Updated: Mar 15, 2018
Did crooner Bing Crosby (pictured below in a Wikpedia photo) hang out in the West Kootenay before stardom? There are several suggestions he did but, while it’s not impossible, the proof is scanty.
Crosby was born in Tacoma in 1903 but his family moved to Spokane when he was three. In Tracks of the Beaver Valley & Pend’Oreille (2002), Anna Reeves writes on p. 61: “Joan and Leo Langergraber were listening to a talk show host interview Bing Crosby concerning Bing’s early boyhood days in Spokane. A fond memory for Bing
was hitching a ride north to Canada on the Great Northern, and fishing in the pool below the falls on Beaver Creek.”
In Waterfalls of British Columbia (2009) Tony Greenfeld writes on p. 87: “A persistent rumor has it that Bing Crosby, who grew up in nearby Spokane, used to hop freight trains to visit Beaver Falls to fish.”
According to feature on Kaslo in the April 2001 edition of Harrowsmith magazine (thanks to Pat Cattermole for providing the date), “Bing Crosby knew a great fishin’ hole when he saw one and regularly joined the throngs of anglers in search of Kootenay rainbow trout.” Presumably that was also before he became famous, although the story didn’t say so.
Crosby’s nephew Ed, who lives in the Spokane area, posted on the Spokane History Buffs Facebook group: “I have never heard that my Uncle visited BC before stardom, but he was an avid fisherman and I could totally see him jumping a freight train to find a sweet fishing hole.”
On the Kaslo Community Web Facebook group, Terry Halleran writes that he remembers his grandfather talking about meeting Crosby on a fishing trip to Kaslo, and that Crosby stayed down at the marina.
Reader George Kemball wrote to me: “On trips to the Lardeau and Duncan lake as a child my parents used to talk about Bing staying with Dr. Besecker, maybe around Shutty Bench. Long time ago but it was talked about often.” Dr. L.D. Besecker first came to Kootenay Lake in the 1930s, so if that was the case, Crosby would have already been a star.
Crosby left Spokane for California in October 1925 with partner Al Rinker. Rinker’s sister, singer Mildred Bailey, helped them get into show business there. Once famous, Crosby did visit BC several times — including golfing, hunting, and fishing trips to Vancouver, Victoria, Campbell River, and Prince Rupert. He was also said to have bought or made an offer on a Kootenay Lake landmark.
As Art Joyce wrote in A Perfect Childhood: One Hundred Years of Heritage Homes in Nelson (1997), p. 133: “The Blaylock mystique [had] the rumour mill busily grinding out tales of equally implausible buyers for the estate, including the Moonies, the Maharishi Veda, the former Shah of Iran, and aging crooner Bing Crosby.”
In writing about Bob Hope’s 100th birthday in The Vancouver Sun of May 28, 2003, Dan Rowe said: “For years, Hope was a mainstay in British Columbia both as a performer and visitor. Bing Crosby, his long-time partner in a series of ‘Road pictures’
… was born in Washington state and would visit this part of the world frequently, often bringing Hope with him. (For a time Crosby owned the Blaylock estate on the shores of Kootenay Lake, near Nelson.)”
In fact, Crosby did not own the mansion, but the notion dates back a long time. The Trail Daily Times of Oct. 8, 1946 reported: “Rumors circulating throughout the district that Bing Crosby, the motion picture actor, was purchasing the Willow Point estate of the late S.G. Blaylock for $90,000 have been spiked. Contacted yesterday at the Kootenay Lake estate, Mrs. Blaylock denied that any such sale was being considered.”
The previous day a report in the Vancouver Sun said Crosby was interested in buying the Eaglecrest estate in Qualicum Beach.
Bob Hope, meanwhile, performed at Lakeside Park in Nelson as part of Music ’91. You can watch a clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSmMYqfYjkM