A series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
By Greg Nesteroff
Special to Black Press
Was Creston formerly called Sirdar? Or Sirdar formerly called Creston? Or both? Or neither? We’ll devote two installments to trying to answer these perplexing questions while considering several other names as well.
The first name for the Creston area was Yaqan Nukiy, pronounced ya-ka-noo-kee, which means “where the rock stands.” The Yaqan Nukiy people are also known as the Lower Kootenay Band and part of the Ktunaxa Nation. Early European settlers referred to the area as the Goat River district.
On May 20, 1898, Frederick George Little (1849-1924) obtained a Crown grant for Lot 525, the future site of Creston. It was first mentioned in the Nelson Daily Miner of Dec. 2, 1898 in relation to the Great Northern’s new Nelson-Bedlington Railway from Bonners Ferry to Kuskonook: “The place formerly known as Fred Little’s ranch, then as the 8th siding, and now as Creston, has been made the headquarters of the construction department.”
According to A.G. Harvey’s place names file at the BC Archives, Little named it after Creston, Iowa — where he worked for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railway — because it was “similarly situated at the outlet of a major waterbody.” (Harvey refers to Creston as Little’s hometown, but he was actually born in England.)
The Iowa town was founded in 1868 as a railway survey camp and its name chosen because it was on the crest of the line between the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.
In Sixty Bloomin’ Years: A History of Creston (1984), Helena White quoted a letter from Edward Mallandaine to William White, western division manager of the CPR, dated Dec. 16, 1898: “Sir: At a meeting of the citizens of Creston, West Kootenay District, BC, held Nov. 24, I was instructed to write to you to say: ‘Some time ago it was decided to call this townsite Creston which at present is the Junction of the Crows Nest Pass Railway with the Nelson and Bedlington Railway and that the present name of Fisher per CNP timecard would lead to confusion. We would respectfully request that the name Fisher be changed to Creston …’”
The earliest mention of both Fisher and Sirdar was on a Crows Nest Pass railway timetable dated Aug. 25, 1898 that also included Kitchener and Kootenay Landing. Kitchener, the sixth siding west of Cranbrook, was nine miles east of Fisher; Fisher, the seventh siding, was 15 miles south of Sirdar; and Sirdar, the eighth siding, was five miles south of Kootenay Landing. Fisher’s origin is unknown, but as a guess, it may have been after Sydney Arthur Fisher (1850-1921), Canada’s agriculture minister from 1896 to 1911, who introduced legislation to subsidize cold storage warehouses, to the CPR’s benefit.
Sirdar was the title of the commander-in-chief of the British-controlled Egyptian army, a position held by Lord Kitchener from 1892-99, who was thus honoured with two places on the same rail line. Or maybe three places, for the Nelson Daily Miner of Dec. 9, 1898 reported: “The CPR has changed the name of the new town of Creston on the CPR railroad to Sirdar in honor of General Kitchener.”
The following day, the Nelson Tribune added that the new town was at the eighth siding, and “Fred Little, who owns the prospective townsite, did not know where he was at for a while, but after consulting his library he found there was nothing libelous in the name Sirdar, which means ‘supreme,’ and he preferred it to Creston, which heretofore has meant nothing.”
Other accounts, however, suggest Little sold his land to the CPR on the promise the town be named Creston. There’s also a discrepancy over whether Creston was the seventh siding or eighth siding. Most secondary sources say it was the former, and the timetable mentioned above indicates this as well. However, contemporary sources seem to agree it was the eighth siding. And when C.J. Campbell applied for a hotel license in early 1899 at what is now Sirdar, he referred to it as “No. 9 Siding, Crow’s Nest Pass Railway.”
The Daily Miner of Dec. 19, 1898 contained a story headlined “Sirdar booming” which described the fledgling town we now know as Creston: “The contractors, Messrs. Foley Bros, Larsen and Halverson, have fixed upon Sirdar as their main distributing point … Sirdar is situated about the middle of the construction work, and there the contractors have already erected three large warehouses adjoining the CNP Railway station, which is itself on the townsite. The sawmill there, owned by Messrs. Byers and Bigelow is turning out 16,000 feet of lumber a day … Seven hotels are in course of erection and five general stores are going up as well as a large number of smaller buildings.”
The same issue of the Miner carried the first ad for the Sirdar Townsite Co., George McFarland, agent. Similar ads in the Nelson Economist called Sirdar “The City of Kismet” and said it was “only 7 miles from the International boundary and is the Centre of the Goat Mountain Mining District, the richest in West Kootenay.”
But on Jan. 4, 1899, the ads were changed to read “Sirdar, now finally known as Creston (Fisher Station, CNP Ry)” while the company’s name became the Creston Townsite Co. On Feb. 23, Sirdar and Fisher were dropped from the ads altogether in favour of Creston. The Tribune of Jan. 26, 1899 noted “The station on the Crow’s Nest Pass railway now known as Fisher [will] soon be known as Creston.”
Next: Puzzling over the post office