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Ainsworth’s visit to Ainsworth

Updated: Feb 16, 2018

Several places in West Kootenay were named after people who never actually visited their eponymous locales. Lt.-Gov. Hugh Nelson was never in Nelson, Lord Balfour was never in Balfour, and Hudson’s Bay Company governor John Shepherd never saw Fort Shepherd.


But what about Ainsworth? The Kootenay Lake community was named for either or both John Commigers and George Jennings Ainsworth, father-and-son capitalists from Portland. In High Grade and Hot Springs: A History of the Ainsworth Camp (2001), the late Ted Affleck wrote on p. 22:

Did John C. Ainsworth ever visit personally the Ainsworth townsite on Kootenay Lake which bears his name? In the spring of 1885, the 63-year-old Ainsworth, with his third wife Fannie and their two youngest sons, travelled by stage from Spokane to Little Dalles, then caught the maiden trip of the sternwheeler Kootenai north to the CPR construction camp at Farwell (Revelstoke). There the Ainsworth party was met by G.B. Wright, who set out with them in a spring wagon on the Eagle Pass tote road to view their railway construction projects. As they traversed a steep slope down to Griffin Lake, the horses bolted, overturning the wagon. The entire party escaped severe injuries, but did not linger in the area. A detour to visit Kootenay Lake was not in the cards.

I’ve never been able to figure out Affleck’s source on this, despite combing through his fonds, held by the Shawn Lamb Archives at Touchstones Nelson. No newspapers were yet published in the Kootenay in 1885. I haven’t been able to find anything in the Victoria Daily Colonist either, but it doesn’t help that Affleck didn’t give an exact date.


Ainsworth historian Lawrie Duff told me he asked Affleck where he found this item, and the answer was in a Kamloops newspaper. Could be. The Inland Sentinel has now been digitized from that era, but it’s off very poor quality microfilm. If it’s there, the search engine fails to find it.


Below: John C. Ainsworth as pictured in the Lewis & Dryden Marine History of the Pacific Northwest (1895).

Affleck added on the same page of the book: “In September 1890, however, George J. Ainsworth paid a visit to the townsite having in mind its prospects as a hot springs resort.” And on page 36:

On Sept. 25, 1890, an important party from Portland comprising George J. Ainsworth, his wife, and two children and L.L. Hawkins, president of the Ainsworth National Bank of Portland, disembarked at Balfour … and were rowed to Ainsworth. Rumour was rife that the visit was prompted by plans of the Ainsworth syndicate to build on the Ainsworth townsite a luxury tourist hotel, using hot springs water for extensive bath facilities. The party came and went, however …

The source of this also long eluded me. It wasn’t in the Nelson Miner (although one October edition is missing). But Terry Peterson of the J.B. Fletcher Restoration Society found it in the Revelstoke Kootenay Star of Oct. 4, 1890 and kindly shared it with me this week. It was in a dispatch from someone with the pen name “Wayland.”

Ahead of the visit, the Nelson Miner of Sept. 20, 1890 wrote:

However, the hotel did not come to pass. John C. Ainsworth would write bitterly of his experiences in BC, blaming both the provincial government and his agent, Gustav B. Wright.


In addition to George’s immediate family, one other Ainsworth relative has visited the community: John C. Ainsworth of Grants Pass, Oregon — the great grandson of John and grand nephew of George — was in the area about 25 years ago.

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