A series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
One of the oddest and most obscure place names in our area is Wampsha, at the mouth of Woodbury Creek (also spelled Woodberry; we’ll deal with it separately in a few weeks).
Also called Camp Wampsha, it was the BC office of the King Solomon’s Mining Co. of Phoenix, Arizona and Lima, Ohio. The company arrived on Kootenay Lake in the spring of 1900, absorbed the mining claims of the Canadian Pacific Mining & Milling Co., and promised a power house, smelter, chemical works, and an electric railway — all backed by “several of the most prominent millionaire capitalists of the east.” Very little of it actually happened.
There is no indication how they came up with the name Wampsha, which sounds more like a place in Wisconsin than West Kootenay. It was first mentioned in a 46-name petition for a post office dated Aug. 16, 1900. King Solomon’s registered as an extra-provincial company in BC on Sept. 8 of that year and two days later its secretary referred the postal petition to the Kaslo law firm of Whealler and Martin.
The letter gave the address “Wampsha at the mouth of Woodberry Creek, BC” and said: “We beg to suggest the name ‘Wampsha’ for the name of the post office and Mr. John F. Sears (a British subject) for postmaster. Both of the above will meet with the approval of the people here … In support of our petition we beg to say that we are building up Wampsha with the expectation of making it the permanent home of a number of families in addition to the miners now employed.”
They explained they had a two-storey hotel, laboratory, and mill, plus ten one-storey homes and two large two-storey bunkhouses for workers. (The hotel was built the previous year either privately or by Canadian Pacific Mining & Milling.)
The petition was forwarded to the BC postal inspector, who told his masters in Ottawa “that no satisfactory answer can be obtained from the Kootenay Railway and Navigation Company as to whether they are prepared to deliver mails at that point or otherwise.”
Eventually he decreed: “The mines in the vicinity of the proposed office have been worked at times for some years past, but so far have never been developed to any great extent … The steamers on the route between Kaslo and Nelson now call at Wampsha only when signaled or when business offers … The service between Kaslo and Nelson is now performed by the International Trading and Navigation Company … and they do not care to undertake to make any additional stops.”
So the post office never opened.
As a wild guess, might Wampsha have been derived from or a misspelling of Waupasha, a Sioux chief? Or of Wampasha, an Iowan who left a description of heaven?
While we don’t know where the name came from, we can speculate on who chose it. The company’s BC registration stated that its head office was “situate at Wampsha, Woodbury Creek, and Dan Henry Nellis, engineer, whose address is Wampsha, aforesaid, is the attorney for the company.”
Dan Nellis was born in Gerrard, Pennsylvania in 1871 and came to BC in 1898. While others lost faith in the camp at Woodbury, he never did. By 1908, the King Solomon’s company was in bankruptcy and their assets were auctioned. Nellis, a principal creditor, bought 31 claims, a concentrator, boarding house, and office for $2,500, and continued on alone.
In 1911, he wrote: “An occasional reference is made in The Kootenaian — and for that matter, also in the annual BC Mines Report — to the King Solomon’s Mining Company, to their properties on Woodberry creek and to my connection therewith. The facts are that company has had no property or interests nor has it done any business in British Columbia for some years past, at which time I took over all their property in BC and my connection with them ceased.”
He signed his letter from Wampsha. The 1911 census listed him as one of six Woodbury residents: Nellis, his wife Cora, his parents Peter and Kathleen, John Sears (the proposed Wampsha postmaster), prospector Duncan Gilchrist, and shoe repairman Charles Williams.
From 1903 to at least 1913, items periodically appeared in the newspapers announcing things like “D.H. Nellis of Camp Wampsha was in town yesterday,” and “D.H. Nellis of Wampsha is visiting Nelson. He is a guest of the Hume.”
Eventually Wampsha fell by the wayside, but Nellis continued to live at Woodbury until his death in 1942. His wife Cora moved to Nelson the following year. They are remembered — or misremembered — in Nelles Creek, which flows into Woodbury Creek, as well as Nellis Cascade.
Dr. Lester D. Besecker (1903-80), a former US army doctor, acquired the Nellis property from Cora. He and his wife Treva vacationed in Canada in 1936 and liked it so much that they moved here a few years later, hoping to establish a sanitarium. Those plans fell through, but he worked as a family physician in Kaslo, mined on Kootenay Lake, and ran a camp resort at Woodbury. Several times he came out of retirement when no other doctor was available.
The Jones family acquired the property, which became Woodbury Resort and Marina. The former office/hotel built in 1899 and expanded by Dr. Besecker became the resort’s main lodge, including a store, laundromat, rec room, and rental rooms. The building burned in 2009. All that survived was a two-storey brick vault.