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First Nations postcards

Updated: Jun 19, 2021

While quite a few postcards show First Nations scenes in East Kootenay, not many exist from West Kootenay. At least, there are only a few we can comfortably say were taken on this side of the Purcell mountains, since the location was not always listed.

Although the captions always said “Kootenay Indians,” I don’t know whether these people are Ktunaxa or Sinixt; the photographer probably wasn’t aware of the distinction. We know who he was, though: Allan Lean of Queen Studio in Nelson, who took up many oft-reproduced images.


No publisher is listed on the unmailed card above, but below is a second version of the same image, published by William Rutherford, a Nelson druggist, and mailed in 1911 from Nelson to Chicago.

Here is a hand-coloured version, published by Valentine & Sons and mailed from Victoria to Ottawa in 1911.

I have seen a copy of this card with “At Procter, BC” written in pencil on the front, and it may well have been taken there. The card also appeared in Rita Moir’s book The Third Crop with the caption: “A postcard mailed from Nelson to the Slocan Valley in 1915, featuring a rare photo of either Sinixt, who lived year-round in the Slocan Valley in villages, or Ktunaxa people, who came to the valley for hunting, fishing, and gathering.” The image was further reproduced in The Columbia River: Its History, Its Myths, Its Scenery, Its Commerce, which attributed it to Allan Lean.


The card below was also published by Rutherford. I only recently realized that the family depicted in it also appears in the card above (the man and his son are standing at centre right, while his wife and baby are kneeling at centre).

A colour version of the same card, seen below, was published by Valentine and Sons.

A different coloured version of this card exists, published by T.N. Hibben & Co. of Victoria. The Glenbow Archives has an excellent copy of it, which is reproduced on a full page of the revised edition of Kootenay Outlet Reflections (539).


There is also yet another version, seen at right, that shows a different photo entirely, although taken within moments of the first one. Note the baby is facing the camera in the first photo, but facing its mother in this one, and the boy has his hand on his chest.

Below is an image explicitly identified as Nelson, and we would have been able to guess as much, because the Strathcona Hotel in the background. It was published by Thomson Stationery of Vancouver. Although the postcard was produced sometime after 1905, the image itself dates to 1899 or earlier, as it appeared in the Kootenay Mining Standard that year.

Below: from the Kootenay Mining Standard, July 1899

This remarkable card shows a sturgeon-nosed canoe on Kootenay Lake. The revised edition of Kootenay Outlet Reflections, p. 537 says this is Jacob Tommy in 1907 with the Balfour Trading Co. in the background.

Finally, there is this card showing pictographs on the west shore of Slocan Lake opposite and just south of New Denver. At least 13 pictograph sites exist on the lake, but this is the only one I've ever seen on a postcard.


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There are wonderful native pictographs also, along the 'Spirit Trail' of the east side of Columbia Lake, between Fairmont Hot Springs and Canal Flats.

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Wow, cool to see, and I must admit that I have not seen a lot of first Nations history from the w. Koots either, although there are major collections from here, the Columbia/Windermere Valley where I live. One of the major collectors and a skilled photographer as well in her day was (Belle) Isabelle (and Ron) Ede, who were the editor and publisher of the Lake Windermere Valley Echo for many years. Their collections can be accessed likely from their estate or the local historical society(windermere), or through their daughter here, my friend Deb Ede, deb.ede@hotmail.com and also her brother Bob, info@redneckhippy.com.

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