A series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
Last week we saw that Slocan is an Interior Salish word that means “to pierce; strike on the head,” referring to the Sinixt practice of harpooning salmon.
We also saw that the name proliferated, being applied to many geographical features. One was a townsite that grew into a city but later became a village. It was staked at the south end of Slocan Lake during the Silvery Slocan mining rush, but there is confusion over who was responsible.
The Nelson Miner of Oct. 31, 1891 contained a notice that James Delaney and Thomas M. Ward intended to buy 160 acres of Crown land at the future site of Slocan City. The same issue contained applications by Harry H. Ward (Tom’s brother) and Arthur C. Dick to buy 320 acres and 160 acres, about three miles south and half a mile south of the lake, respectively.
The townsite was first mentioned in the Nelson Miner of Dec. 26, 1891: “At the lower end of the lake Arthur Dick and Harry Ward have a townsite partly surveyed, and between selling town lots and bailing hay expect to make a ‘killing.’”
Although the latter only named two men, Tom, Dick, and Harry (plus James) were all likely involved in the townsite.
The name Slocan City name had already been adopted by what was later called Eldorado and then New Denver. Dick, Ward, et al., must have haggled for the rights, for on Jan. 9, 1892, the Miner first used it in reference to their town: “Arthur Dick, B.H. Lee, and Alfred Bunter arrived at Nelson on Thursday evening from Slocan City, at the lower end of the lake. They will return in about 10 days and put in the time until spring clearing streets and making trails in the ‘city.’”
The first Slocan City townsite ad appeared in the Miner on May 7, 1892 and nine days later, future Nelson mayor Harold Selous began selling lots. However, the only real activity that year was the construction of the Lake View Hotel by Thomas Mulvey and Billy Clement.
Slocan City was otherwise mostly dormant until the discovery of rich mining claims on Springer and Lemon creeks three years later. A legal dispute probably further delayed progress: in 1897, Delaney and someone named Hoffman, who together owned three-sixteenths of the townsite, asked a judge to stop trustee Frank Fletcher from selling any more lots. The matter was settled out of court.
Fletcher drew the Slocan City townsite plan in February 1897 and deposited it with the land registry on July 12 of that year. He named an avenue after himself. Other streets included Arthur, Dick, Harold, Ward, and Delaney, honouring the townsite’s locators. (Hume Street was probably also after Harry Ward – that was his middle name.)
An application for a post office at Slocan City was filed on May 8, 1896, and it opened on Nov. 1 of that year. It was inexplicably renamed Slocan on July 1, 1897.
“We do not like to drop the City after Slocan but have done so because the post office officials have made it so,” the Slocan Drill wrote on April 6, 1900. And further: “We do not like the name Slocan for this town. It would bloom equally well under any other cognomen. Suppose it was called by any of these names, what would be the difference? Mulveyville, Laketon, Sloansburg, Teeter City, Nealville, or Batyville.”
Fortunately, the Drill’s suggestions were ignored.
The Drill further explained – and complained — on Aug. 17, 1900: “The dominion government permits only the use of the word Slocan, while the provincial government and CPR use city in connection therewith. It is pointed out that the former conflicts more or less with the famous district of which we form a part, while the present use of the two systems makes confusion, especially for the outside public.”
By its March 6, 1903 edition, the Drill had changed its mind about one thing: “When speaking of this place, leave the City off. Its name is Slocan.”
Yet by then it was an actual city, incorporated June 2, 1901. Even so, Denis St. Denis, an early city clerk, wrote: “Naturally the term ‘Slocan City’ lead me to believe that it was a place of some importance, and of considerable population. In that I was very much disappointed in both these beliefs.”
By 1941, Slocan had fewer than 200 citizens but retained its city status despite a clause added to the Municipal Act in the 1930s requiring cities to have at least 5,000 people. Although the influx of interned Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War boosted Slocan’s population, city clerk Frank Norris had a rubber stamp made in the early 1950s declaring Slocan to be the “Smallest incorporated city on the North American continent.” It was no exaggeration.
In 1957, another amendment to the Municipal Act allowed municipalities to change their classifications. Slocan residents were asked if they wanted to become a village, with the promise that the province would pay for road maintenance, schools, and policing.
The referendum passed with 72 per cent in favour and Slocan reincorporated as a village on June 2, 1958.
In November 1980, then-mayor Don Hird led a campaign to change the name to the Village of Slocan City — similar to Dawson City, Yukon, which is officially the Town of the City of Dawson.
It took 17 months to get an answer from the provincial government. They agreed it could be done but would require $200 to announce the change in the BC Gazette, a legal ad in a local newspaper, new corporate seals, receipt books, stationary, and cheques — and only after petitioning the lieutenant-governor with letters of support from citizens. Council decided it wasn’t worth the trouble or expense. You’ll still hear it called Slocan City occasionally — the village’s website is slocancity.com — but for the most part it’s just Slocan.
— With thanks to Peter Smith