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Lost buildings: Tadanac staff house and school

Updated: Jan 29

In 1930, Cominco built a staff house at 211 Kootenay Ave. in Trail’s Tadanac neighbourhood. It was a residence for the company’s young single employees until the early 1970s when it was converted into a training centre.

Tadanac staff house, ca. 1930s (Greg Nesteroff collection)

Jim Bennett, who was steward of the staff house, offered some memories of the place in the September 1943 edition of Cominco Magazine.

“The staff house gang at that time included such memorable characters as Cameron, Graham, Bryden, McBean, Piper, Lee, Chesser, and Campbell,” he said.

He recalled R.B. Bennett (no relation) visited in 1930 or ’31 while prime minister, but it’s more likely to have occurred on Aug. 24, 1929, while Bennett was still opposition leader. He stopped in Trail that day as part of a month-long tour of BC.

In addition to sharing a last name, Jim and R.B. had the same birthday, July 3, so Jim felt an extra effort was necessary.

I went to work with the staff and really put on a spread. Mr. Bennett commented on the delicious Lamberts (which were Bings) and [Cominco boss] Mr. [Selwyn] Blaylock had to point out in detail how to distinguish between the two. The two men are excellent judges of good food and catering to them is a challenge for any cook.
The final word came a few days later, when George Murray picked me up in his car coming up Smelter Hill. Mr. Murray told me that “That was the best banquet ever put on around here.”

Here is the staff house on the 1935 and 1943 fire insurance maps (the latter of which referred to it as a hostel), revealing it had 56 rooms.

The staff house had a Chinese chef, Tye, and his assistant, Mah Kee.

Jim Bennett told a sad tale about Kee, who suffered a serious mental breakdown and chased two kitchen maids with a butcher knife. Kee was subdued before anyone suffered physical injuries.

The Chinese community in Trail raised a collection to send Kee to Nelson, although for what purpose is unclear. He went back and forth between Nelson and Trail a few times, then was admitted to the provincial mental hospital at Essondale, where he died in 1950, age 55.

The staff house in the 1930s or '40s, once the garden grew in.

(Greg Nesteroff collection)

One of the few references to the building in the book Trail of Memories concerns Bob Dockerill:

Around 1930, Bob lived in the CM&S staff house with other single young men. The men spent their spare time curling in the winter, and fishing and partying at Christina Lake in the summer. They would invite many of the eligible young nurses in Trail to their parties, and it was at one of these parties that Bob met [his future wife] Ethel Mary Darr, a nurse at the Trail Tadanac Hospital.

Former Trail operations general manager Doug Magoon also lived in the staff house when he started working for Cominco in the 1960s.

The 1963 civic directory listed Anna Friz as the staff house’s live-in housekeeper. I have no idea how long she worked there.

Trail Daily Times, July 19, 1975

The three-storey, ivy-covered brick building was vacated in 2000. I took the photos below that October. It was hard to capture the whole building due to trees immediately in front of it and around it.

The building was torn down in May 2006 — ironically just as the company kicked off its 100th anniversary celebrations.

“Its location, remote from the main operations and extensive need for repairs made it no longer practical,” the Trail Times quoted a company spokeswoman at the time. The newspaper added: “Among its problems were asbestos insulation, the need for sprinklers, and sagging walls … No attempt was made to sell the building.”

Around 1990, Cominco bought four houses on Kootenay Avenue because of their proximity to its residue piles. The staff house/training centre and the former Tadanac school were on either side of the houses. The school was built in 1929, added onto in 1937, and closed in 1982. Latterly it was known as the Children’s Development Centre. The building was demolished in November 2004. One of the homes, at 303 Kootenay, came down around 2001, despite neighbors’ protests.

Today there are open fields where those buildings once stood. It’s hard to imagine they were ever there.

Updated on July 29, 2020 to add details from Jim Bennett’s memoir; on Aug. 19, 2020 to add Anna Friz’s name; on Feb. 4, 2021 to add the 1975 newspaper clipping; and on Jan. 28, 2024 to add the fire insurance plans.

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Ian Burgess
Ian Burgess
Sep 14, 2019

I tested many parachutes and airplane models off the spiral fire escape. Grew up next door until 1959. Also spent 6 years in the Tadanac School. When VW Bugs first came out, one staff house resident found his on the front patio in the morning.

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