A series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
Of all of the hucksters who tried to sell fruit land in the West Kootenay to gullible investors in the early 20th century, none could match Fred Louis (Honeymoon) Harris (1875-1930) for sheer chutzpah. Harris breezed into the area around 1910 and bought up land around Kootenay Lake, which he then resold to others sight unseen.
Harris made his headquarters at Deer Creek on the east side of the lake, opposite Mirror Lake. This spot was first mentioned in the Kaslo Kootenaian on April 6, 1911: “The location is ideal in summer and Mr. Harris has selected ‘Honeymoon Place’ as the name of his ranch.”
As he explained, “It’s ideal from every standpoint — that’s what a ‘Honeymoon’ is supposed to be.”
But it must have been a lonely existence for Harris’ wife Elsie. In Pioneer Families of Kaslo, Annie May Norman recalls how Mrs. Harris “would row across the lake, even in storms, and Mother would spot her and her son, tossing in the waves … Mrs. Harris said that bear and deer were often in the small orchard they tried to grow in that wilderness. There were no roads and no neighbours.”
For each of his dubious developments, Honeymoon Harris combined an existing name with “Gardens” or “Orchards.” As a result, Bluebell Gardens, Argenta Gardens, Fry Creek Gardens, Kootenay Lake Orchard and Gold Hill Orchards were all briefly part of the local lexicon.
He advertised locally, nationally, and in his own Kootenay Magazine — a beautiful publication, notwithstanding the fact its main purpose was to sucker people into buying unsuitable farming land. (A secondary purpose was to share photos of his infant son, Fred Jr., of whom he was extremely proud.)
Despite portraying himself as a paragon of virtue, Harris had a chequered past. Born in Wisconsin, he started out in the newspaper business and was editor/publisher of the South Dakota Good Templar and McLean County Miner.
In 1904, he was charged in North Dakota with impregnating a young woman out of wedlock — at the time a crime in that state, at least if the mother complained. He denied paternity but a jury convicted him and the judge ordered him to pay child support. However, he was unable to post a bond and spent 110 days behind bars.
Afterward Harris became a scab during a printers’ strike in Fargo, where he was arrested and charged with carrying a concealed gun. He pleaded guilty and was fined $1.
He then established a real estate office in Winnipeg where he got in trouble in 1907 for forging cheques. He was sent to Lloydminster to stand trial but the outcome is unknown.
According to the Ward County Independent of Minot, North Dakota, “Harris ran ads in the N.D. state papers, but many declined to run the ads at all, knowing Harris’ reputation.”
Harris moved further west, establishing the Grandview Press and Northwest Irrigation Magazine in Yakima County, Wash., but it wasn’t long before he was arrested again for writing more bad cheques.
Somewhere along the way he was also sentenced to four years in prison for assaulting a woman in Canada, but was paroled after a year.
It was easier to cover your tracks back then — nobody could Google your name, so his unsavory reputation didn’t precede him on Kootenay Lake. He established himself as an energetic hustler and many took the bait, much to their regret.
As Steve Sawczhuk recalled in Where the Lardeau River Flows, Harris “sold people like my father just on his word and when they came to see it there was nothing, just rock bluffs.”
Maitland Harrison added: “Honeymoon Harris was an awful scoundrel … He sold mostly to Prairie people who bought it without seeing it. They were told it was wonderful. When they saw it they just dropped whatever payments they had made and forgot all about it.”
Harris silenced or drowned out his critics for a few years and Honeymoon Place was even added to the CPR’s sternwheeler timetable. But by 1915 he’d outlived his welcome and moved to Alberta, where he started another newspaper and restyled himself Old Man Harris. It didn’t change his ways.
Next stop was Billings, Montana where he established the Montana-Wyoming Oil and Mineral Journal. By this time he and his wife had separated, but he soon remarried and had two daughters.
In 1919 Harris relocated to Louisville and launched the Kentucky Oil Journal. He was charged with mail fraud for allegedly selling fake oil certificates in two companies. At the end of his trial, the judge ordered three of four charges dropped, but the jury convicted him on the remaining count and he was fined $1,000. He paid with a certified cheque.
Harris moved on to Fort Worth, Texas to pull the same scam. He was targeted by the National Vigilance Committee of the Associated Advertising Clubs as part of a campaign against sellers of stock in fraudulent oil companies. He was arrested in 1923, convicted, and sentenced to a year in Leavenworth penitentiary. This led to a deportation hearing, because Harris had been granted Canadian citizenship in 1909.
That’s the last sign of him until his death in Spokane on Jan. 4, 1930, age 54.
Harris’ first wife settled in Winnipeg after they separated but in 1942 she and Fred Jr. moved back to Honeymoon Place and they lived there until her death a decade later.
Honeymoon Place is no longer on the map; nor is Honeymoon Creek, which ran through the property.
A second Honeymoon Place existed near Creston, and was mentioned in the Nelson Daily News of May 16, 1921 when Doris Winch married George Huscroft of Wynndel: “The wedding is quite notable in that the groom is the fourth resident of Honeymoon Place, on the west side of Duck creek, to joint [sic] the ranks of the benedicts within a year.”