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First mention of the Cody Caves

Updated: Dec 29, 2019

Prospector Henry Cody (1861?-1921) is said to have stumbled across the cave system near Ainsworth that bears his name in the late 1880s.

The Nelson Daily News of Oct. 3, 1902 said the cave was “known to the people of Ainsworth as Cody’s cave from the fact that it was discovered by Mr. Henry Cody, now a resident of Kaslo. This cave was discovered many years ago.” (Cody visited the caves that summer with Theodore Adams and Jack McKinnon.)

This is the second-oldest known photo of the Cody Caves, aka the Victoria Cave, from 1913, loaned to me by the late Mavis Stainer of Ainsworth Hot Springs.

The item went on to note that author/adventurer and former North West Mounted Police officer Roger Pocock (1865-1941) explored the cave in 1890 and wrote a story in which it figured prominently. The Noble Five was published in both Chamber’s Journal and The Peterson Magazine in 1897 and reprinted in Argosy All-Story Weekly in 1899. You can read the whole thing here (but its chapters are scattered across three different volumes).

The story calls them the Queen Victoria Caves, on account of having been found on the Queen’s birthday. One character is Col. Hiram W. Giggleswick, who pops up in several Pocock stories.

Both names have a hidden inspiration. In the Craven district of North Yorkshire, England are several caves where prehistoric remains have been discovered, chief among them the Victoria Cave — found on Queen Victoria’s ascension day in 1837. Nearby is Giggleswick school, whose museum held many artifacts from Victoria Cave. (I don’t know if they’re still there.)

Pocock was passionate about geology and fossil hunting, so he would have been familiar with Victoria Cave and its attendant museum, but I don’t know if or when he actually visited them.

I was surprised to discover last week both the earliest reference to the Cody Caves (in the Victoria Daily Times of July 15, 1890) and a specific date on which they were supposedly discovered.

There is a remarkable cave, the stream in which appears to come from the granite formation to the west, to cut the Skyline [mine] ledges at a great depth and to find its exit at the level of the Number One claim. I followed it for some 500 feet and found many parts, especially two waterfalls of great beauty. But neither from its extent, or incrustations is the Queen’s cave (discovered 24th May 1889) likely to prove a resort for tourists.

While the author is unidentified, it was undoubtedly Pocock — especially since he signed his name to another dispatch from Ainsworth published in the Times a couple of weeks earlier.

May 24 was indeed Queen Victoria’s birthday. But did Henry Cody really come across them on that day, or was that just Pocock’s fanciful idea, recalling the Victoria Cave in England? I could find no mention of the caves from May 1889. Pocock wrote about the Kootenay in his book A Frontiersman (1911) but did not mention the caves either.

Although they were known variously after 1902 as Cody’s Cave, Cody Cave, Cody Caves, or the Ainsworth Caves, the name Victoria Cave remained in use locally for at least another decade.

A.D. Wheeler referred to “the wonderful Victoria cave” in the Nelson Daily News of Oct. 21, 1912. Note the caption on an accompanying photo, seen below — the earliest known image of the cave.

Additionally, a photograph published in the Ainsworth history book High Grade & Hot Springs, seen at top, shows a group of kids at the cave’s mouth with a sign that says “Victoria Cave, July 27, 1913.”

Although Ainsworth Hot Springs is known to the Ktunaxa people as nupika wu’u, there is apparently no Ktunaxa name for the Cody Caves. I’m not aware of a Sinixt name for them either.

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