before finally settling on Waneta.

The Spokane Review of May 11, 1893 used two spellings: “The little town of Juanita, or as it is commonly spelled, Waneta, on the British Columbia frontier, bids fair to rival some of the older towns on this side of the line for its deeds of wickedness.” (The story went on to report a horrifying case of domestic violence.)

The earliest comment on the name appeared in the 1897 Year Book of British Columbia, compiled by R.E. Gosnell. It stated that Waneta was a “corruption of Juaneta,” but didn’t elaborate.

The matter wasn’t raised again until the May 1956 edition of Cominco Magazine: “The origin of the name Waneta … has stumped local researchers. However, a popular theory suggests that a sultry siren who called herself Juanita became attached to a party of prospectors — and their gold — at the spot. Juanita’s conquests soon brought her geographical fame although subsequent mapmakers settled for anglicized spelling.”

Jim Partridge of Fruitvale heard something similar from his father Bill, a longtime railway employee who discussed it with Pete Vereschagin, another old-timer: “She was a prostitute. The labourers on the Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway said they were going to Juanita’s, but didn’t know how to spell it. I don’t know how much truth there was to it, but I remember my dad and old Pete laughing about it. When I asked my dad, he said she had a house there.”

Could Waneta be named after a mine? There was a Waneta claim, but it was almost certainly named for the community, not vice versa.

Could it be from a First Nations word? The November 1962 issue of Cominco Magazine suggested it is “a corrupted Indian word, Wah-ne-tah, but that its meaning has been forgotten.” Seven years later the magazine stated it was “from an Indian word meaning rushing waters” but didn’t suggest in what language.

In British Columbia Place Names, G.P.V. and Helen Akrigg said the name “is derived from an Okanagan Indian word possibly meaning ‘burned area.’” However, this was based on a misreading of Randy Bouchard and Dorothy Kennedy’s Lakes Indian Ethnography and History. They noted a Sinixt village near the mouth of the Pend d’Oreille was called nkw’lila7, which might have meant burned area, but they didn’t suggest Waneta was derived from this term. (Another document prepared for the Confederated Colville Tribes gives the translation as “rolling waves.”)

Waneta (also spelled Wanata, Wahneta, and Wa-na-ta) was a Yanktonai Dakota chief who was commemorated with two U.S. Navy ships and a residence at South Dakota State University. But what possible connection could he have to B.C.?

We’ll also throw this out: the earliest references to Waneta are associated with the Kootenai Placer Mining Co. and its sister firm, the Kootenai Hydraulic Mining Co. The latter issued beautiful stock certificates in 1893 that prominently featured the word Waneta. Two company executives were brothers George Jervis Goodhue and Henry More Goodhue of Rochester, New York. About 120 kilometres south of Rochester is Waneta Lake, formerly known as Little Lake, but renamed in 1881 because it was “more euphonious.”

Its namesake was not Chief Waneta but supposedly the daughter of Mahtoree, a Seneca chief. A story published in 1901 called “The Tragic Legend of a Fair New York Lake,” read like Romeo and Juliet. Waneta fell in love with Kayuta, chief of a rival clan. They met secretly, but once discovered, Kayuta was attacked by Waneta’s tribe. Attempting to guide him to safety, she slipped from her canoe and drowned. A mortally wounded Kayuta cried her name for a day before he too died. Kayuta was buried on the shore of the lake where he and Waneta perished, which subsequently bore her name.

Did the Goodhues transplant Waneta Lake’s name to B.C.? There’s no way of knowing, but it’s not unprecedented: the town of Erie and the Shenango Canyon were both named by mining men after places in the eastern U.S.

The Waneta post office closed in 1950, but the name remains widely used. It’s a border crossing, a locality, a dam, and a shopping mall. The latter, Waneta Plaza, stretched the boundaries of Waneta about 12 km north when it opened in 1978, although that area is more properly called Waneta Junction. The name has also spread to Washington state: the Waneta Quick Stop store is one km south of the border.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

The Kootenai Hydraulic Mining Co., which operated on the Pend d’Oreille River, issued colourful stock certificates that prominently feature the name Waneta. The Goodhue brothers, principals in this company and others, may have chosen it.

The Kootenai Hydraulic Mining Co., which operated on the Pend d’Oreille River, issued colourful stock certificates that prominently feature the name Waneta. The Goodhue brothers, principals in this company and others, may have chosen it.

Just Posted

Paul Chung is working as an early childhood educator at Cornerstone Children’s Centre in Nelson. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Immigration pilot targets hard-to-fill jobs in West Kootenay

Program helps newcomers get permanent residency status in rural areas

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is an independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C.’s 1st vaccine-induced blood clot case detected in Interior Health

Interior Health also recorded 52 new cases of COVID-19

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Castlegar doctor answers common vaccine questions Part 2

Family physician Megan Taylor answers common vaccine questions

Public opposition to a planned road was expressed on posters on the hiking trails above the Nelson cemetery. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Logging company abandons road construction planned near Nelson hiking trails

RDCK, public, and transportation ministry opposed the road

A concept of the new Kaslo Bridge, which is expected to be complete by November. Illustration: Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure
Kaslo Bridge to be replaced

Construction on the $6.19-million project begins this month

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A worker rides a bike at a B.C. Hydro substation in Vancouver, on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
BC Hydro report raises safety concerns as pandemic prompts jump in yard work

Incidents involving weekend tree trimmers, gardeners and landscapers have risen 30% since the pandemic hit

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

Most Read