Nineteenth in a series of pioneer profiles
It snowed so much in Sandon when Rudy Boates was a kid in the 1930s, he and his siblings could ski off the roofs. Tasked with shovelling the top of a neighbour’s house, they’d pile the snow until it was up to the eaves, then sail down the bank.
Come spring, it was a game to lie on the now-bare roof and survey the still-covered hillsides, trying to spot the first snowslide, of which there were many.
When he was four, Boates sat on his porch and saw a little girl named Evelyn Stewart go by with her father and dog. Moments later, a white roar swept over them, and Evelyn and the dog disappeared. Her body was recovered the next day from under 25 feet of snow.
“The funny thing is my dad had a real sense of when slides were going to come down,” Boates says. “He’d go out on the porch and say ‘Lizzie, there’s going to be slides today. Keep the kids away.’ He could smell it in the air.”
The second youngest of nine children born in Sandon, Boates spent his early years in a house that once belonged to the town’s pioneer physician, Dr. William E. Gomm. It was still standing until a fire four years ago.
Boates’ father James worked at various mills in the area, and “could fix anything at all. That’s how we wound up in Sandon.”
When Rudy started school, there were lots of kids, and two teachers. Later, however, it was thanks to his large family that the school didn’t close.
Sandon’s heyday as the Slocan’s leading mining town was long over, but signs of its former glory were apparent in its boarded-up hotels and saloons. To satisfy their curiosity and prevent vandalism, kids were taken on an annual tour of the old buildings.
“It was amazing. You’d walk in, and the Sandon House had the most beautiful bar. Great big mirrors. All the glasses were all in place, just like somebody had locked up on a Saturday night and went home.”
One hotel even had its pool table, with all the balls and cues intact.
That changed in 1942, with the internment of 900 Japanese Canadians: the buildings were emptied and converted into multi-family homes. The mirrors and pool tables disappeared.
Boates played with the Nikkei children and recalls performances in the old miners’ union hall. “They used to put on all kinds of plays. We couldn’t understand them, but it was interesting to watch … Eventually we learned some Japanese, but once the war was over, they all moved out, and that left Sandon with a population of 30-some odd.”
By then, the Boates family had also left. Rudy was in Grade 7 and thrilled to move to Nelson.
His family acquired a lovely home at 905 Edgewood Avenue. (He couldn’t figure out how they could afford it until a sister told him the previous owner was fond of their mother.)
He remembers sitting in Gyro Park and hearing horns and whistles when the war ended.
Boates, 80, was in the building supply business for 25 years and later sold life insurance. Five years ago, he and wife Phyllis moved to Fruitvale to be closer to her family, but he maintains his involvement with the Nelson streetcar society, of which he is past president.
He’s been back to his birthplace periodically, although due to fire, flood, and neglect, it’s now more ghost than town. “It’s just heartbreaking to see what happened there, if you knew what it was like before,” he says.
Boates shared this anecdote with us, entitled “It’s not always gold that glitters”:
When I was in my early 20s, I was invited out for an evening meal in Victoria.
The host found out I was born in a former rich mining town, Sandon.
“You must be able to recognize ore samples,” he said.
He handed me three and asked if I could identify them.
“No problem. The first one is lead, the second is galena, and the third is zinc.”
“Great,” he said. “Now come with me.”
He took me into his study, unlocked a large cabinet, then unlocked a smaller container. “What do you think of this?”
It was a beautiful quartz crystal about the size and shape of a football.
I held it in my hands, turned it over and over, gazing into the spines.
“What are you looking for?” he asked.
Oh no, I thought. I wonder if he paid for this.
“This is a beautiful piece of quartz. The bright yellow is iron pirate, more commonly known as fool’s gold.”
He immediately got angry and would not talk.
“Sir,” I said. “If there is an assay office, I will bet you $100 that I am correct.”
Previous installments in this series