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Black pioneers of West Kootenay: Wesley Ziegler

I was thrilled to find a postcard for sale on eBay recently of Nelson/Rossland pioneer Wesley Ziegler. It was taken by Campbell Art Gallery of Nelson sometime in the 1910s but never mailed.

Touchstones Nelson has a slightly different view from the same photo session.

I have written about Ziegler before, in a story for Route 3 magazine about West Kootenay’s mostly little-known black pioneers.

Ziegler (or Zeigler), otherwise known as Old Zieg, was born into slavery in Montgomery, Alabama in 1847 or 1855 depending on the source. The 1880 US census finds someone with the same name farming in Bullocks Creek, South Carolina. However, this man was born around 1837 and had a wife, Martha, 38, and children Edie, 14; Benjamin, 7, and William, nine months.

By 1892, our Wesley was in Spokane, where he a janitor at the Old National Bankand rooming in the Howard Block. The following year he was a porter at the Howard hotel.

He went to Rossland around 1896. He is not listed in the 1897 nor 1898 civic directories, but from 1899 to 1901 he was listed as the proprietor of the Kohinoor bathhouse at the corner of 1st Avenue and Washington Street.

He turns up on the 1901 census in Rossland, which gives his birthdate as Sept. 10, 1855, states that he came to Canada in 1896 and listed his occupation as keeper of a bathhouse. His ad in the Rossland Evening World (the one pictured here is from the edition of Jan. 31, 1902) rendered his name as “William Zeigler.”

The address is given as the Collins Block, which is presumably the same building as the Collins Hotel, which is still standing and seen below. However, it is actually midway between Columbia and First Avenues, not on the corner.

The former Collins Hotel is seen at right on Washington St. in Rossland in 2001.

The Rossland Evening World of Aug. 8, 1903 noted that George Herring moved his O.K. Barber shop into “premises formerly occupied by C.O. Lalonde” (which the civic directory listed at 20 West Columbia Ave.).

The room has been completely remodeled and it makes one of the finest looking shops in the city. A first-class bath room is in connection under the management of W. Ziegler.

The following year, Ziegler was back in the news. The Evening World of June 7, 1904 said “The colored man charged with stealing $55 from his benefactor Wesley Ziegler was sentenced yesterday to six months imprisonment.” The man was not named.

Shortly thereafter, Ziegler moved to Nelson, where was famed for his annual Christmas possum supper, a southern tradition, which he apparently began holding in 1898. The Daily Canadian of Dec. 13 and 24, 1907 discussed one such event:

Three years later, the supper was cancelled, according to the Nelson Daily News of Dec. 28, 1910.

“For the first time in 12 years I have been deprived of holding my ‘possum supper,” said “Zeig” last night. He produced a telegram addressed to W. Zeigler, from the Kansas City firm that usually supplies him with Christmas possums, the telegram reading “No possums left.” Zeig ordered his ‘possums six weeks ago, and feels the disappointment keenly, as will those who usually patronize that Christmas event.

The 1910 Nelson civic directory listed Ziegler as residing at 720 Baker St. and working as a poultryman.

On the 1911 census, his birthdate is given as September 1847 and his year of emigration to Canada as 1904. He was then a hotel porter. The 1913 to 1915 directories have him at the same Baker Street address and working as a porter at the Hume Hotel, where we know he had a shoe shine stand as well. Dr. C.E. Bradshaw wrote in his memoir that “many a traveller can recall his southern manner.”

Wesley Ziegler died in Nelson on Jan. 3, 1919, age 63 or 71 — or 92, if his obituary from the Nelson Daily News of the following day is to be believed:

I can’t find a death registration for him, but he was buried in the Nelson cemetery. About 40 people attended the funeral. The pallbearers were George Benwell (proprietor of the Hume Hotel), I.G. Nelson, C.D. Blackwood and J. Kinney.

While the plot number is known, Ziegler’s grave is unmarked. The postcard seen above sold on Jan. 6 of this year, almost exactly 100 years after his death.

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