Updated: Jun 29, 2021
A few months ago I was forwarded this tattered but terrific photo, previously unseen (at least by me). It shows the Silver King Hotel and Hyde, Titsworth & Co. grocery in Nelson, sometime between 1896 and 1900.
The building stood on Baker Street near Ward, next to the KWC block (although this photo was taken before the latter was built). It’s now the site of Still Eagle, Phoenix Computers, and until recently, Sandrella’s Boutique. I’ve included another image at bottom that places it in better context. The veranda pictured above was removed in May 1901.
The building at far left was apparently a grocery store operated by A.C. Buchanan.
The hotel’s original portion, seen at left, was first referred to as the Hume-Wallace building, presumably for merchant J. Fred Hume and contractor Andy Wallace, who built it.
The foundation was laid in late 1890 and the building was completed in March 1891, whereupon John Johnson and Mike Mahoney leased it for an hotel. For about a year prior they had been proprietors of the Lakeview Hotel, a glorified log cabin at the corner of Ward and Vernon streets, built in 1888. It’s now the site of Touchstones Nelson.
The Silver King Hotel was first mentioned by name in the Nelson Miner of April 11, 1891 as “nearing completion.”
Johnson & Mahoney will move into their new hotel on Baker street next week. They have named it the “Silver King” … and the christening ceremonies will take place as soon as Mr. Johnson returns from Spokane Falls, where he has gone to purchase furniture and furnishings …
A scheduled opening later that month was postponed because the furniture failed to arrive. Instead it opened on May 23 with a dance, “which was attended by a large number of Nelson’s society people. From this time on the Silver King will take rank as one of the best hotels in the lake country.”
Below: Ad from the Nelson Miner, April 25, 1891
The hotel was named, of course, after the Silver King mine, which led to Nelson’s birth. John Johnson was nicknamed Silver King Johnson; he is referred to that way in the Nelson Miner on a couple of occasions and S.J. Towgood also wrote in the Nelson Daily News of June 27, 1927: “Silver King hotel opened about 1890 by Silver King Johnson, who was afterwards janitor at the mine in 1894.”
(Two other men in Nelson were called Silver King. There was Silver King Mike, a second hand dealer whose real name was Harris Ginsberg, as well as Silver King Hunt, who was born in 1893 just as the mine he was named after was sold. Although that name appeared on his birth registration, later in life he went by Frank S.K. Hunt.)
Within six months of its opening, the hotel was the site of the city’s first wedding. On Nov. 5, 1891, packer Angus McIntyre wed Ida Johnson there. Although it failed to earn a mention in the Miner, it was recounted in Dan Alton’s memoir:
I had the pleasure of attending the first wedding in Nelson in the autumn of 1891. Angus McIntyre was married in the Silver King Hotel. When they went to get the marriage license they found there wasn’t such a thing in town. Eventually, they got a wire through to Victoria and the marriage license number was wired back. The license itself was sent by mail. The Reverend Turner performed the service and we all had a very enjoyable time.
Ida does not appear to have been related to John Johnson, but she did work for him in the hotel. In 2005, I spoke to her son Gordon, then 95 and living in Whitehorse.
She was one of the Swedish girls that came over to this country before the turn of the century. I think she had five or six sisters, and all but one came to Minneapolis. The reason she came to BC, there was a Swede that owned a hotel in Nelson, came back to Minneapolis looking for waitresses for the restaurant he had in connection with the hotel. These two sisters, Ida and Sophie, went all the way from Minneapolis to Nelson to work in this restaurant. They both married. Sophie married [Charles] Ink, and my mother married Angus.
(Angus and Ida moved to the Yukon by 1910, the year Gordon was born at Dawson City. He had had an interesting career that included stints as justice of the peace, coroner, mining recorder, assistant territorial commissioner, MLA, and cabinet minister.)
Johnson carried on with the Silver King, and according to an 1893 ad (pictured below), refitted and refurnished all of the rooms. Another year went by and he carried out more improvements, which “when finished will have as fine a bar and billiard room as can be found anywhere.”
In late 1895, Johnson bought the vacant lot next door for $1,300, and the following spring expanded the hotel. As seen in the photo at the top, the new building was identical to the original Silver King hotel, and the two had a unified facade. Additional hotel rooms were on the upper story while on the ground level, Hyde, Titsworth & Co. operated their grocery store. The BC Archives has a great photo of the store interior in 1899. The two men pictured are presumably the eponymous co-proprietors, Louis Morgan Hyde and Elmer Alvados Titsworth.
Titsworth was born in 1869 in Plumfield, Illinois, and raised in Paduca, Kentucky. Following in the footsteps of his father Alvados, Titsworth entered entered medical school but didn’t finish. He accompanied his sister Ada to Washington Territory (now Washington state) for her wedding.
He arrived in Spokane after the Great Fire of Aug. 4, 1889 while the ruins were still smoking. He went to work for Louis Davenport who built Spokane’s well-known Davenport Hotel. He began looking for business opportunities and it was apparently Davenport who told him that no one at the time was supplying fresh fruit in the winters to southeastern BC, and that connections could be established with suppliers in Washington. Davenport mentioned Nelson as a possible place to start. Titsworth followed through, met Hyde and with him established a grocery store in Nelson that sold fresh fruit all year round.
His presence in Nelson was first mentioned in the Miner on May 30, 1896: “Mr. Titsworth of Hyde & Titsworth has gone out to Spokane to be married. He will return with his bride early next week and take up his abode in the new cottage just completed by T.A. Mills on Silica street.”
The bride was Martha Amelia Zirbel, born in 1876 in Mazomanie, Wisconsin. She moved west to join family in Lewiston, Idaho and Spokane. Five of their ten children were born in Nelson: Helen in 1897, Marshall in 1899, a stillborn baby in 1900, Nellie Edna in 1902, and Leila Mae in 1904.
Hyde, Titsworth & Co. previously operated in a couple of other locations in Nelson and moved into the Silver King block in June 1896. That same month the hotel apparently suffered a fire, but it was put out “after a stubborn fight.” Oddly, while it was mentioned in Revelstoke’s Kootenay Mail, it did not make the pages of the Nelson Miner.
An ad at the end of the year showed rooms at the Silver King were $1 to $2.50 per day.
On Oct. 30, 1897, John Johnson died of pneumonia at Kootenay Lake hospital. He took ill a month earlier and was thought to be through the worst of it, but failed steadily over his final week. His obituary in the Miner (pictured below) noted Johnson came to Nelson in 1886 or 1887: “He has been prominent in all matters pertaining to the public welfare and has a host of friends who sincerely mourn his loss.”
The administrator of Johnson’s estate was Caroline (or Carolina) Thelin, who was apparently his sister, although her maiden name was Rodfeldt. In a 1993 interview with the Castlegar Station Museum, Carol Couch explained Caroline was her maternal grandmother, although some of the details seem a bit fractured.
My mother came from St. Paul, Minnesota in 1897 … to Nelson where my grandmother was with her brother, who was Mr. Johnson who went to Seattle. He managed to make some money, I don’t know how. He went to Nelson and decided to put up a building called Silver King Hotel and he found it was too much work to run the hotel and saloon. That is why he contacted his sister, Carlina Field [sic], from St. Paul, and asked if she could come and run the hotel … She and the younger children were already there so she sent for her husband and the older children; my mother was one. The hotel flourished.
This indicates Caroline had a hand in the hotel even before her brother’s death, although it was not obvious from the newspaper ads. In any event, her family assumed the Silver King’s management after Johnson’s passing; her sons Gustave Leopold and John Conrad were listed as clerks there in the 1898 directory. Caroline and husband Gustave Sr. also had another son, Gunnard, and two daughters, Ruth and Edith, who all lived in a house on Victoria Street.
The BC Archives has a photo of the hotel bar taken around this time.
Caroline sought bids for the hotel in 1899 and 1900, but evidently received no satisfactory offers. She transferred the liquor license to a Mr. Naismith in October 1901 (whose initials were given variously as M.A., J.D., and J.O.) and with that move came a name change. The Nelson Daily Miner of Oct. 12, 1901 announced: “The Imperial hotel, which is the name by which the Silver King hotel will be known in future, has been handsomely decorated and completely renovated by the new management. The dining room has been considerably enlarged, and the whole interior of the building shows a great improvement.”
Naismith was said to be an “old-time hotel-keeper of Winnipeg.” The ad below first appeared in the Nelson Tribune on Oct. 30, 1901.
Naismith in turn transferred the license in December 1901 to Joseph Harwood, while J. Morrisey, formerly steward of the SS International, took over the dining room. Unfortunately, but not unusually for the times, the hotel promised “From this time on none but white help will be employed.”
The liquor license changed hands again in late 1902, as the Tribune reported: “The lease on the old Silver King hotel has been transferred to A. Kleinschmidt of Sandon and the name will be changed from Imperial to Silver King. Mr. Kleinschmidt is an experienced hotel man, and he will make the re-christened Silver King a popular resort.”
As proprietor of the Denver Hotel and a laundry in Sandon, he was known as Victor Kleinschmidt, but in all ads for the Silver King — including the one below from The Ledge of Dec. 4, 1902 — he was A. Kleinschmidt.
Kleinschmidt remained proprietor through at least April 1903, but by July the hotel reverted back to the Thelins. In the 1903 and 1904 civic directories, Caroline was listed as proprietor. Kleinschmidt later turned up in Alaska.
Wedding bells chimed twice for the Thelin family in 1903: John married Emma Sophia Bettcher on July 22 and Ruth married David Henry Proudfoot on Nov. 25. The latter were Carol Couch’s parents. She recalled in the above-cited interview:
My dad came across on the train around  from Hawkesbury, Ontario, close to Ottawa. He stopped apparently on the way and took some teaching jobs, then came over to Nelson … [M]y mother got married to my dad after a long wait. She was 12 years younger than my dad. He spoiled her but my grandmother had decided that her daughters were going to Spokane to an Anglican girls school. That would take four, five, or six years. So she wasn’t around except on holidays. When she returned he courted her. I think about a year later, they married when she was 19 and he was 31.
Indeed, the marriage registration indicates she was 19 and he was 30. The wedding occurred at the hotel, and the Nelson Tribune carried this account:
Proudfoot worked for Hyde, Titsworth & Co.
Caroline and Gustave Thelin divorced, and Caroline moved to Los Angeles, where the 1910 census found her living with her elderly mother, two sons, and daughter Edith. The following year she was back in Nelson with daughter Ruth’s family at 415 Victoria.
The hotel management, meanwhile, continued to be a revolving door. According to Ron Greene’s mini-history of the hotel in The Early Tokens of Nelson, BC, “By 1908 there had been five or six more proprietors.” One was W.E. McCandlish, who rented it on Aug. 1, 1905. He applied to transfer the liquor license to Robert Dalziel in May 1907, but McCandlish’s name continued to appear in ads through March 1908. That month we see Dalziel applying to transfer the license to Elizabeth Dalziel, “provided the consent of Caroline Thelin be secured.”
On Dec. 12, 1908, the hotel suffered another fire, as reported in the Daily News:
Great excitement was caused yesterday in Baker Street by an outbreak of fire at the Silver King Hotel which but for the prompt and vigorous action of the fire brigade might have resulted in a general conflagration. The fire originated in a small one story wooden building used as a kitchen and no damage was done to the main building excepting a small hole which was burnt in the bathroom wall.
William Neuendorf was listed as the Silver King Hotel’s proprietor in the 1910 civic directory. Norman McLeod, formerly of the Athabasca Hotel, leased it by 1911. On July 5 of the latter year, the Daily News reported that “For a consideration well up to the good prices being asked for Baker street realty, the Silver King hotel property … was sold on Monday to a syndicate of local capitalists by McQuarrie & Robertson for the Thelin estate.” The capitalists weren’t named.
According to Ron Greene, McLeod bought the hotel in 1913. He had it at least through 1915. Things get hazy afterward: Greene says the last ad for the hotel appeared Sept. 30, 1914 although it was still listed in the phone book as of 1916. It was not in the civic directories in 1918, 1925, 1930, or 1940 — it must have changed names again or was no longer an hotel. Nelson newspapers from that era haven’t yet been digitized.
At some point, presumably before 1918, the hotel issued a brass token that is now fairly hard to come by. The one pictured below sold on eBay in 2012 for $114. Another fetched $123 US in 2014. The Bank of Canada also has one in its national currency collection.
The building was torn down either in March 1944 or in 1947, depending on conflicting sources. I haven’t determined which is correct. It was replaced by J.H.M. Greenwood’s fur store. In more recent years the latter was home to Sweet Sixteen and Ramsay’s art supplies before becoming Still Eagle.
As for Hyde & Titsworth, their industriousness resulted in a dispute with other local grocers, who wanted to sign a pact to close at 7 p.m. each day. Hyde & Titsworth wouldn’t participate. As the Daily Miner reported in 1899: “This firm holds the key of the situation and if it refuses to close at 7 p.m. all the other grocery firms in the city will be compelled to remain open until 9 or 10 o’clock … Mr. Hyde of Hyde & Titsworth said that his firm handled fruits extensively and on that account he did not think it would be feasible for them to close as the principle [sic] business was done at night.”
But the following year, whether as a result of that battle or other forces, Hyde & Titsworth announced it would leave the retail business and stick to wholesale fruit instead. They relocated to the former A. MacDonald warehouse on Vernon Street — the present Jackson’s Hole restaurant. The grocery firm of George Bell & Co. took over the premises in the Silver King Hotel on May 1, 1900.
Hyde & Titsworth reported a brisk business in fruit but were not listed in the Nelson civic directory after 1901. The last known newspaper mention of them was in the Daily Miner of March 27, 1902.
We know the Titsworth family remained in Nelson through May 1904, based on the birthplaces of their children. But Titsworth decided there were better business opportunities to the east so he moved the family to Lacombe, Alta., where he took over the general store and, benefitting from his brief medical training, provided services as an undertaker. He also established the store as a fur-trading centre. Daughter Laura Augusta was born in Lacombe in April 1906 and four more children followed: William in 1908, Dorothy Jean in 1910, Aileen Mary (Dixie) in 1914, and John (Jack) Howard in 1917, all in Lacombe.
Subsequently, however, several of the children gravitated back to the West Kootenay, including Laura, who in 1922 married George Benwell Jr., son of the proprietor of Nelson’s Hume Hotel. In 1940, Jack married Wilma Milne in 1940, the daughter of Scottish immigrants James (Jim) and Christine, all five of whose children were born and raised in Nelson.
Jack and Wilma had three children. One of them, Gordon, was a longtime school trustee representing Warfield, a past director of the Columbia Basin Trust, and is currently the pipe major of the Trail Pipe Band. Another, Jack Jr., who provided the photo seen here along with information on the family, has retired to Montréal after a career in international development in several African and Asian countries. He is currently a member of the RCMP Montréal Pipes and Drums and visits family in Nelson, Trail, and Vancouver every year.
Martha Titsworth died after complications from an operation in Kootenay Lake hospital in 1931. Shortly thereafter, Elmer moved to Medicine Hat where he raised turkeys and spent his remaining years with his daughter Leila and her husband, Wilbur Robertson. Elmer died of cancer in 1937.
Above: The Silver King Hotel is seen at right, next to the KWC block, ca. 1910-15.