Greg Nesteroff, Special to Black Press
A series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
Last week we saw that Rossland was originally known as Thompson, after Ross Thompson (1866-1951), who pre-empted a homestead on the future city’s site in 1892.
The name was changed to Rossland, also after Ross Thompson, by Sept. 6, 1894 when it appeared on a post office application. We’ll never know the exact reason for the switch, but a leading theory exists.
According to Harold Kingsmill’s First History of Rossland, published in 1897, “It was decided to call the town Thompson, in honor of its locator, but this name not being sonorous enough, at least so considered by the postal authorities, who also raised the point that the name would conflict with villages of the same nomenclature in other parts of the province, a change was made to Rossland.”
However, no correspondence survives to indicate postal authorities objected to the name Thompson, or that an application was ever filed in any other name besides Rossland.
There was, in fact, a place on Upper Arrow Lake then known as Thomson’s Landing (it was renamed Beaton a few years later). It didn’t have a post office in 1894, but an application was in the works. (There was a post office in Thompson, Ont. — and curiously, one in Rossland, Ont., which closed in late 1893, after less than a year. This Rossland, which is no longer on the map, was nine miles east of Rat Portage, now known as Kenora.)
There was some suggestion the name Rossland was also unacceptable to the post office, for according to the Nakusp Ledge of Nov. 1, 1894: “The townsite near the mines is called Rossland. Not long ago it was called Thompson, and when the post office is established it will likely be changed again.” In fact, on that same day, Joseph F. Ritchie deposited the Rossland townsite plan with the land registry. The Rossland post office opened March 1, 1895.
But let’s accept for a moment that some sort of postal confusion was behind abandoning the name Thompson for Rossland. The Rossland Miner of Feb. 9, 1910 quoted Milton Graves in explaining how the new name was chosen: “The news was discussed by a party gathered at the old Clifton Hotel. Mrs. Stewart was running the hotel at the time and she suggested that a name with Ross in it would be just right. After thinking for a moment, she said that Rossland would be just right for a name. The clever idea was at once adopted by Mr. Thompson, and an application was made to the proper authorities and thus it is that this city received its pretty name from the ingenuity of a woman.”
The paper added that as of 1910 Mrs. Stewart was married to Thomas Garrison and living in Spokane. (As an aside, Mr. Stewart died in 1894. The Rossland Prospector of Oct. 25, 1895 noted that T.B. Garrison sold the LaBelle claim and a quarter-interest in the Rainy Day to Mrs. J.M. Stewart for $1. Love evidently blossomed.)
An alternate and less likely story in the Nelson Daily News of June 20, 1928 claimed Ross Thompson’s “log cabin was his castle, and the locals referred to ‘Ross’ Land’ somewhat ironically. After word of the richness of the new camp became known, the incoming prospectors, miners and capitalists continued to use the name Rossland.”
Thompson himself seems to have made and lost several fortunes. Having witnessed his namesake town flourish into a bona fide city, he sold his remaining holdings in 1904 or 1905 and moved to pursue other mining ventures. He returned to BC sometime in the 1920s or ‘30s, but didn’t lay eyes on Rossland again until 1946, a year before the city marked its golden anniversary. He was welcomed as a conquering hero.
“I don’t know know how to thank the people of Rossland,” he said at the conclusion of his trip. “I’ve enjoyed this. I can go to my grave a contented man.”