A series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
Silverton was originally known as Four Mile or Four Mile City, after Four Mile Creek.
The townsite was located during the Silvery Slocan rush by William Hunter and J. Fred Hume, who applied on Dec. 9, 1891 to buy 160 acres of Crown land, described as “about two miles south of … Carpenter creek.”
However, they had to wait until a reserve placed on Slocan Lake lands was lifted. William McKinnon became a third partner sometime later.
Four Mile Creek was first mentioned in the Nelson Miner of June 11, 1892 in the recording of three key mineral claims: the Standard, Echo, and Alpha. By October 1893, it was also known as Silverton Creek, the name it officially bears today, although Four Mile Creek was far more commonly used. According to John Norris’ Old Silverton, “Hunter made an effort to change the creek’s name from Four Mile to Hume but the new name did not stick.”
In fact, Hume Creek, first mentioned in The Ledge of July 4, 1895, flowed into Four Mile Creek. It was also known as Bartlett Creek, first mentioned in The Ledge on Feb. 24, 1898, and the two names were used interchangeably until Bartlett was officially adopted in 1926.
Probably it honoured Frederick H. Bartlett, who owned mining claims in the area. He was killed in 1911 at the Galena Farm mine when snow slid off a building.
In any case, as the mines proved their worth, the area around them became known as Four Mile, as demonstrated in an ad in the Nelson Tribune on Dec. 1, 1892: “In what is locally known as ‘Four mile’ on Slocan lake, are some of the prospective great mines of Slocan district … At the mouth of Four Mile creek is a splendid site for reduction works … The owners of the land at the mouth of the creek have had a part of it surveyed for a townsite …”
The first reference to Four Mile City is in another Tribune ad of Feb. 9, 1893: “Get in on the Ground Floor! Any investment made now will be trebled in less than six months! For the many, town lots are a better buy than mineral claims. Lots in Four Mile City, the only possible supply point for Four Mile District, one of the Richest in the Slocan Lake Country, will be on the Market on and after Feb. 15. Apply to John Houston &Co., Agents, Nelson.”
Supposedly the creek and city were named because of their distance from New Denver — that’s the explanation given by William Hunter to James White of the Canadian Geographic Survey in 1906 and by Frederick Laing in the September 1893 issue of Knox College Monthly.
But the Tribune of May 18, 1893 noted: “A row of about 3½ miles from New Denver lands one at Four Mile City.” Bill Barlee in West Kootenay: Ghost Town Country suggested it was four miles by trail. By road today it’s 2.9 miles, or 4.6 km.
The first indication that Four Mile had been renamed was in the Vancouver Daily World of May 18, 1893: “A new townsite situated on Slocan lake, not far from Carpenter creek, will shortly be placed on the market. It will be called Silverton, and is owned by the wealthy American capitalists who a short time ago made such extensive purchases of mining properties in the Slocan district.” (An odd statement since Hume, Hunter, and McKinnon were all Canadian.) The reason for the switch isn’t clear, but it’s generally believed the new name was after Silverton, Colorado. It would have been appropriate anyway, given the major output of the local mines.
Hunter and McKinnon appear to have also been responsible for naming Eldorado, which in June 1892 became New Denver, in honour of another Colorado city. In choosing Silverton, perhaps they wanted to continue a theme.
Herbert T. Trigg surveyed the Silverton townsite and deposited the plan with the land registry on Sept. 11, 1894. The original streets were Turner, Hunter, Hume, Alpha, Silver, and Leadville, plus 1st through 7th, and Lake Ave. These all survive today except for 1st St., while Lake Ave. is better known as Highway 6. Leadville was another nod to Colorado.
A Silverton post office application was referred to the postal inspector on June 20, 1893. The office opened on June 1, 1894 and closed on Oct. 15, 1991. There were also Silverton post offices in Quebec (1877-86), Alberta (1885-86), and Washington (1892-1945).
Incorporated as a village in 1930, Silverton is the smallest municipality in BC by area at 0.35 of a square kilometer, and between 2002 and 2011, it was also the smallest by population: it had 212 residents on the 2002 census and 185 on the 2006 census. However, Zeballos, on Vancouver Island, reclaimed the title in 2011 when its census population dropped to 125 and then to 107 in 2016.
Silverton still caught some media attention, however, because its population of 195 in 2016 was unchanged from 2011, leading mayor Jason Clarke to joke that no one is allowed to leave unless they find a replacement.
— With thanks to Peter Smith