In September 1906, Sir Albert Henry George Grey, the 4th Earl Grey and the ninth Governor-General of Canada, visited Nelson as part of his cross-Canada tour.
Accompanying His Excellency was his wife, Countess Alice Grey, two of his daughters, Ladies Sybil and Evelyn Grey, his son, Viscount Howick and his wife, Lady Howick. Traveling by special train, the vice-regal party arrived at Kootenay Landing, the CPR’s rail and steamer terminal at the south end of Kootenay Lake, early Wednesday morning, Sept. 5
There to meet them was the fast new Kuskanook, pride of the CPR’s fleet, proudly displaying an array of colourful flags and pennons flying high from her masts. On board were delegates from Nelson’s reception committee, including Mayor William Gillett, County Court Judge John Forin and Reverends R. Powell and E. Shanks.
Also on board was well-known fruit-grower and promoter James Johnstone, who owned real estate on the lake’s East Shore near McGregor’s Landing. An hour or so out from Kootenay Landing, the Kuskanook swung across the lake and slowed as she came alongside Mr. Johnstone’s benchland property, giving the Governor-General a sweeping view of the gently-sloping terrain. So taken with the land and its potential as a fruit ranch, Lord Grey would soon afterwards purchase the 54 acre parcel for his son, naming it “Boswell Ranch.” Within a few months, McGregor’s Landing would be renamed Boswell.
At Longbeach, where a stronghold of British Navy officers on reserve lived, among them R.N.R. Commander Gordon Hallett, a plan was hatched to give the vice-regal visitors a glorious salute fit for the King’s representative.
Hallett and his neighbour lined up 21 tree stumps on the beach and under each one carefully placed sticks of dynamite. Then, with the Kuskanook fast approaching, they detonated the fuses one after the other. Each explosion sent a stump and clumps of sand and rock flying into the air. The Kuskanook’s passengers lined the railings to see what was happening, including the Governor-General, who, like everyone else, was in awe of the ingenuity displayed by isolated lakeshore settlers in creating a Kootenay equivalent of a 21-gun honour salute.
It had been arranged that members of the Nelson Launch Club would meet the Kuskanook off Three Mile Point (later Bealby Point) and escort her to the city wharf. The flotilla, made up of almost 30 launches, each one gaily decorated and crammed with passengers, steamed out from Nelson led by Commodore Charles Busk’s launch, the Flirt, with the city band huddled aboard.
Just as they reached their destination, the Kuskanook was spotted, earlier than expected, rounding Five Mile Point. Jockeying to form two long parallel rows, with larger boats ahead of the smaller ones, the mosquito fleet was in perfect formation when the Kuskanook arrived. Slowing down, she split the rows, then, on signal, the launches dipped their flags in unison and closed in on both sides of her, keeping slightly ahead. With the Flirt leading the procession, the band playing and flags snapping in the breeze, the pageantry was impressive and it stirred patriotic sentiments for all those watching.
Below: Mr. and Mrs. James Johnstone and family on the front steps of their home on the North Shore, opposite Nelson. (Courtesy Touchstones Nelson)
As the Kuskanook was being tied-up to the City wharf, band members had to scramble off the Flirt and, with instruments in hand, climb up onto the wharf, in time to play the national anthem and “God Save the King.” After receiving an enthusiastic cheer from the assembled crowd, Lord Grey descended the ship’s stairway and stepped onto the wharf, where he was greeted by a small Guard of Honour and then seated, along with Lady Grey, in the first of three open carriages.
But, just as the procession was about to leave, His Excellency spotted a veteran of the Crimean War, his chest decorated with British and Turkish medals. Motioning the old soldier over, the Governor-General shook his hand.
With the afternoon having been declared a civic holiday, many Nelsonites turned out to see the Governor-General, some gathered on the wharf, others chose to line the streets while still others headed for the grandstands at the recreation grounds. Joining the adults in the stands were children from all the Nelson schools. Seated together, the pupils presented “a pleasing picture of exultant young Canada” observed The Daily News, while outwardly showing the excitement everyone was feeling.
When the vice-regal carriages arrived, a line of young girls stepped forward carrying bouquets of flowers forLady Grey and the other ladies. Minutes later, Mayor Gillett read his address to His Excellency, who then responded by thanking the citizens of Nelson for their genuine genuine outpouring of loyalty to the King, and the cordial and novel welcome shown to Lady Grey and himself.
From the grounds, the vice-regal Party headed to the Strathcona Hotel, where specially decorated rooms awaited them. Later that afternoon, the Governor-General and his party travelled by launch to Johnstone’s large fruit ranch opposite Nelson for afternoon tea, before returning to the Hotel for dinner. That evening, Their Excellencies attended a reception at the armory, which was grandly decorated inside with flowers, evergreen boughs, rugs and flags. With the orchestra playing in the background, many of the nearly 300 guests were introduced to Earl Grey and Lady Grey.
The itinerary set for the next four days had included trips to Rossland, Greenwood and Kaslo. Unfortunately, however, earlier on the tour, a piece of glass from an exploding light bulb had pierced the Governor-General’s eye. The inflammation had gotten worse and this, combined with a recent attack of influenza, left him weak and fatigued. Rather than continue his visits as planned, he decided instead to stay in Nelson and recuperate in private.
By Saturday afternoon, he felt well enough to tour the exhibition building, which housed a variety of exhibits for the upcoming Fall Fair. That evening, he wrote to the secretary of the Kootenay Fruit Growers’ Association, saying he intended to donate a prize cup, to be awarded annually to the member who best exemplified fruit-growing practices.
On Sunday evening, Their Excellencies were guests of Mayor Gillett and his wife. During dinner, the Governor-General was presented with a stunning mountain goat rug as a gift from the city. In thanking His Worship, Lord Grey was delighted with his “interesting souvenir” reported The Daily News and he was certain it would be “greatly admired” in Rideau Hall.
Later that evening, Sept. 9, the Governor-General’s special train left Nelson bound for the coast.
Earl Grey would return to the Kootenays at least one other time. In 1908, he set out on horseback to explore the northern end of Kootenay Lake and the pass that climbs through the Purcell Mountains to Invermere. His log cabin, located on the Invermere side of the Earl Grey Pass, still stands today.
Most Canadians will be more familiar with Sir Albert Henry George Grey’s gift to Canada and Canadian football — the Grey Cup.
Below: The CPR steamer Kuskanook carried the Governor-General and his vice-regal party from Kootenay Landing to Nelson. Shown here at Kaslo, she was the fastest steamer on Kootenay Lake. (Michael Cone collection)