In May 1909, Robert Fraser Langford, the man who named Yasodhara, hosted his cousins at Kootenay Bay. From left, Sydney Smyth Fraser (namesake of Fraser’s Landing), Rob Langford, Rev. Thurlow Fraser (Sydney’s brother from Owen Sound, Ont. who was assigned to do missionary work among miners in Sandon), and a woman who is probably Rob’s wife Mary.

Yasodhara’s name preceded ashram by over 50 years

Yasodhara Ashram’s location had everything to do with a name bestowed by a real estate agent.

A series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names

In 1904, Robert Fraser Langford (1851-1917) showed up in Nelson from Winnipeg and started selling real estate. Through his Langford Land Co. he was first interested in Columbia Gardens, south of Trail. Soon, however, his attention was diverted to the East Shore of Kootenay Lake. Around 1906, he bought three sub-lots at Kootenay Bay totaling 660 acres and created a subdivision called Yasodhara.

Why Langford picked this unusual name is not clear. Yasodhara was the wife of Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. Her name, pronounced ya-SHOO-dra, is Sanskrit for “bearer of glory.” But Langford had no obvious connection to Buddhism, Hinduism, or India in general.

He was born in Merrickville, Ont., the youngest of Samuel Langford and Mary Jane Frazier’s five children. On the 1871 census, he’s shown as working with his father and an elder brother as joiners in a Merrickville factory.

By 1881, his occupation was “agent,” presumably of real estate. In 1891, he was still living with his now-elderly parents. His occupation was illegible, but where he previously indicated he was a Methodist, now he was a Spiritualist — the belief that the living can communicate with the dead.

Samuel Langford died in 1891 and Robert moved to Ottawa, where he worked for the real estate firm of C.B. Taggart & Son. In 1896 he married Mary E. McGregor, who was 14 years his junior, in Almonte, Ont. They headed west: on the 1901 census the couple turns up in Priddis, Alta., where he a travelling salesman and she was a teacher. They now belonged to the Unitarian church.

By 1903 they moved to Winnipeg, where Rob was a clerk for the Tribune newspaper. The earliest mention of Yasodhara we’ve found is in that paper, which carried an ad on June 11, 1909 for “Yasodhara Fruit Lands.”

“Money grows on apple trees in Kootenay beautiful,” it promised. “Most equable climate in British Columbia. Kootenay Lake never freezes.”

Terry Turner and Susan Hulland’s book Impressions of the Past reproduces another ad for Yasodhara that exalted the land’s many virtues but offered no insight on the name or any help pronouncing it.

Langford was connected to several other local place names as well.

• In 1906, his cousin Sydney Smyth Fraser purchased 400 acres on the west side of Kootenay Lake just south of Balfour. Fraser’s Landing and Fraser Narrows were both named after him. Fraser’s Landing was the western terminal of the Kootenay Lake ferry from 1931-47, but afterward the name fell into disuse.

• In 1909, Richard T. Deane bought 400 acres of Yasodhara, which became Deanshaven, previously covered in this series.

• Also that year, a widowed English farmer named Frederick William Walker (1856-1934) bought 90 acres that became Walker’s Landing. That’s the address he gave when he married Marguerite Gough in Nelson on Oct. 23, 1909.

In Dorothy’s Stormy Lake, their future neighbour, Dorothy Graham Brown, explained how the couple met: “Mr. Walker lived on the Prairie. Mrs. Walker lived in Zealand. Through friends, they started to correspond, with the result they became engaged. Mr. Walker, feeling that he didn’t want to bring a wife to the Prairies, sold his place and came to Nelson.”

Rob Langford was appointed postmaster at Kootenay Bay in 1916, but died six months later at age 65. He was buried in Nelson. His wife succeeded him in running the post office, but resigned in 1919 and moved back to Ontario, where she too died within a few months.

The CPR liked the names Deanshaven, Walker’s Landing, and Kootenay Bay, and included them on their timetables, but evidently didn’t care for the foreign-sounding Yasodhara.

The name was, however, perpetuated in Yasodhara Creek, while a creek to the north was named Langford. Both were so called by 1949, although only officially adopted in 1979.

Dorothy Graham Brown’s daughter Brenda Dau noted that “As a family we looked at our old map and puzzled over the name [Yasodhara] and its pronunciation as we had no idea what or who it referred to other than we presumed it was something to do with India.”

Langford and Walker would have been astonished at what happened next.

Swami Sivananda Radha established an ashram in Burnaby in 1957 in an old house where she offered classes and meditation. In 1962 she was scouting for a new location and saw a newspaper ad for property on Kootenay Lake. She went to look at Ledlanet Ranch, but discovered someone else already had an option on it. Owner Bill Fraser, however, told her another property was for sale: Yasodhara Estates, aka Walker’s Landing. The name, Radha concluded, was providential: not only was Yasodhara Buddha’s wife, Yasoda was the foster mother of the god Krishna. The land was purchased from the Graham Browns and the name Yasodhara was kept to recognize the significance of femininity in spiritual life.

Today Yasodhara Ashram is a renowned yoga retreat and study centre.

The name Walker’s Landing survives in Walker’s Landing Road, which the ashram is on, although its mailing address is Kootenay Bay. The BC Geographic Names website recognizes it as Walkers.

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Yasodhara Ashram, whose location was a direct result of the name chosen for the property decades earlier, recently completed its new Temple of Light. (Courtesy Yasodhara Ashram)

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