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7 men who were mayor of Sandon (and 3 who weren’t)

During its 22 years as a bona fide city, Sandon had seven mayors — and four receivers.

Sandon city hall was built in 1900 following a fire that consumed much of the downtown. Today it’s the Prospector’s Pick.

Sandon was incorporated under Section 20 of the Speedy Incorporation of Towns Act (the same legislation that granted city status to Nelson, Rossland, Grand Forks, and Greenwood).

However, the letters patent is confusing. It’s dated Dec. 30, 1897 but says Sandon “shall, from and after the 1st day of January 1898 be incorporated as a city.” As a result, various sources give both 1897 and 1898 as the year of the city’s founding. But the official civic seal gave the date as Jan. 1, 1898. (Not that this means much; I can point to several examples of municipalities whose own official documents had the wrong incorporation date.)

This is a list of Sandon’s seven elected mayors and one interim mayor and the dates they served:

1. Edwin Robinson Atherton [1] Jan. 20, 1898 – January 1899

2. Herbert Herschel Pitts [2] January 1899 – May 6, 1901

Thomas B. Folliot (interim) May 8-20, 1901

3. George Lovatt May 20, 1901 – Jan. 20, 1902

4. Robert Cunning [3] Jan. 20, 1902 – Jan. 26, 1903

5. Martin Luther Grimmett [4] Jan. 26, 1903 – Jan. 28, 1907

6. John Randolph Cameron [5] Jan. 28, 1907 – Jan. 25, 1909

7. Dr. William Edward Gomm [6] Jan. 25, 1909 – April 1913

8. Robert Cunning [7] May 12, 1919 – April 17, 1920

  1. Atherton was acclaimed as mayor in 1898. It must have been his manifest destiny, for the Nelson Tribune of March 2, 1895 and The Ledge of May 23, 1895 both referred to him as Sandon’s mayor even though the city hadn’t been incorporated yet. He was also an alderman from 1899-1902 and again in 1908.

  2. Pitts was acclaimed in 1899, but I’m not sure what happened in 1900 (the key issues of both Sandon newspapers from that month are missing). Pitts was re-elected in 1901 by a vote of 48-29 over Robert Cunning. But he resigned that May to move to the Similkameen (although he soon ended up in Nelson instead). Lovatt was acclaimed to replace him.

  3. Cunning was acclaimed in 1902.

  4. Grimmett was acclaimed in 1903, 1904, and 1905, but I don’t know about 1906. He moved to Nicola in October 1906. Rather than hold a late by-election, council granted him a three-month leave of absence.

  5. Cameron was acclaimed in 1907, but I’m not sure about 1908.

  6. Dr. Gomm was an alderman in 1901, but resigned and sued the city over an unpaid debt. He was appointed alderman again in October 1902 by provincial order-in-council to fill a vacancy, and continued to serve through 1909. He was elected mayor by acclamation in 1910 and 1911, but I don’t know about 1909 and 1912. In 1913, Gomm and the rest of the previous year’s council was appointed to continue since there weren’t enough qualified candidates to hold an election.

  7. Cunning was acclaimed in 1919. There was no election in 1920.

Below: Savannah, Ga.-born Dr. William E. Gomm is seen ca. 1891. He was Sandon’s longest-serving mayor at four years and two months. He was also also a police commissioner in 1904, 1908, and 1919, and a school trustee from 1903-05 and 1919. (Courtesy Gomm family)

You’ll notice the gap between 1913 and 1919, when the city was in receivership. One of council’s first acts in 1898 was to build a flume over Carpenter Creek, which ran through the centre of town. They paid for it by issuing a $15,000 debenture. But when it came due in 1913, there was practically no money on hand.

The provincial government placed the city in receivership on March 1, 1913 under the terms of the Sandon Receivership Act. Council, however, continued to function until former Nelson police chief Charles W. Young arrived to act as receiver a month later. The receiver had sole control of all city functions, in lieu of a mayor, council, police chief, fire chief, and other staff.

These are the receivers and the dates they served. Until recently, the identity of the second one was a mystery, but he has now been unmasked.

1. Charles Warburton Young April 1 – Sept. 30, 1913

2. Alonzo James Ryder Oct. 1, 1913 – June 26, 1914

3. David Alexander McClelland June 27, 1914 – Feb. 15, 1918

4. Sgt. Wilfred Austin Turner Feb. 15, 1918 – May 1919

The Sandon Receivership Act was amended in 1914, 1915, and 1918. Receivership was finally lifted on March 29, 1919 through the Sandon Receivership Cancellation Act, although Wilfred Turner stayed on as receiver until a new council could be sworn in. The city’s renewed status lasted barely a year: the city was disincorporated on April 17, 1920 through the Sandon Disincorporation Act. A special council meeting was held on April 30 of that year at which bills were ordered paid. There is no record of who attended that meeting, but the minutes were signed by city clerk George Boudin.

Three other men were said to be mayor of Sandon, even though they weren’t.

1. Eugene Petersen: He was called the mayor of Sandon because for a while he was its only permanent resident. But the city had already been disincorporated by the time his family moved there in the 1920s. His autobiography Window in the Rock is a must-read on Sandon history. Although he died in 1988, his old shed — covered with old stove parts, horseshoes, and other rusted metal — remains a Sandon landmark.

2. Bill Goodwin: In Kootenay Pathfinders, p. 42-43, Ed Vipond wrote: “[W]hen Sandon got its charter back in 1919 and Bill Goodwin was elected mayor, I never heard of a council meeting being held …” Goodwin was an alderman, not mayor in 1919. And while Vipond may not have heard of any council meetings, they did happen. Vipond repeated this error in his unpublished typescript Sandon Types: “Bill Goodwin: Worked at the Surprise mill, shift boss I think. After Sandon got its city charter back in 1919, Bill was elected mayor …”

3. Henry Switzer: Writing in the Nelson Daily News of Oct. 28, 1967, Don Kolfage said: “The decision was made to incorporate Sandon as a town and Henry Switzer was elected the first mayor.” Something nearly identical appeared in the Revelstoke Review of Nov. 27, 1969, attributed to Gus Stankoven: “A decision was finally made to incorporate Sandon as a town and in 1898 Henry Switzer was the first mayor elected, and his successor was Robert Cunning.” I have never heard of Henry Switzer, and Robert Cunning was the fourth mayor, not the second. However, John William Switzer was an alderman on the inaugural council of 1898. The 1970s film Sandon on the Silvery Slocan repeated this error: “Sandon was incorporated by 1897, with mayor Henry Switzer trying to control somewhere between 2,500 and 3,500 people.” (Nevertheless, the film is a lot of fun.)

Gene Petersen’s shed at Sandon is an oft-photographed landmark.

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