One hundred seventy-fifth in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
Two noteworthy Sheep Creeks exist in West Kootenay. The first, southwest of Rossland, flows into Washington state.
The creek and area at its mouth were known to the Sinixt First Nation as yumtsn (also spelled yome-tsin and yametsin on 1882, 1884, and 1890 maps), although no translation is available. According to Dorothy Kennedy and Randy Bouchard’s Lakes Indian Ethnography and History (1985), it was the site of a winter village, and later Sinixt people lived year-round on the flats on the north side of the creek’s mouth.
Edgar Dewdney called it the White Sheep River when he laid out the Dewdney Trail in 1865, but it was Sheep Creek by Aug. 16, 1890, when it was mentioned in the Nelson Miner. It then became Big Sheep Creek (first mentioned in the Midway Advance of April 13, 1896), while another stream also southwest of Rossland was dubbed Little Sheep Creek (first noted in the Advance of Oct. 7, 1895).
In 1924, the Geographic Board of Canada declared it was “Big Sheep Creek (not Sheep Creek, nor White Sheep Creek, nor Yomelsin Creek).
The Sheep Creek Townsite Co. envisioned a city, first mentioned in the Rossland Miner of May 22, 1897: “This townsite is situated on Big Sheep Creek, where the Dewdney Trail crosses the creek.”
The name of the place was finally revealed in the Grand Forks Miner of April 30, 1898: “Melville, in honor of Magistrate Melville Newton of Rossland.” (We’ve previously covered Melville, which amounted to very little.)
A station on the Red Mountain Railway established in December 1897 was named Sheep Creek, as was the customs house when it opened the following month. However, the latter was renamed Paterson (which we’ve also previously covered) by order-in-council on July 18, 1900.
The railway station was renamed Paterson on April 1, 1905. The post office, established in 1899, was always known as Paterson.
Sheep Creek II
The other Sheep Creek flows west into the Salmo River, south of Salmo, and was named by early 1893, when it appeared on Perry’s Mining Map of West Kootenay. A series of gold mines was staked near the creek in the late 1890s and early 1900s, including the Queen, Reno, and Kootenay Belle.
According to Bill Barlee in West Kootenay: Ghost Town Country, several camps were established along Sheep Creek: “One of the first settlements was at the mouth of Waldie Creek, close to the Queen mine, another was several miles west, on the northern side of Sheep Creek; this latter camp, known as Sheep Creek, eventually became the premier camp of the area.”
The Sheep Creek post office opened on July 1, 1910 and a townsite was created, first mentioned in the Nelson Daily News of May 4, 1911: “Sid Ross was the buyer of the first lot sold in the new Sheep Creek townsite which has just been put on the market by M.J. Morgan, Carl Lindow, Walter Martin and associates. He proposes to commence the erection of a store at an early date. Another purchaser yesterday was J.L. Warner, the well-known operating engineer.”
Nine days later, the paper added: “A.H. Green of Green Bros. and Burden returned on Friday night from Sheep Creek, having spent about a week surveying the townsite.”
By July, Sid Ross completed his store and in August, full page ads for the townsite began appearing in the Daily News. (Sid Ross was the namesake of Ross Spur.)
Oddly, the townsite plan, completed in 1911, wasn’t deposited with the land registry until May 18, 1914. The streets were named Main, Nugget, Eureka, Emerald, Bonanza, Mother Lode, Queen, and Summit, all after local mines.
Sheep Creek’s first burst of excitement was over by 1917, when the post office closed. The following year, a notice of delinquent taxes indicated the Sheep Creek Townsite Co. was overdue on payments for dozens of lots. The Salmo Trading Co. and Carl Lindow were the only other property owners indicated.
However, the town came back to life in 1928. The post office re-opened in 1938, but closed for a second and final time in 1954 following a drop in gold prices.
Below: The Sheep Creek townsite plan. (Courtesy Regional District of Central Kootenay)
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