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Rossland needs women!

Updated: Jul 26, 2018

John Gibb Devlin (1865-1925), alias the Gunner from Galway, was a well-known early

Kootenay character. One funny story about him is how he appealed for women to move to Rossland to even out the city’s gender imbalance and marry lonely miners — nearly all of whom, he insisted were “big, handsome fellows, making good money.”

John G. Devlin (detail from Arrow Lakes Historical Society 2015-028-3)

Apparently his call appeared first in some Toronto newspapers, but I haven’t found any examples. On Oct. 27, 1896, however, items were published in the Saint Paul Globe and on the front pages of the New York Sun and New York Times. The first was datelined Tacoma and the latter two San Francisco. This is the story from the Globe:

Here’s the New York Times story, which was identical to what appeared in the Sun:

Back in BC, these stories caused much eye-rolling. The Vancouver Daily World reprinted the latter item on Nov. 2, under the headline “The yarn still works” and noted that it “has been going the rounds of the press in the eastern States.”

The Rossland Miner weighed in with an editorial on Nov. 6, condemning the whole situation while indicating that Devlin’s suggestion was being taken seriously.

The Nelson Miner on Nov. 21 added:

Although the story has been denied by all the papers of this country, letters come every day, addressed both to business men and newspapers, sent by would-be captors of husband and homes.

Did the Gunner’s tactic work? In 1896, no marriages were registered in Rossland. In 1897, there were three. In 1898, there were 22 — although this might just reflect a growing population in general.

The same year that Devlin called for women to come to West Kootenay to marry miners, he took a bride himself, although he went to Glasgow to do it: she was Isabella (Bella) Watson. They had four children before Bella died in 1908 following a brief illness.

One postscript: a few years later, the Ymir Miner published a similar request. The Vancouver Daily World of Feb. 3, 1899 reported:

The New Westminster Columbian quotes, approvingly, the item which appeared in the Ymir Miner, relative to the importation of several hundred smart, intelligent girls from the east into this province. The editor of the Columbian being a bachelor, it may be that something has softened his heart, and that he has a longing desire now, like many others, to join the noble order of Benedicts.
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