One-hundred sixty-eighth in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
In 1892, prospector Mike Grady (1855-1944) found hot springs bubbling out of holes in the rocks two miles up a mountainside from Upper Arrow Lake. He bathed in them and found them so rejuvenating, he named them the “Springs of St. Leon.” So wrote Ruby Nobbs in Revelstoke History and Heritage.
Grady, who later struck it rich as co-locator of the Standard mine at Silverton, obtained a Crown grant for the hot springs, but that wasn’t until 1899. Most other sources don’t explicitly credit him with the name, which first appeared in an ad in the Revelstoke Kootenay Mail of April 27, 1895: “The Steamer Arrow leaves town wharf Revelstoke Mondays and Fridays at 8 a.m. for Hall’s Landing, Thomson’s Landing, Lardeau, Halcyon and Leon Hot Springs, and Nakusp.”
Kate Johnson wrote in Pioneer Days of Nakusp and Arrow Lakes that the name came from an early French Canadian hunter and trapper who had relatives in Saint-Pol-de-Léon, Finistere, France. Alternatively, it came from Saint-Léon-le-Grand, Quebec where a mineral spring existed, bottled in the 1880s and 1890s by the St. Leon Mineral Water Co. St. Leon is an anglicization of Saint Leo, of whom there were several. However, the name may have also been influenced by Ponce de León, the Spanish explorer who supposedly searched for the Fountain of Youth.
In any event, Grady ran into conflict with W.M. Brown, a Revelstoke businessman and politician who also owned property in the area. The Kootenay Mail of Aug. 28, 1897 reported: “The application of W.M. Brown for six inches of water from the St. Leon hot springs was heard yesterday by Government Agent Graham, sitting as a commissioner under the Water Act. It was opposed by Michael Grady, the owner of the springs.” (The application was denied.)
Grady apparently tried to rechristen the springs in his own name but it didn’t stick. The Slocan City News of Sept. 11, 1897 said: “Michael Grady has just returned to his home in Silverton from his hot springs, known as the ‘Grady Springs,’ a few miles from the Halcyon springs.”
By 1898, St. Leon was a CPR steamer stop, and in 1901 Grady built an impressive hotel to replace the crude lodgings there. He insisted only clear lumber be used, mostly coastal cedar.
A post office operated at St. Leon, with Grady as postmaster, from 1904 until 1918, when the First World War put a damper on business and the hotel closed. However, Grady let Revelstoke citizens build private campsites and cottages on the site.
Ed Gates bought the hotel in 1945 and renamed it the Gates of St. Leon. It operated into the 1950s, but once the SS Minto stopped running, it became impossible to continue, as there was no road access. Construction of the High Arrow dam would have inundated the hotel, so Gates and BC Hydro began negotiating a settlement, but the building mysteriously burned in 1968.
Today the springs are privately owned, although the St. Leon Hot Springs Society formed a few years ago with the goal of preserving them for public access.
Mike Grady is remembered in both Grady Lake and Mount Grady, while there’s also a St. Leon Creek and a Mount St. Leon.
A few weeks ago, we saw that Rosebery was originally called Wilson Creek, after the body of water that runs through it.
In 1906, postmaster William E. Marshall told James White of the Canadian Geographic Survey that the creek honoured “an Englishman named John Wilson. Mr. Wilson left here about 1902 and now residents in the neighborhood of Greenwood. Was about 55.”
However, Peter Smith of Victoria clarifies: “William Marshall seems to have gotten his Wilsons mixed up. Wilson Creek was undoubtedly named after Arthur ‘A.M’ Wilson, the Slocan’s first justice of the peace. He first staked the land at Wilson Creek in late 1891. When the Nakusp and Slocan Railway was being built, Dan McGillivray bought into the townsite, clearly recognizing its potential as a transshipment point for the railway. A.M. Wilson did indeed move to the Boundary district in the late 1890s.”
Arthur Masters Wilson, who was born in Nova Scotia, died in Vancouver on Nov. 29, 1907 at age 66.
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