Sour Dough Alley in Rossland, looking east, 1895. City of Vancouver Archives/Major Matthews collection/AM54-S4

Sour Dough Alley in Rossland, looking east, 1895. City of Vancouver Archives/Major Matthews collection/AM54-S4

Rossland’s Sourdough Alley a ‘muddy collection of shacks’

Rossland’s earliest thoroughfare was once derided as a ‘muddy collection of shacks’

Three hundred thirteenth in a series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names

Our recent look at Rossland neighbourhoods neglected to include the most colourful one of all. Sour Dough Alley (later Sourdough Alley) existed for a few years in the 1890s as a haphazard business district.

In Rossland: The Golden City, Lance Whittaker described the alley as a widening of the trail to the Le Roi mine with a “jerrybuilt, muddy collection of shacks,” and “everlasting welter of mud with planks thrown loosely about.”

The alley ran approximately north of and parallel to Columbia Avenue, beginning (or ending) at what is now Esling Park, crossed Washington Street, and continued a little ways east.

It was home to a drug store, bottling works, auction house, undertaker, milliner, boot store, blacksmith, restaurants, stables, and other shops, plus a red light district — all squatting on land granted to D.C. Corbin’s Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway.

It was first mentioned in the New Denver Ledge of March 28, 1895: “Sour Dough Alley is the name of a street on the government portion of the town.”

The Spokane Spokesman Review added soon afterward: “The name implies evanescence, in contradistinction to permanence. Sour dough bread is the staple food of the sheep herder and the bachelor rancher, as well as the prospector.”

The Rossland Mining Review of April 17, 1897 credited the name to Rossland Record publisher Harold Kingsmill, and explained “The idea in the name is that the people who lived there ‘batched’ and presumably used sour dough to make bread.”

Other explanations exist, but this seems to be the nub of it.

Sourdough became a nickname for experienced prospectors, especially those in Alaska or the Yukon, but hadn’t yet achieved that status when Sour Dough Alley was born.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citation of sourdough meaning prospector is from 1898. (Conversely, an inexperienced prospector was called a tenderfoot or cheecako, a Chinook jargon word.)

Sour Dough Alley was never an official name but it was widely used. Later in 1895, efforts were made to rename it — or at least a portion of it — Reserve Street, which referred to Corbin’s railway grant, on which much of the town would eventually be built. A narrow passageway that crossed Reserve Street became Independent Street.

While no businesses advertised themselves as located on Sour Dough Alley, several declared they were on Reserve Street. However, the new name didn’t stick. Sour Dough Alley appeared on the 1897 voters lists as the address of several residents and businesses.

When Rossland incorporated as a city in 1897, newly-elected mayor Robert Scott pledged to clean up the streets — and do away with Sour Dough Alley, which he called a “small, dirty and crooked lane” that is “rapidly becoming a thing of the past [and] will soon be a first class street.”

Shops on both sides of the alley were turned around, so those on the north side faced First Avenue and those on the south faced a new, presumably straighter alley north of Columbia.

Many squatters’ shacks and stores were moved higher up the hill. The red light district was also relocated to upper Lincoln (now Queen) street.

During this great shuffle, the Spokesman Review said it was “no uncommon thing to see houses dragged through the principal streets by a double string of horses.”

While a couple of classic photos of Sour Dough Alley have been reprinted endlessly, several lesser-known but equally impressive images exist, further demonstrating the street’s desultory design.

The name, now usually written as one word, lives on in a few ways. Sourdough Alley Holdings proposes to build Sourdough Row, a mix-use collection of commercial and residential units on part of the former Sourdough Alley site.

Red Mountain Resort is home to the Sourdough cafeteria, Sourdough Alley banquet room, and Sourdough Patio. Golden City Days has a Sour Dough Alley Stage.

The name was also exported to Seward, Alaska, which had its own Sourdough Alley.

— With thanks to Ron Shearer

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Sour Dough Alley in Rossland, looking east, 1895. City of Vancouver Archives/Major Matthews collection/AM54-S4

Sour Dough Alley in Rossland, looking east, 1895. City of Vancouver Archives/Major Matthews collection/AM54-S4

This is the most frequently reproduced photo of Sour Dough Alley in Rossland, but it’st not the only one. City of Vancouver Archives/S.J. Thompson photo/AM1376

This is the most frequently reproduced photo of Sour Dough Alley in Rossland, but it’st not the only one. City of Vancouver Archives/S.J. Thompson photo/AM1376

Just Posted

Fletcher Quince
Rossland byelection quickly approaching on Nov. 28

Fletcher Quince and Terry Miller are vying to become the next city councillor

With new Provincial Health Orders, area sports teams will suspend all travel including the Trail Smoke Eaters and Trail minor hockey rep teams and some house teams. Photo: Jim Bailey.
New COVID regs suspend junior and minor hockey rep play

All West Kootenay travelling hockey teams have been grounded until Dec. 7

(Black Press file)
Interior Health reports 31 new COVID-19 cases

In the region, health authority reports 235 total active cases

Fire crews responded to the fire at approximately at approximately 11 a.m. on Friday, June 5, 2020. (Connor Trembley photo)
Man, 26, accused of arson in summer fire that destroyed two Castlegar homes

Jonathan Mcallister is charged with two counts of arson

Kyle Charles poses for a photo in Edmonton on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Marvel Entertainment, the biggest comic book publisher in the world, hired the 34-year-old First Nations illustrator as one of the artists involved in Marvel Voice: Indigenous Voices #1 in August. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
VIDEO: Indigenous illustrator of new Marvel comic hopes Aboriginal women feel inspired

Kyle Charles says Indigenous women around the world have reached out

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, November 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-19: What do rising positivity rates mean for B.C.? It’s not entirely clear

Coronavirus cases are on the rise but the province has not unveiled clear thresholds for further measures

A rider carves a path on Yanks Peak Saturday, Nov. 21. Two men from Prince George went missing on the mountain the next day. One of them, Colin Jalbert, made it back after digging out his sled from four feet under the snow. The other, Mike Harbak, is still missing. Local search and rescue teams went out looking Monday, Nov. 23. (Sam Fait Photo)
‘I could still be the one out there’: Snowmobiler rescued, 1 missing on northern B.C. mountain

As Quesnel search and rescue teams search for the remaining rider, Colin Jalbert is resting at home

More than 70 anglers participated in the bar-fishing demonstration fishery on Sept. 9, 2020 on the Fraser River near Chilliwack. DFO officers ticketed six people and seized four rods. A court date is set for Dec. 1, 2020. (Jennifer Feinberg/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Anglers ticketed in Fraser River demonstration fishery heading to court

Sportfishing groups started a GoFundMe with almost $20K so far for legal defence of six anglers

Pictured is the Cranbrook gravel pit, located between two graveyards near the public works yard. This is where two lost kids were located by a Salvador Ready Mix driver on Thursday, November 19, 2020. (Corey Bullock/Cranbrook Townsman file)
Two lost Cranbrook kids find their way home thanks to Salvador Ready Mix driver

The driver found the children wandering near the gravel pits in Cranbrook

Care home staff are diligent about wearing personal protective equipment when they are in contact with residents, but less so when they interact with other staff members, B.C. Seniors Advocate says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
More COVID-19 testing needed for senior home staff, B.C.’s advocate says

Employees mingling spotted as virus conductor in many workplaces

This 2019 photo provided by The ALS Association shows Pat Quinn. Quinn, a co-founder of the viral ice bucket challenge, died Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, at the age of 37. (Scott Kauffman/The ALS Association via AP)
Co-founder of viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge dies at 37

Pat Quinn was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in 2013

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti speaks with the media following party caucus in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Exclusion of mental health as grounds for assisted death is likely temporary: Lametti

Senators also suggested the exclusion renders the bill unconstitutional

Most Read