- Our Town
Rossland's long history of names
Special to Black Press
One hundred sixty-sixth in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
The area where Rossland sits was first called kEluwi’sst or kmarkn by the Sinixt First Nation, who knew it as a good area for huckleberries.
According to Dorothy Kennedy and Randy Bouchard in First Nations’ Ethnography and Ethnohistory in British Columbia’s Lower Kootenay/Columbia Hydropower Region, ethnographer James Teit identified kEluwi’sst as “an important temporary camp” but gave no translation. Kennedy and Bouchard, however, believed he was transcribing the Okangan-Colville term k’lwist, meaning “up in the hills.”
The Sinixt people they consulted didn’t recognize it as a name for Rossland, but rather a generic term for any such area. The place name they did know was kmarkn, which means “smooth top,” referring to Red Mountain. Once the Centre Star and War Eagle mining claims were staked, the area came to be known as Trail Creek camp.
It was first mentioned in the Nelson Miner of Aug. 16, 1890: “The new Trail Creek camp has at last been christened. The boys first called it Oklohoma [sic], after the land of no rain and much turmoil to the south of Kansas; but the name was not deemed appropriate, and now it is called Robson after the slickest politician in British Columbia.” The name Robson didn’t stick, although seven months later it was bestowed upon a nearby town.
Instead, the name Trail Creek camp continued to be used. The creek itself was named for the Dewdney Trail, which we’ll discuss in greater detail later in this series. Some sources claim early Rossland was also known as Red Mountain camp, but no contemporary references have been found. Rossland has the distinction of being named twice after the same person, Ross Thompson (1866-1951), who pre-empted a homestead on which the city was built.
Thompson was born in Bruce County, Ont. and moved with his family as a child to Portage La Prairie, Man. He left home as a teenager and rambled through Alberta, BC, and the northwest United States before arriving in Nelson via Bonners Ferry around 1891. He met Joe Bourgeois, who discovered the original claims on Red Mountain and encouraged him to seek his fortune there. Thompson soon concluded real estate was more lucrative than mining.
According to Ron Shearer’s unpublished biography of him, Thompson probably had no intention of farming when he staked his 160-acre homestead pre-emption in 1892, but was exploiting a loophole to create a townsite. He had to wait two years before he could obtain title, but then moved quickly to begin selling lots. In partnership with John R. Cook and Joseph F. Ritchie, he formed a company whose ambitions were first mentioned in the Nakusp Ledge of April 12, 1894: “A new townsite, in the neighborhood of the Trail creek mines, is to be placed on the market.”
The name was revealed in the Fairview Advance of April 26, 1894: “Mr. Ritchie, after leaving Boundary creek, goes to Trail Creek to survey the townsite of Thompson.”
That name only lasted about five months, and there aren’t many examples of it, so we’re going to list them all. Collectively, they provide a précis of the town’s early development.
• Victoria Daily Colonist, May 9, 1894: “A steam sawmill will be put in near the new town of Thompson, adjoining all the leading mines …”
• Colville Index, May 10, 1894: “The new hotel erected at Thompsonville, Trail creek, by Johnson, Briggs & Co. will be opened on the 12th inst. to the public.”
• Nelson Tribune, June 30, 1894: “The Northport News says there are about a dozen houses already built and several under construction in the new town of Thompson in Trail Creek district …”
• Nelson Miner, July 7, 1894: “The town of Thompson at Trail Creek appears to be flourishing …”
• Nakusp Ledge, July 19, 1894: “Messrs. Stewart and Lynch have opened an hotel at Thompson, the new town on Trail creek.”
• Revelstoke Kootenay Mail, July 21, 1894: “The opening of the new hotel at Thompson also caused considerable excitement … The town of Thompson is growing up fast. It has now three stores, a fine hotel and about 50 cabins with several hundred prospectors camping in the immediate vicinity … The Thompson Townsite Co. have already sold about 150 lots and are smoking fine Havana cigars on the interest of their money.”
• Nelson Tribune, Aug. 11, 1894: “The undersigned hereby gives notice that he intends to apply for a license to sell liquor at his hotel in the town of Thompson, in Trail Creek division of West Kootenay district, BC. John Y. Cole, Thompson, BC, Aug. 2, 1894.”
A momentous announcement then appeared in the Nelson Miner on Sept. 8, 1894: “We are requested to say that the owners of the townsite at the Trail Creek mines have changed the name from Thompson to Rossland.” Next week we’ll look at why this might have happened.