Updated: Jul 26, 2022
Along Highway 31 south of Meadow Creek, the following is carved into a rock bluff (or at least this is how I deciphered it):
The late Ernie Alexander first showed it to me in 2001, explaining it was presumably scratched by men working on the survey for the Arrowhead and Kootenay Railway from Lardeau to Gerrard, which opened in 1902 and whose route the highway now follows.
The initials were yellowish while the date was reddish, but I’m not sure what accounted for that.
At the time, some flagging tape denoted the location, but it was before the days of widely-available hand-held GPS. I’ve since gone back to look for it without luck and haven’t found anyone who can give me precise co-ordinates. (If you can, let me know.)
But I was surprised to come across another photo of the initials, taken sometime in the 1960s or ‘70s by prolific commercial photographer Ellis Anderson, seen here. It wasn’t labelled, but I recognized what it was.
After initially posting this and sharing it on the Kaslo Community Web Facebook page, I received a very intriguing response from John Allen, who lives there.
I am sure the initials on the rock face were from my grandfather, John Morgan Allen and his partner, Lardeau Jack McDonald who along with Andrew Jardine staked the Beaver claim high above Rossiter Creek near Retallack around 1890.
I was shown these initials about 30 years ago. Guess there is no guarantee that they are my grandfather’s but most of the initials match with what I know. Wish I had asked my Dad about a lot of things in my younger days (Edward Morgan Allen) but he has been gone almost 40 years.
Allen and McDonald’s names are perpetuated, locally at least, in Kaslo townsite additions they each had platted.
(John has a connection to another blog post I wrote, about the unlucky Lot Willey, who was his great grandfather; John Morgan Allen married Lot’s eldest daughter Annie, whom John faintly remembers. She died in 1954. He also remembers his uncle, Lot Scott Willey, who lived in Athabasca and was close to John’s father.)
Ernie Alexander found something else very interesting as well, which has come to be known as the Monroe cedar and is now in the Lardeau Valley Museum. It has the following inscribed on it:
The accompanying label explains Monroe
was a surveyor and prospector in the Lardeau Valley in the 1890s. He was killed during a dispute over a mining claim. In 1891 Monroe scribed his name and the date into this western red cedar using his surveyor’s scribe (note the v-shaped tool marks). This tree was located along the Gold Hill trail. This portion of the tree on display was removed in 1985 by Ernie Alexander and Bob Sinclair to save it from being destroyed by fire or logging.
In his book Lardeau Duncan Memories (page 126), Alexander wrote pretty much the same thing, although he called the man “Jack W. Monroe.”
I also asked him about it in 2001.
“I used to see [the inscription] there at the side of the trail when I was working on the trail or going by on horseback,” he told me. “I often wondered who J.W. Monroe was. He must have been a surveyor, because it was inscribed with a surveyor’s scribe. I found out he was murdered or killed over a mining claim.
“About 1950, Kootenay Forest Logging Co. logged that area. For two years I couldn’t find it. One day I had a clue that it was there. It wasn’t too far off the road. So I went down and there it was. I got thinking: suppose a fire goes through there, or some logger logs that and destroys it. The cedar was no good anyway. It was a good-sized cedar, but hollow. So my son-in-law and I cut it out and brought it back. Stored it in my shed for quite a few years, and then fixed it up, and now it sits in the museum.”
I can’t find any mention of Monroe in the Kootenay newspapers of the early 1890s, which is not necessarily surprising as his time in the area may have been brief and mostly not newsworthy. But if he died violently, you would think there would be some record of it. There’s no death registration for anyone by that name in BC.
I don’t know what Alexander’s source was and I regret not asking him.
There is, however, a listing on the 1891 census for “Lower Kootenay” for a W.J. Monroe, age 29. While it didn’t get any more specific about the location, other names listed before and after him suggest he was indeed in the Kaslo or Lardeau area. He was a Scottish-American, a Baptist, and a blacksmith at an unidentified mine. He could read and write.
That’s about all the census tells us about him, but he seems like a very likely candidate, even with the initials flipped. But was he really murdered or did he meet a more prosaic fate? I’m still pondering that.