The Kootenay’s first couple of prospecting

Willow Point’s Eric and Peggy Denny were a match made in prospecting heaven.

Fifth in a series of pioneer profiles

Peggy MacLeod had a terrible cold. So she left work in Nelson early and headed home to Procter. But two younger neighbours came over and asked if she felt like going to a dance at the community hall.

No, she insisted she was too sick. But they wouldn’t give up: “Our mom says we can’t go unless you go too.”

Peggy finally relented. She found an old plaid dress “that had been on the floor who knows how long,” and the three girls headed over.

At the dance, the women walked around one way and men the opposite way until the music stopped — at which point Peggy found Eric Denny beside her.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

Peggy told him.

“You’re no relation to that old biddy out in the kitchen, are you?” he said.

“Yes, that’s my mother.”

Dancing by the kitchen, Eric tapped Peggy’s mother on the shoulder as she prepared sandwiches.

“Hey mom! How would you like me for a son-in-law?”

Peggy’s mother pushed out her arms to shoo away the impudent young man.

Yet a year later, in 1951, there they were at St. Andrew’s United Church in Procter. The wedding reception was held in the long-since-demolished Holiday Inn, formerly the Outlet Hotel.

Eric’s family came to the Kootenay from England in the 1910s. In 1922, his father bought property at Willow Point, not far from where Eric and Peggy now live.

Peggy’s father Jack worked on the lake boats, “starting in his overalls,” aboard the Kuskanook, and worked his way up to become captain of the Nasookin. Her uncle Norman, meanwhile, was captain of the Moyie.

A mutual love of the outdoors made the couple well-suited for each other.

Beginning with a long trip he made with his father up Crawford Creek and down the St. Mary’s River, Eric became heavily interested in prospecting. It was his overriding passion, and also his livelihood when he wasn’t logging or sawmilling.

“I was my own boss,” he says. “Good way to be.”

At 88, Eric is now the dean of Kootenay prospectors. Over the years, he figures he has held at least 1,000 claims, most of which he staked personally. Some he worked himself, and others he sold to companies that paid royalties if any ore was shipped.

Among the more notable were a group of silver, lead, and zinc properties up LaFrance Creek on the East Shore of Kootenay Lake, originally staked in the 1890s by Tom Wall, who had eight daughters and no sons. Eric took a couple of the daughters to see the workings.

At Blewett, he took over gold claims at the head of 49 Creek from Bill Rozan, an old-time miner who learned his trade during the Ontario cobalt rush.

Eric also had a long association with Lemon Creek, which was practically in his backyard, and  holds a special fondness for the Lardeau, which produced several good finds.

Peggy usually came along on his trips.

“I’d rather be out in the mountains than inside,” she says.

What’s the appeal of prospecting?

“Richness,” Eric says.

“Not really,” Peggy counters. “It was still interesting if you made nothing.”

Eventually Eric taught prospecting classes. The most important skills, he says, are “having lots of energy and being attentive. You need to build up a bit of knowledge, too.”

In 1993, he received the H.H. (Spud) Huestis award for excellence in prospecting and mineral exploration.

The Dennys celebrated their 60th anniversary last year.

Their love of searching for precious minerals has been handed down to son Jack who, like his father, has served as president of the local Chamber of Mines, as well as grandson Bob.

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