Big mess created by adding an ‘S’ to West Kootenay

Place Names: West Kootenay(s)

A series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names

Last week we looked at the pluralization of Kootenay — how our region went from being known as the Kootenay to the West Kootenay and East Kootenay, which together form the Kootenays.

We might add that the creation of regional districts in the mid-1960s confused the issue a bit, splitting the region into East Kootenay, Central Kootenay, and Kootenay Boundary. There was no issue with East Kootenay, but Central Kootenay (which includes Castlegar, Creston, Nelson, Nakusp, Salmo, Kaslo, Silverton, Slocan, and New Denver) was a heretofore unknown region and name.

While it didn’t get much uptick at first, the name has since been adopted by a few other groups including the Central Kootenay Invasive Species Society and Central Kootenay Community Futures.

The Regional District of Kootenay Boundary meanwhile includes Greater Trail and the Boundary, but that’s only part of what is otherwise considered Kootenay Boundary, namely all of West and East Kootenay plus Boundary.

Interior Health splits its service area into East Kootenay and Kootenay Boundary. The latter would more accurately be labelled West Kootenay Boundary.

Meanwhile, a perplexing tautology emerged. You can say Kootenay, Kootenays, or “East and West Kootenays.” But “West Kootenays” or “East Kootenays” by itself is redundant. (By comparison, North Dakota and South Dakota are together known as the Dakotas. But separately they aren’t North Dakotas and South Dakotas.)

The earliest example of this use (or misuse) was in the Sandon Mining Review of March 12, 1898: “Probably as much improvement has taken place at Moyie City … as any place in the East Kootenays.”

Another early example is in the Phoenix Pioneer, Sept. 28, 1901: “It was 14 years since he first went to East Kootenays and then he located at Windermere as mining recorder.”

The first use of “West Kootenays” yet discovered is in the Manitoba Morning Free Press of Jan. 12, 1905: “There are also several small extensions in the West Kootenays which will be considered …”

The first local example of “West Kootenays” is in the Nelson Daily News of Jan. 8, 1912, in an ad for the Western Canada Investment Co., which called itself “The Busy Firm of the Famous West Kootenays.”

Only about 20 examples have been discovered from the first half of the 20th century. But after 1950, use of “West Kootenays” and “East Kootenays” greatly increased. By the 1970s, it was so pervasive as to be considered correct — although to some locals, it was like nails on a chalkboard.

The first published commentary on the matter was a letter by Allen Woodrow of Robson in the Castlegar News of Jan. 20, 1985, under the headline: “It’s West Kootenay.”

“I am sick to death of this frequent and glaring error that looms repeatedly in the media as, for example, in an article on the front page of your Jan. 6 paper concerning repairs to fire trucks at Selkirk College,” he wrote.

“I have lived here all my life and I am at a loss as to where the ‘West Kootenays’ are. For your enlightenment, there is an East Kootenay and a West Kootenay. There is no East Kootenays and no West Kootenays. The Kootenays is used only when referring to both districts.”

Another letter in the winter 2010 issue of British Columbia Magazine from Andy Stuart-Hill of Invermere pointed out that a story headlined “Kootenays: 4 treks, 4 seasons” only covered the West Kootenay.

Wikpedia’s entry on the Kootenays once commented: “It remains unclear why both Kootenay and Kootenays are used somewhat interchangeably to describe the area. The plural form might be indicative of the term summing East Kootenay and West Kootenay, except East Kootenays and West Kootenays also appear in local parlance, clouding the issue.”

If we use Google search results as a crude measure of popularity, the results are as follows (with a bit of overlap):

• Kootenay: 5.4 million

• Kootenai: 3.4 million

• Kootenays: 7.3 million

• West Kootenay: 404,000

• West Kootenays: 71,700

• East Kootenay: 787,000

• East Kootenays: 85,700

• West and East Kootenay: 6,800

• West and East Kootenays: 2,580

• East and West Kootenay: 20,400

• East and West Kootenays: 8,680

So Kootenays is used 1.4 times as often as Kootenay. West Kootenay is used 5.6 times as often as West Kootenays. East Kootenay is used 9.2 times as often as East Kootenays.

East Kootenay is used 1.9 times more often than West Kootenay. East and West Kootenay (or Kootenays) is also more popular than West and East.

The Canadian spelling Kootenay is used 1.6 times more often than the American spelling Kootenai. There is no equivalent region called the Kootenais.

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This Nelson Daily News ad of Jan. 8, 1912 contained one of the more flagrant early examples of the tautological “West Kootenays.”

This Nelson Daily News ad of Jan. 8, 1912 contained one of the more flagrant early examples of the tautological “West Kootenays.”

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