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4 questions answered and 4 still outstanding

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

Here’s a list of local historical questions I wish I could answer and some others I have recently been able to find answers to.

1) What happened to the Nelson firebug?

In 1911-12, Nelson’s fire department was run ragged responding to an arson spree. Targets included the brewery on Latimer Street (a $50,000 loss), the idled smelter ($200,000), lumber yards, and a tool shed next to the fire hall ($750).

The prime suspect, John Bradshaw, stood trial several times before finally being convicted in October 1912 of a starting a single fire in a shed. The jury, in convicting him, asked for mercy “believing that he did the act as the result of a mania for setting fires.”

Clearly they thought he was responsible for the other fires, even though he was not on trial for them. The judge scolded them for this before sentencing Bradshaw to three years in prison.

He was not heard from again (Bradshaw, not the judge). Of Bradshaw, we know very little. The 1911 census finds him living at Harrop and working as a laborer. It reveals he was born in England in April 1886 and came to Canada in 1904.

If Bradshaw was indeed a pyromaniac, you’d think that he might have resumed his old habit upon his release, but I can’t find anyone by that name accused or convicted of setting further fires. Which makes me wonder if he changed his name upon his release.

There is a record (pictured below) of a man named Isaac Bradshaw, alias John McCutcheon, who applied for US naturalization on Aug. 9, 1917. He indicated he was born on April 3, 1886 in Birmingham, England and was then living at Kent, Wash. He previously lived at Toronto. He arrived at San Francisco from Capetown, South African aboard the steamer Alta on June 3, 1915.

Someone named Isaac Bradshaw born in 1886 did come to Montreal in July 1904 from Warwickshire, bound for Toronto, although I can’t make out his occupation on the ship’s manifest.

As John McCutcheon, he registered for World War I at Seattle in 1917-18. He was then a lumber handler for the Page Lumber Co. and gave as his nearest relative Ellen McCutcheon, his foster mother, who was living at Vashon Island, Wash.

On the 1940 census, McCutcheon was working as a logger and living at Grays Harbor County, Wash. His 1942 World War II registration card listed his address as the Regina Hotel in Seattle and indicated he was then working for Weyerhauser Timber in a camp near Melbourne, a little east of Grays Harbor.

McCutcheon died in Grays Harbor County on Oct. 19, 1972, age 86, and was buried at Fern Hill Cemetery in Aberdeen. I don’t know if he had any survivors.

Of course, this could all be entirely coincidental, with Mr. Bradshaw/McCutcheon having nothing to do with the Nelson fire spree.

2) When was Nelson’s Uphill neighbourhood named?

Nelson, it must be said, has the most generic official neighbourhood names imaginable: Uphill, Fairview, and Rosemont. (Unofficially, it had one terrifically interesting neighbourood name: Bogustown, which is what Fairview was once called.)

But while I know when Fairview and Rosemont entered the local lexicon, putting a date on Uphill is much trickier. The earliest reference I have found is from 1944.

Because uphill is a common word, digitized newspaper searches were of little help. (I tried “Uphill neighbourhood” and “Uphill Nelson” to no avail.)

No schools or businesses called themselves Uphill anything (before Uphill Bakery in 2002), so the civic directories are not much help either.

But two items in the Spokane Spokesman Review may provide some insight. The Jan. 28, 1934 edition noted people still attended a Burns’ night banquet, although Nelson’s streets were icy, “even bordering on dangerous in parts of the uphill sections.”

The Review of Oct. 26, 1938 also noted: “The first snow of the fall season touched the outskirts of Nelson yesterday when a light fall was noted in the uphill section.” Uphill wasn’t capitalized in these instances, suggesting the name was in use informally but not yet official.

Also: why Uphill and not Downhill? You didn’t necessarily have to go up the hill — if you arrived at Mountain Station on the Great Northern Railway, you headed down the hill toward town. Fairview and Rosemont were also built on hillsides, so why did the topography of this particular neighbourhood contribute to its rather bland name?

3) When and how did Connaught Park revert to Lakeside Park?

Nelson’s Lakeside Park was created and named in 1905. But it was renamed Connaught Park to honour the visit of the Duke of Connaught in October 1912. This name was in use through at least through 1919, but by 1922 it became Lakeside Park again. How? By city council decision? Did the duke somehow fall out of favour with them?

This postcard was published by J.V. Valentine & Sons, probably between 1912 and 1915. (Greg Nesteroff collection)

4) When was Nelson’s Tremont Hotel partly demolished?

The Tremont Hotel at 652 Baker Street in Nelson consisted of three adjacent brick buildings designed by the local firm of Ewart and Carrie and erected in 1899 to replaced an earlier frame building of the same name. Only the western-most portion survives today as Cartolina Cards.

The Tremont Hotel is seen at left in this 1914 postcard. Only one section remains.

(Greg Nesteroff collection)

Sometime before 1951, the middle and east sections were demolished to make way for a parking lot for the new Greyhound depot next door. It was probably in the late 1940s, but I’ve had no luck pinpointing the date. You’d think such a major transformation of that end of the street would have been better remembered or recorded, but I guess not.

5) What accounted for a 10-day gap in the Nelson Daily News?

Sometime in the 1970s or ‘80s, as the Nelson Daily News was being microfilmed for the BC Legislative Library, a curious discovery was made: no copies were on hand of the editions between July 3 and 13, 1952.

While occasional issues were missing, a 10-day gap was very unusual. At first blush it appeared the papers were not only unavailable, but didn’t exist, for the July 2 edition was numbered Vol. 51, No. 60 while the July 14 edition was Vol. 51, No. 61.

What accounted for this oddity? No explanation appeared in the July 14 edition. If mechanical difficulties were to blame, arrangements would have been made to print at the Trail Daily Times, which had the same owners. I checked if the Times published during that span. It did.

So my best guess was a labour dispute. But you’d think the paper would have acknowledged it once it resumed publishing and other papers would have reported on the dispute. Neither of those things happened.

Unable to locate the missing papers at the time of filming, the Legislative Library inserted a slip between the July 3 and 13 editions with the note “Possibly never issued?”

However, in November 2023 I was stunned to see those papers on the University of BC’s digitized newspaper site and tried to make sense of it. The actual answer turns out to be more mundane yet far stranger than anything I expected.

The eight editions between July 3 and 13 (the Daily News did not publish Sundays) were misnumbered. July 3 was erroneously labelled No. 70 and then the following papers inexplicably counted down to No. 62 before someone realized the mistake and reset the numbering. It’s easy to comprehend a single issue being misnumbered, either by repeating the previous day’s number or inadvertently skipping ahead, but how did they manage to go backward?

The numbering remained out of whack for the rest of the year, as July 14 should have been No. 70, not No. 61. As a result, there were two editions each of Nos. 62-70. I’m sure few people noticed other than sharp-eyed librarians and it shouldn't have mattered anyway, except that it apparently did decades later.

I’m still at a loss to understand how this error led the Legislative Library to either not receive those papers or misfile them so they were unavailable for microfilming. And yet, that must be the explanation.

The July 10, 1952 issue was labelled Vol. 51, No. 64. It should have been No. 67.

Fortunately, the Nelson Museum has two nearly-complete runs of the paper. The first is made up of sliced-apart editions transferred by the Legislative Library once microfilming was completed.

The other is made up bound volumes that came to the museum from the newspaper itself. Archivist J.P. Stienne explained the missing papers were located in this second set and sent to UBC to be scanned and placed online. It never occurred to me to check them.

UBC has been digitizing the Daily News in partnership with the museum for the last few years and has now placed all editions from 1902-65 online as well as a couple of months from 1967 (in addition to other Nelson papers from 1890-1902). Editions to the end of 1968 should be online soon and the museum is seeking further funding to take the project up to 1977.

For the most part, misnumbered issues are no longer an issue locally because the practice has fallen by the wayside entirely. The Nelson Star stopped numbering its editions in January 2019 and other Black Press papers in the Kootenays soon followed. No protests seem to have erupted, if anyone noticed at all. However, the Grand Forks Gazette maintains the tradition. They’re now on Vol. 126.

6) When did Nelson adopt its free porch light policy?

For ages I’ve been curious about the free porch light policy in Nelson. Apparently it read: “One 50-watt lamp or its equivalent shall be permitted to be used without charge if suspended outside the front door of each residence within the city.”

It was a way of providing cheap street lighting but it also gave the city bragging rights — it had so much power, it could afford to give it away. Nelson was not the only place in North America or even West Kootenay with such a program (Nakusp did too), but it seems to have persisted far longer than anywhere else and by the 1940s, it was earning mentions in the New York Times and Saturday Evening Post.

At some point the city stopped installing unmetered porch circuits, but made no attempt to replace the existing ones. By 2012, when a new hydro services bylaw was adopted, it was estimated that as many as 200 homes still had them, costing Nelson Hydro as much a $8,000 per year in lost revenue.

But when did the city start powering those porch lights? I found the answer in the Victoria Daily Times of Nov. 11, 1908:

So the porch light policy persisted, at least unofficially, for 104 years!

7) When did the great Fruitvale fire happen?

When I wrote a post about the first Fruitvale Hotel, I noted that it burned down sometime between 1915 and 1917. The fire also destroyed the H.C. Davis store, and other buildings. But nobody seems to have jotted down the exact date.

At last, I was able to solve this mystery with the help of the recently-digitized Nelson Daily News. But even then it wasn’t easy. The fire happened on March 5, 1916. This story appeared in the newspaper two days later.

A brief story also appeared in the Trail News, while the Rossland Miner did not deem it sufficiently newsworthy.

8) Where were the original Overwaitea stores in Grand Forks and Trail?

I’ve written about the history of Overwaitea stores in our region, but was unable to determine the locations of the original stores in Trail and Grand Forks.

The former was in business as of 1924, but must not have been around long. It was not listed in the civic directories from 1923-25. But according to the late Paul Trussell’s memoir, it “operated across from the Meakin Hotel,” which would put it at the southeast corner of Cedar and Spokane, where the Trail Mercantile was built in 1930. (It became Eaton’s in 1953; the building is still standing.)

Trussell said Overwaitea’s manager was a Mr. Jordan, who left in 1924 to join the grocery department of the Trail Mercantile (I don’t see him listed in the civic directory either). The Trail Overwaitea closed by 1928. The second store operated from about 1963-72 at 1236 Bay Ave.

The first Grand Forks store opened in 1932 and closed two years later. The second store opened in 1950 in the Davis Block, at the corner of Market Avenue and Second Street and moved a few times.

After I posted the above, Sue Adrain at the Boundary Community Archives found this note in their files:

The first Overwaitea store in Grand Forks was located where Andy’s TV is now, and operated from 1932 to 1934. Overwaitea moved to the Davis Block in 1950, then to Bridge Street in 1959, and was managed by Bill Strachan, taking over the Cash Groceteria.

Andy’s TV was at 337 Market Ave., the present location of Thistle Pot Gifts. The building is believed to be the oldest on the street — BC Assessment indicates a construction date of 1897. Overwaitea’s move to the former Cash Groceteria was actually in 1955.

Updated on Feb. 12, 2019 with details about the first Grand Forks Overwaitea location; on Jan. 12, 2020 with the date of the Fruitvale fire; on June 17, 2020 with the exact dates that the Nelson Daily News failed to publish; and on March 20, 2021 with the location of the original Trail Overwaitea; and on Dec. 10, 2023 to add more about the missing issues of the Nelson Daily News.

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