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A Slocan madam’s grave

Updated: Aug 20, 2020

There’s an oft-heard tale about the burial of a black brothel keeper in the Slocan cemetery.

According to the Castlegar News of June 24, 1976:

[Harry] Nixon recalls a story told him of a grave just outside the cemetery. A lady of ill repute died and the women of the church refused to have her buried in the cemetery.

In a history of Slocan, Frank Hufty wrote:

They had a red light district in Slocan too. When the madam died, the townspeople wouldn’t let her be buried in the cemetery. She was buried to the right of the cemetery and there is a little fence around the grave.

Historian Innes Cooper elaborated:

A prostitute died at Slocan City in very early times and when she was to be buried in the cemetery people objected that a prostitute should be buried with good Christians. They had their way and she was buried just outside the cemetery fence. This was apparently challenged, likely in the courts, and a decision was given that she should be buried in the cemetery. The officials only complied by moving the cemetery fence to include her burial plot. Whether this brought her into the cemetery grounds or not no one seemed to know … Besides Stan Clough, I cannot remember the names of people who told this story but one could have been Lee Hall.

In fact, we know who this woman was and when she died, although the details surrounding her burial are still murky. Amanda Smith was found in bed on May 23, 1909. Her death registration (pictured below) says she was 45, born in California, “died from natural causes [after] two days” and lists her profession as “keeper of a bawdy house.” The informant was Thomas McNeish, justice of the peace. For some reason, the death was not registered until July. Death registrations in those days didn’t state place of burial.

According to the Nelson Daily News of May 25, 1909:

Dr. W.O. Rose, in his capacity as coroner, went to Slocan City yesterday morning in response to a telegram statement that a woman had been found dead. The deceased was Mrs. Amanda Smith, colored, aged about 40, a resident of Slocan City for the last 12 years, and lately living alone. A jury was empanelled and after all the evidence had been heard, immediately returned a verdict of “death from natural causes.” Mr. Rose is of the opinion, though no postmortem examination was made, that death was due to pneumonia.

Innes Cooper tried to check the Slocan council minutes for May and June 1909, but they were missing.

The grave is no longer marked and its plot number is unknown. But former village clerk Evie Smedbol recently drew the map below indicating its approximate location (Ottawa Road is today’s Arlington Road). She wrote: “Local madam buried here. Victoria decreed that no one could be buried outside the cemetery. Mr. Tattersall built the fence to include her with everyone else.”

The BC Archives doesn’t have the coroner’s inquest transcript but does have Smith’s probate file. I ordered a copy, which contained one big revelation along with several minor ones.

Although it would have been no secret in Slocan at the time, I was surprised to learn that Amanda Smith and Maud Taylor — who I thought was another madam — were actually the same person.

In addition to keeping a brothel, Taylor was apparently a prospector, for she was granted a certificate of work for the Granite Flat mining claim on July 29, 1897.

On July 18, 1900, she got married. The Slocan Drill reported:

An event of high import in local colored society occurred Wednesday when P. Smith and Maud Taylor were united in marriage. Rev. Mr. McKee performed the ceremony, which took place in the parlor of the Royal Hotel.

The marriage registration (pictured below) gives the groom’s name as Pirtle (?) Smith, 32, of Sandon, a widower born in Kentucky to C. and F. Smith. He was a labourer. (In the probate file, his first name is given as Portel.)

Taylor, 33, was born in California to A. and Ellen Atkerson and listed her place of residence as Los Angeles, not Slocan. She was a widow. The witnesses were Harvey Atcheson and Miss J. Watt of Slocan. Despite these details, I haven’t been able to find anything else about Taylor’s family or her first husband, or further details about Pirtle/Portel. They are nowhere to be seen on the 1901 census.

According to an affidavit in her probate file, following the wedding, Maud Taylor became known as Amanda Smith. However, she was still called Maud by some; she appears twice by that name in the Slocan police daybook of 1903.

Sept. 6: Was sent for by Maud to settle dispute between plaintif [sic] and Fanny. (Settled.)
Oct. 26: Maud Taylor sent for me to get protection from Isaac Robinson. Same warned.

(Isaac Robinson is mentioned in local newspapers from 1899-1903 as a prospector.)

She is also identified as Maud Taylor on the 1902 Slocan tax assessment. She owned a house on Block 36, Lot 7, which was on Main Street between Giffin and Fitz avenues. (I’ve written more about this intriguing block in a separate post.)

In 1904, as Maud Taylor, she bought another house on Lot 3 from Harvey Fife and in 1906, as Amanda Smith, acquired the vacant Lot 6 from townsite agent Frank Fletcher. On the 1908 assessment, Lot 6 is shown as belonging to Maud Taylor, rather than Amanda Smith.

Maud/Amanda’s marriage was either one of convenience or else it wasn’t very happy. When she drew up a will (pictured below) on Oct. 31, 1903 — witnessed by James McVicar and Frank Dick of Slocan — she identified herself as Amanda Smith, wife of Portel, but named William Ipe of Salmo as her sole heir. In the event that he predeceased her, Ella May Barrett of Dallas was named the alternate. H.P Christie, the mining recorder at Slocan, was named executor.

What was Ipe’s connection to Amanda? Was he a friend? A client? We can only wonder. The probate file gives their relationship as “none.”

Ipe was born in Akron, Ohio in 1862 to George and Sarah Ann (Addie) Ipe. It’s unclear exactly when came to Canada, but in 1902 he witnessed Martin Lavell’s application for a liquor license for the Lakeview Hotel in Slocan. And in 1904, H.A. Hicks transferred a mining claim near Slocan to Ipe, coincidentally called the Lake View. In 1910, Ipe was listed in the civic directory as a stableman in Salmo.

Cliff McIntosh gives us some insight into Ipe in his memoir, which was included in the book Salmo Stories. He says Ipe was a belated arrival to the Cariboo Gold Rush from Rough and Ready, Calif.

Bill was as “rough and ready” himself as any man that I have ever known, but he had a heart of gold. He was always ready, willing and able to help where and when help might be needed … Ipe, a monstrous hulk of a man, always took time to play, at least for a few minutes, with any and all of us kids who happened to be around. We all loved him. He had a stubby beard that was just like haywire and he used to catch us kids from time to time and give us a ‘Dutch rub.’ it was just like having one’s face massaged with a curry comb.

McIntosh says Ipe came to Salmo from Quesnel, and built a home that was later occupied by Edith Smith. On Nov. 14, 1911, he married Maria (Minnie) Adelia Wade Hargreaves in Nelson, giving his residence as Salmo and occupation as teamster. By 1920, they lived in Centralia, Wash. Ipe died there in 1945.

Who was Ella May Barrett? I haven’t been able to figure it out, but an Ella May Barrett, nee Reeves, died in Bridgeport, Texas in 1974, age 93.

In any case, when Amanda Smith died in 1909, H.P. Christie, who had since moved to Ashcroft, declined his appointment as executor. Ipe in turn asked Thomas McNeish to act as the estate’s administrator.

The probate file says the estate consisted of Lots 6 and 7 in Block 36, valued at $300 (oddly, Lot 3 was not mentioned, even though she still owned it); furniture worth $100, and $113 in the bank, for a total of $513 — the equivalent of about $17,000 in today’s currency.

Out of this, $50 was drawn to buy a coffin from M. McLean of New Denver and $5 to dig the grave (but no word who the latter task fell to). Legal expenses came to $35. Amanda had also accrued a tab of $4.25 with druggist J.A. Anderson and $24.55 with general merchants McVicar and Pinchbeck, which McNeish paid.

The invoices are included in the file (pictured below), showing that from Anderson she bought magazines, newspapers, perfume, and tobacco products. From McVicar and Pinchbeck she bought basic groceries including fruit, coffee, butter, and eggs.

Ipe inherited the remainder of the estate, less McNeish’s $25 fee as executor.

Despite her death, Amanda was still listed, as Maud Taylor, on the 1910 tax assessments as owning Block 36, Lots 3, 6, and 7. The address for Lot 3 was “c/o Wm Ipe, Salmo” and for Lots 6 and 7 “c/o H.L. Fife, Slocan.”

In 1911, H.P. Christie was listed as owner of Lot 3. Despite her death, Amanda Smith was still down as the owner of Lot 6 and Maud Taylor as the owner of Lot 7, without a “care of” address.

In 1912 and 1913, Christie was still the owner of Lot 3, but William Ipe was shown as the owner of Lots 6 and 7. I didn’t look at the assessments beyond that.

Updated on Feb. 4, 2018 after I received Amanda Smith’s probate file from the BC Archives and on Aug. 19, 2020 to add Cliff McIntosh’s memories of William Ipe.

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I thoroughly enjoyed reading this...hope I can find more of what you have done.


Jan 27, 2018

Thanks for this fascinating account of Kootenay prostitution, Greg.


Brilliant! I often wondered if this was an urban legend or the truth. Thanks for solving the mystery and briging Amanda back to life.

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