COLUMN: West Kootenay’s sporadic Supreme Court history

When was the last time a matter concerning the Kootenays ended up before the country’s high court?

The announcement last week that the Supreme Court of Canada will hear the Ktunaxa Nation’s challenge to Jumbo Glacier Resort got me wondering: when was the last time a matter concerning the Kootenays ended up before the country’s high court?

I don’t have a precise answer, but the court’s judgements are available online back to its creation in 1875 and searchable by keyword.

It looks like the last time someone sought leave to appeal in a local case was 2010. Two Nelson RCMP officers won a defamation suit against the now-defunct Kootenay Chronicle. The ruling was upheld by the BC Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court declined to hear it.

Quite a few local mining suits of the late 19th and early 20th century reached the Supreme Court, the most infamous of which was Byron N. White Co. vs. Star Mining and Milling Co. (1909), which pitted White against Sandon founder John Morgan Harris. Harris won, but it was a pyrrhic victory considering how much it cost him to litigate. In the end, the two sides teamed up and formed a new company to work the disputed property.

Other cases found in a quick search: Beverage Dispeners and Culinary Workers Union, Local 835 vs. Terra Nova Motor Inn Ltd. (1975), over picketing at two unionized Trail hotels; Canadian Exploration Ltd. vs. Frank R. Rotter (1960), a Salmo-area property dispute; and National Trust Co. vs. Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (1941), fall-out from the bankruptcy of the Doukhobor communal enterprise.

The first local case to reach the Supreme Court was the infamous Bluebell murder of 1885 in which Robert Evan Sproule was convicted of killing Thomas Hammill at what’s now Riondel. Sproule’s lawyer argued various technical points, but to no avail. His client was hanged.

INDUSTRIAL DEVOLUTION: That FortisBC has no apparent interest in preserving its 90-year-old staff house at South Slocan is a sad commentary on our general lack of appreciation for industrial heritage.

Since the Nelson Star moved into the former train station in January, I’m reminded daily of what an outstanding job the Chamber of Commerce has done of bringing an important landmark back from the brink.

The CPR showed zero concern for the building after abandoning it in 1990 but at least finally agreed to turn it over to someone who would preserve it. No such luck with the company’s diesel shop, which was neglected to the point that most people (with some notable exceptions) wished it good riddance when it was finally torn down in 2008.

Another building whose fate is worrisome is Mount St. Francis, the former long-term care home in Nelson that was closed over a decade ago when Mountain Lake Seniors Community opened. Interior Health, which still owns the building, obviously has no idea what to do with it. The only use it has received in the last decade was as a filming location for the Jessica Biel movie The Tall Man.

Of course, it’s not good enough to merely keep a building standing you have to do something with it. But it just takes some imagination. In the case of the staff house at South Slocan, ideas I’ve heard tossed out include a museum dedicated to hydropower, a teahouse, and some sort of accommodation.

FortisBC says it would cost over $24 million to renovate its existing facilities, but that’s to use it as an operations centre. It would presumably be a lot less to re-tool it for other purposes. I wonder how far the $446,000 the company has budgeted to demolish the building would go toward addressing some of its deficiencies.

TIME TRAVEL: Two interesting links to pass along. Someone has posted a brief but interesting video on YouTube of downtown Nelson, ca. 1940. There are shots of Baker St., the streetcar, Touchstones, the courthouse, the Hume Hotel, the old provincial jail, and the cannon that used to stand on Vernon St. The person who posted it said it was shot by their grandfather on 16 mm. Find it at

Also worth noting is a nice mini-documentary on Nelson that a couple of German students put together. It includes interviews with cultural development officer Joy Barrett, Capitol Theatre executive director Stephanie Fischer, fishing guide and Star columnist Kerry Reed, streetcar enthusiast Walt Laurie, retired police officer Pat Severyn, and (ahem) me. Find it at

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