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Pioneer women of West Kootenay: Amy Carey

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

In Silverton’s early days, Amy Carey was among the community’s leading entrepreneurs. She owned hotels, a grocery store, livery stable, and dairy.

A postcard view of early Silverton, ca. 1900s. (Greg Nesteroff collection)

But how she honed her business acumen is a mystery. Amy Ellis was born somewhere in Ontario, either in January 1863 or on June 15, 1865, according to conflicting census returns. We know nothing about her upbringing. She married Alfred William Carey, date and place unknown.

By 1890, they were in Calgary. A son, Harry Albert, was born on Oct. 18 that year in Innisfail. The following year’s census showed they ran a Calgary hotel, although we don’t know which one. By early spring of 1892 the Careys moved to Red Deer, where they built the two-storey Alberta Hotel, at the southeast corner of Ross St. and Holt Ave. (now 51st Ave).

According to Michael Dawe’s history of Red Deer hotels, “The Alberta quickly developed a reputation as one of the better places to stay on the C&E Railroad line.” At times, the liquor license was in Amy’s name.

The Glenbow archives has copies of a half dozen letters addressed to Amy by Wesley Fletcher Orr between 1892 and 1896. Orr was a Calgary alderman from 1888-94 and mayor from 1894-96. Unfortunately, Amy’s letters to him don’t appear to survive, but from what we can glean from his replies, she was his business agent, or vice versa.

Their correspondence mainly has to do with the disposition of the Ontario House and Ramsay House hotels — which weren’t in Red Deer, but possibly Edmonton. In one letter Orr laments the only taker for the Ramsay House was “Ed Frost, the Salvation Army man,” who was driving a hard bargain.

I think there are no children in the family. He married a Salvation lass. His father and I think his mother live with [him]. But I have an idea they want to take Big Lottie to live with them … She has got saved and is going with the Army lasses. I have not much faith in her conversion as she got saved before and then went at her old business. I think Frost and his wife are moral enough and likely if Lottie went wrong they would turn her out. But I did not want to take the responsibility of renting it with the prospect of her being a boarder without writing you.

A second son, Leslie Ervin, was born to Amy and Albert on Aug. 3, 1895. A year later the family’s impending move to BC was revealed in an item in the Edmonton Bulletin: “A. Carey will ship a carload of stock to Revelstoke by Tuesday’s train.”

Why they settled in Silverton isn’t clear, but Alfred found work in the local mines and became involved with the local chapter of the Western Federation of Miners. On March 7, 1898, Amy gave birth to a daughter named Amy Gladys at the “Union house.”

In April 1899, Amy, her then one-year-old daughter, and eight-year-old son Leslie travelled to Spokane for an operation on Leslie’s limbs. His exact condition isn’t known, but en route the baby contracted a severe cold that caused inflammation of her lungs. Amy returned to Silverton with her sick child, but on June 6, “despite prompt medical assistance,” the little girl succumbed.

“On Wednesday a tiny grave was made in the New Denver cemetery,” the Silvertonian reported. “The bereaved parents have the sympathy of the entire community.”

Amy then returned to Spokane to bring Leslie home who was said to be “fast recovering” from his operation after several weeks in hospital.

Little Harry, meanwhile, was an exceptionally bright student, judging by his high standing in class. He would later top all students in the New Denver high school entrance exams. He also had some of his mother’s entrepreneurial flair, as he rustled $7 for the School Children’s Patriotic Fund — the equivalent of $164 today.

In 1900, Amy started her first local business venture, advertising baked goods in the Silvertonian:

In 1902, Alfred was elected president of the Silverton miners’ union local. Amy and her sons, however, moved to Seattle. When they returned in 1904 or 1905, Alfred was out of the picture. He reportedly died somewhere in Alaska. Amy was listed in the 1905 civic directory as “Carey, A.W., Mrs., grocer.”

In 1906, Amy bought the Victoria Hotel and its furniture from James Bowes for $3,500 (about $76,000 today). She paid $2,500 cash down and rented the hotel to Thompson and Spencer, former proprietors of the Thorburn House, for $40 a month. In early 1908, she took over management of the hotel herself.

Amy’s cows, which were allowed to roam all over town, provided fresh milk to Silverton. One of their favourite spots was apparently the ball field where the Memorial Hall now stands.

The cows earned several mentions in John Norris’ Old Silverton, including this anecdote:

One of them is very clever and can open gates with her horns, an accomplishment which allows her to enjoy many flowers, fruits and vegetables that she would otherwise do without. She also gets into Mr. Wilson’s warehouse. Fred Parsons and Jack Kelly decide to teach her a lesson. They spirit a few of the apples in her favourite barrel with cayenne pepper. When the cayenne took effect in her stomach, she headed for the lake, where after ingesting enormous amounts of water she swelled to prodigious size but endured no permanent damage.

On a more serious note, a bull calf and yearling heifer died mysteriously and an examination revealed they had been poisoned.

The Slocan Mining Review’s special edition of Nov. 16, 1908 reported:

Mrs. A. Carey, grocer, carries a full line in this department and operates the town dairy. In partnership with her sons she also operates a livery stable, where she always aims to have saddle horses and teams always on hand for the accommodation of the public.

Unfortunately, while the special edition carried portraits of many prominent citizens, Amy was not among them (nor was any other woman). No photo of her is known to exist.

Silverton’s deadliest catastrophe struck on May 30, 1911, when fire broke out in the Windsor hotel, killing five men. The fire spread and destroyed Mrs. Carey’s Victoria Hotel and grocery store, W.H. Brandon’s store, the Patrequin home, several Chinese laundries, and shacks behind the main buildings.

The Nelson Daily News of June 22, 1911 explained: “Mrs. A. Carrie [sic], who lost her store in the recent fire has now opened up on the opposite side of the street, and is doing her share of the business. With a busy livery stable, the only dairy, the town trucking and her grocery business she can yet attend to the fixing up of the Hotel Thistle and a few other odd jobs.”

Nevertheless, the fire seems to have been too great a blow to recover from, for in May 1913, Amy sent her sons to California while she sold their business interests. She followed in February 1914, indicating her destination on a border crossing document as Oceanside, Calif., and her next-of-kin as her sister, Mrs. L. Dollery of Toronto.

When Harry filled out his draft registration in 1917, he indicated that he was living at 1534 Broadway in San Diego and working for the Ross Construction Co. in the border town of Andrade. He joined the army and became a naturalized US citizen the following year.

On the 1920 census, Amy and her sons, ages 29 and 24, were all living at 1534 Broadway. Amy indicated she was now widowed. Amy’s occupation was listed as none while Harry and Leslie both worked for a tire company, Harry as a tire maker and Leslie as an electrician.

Harry died on May 17, 1923 at 32, but I haven’t been able to learn the circumstances. He was buried in San Diego.

His brother Leslie, however, went to work in Hollywood as a sound recordist and eventually became head of the sound department at Universal Studios. He was nominated for six Academy Awards and won once for The Glenn Miller Story in 1954.

He died on June 17, 1984 in Marina Del Rey at age 88. He and wife Alva had a son, Leslie Jr. (1929-2009), who served in the army in 1947-48 at Ford Ord, Calif and Camp Lee, Virginia. An interview with him is on file with the Veterans History project and can be viewed online.

According to her great granddaughter (see comment below), Amy died in Los Angeles in 1961, which would have made her somewhere between 95 and 98.

Nothing remains in Silverton to remember her by, but the Alberta Hotel that she and her husband built in Red Deer continued to prosper. In 1899, a third storey was added. While other hotels in town closed or ran into management problems, the Alberta’s doors remained open. In 1939, the hotel’s west end was rebuilt and the building was renamed the Buffalo. In 2007, the Potter’s Hands ministry bought the building and turned into an apartment building. It still stands.

Updated Dec. 29, 2022 to correct the date and place of Amy’s death and add more about Leslie.

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Diana Carey
Diana Carey
Dec 13, 2019

Hi Greg, I read your wonderful article about my great grandmother Amy Carey. I might be able to shed some light on your research as Amy Carey did die in Los Angeles a few months before I was born in 1961. The two Amy/Aimee you mention are neither one that you wrote about in the article (who was my grandmother). I learned a lot from the article that had been unanswered in my family history. Amy's husband Albert died in Alaska somewhere. I'm proud to say that Leslie Erwin Carey Sr. became head of the sound department at Universal Studios where he was nominated 5 times and won 1 time for best sound for the Glenn Miller Story in 1954.…

Greg Nesteroff
Greg Nesteroff
Dec 10, 2022
Replying to

Hi Diana: Alas, I only spotted your message just now! Amazing stuff. I will make those additions/corrections and yes, I would love to know more. The only pictures I can point you to are of the Victoria Hotel (one of which is specifically captioned "Mrs. Carey's Victoria Hotel, ca. 1906"):

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