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South Slocan heritage sites

Updated: Mar 26

A previous post looked at the now-demolished South Slocan schoolhouse.

The community has taken it on the chin in the last 20 years or so, having lost 10 heritage buildings, although by my reckoning an equal number still stand. Herewith I will enumerate them, along with other long-gone buildings, albeit with some difficulty insofar as I don’t know exactly where some were. With a few exceptions, I’ve stuck to commercial and institutional buildings. 

At various times, South Slocan Village had two general stores, two garages, two churches, a post office, hotel, beer parlour, barber, butcher, men’s wear store, rental cabins, community hall, dance hall, pool hall, badminton hall, fire hall, train depot, bus depot, library, shoemaker, tennis courts, and bowling alley (some of these shared quarters).

Many of these buildings owed their existence to the completion of the Slocan branch of the Columbia and Kootenay Railway in 1897 or the construction of the South Slocan dam in 1926-28. Some subsequently disappeared due to the construction of Highway 3A from 1959-62 or FortisBC’s purchase of the former West Kootenay Power in 2003, while others were claimed by fire.

South Slocan Village, circa 1939. Most of the buildings seen here are gone, including 1) school, 2) the train station, and 3) Yeatman home/store/post office. However, 4) Stonebyres cottage still stands. (Nelson Museum Neg 5509, Yeatman collection)

Due to the length of this post, I’ve created an index below where you can click on a given site and go straight to that section.




Rustle House (1888-90)

Tom Ward operated this modest halfway house on the east side of Slocan Pool (then also known as Ward’s Pool) from 1888 to 1890 as an adjunct to his ferry service.

Ward told guests he would provide a place to sleep and make bannock and coffee but they were otherwise on their own for grub, hence the hotel’s name.

The completion of the Columbia and Western Railway put Ward’s ferry and hotel out of business. The Whitewater Mining Co. bought both from him the following year but the hotel remained dormant. In 1894, the Kootenay River reached a record high level and the Rustle House was left half-submerged. Someone marked the high water point on the door frame. In 1932, West Kootenay Power employees found what was left of the building and saved the door frame. The post was in the Castlegar Station Museum, as seen below, although it was removed when the room was painted. I’m not sure where it is now.

Kootenay Falls Hotel (1897-1923)

Someday I’ll publish a more detailed history of South Slocan hostelries, but for now suffice it to say that in 1897 William H. Lambert built this two-and-a-half storey wooden building on a bluff not far from the present parking area for the Slocan Valley rail trail. It was originally called Lambert’s Hotel or the Slocan Junction Hotel and the fittings were said to have come from the Lower Arrow Lake boomtown of Brooklyn.

Ad from Nelson Tribune, June 22, 1900

The clientele included CPR gangs and people fishing at Slocan Pool, possibly including William Randolph Hearst on his fishing excursion of 1904. Reportedly the hotel was the site of the first church service at South Slocan.

Margaret Kilcline appears to have been the first proprietor. Probably no one knew of her connection to an infamous crime in Ontario. Her brother, James Carroll, was the alleged ringleader of a vigilante mob that in 1880 killed five members of a family known as the Black Donnellys. James stood trial twice but was ultimately acquitted.

Lambert and wife Mary ran the hotel in partnership with John and Selma McManus from 1898-1903. It became known as the Kootenay Falls Hotel in 1904 and was operated by J.H. Smith in 1905-06. The Lamberts then sold it to Pete Johnson and Napolean Mallette. Mallette had been running the Lakeview and Grove hotels in Nelson. Johnson became sole proprietor in 1908 and brought in John Winfield (Jack) Moore as a partner in 1910. Subsequently Moore bought out Johnson, who went to Prince Rupert and then bought the Castlegar Hotel.

Moore, who hailed from Vermont, was a noteworthy figure in the area’s history. With a civil engineering degree in hand from Tufts College, he headed for the Pacific Northwest in 1888 and helped lay out the town of Anacortes, Wash. He went to the Yukon during the gold rush, then worked in the Rossland mines. He was a renowned angler and sportsman.

The Kootenay Falls Hotel, date unknown, but pre-1923. (Dave MacDonald collection)

At South Slocan, he located some mining claims on Rover Creek and bought 1,700 acres from the CPR and took out a 160-acre pre-emption on the east side of the Kootenay River. In addition to buying the hotel and adjacent land, he built two homes and laid out orchards. 

In 1909, Moore sold 1,100 acres at what is now Glade to the community Doukhobors, who built a sawmill there and began cranking out railway ties on a contract Moore secured from the CPR.

The Kootenay Falls Hotel, pre-1923. (Nelson Museum DTUC 794)

Upon taking control of the hotel, Moore brought his brother Willard out from the eastern US to help him run the place. Willard worked there on and off and took charge for several months in 1911 after Jack, 47, married Rhoda Owen, 20, and set out on a honeymoon to the US. Willard’s wife Bertha also went to work in the hotel as cook, waitress, and chambermaid. 

The arrangement eventually soured, however, for Willard took Jack to court over $700 in back wages. When the matter came to trial in 1912, the hotel’s haphazard accounting was revealed. “You are a better fisherman than you are a bookkeeper,” Judge Forin told Jack. Jack argued he did Willard a favor by allowing him to live in the hotel, for he hadn’t been very prosperous back home. Eventually a jury awarded Willard $541. 

In addition to the Moore family, a Miss G. Chamney was described as the hotel’s manager in 1912 and in 1913, a Gordon Treeny was reported as being placed in charge while Jack was ill. 

The Moores sold the hotel in May 1913 and the following year sold their home, 16-acre ranch, and an apartment house to John Murray. The Moores moved to their ranch across Slocan Pool until they sold most of this land to the community Doukhobors.

Ads from from the Nelson Daily News, June 10, 1915 and July 13, 1920

In 1914, Jack was back in court on a charge of lighting a fire without a permit, although I don’t know for what purpose. After spending at least eight days in jail awaiting trial, he was fined $150. Jack didn’t appreciate how Const. Allan Forrester arrested him and laid an assault charge against the officer, but it was swiftly dismissed. The Moores moved to the Lower Mainland the following year.

The next proprietors of the hotel were Ernest Meyer (or Myers) and Christian and Paula Gansner. The Gansners bought out Meyer in 1914 and became the hotel’s best known proprietors, by virtue of longevity if nothing else.

Christian was born in Switzerland, where he gained hotel experience, and came to Canada in 1904. He planted an orchard at Bonnington, then started a ranch at the foot of the Taghum hill. He married Paula Meisser in 1908 and their first child, Leo, a future county court judge, was born early the following year.

The Gansners put an N. Coleman in charge of the bar and a Miss Harvel, recently arrived from Scotland, in charge of the dining room. A Mr. Lewney also worked as a bartender. 

During the First World War, the hotel became a source of irritation for West Kootenay Power, which placed guards on their dams who spent much of their time drinking at the hotel. 

The Gansners tried selling the hotel in 1920 but found no takers. 

Brass trade token from the Kootenay Falls Hotel. (Greg Nesteroff collection)

The hotel burned down on June 6, 1923 after a spark from either a train or a chimney landed on the roof or blew in a bedroom window. Paula and daughter Freda were the only ones in the building at the time. They escaped, but the hotel was a total loss. Damage was pegged at $6,000, partly covered by insurance. 

Ad from 1923 civic directory

Pinehurst Inn (I), 3153 Murray Road (1926-27)

The history of the Pinehurst Inn, which replaced the Kootenay Falls Hotel, is confusing because there were two of them, they were across the street from each other, and each had previously been the home of lumber baron Alfred E. Watts (pictured).

In 1926, Nelson MLA Kenneth Campbell bought the Watts home, which I am guessing was then a decade old or so. He added new wings and converted it into a 20-room hotel and beer parlour. At the time, it was at a bend in the highway that became known as Beer Parlour Corner. 

The clientele was largely workers building the South Slocan dam but there was no shortage of political visitors. Among them: MLAs Mary Ellen Smith (the first woman to serve in the legislature), Chris McRae, and Sid Leary, plus longtime Vancouver mayor L.D. Taylor.

Campbell was in the midst of selling the inn to Salmo hotelier Albert Gibbon and Floyd M. Barnett of the Queens Hotel in Nelson when a fire broke out on Aug. 11, 1927 that quickly consumed the building. One guest was severely burned while helping salvage the contents of the beer parlor.

Gibbon, who was running the bar, scalded his head and arms while trying to save a box of change. Another guest suffered singed hair and a fourth was forced to jump from a second story window. But the strangest sight was a man who appeared in pajamas playing a banjo, apparently imitating Nero.

Campbell had a second Pinehurst Inn built across the street, of which see more below, and the Watts-Oliver family built a new house where the first Pinehurst Inn previously stood. It’s still there and was the longtime home of the late Bob and Marilyn Oliver. No photo of the first Pinehurst Inn is known to exist. 

Tennis courts (1910s and ‘20s)

In the 1910s, tennis was the leading athletic pursuit in South Slocan, Bonnington, and Castlegar. The communities each had their own courts and some heated rivalries emerged. But I’m not sure where the matches were played in South Slocan. The Nelson Daily News of Oct. 8, 1913 said they took place “on the ground of the South Slocan Progressive Association,” but that doesn’t help.

Reportedly the Yeatman family had a tennis court at the front of their property, known as Braeside, on what’s now Yeatman Road. The last mention I can find of the courts is in the Daily News of Aug. 30, 1929, which referred to them as being near the highway, which would be today’s South Slocan Village Road. Could there have been two sets of courts?

Bonnington tennis club, circa 1920. Vera Mabel Gilchrist Elsdon is second from left. (Nelson Museum Neg 3569)

Anderson/Humphry/Yeatman store and post office (1905-25) 

Yeatman/Cunningham store and post office (1925-35)

Cunningham store (1935-36)

South Slocan had several stores at several locations with many proprietors, making it hard to keep track of them. While I don’t know precisely where they all were, I am pretty sure there were never more than two at once. At times the post office shared space with one of the stores and at other times it was a standalone operation. 

W.H. Lambert was listed in the 1898 civic directory as a general merchant in addition to proprietor of the hotel mentioned above. But from 1899-1905 we see Martin Anderson, one of the major landowners in the area, as the sole merchant. 

A 1950s history by Violet Greyson noted: “On a little knoll above where the sectionsac houses now stand, Martin Anderson built his first store. Ole Skattebo made the shakes for this small building and carried them up from the [Slocan] pool … Later in 1899, [Anderson] built the old Anderson house and moved his store to that site. He again built another store which O.W. Humphry bought from him and carried on as general merchant and postmaster on that site for years.” 

So we have the store at three or possibly four locations within a few years. Anderson was in charge of the post office from its opening in 1899 until 1903. Addison Sherman then assumed the role from 1903-06, followed by Humphrey from 1906-23.

Ozias William Humphry, who was from London, married Elizabeth Spence in Nelson on Sept. 6, 1905. He had been a CPR camp inspector, but was listed as a South Slocan storekeeper in civic directories from 1905-23. He advertised his business as “General store, dry goods, men’s furnishings, boots and shoes, groceries, confectionery, cigars, tobacco and fishing tackle.” His home, called Bella Vista, was in the same building as the store, next to Stonebyres cottage (of which see more below). 

In 1912, with business on an upswing, John D. Yeatman joined O.W. Humphry & Co. as a partner and assistant postmaster and a large addition was put on the building. The partnership didn’t last long, but in 1923 Humphrey sold to Yeatman and Ronald Greyson. Greyson was postmaster from 1923-24 but then returned to working at the City of Nelson’s power plant. Yeatman, who had been assistant postmaster since 1920, then became postmaster.

The Yeatman family lived at a hillside ranch called Braeside but leased it to out in 1923 and I am guessing moved to the former Humphrey store. Yeatman built a new store in 1925 and moved the post office there, although I don’t know the location. For a while, the store was home to the only telephone in South Slocan. The lower portion of the old store was then rented out as a pool hall and barber shop. 

The home at Braeside burned at some point and around 1927 the Yeatmans bought Stonebyres at auction. They seemed to have resided both there and in the old store at various times. I don’t know if the properties were consolidated.

The only known photo of the Yeatman residence/store/post office in a detail from the panorama at top, circa 1939. (Nelson Museum Neg 5509, Yeatman collection)

Due to illness, Yeatman rented the new store in 1935 to Robert and Phyllis Cunningham, who were also running the store at Crescent Valley. Yeatman continued with the post office. 

On March 28, 1935 fire destroyed the new store along with two cars in the basement. Only the cash register and scales were saved. The cause was not reported. The building was valued at $2,500 and partly insured.

Subsequently, the Cunninghams rented a one-storey building from C.G. Fenwick described as “on the upper side of the through highway [i.e. South Slocan Village Road], diagonally opposite the South Slocan hall” (of which see more below) and re-established their store, which also served as the bus depot. Not quite a year to the day that their previous store burned, a fire broke out in the wood shed of the new one. The community formed a bucket brigade and saved some stock but the building was another loss. Twice burned, the Cunninghams gave up on South Slocan.

In an audio recording held by the Slocan Valley Historical Society (starting at the 7:55 mark), Bob Cunningham Jr. recalled what was probably the first fire, only he placed it on a “warm summer Saturday in 1934,” when in fact it took place on a Thursday in March 1935. In any case, he said he was there helping his brother with the store.

We had finished our noon meal and I was in the back room washing the dishes … My brother poked his head in the door and asked what I was burning. I replied nothing. He left and was back in a few minutes and said are you sure you aren’t burning anything? … Shortly afterward, I noticed smoke coming up through the floorboards. A quick check downstairs revealed the whole garage was on fire under the store. My brother locked all the post office stamps, money orders, etc. in the safe and we and packed as much of the stock as possible out on the road. Several neighbours helped, but by the time we were about half finished we had to abandon the building.
There was a little creek on the opposite side of the road and several people formed a bucket brigade and were passing water along to hold the fire back but eventually had to give up. As a result the road was wet and several puddles had been created. When the front of the building collapsed the power lines fell down and were lying across the wet road.
Mr. and Mrs. Woods were living in South Slocan and worked for Mr. Watts, who was Bob Oliver’s grandfather. The Woods had a whippet dog. They were long legged and built something like a Greyhound. Mrs. Woods walked by after the fire and the dog was with her. When the dog stepped on one of those puddles that the wires were lying in, he got the shock of his life.

Following the first fire, the post office moved back to the Yeatman home, a situation that was supposed to be temporary until the new highway was built through South Slocan. That project, however, didn’t begin until the late 1950s. In any case, by one account “the large house … became the centre of social life for the community.” 

Yeatman retired as postmaster in 1957 after 32 years (although in later years his wife Bertha, pictured here in the October 1958 edition of Cominco Magazine, did most or all the work) and the post office moved to the Stuart store, of which more below. Yeatman died only a few months later at his son’s home in Ontario. Bertha moved to Ontario in 1968 but until then she continued to own Stonebyres and the former store and post office, which had been around since before 1906. She died in March 1982. Sometime probably within the next year the old store burned down, possibly as a fire department practice.

Halarovitch/Avis/Sweet & Muir/Talbot/Hendren store, 3216 South Slocan Village Road (1937-59)

The origins of this grocery/variety store are murky, but at least we know where it stood and even have something of a picture of it.

The earliest proprietor I can find is Pete Halarovitch in 1937 but I don’t know if he built it. He moved to Rossland in 1938 and sold the store to the Avis brothers of Perry Siding. However, they only ran it for about a year and a half before in turn selling to George R. Sweet of Arcola, Sask. Sweet initially had as a partner William C. Muir, who was likely his brother-in-law, but then continued as sole proprietor until about 1944 when he sold to George Talbot. Talbot then sold to Jack Hendren and R. Riley around 1949-50 and Hendren was sole proprietor by 1953.

The photo below shows the building in 1950 and reveals it was also the Greyhound depot. I’m not sure if it was two storeys or built on stilts to meet the highway. The location is established by the set stairs on the opposite side of the road, which are still there, although the school they led up to is not. We know the date thanks to the license plate. I was also able to zoom in on the sign in the window, which reads in part GROCERIES/ICE CREAM but I can’t make out the word or words in between. Looks like it ends in -TEMT.

Alex Mauchline and his grandson Brian at South Slocan, 1950. (Arrow Lakes Historical Society 2023.027.009.018)

Approximately the same view today.

When work began on the new highway in 1959 that would bypass the store, Hendren anticipated a drop in business, but it appears to have been fatal because I can find no further sign of it. I don’t know what happened to the building, but BC Assessment says the present home on the property, which is set back from the road, was built in 1979.

South Slocan Garage (1927-37)

Nolan garage/Davis garage/Bob’s Esso Service (1931-60)

South Slocan had two garages, the first built by John Yeatman around 1927 who operated it through at least 1937 but I’m not sure where it was located. Yeatman reportedly had the first car in South Slocan, purchased in 1916 when driving to Nelson was a considerable challenge. (Alfred Watts had an older, electric vehicle but is not known to have used it in South Slocan. It sat in a shed for years.) 

The other one Charles Nolan built in 1931 next to the second Pinehurst Inn (of which see more below) along with five two-room tourist cabins. He was there until about 1937. Civic directories don’t list any garage at South Slocan between 1938 and 1941, then in 1942 we see Robert Dempsey as the proprietor of the one next to the Pinehurst.

No further directory listings appear until 1955 when D.J. Davis had taken over from Dempsey. The following year Davis sold it to Bob and Diana Dunsmore who renamed it Bob’s Esso Service. Bob, who was raised in the area, was returning home after several years in the navy. The business came with a house and something else unexpected (of which see more below).

But the business was short-lived, as the new highway built starting in 1959 meant traffic would no longer pass in front of the service station. The Dunsmores demolished the building and used some of the lumber to build a two-storey private garage on the same site that still stands.

Ike Goldman’s pool hall, 3164 Murray Road (1929-65)

One of the real characters of South Slocan, Abraham (Ike) Goldman was nominally a pool hall proprietor but had a more lucrative sideline as a bootlegger.

We know little about him except he was a Polish Jew, born in 1885 or 1891, and came to Canada in 1898. Where he lived and what he did prior to starting a pool hall in South Slocan in 1929 is unknown, but locally he may have done business at a couple of locations. John Yeatman reportedly rented out part of his old store for a pool hall in the 1920s but that was not the building pictured below. The 1931 census showed Ike living with steamfitter John A. Johnson and indicated he owned his own home.

In an audio recording held by the Slocan Valley Historical Society (starting at the 11:23 mark), Bob Cunningham Jr. recalled stopping at Ike’s.

Once in a long while a group of us boys would walk down from Crescent Valley to play a few games of pool. Ike didn’t always like to see us, but business was business, and in those days Ike put up with quite a bit to get the business. The old shiplap floor was warped by the sun. What seemed to annoy Ike the most was when one of us got a little rambunctious and sent a pool ball clattering across the floor. It sounded more like a team of horses. It wasn’t that we didn’t like Ike, it was just that we had more energy than common sense, as was so often the case.
One evening I went for a ride on my bike and stopped to have a bottle of pop. Pop was 10 cents then. Ike kept the pop under the counter and it was quite warm. I had a quarter and he put 15 cents change on the counter. I didn’t pick it up but asked if I could have a look at his punch board that was hanging behind it. He handed it over and I read the list of prizes, the first prize being a 15-jewel men’s wristwatch. I picked the centre hole in the board and pushed it out. When I unfolded it and read the number, I couldn’t believe it, even though I wanted to. Just imagine how hard it was for Ike to believe it when he didn’t want to. With the first prize gone, who was going to buy the other three quarters or more of the board that hadn’t been sold? I had that watch for many years. After I was married I traded it in at a jeweller’s in Nelson for a wristwatch for my wife.

I found nine instances of Ike getting into trouble with the law starting in 1930 when he was fined $300 for selling booze. He was raided again the following year, but the case was dismissed for lack of evidence. In 1934, he was given a choice of a fine of $500 or five months in jail. He took the jail sentence, which would thereafter always be his preference. Ike usually pleaded not guilty, but his defence that any liquor found on the premises was for personal use never worked.

In 1935 he received six months in jail. In 1938 he was fined $300. In 1939, he was fined $20 for assaulting Tim Markin in the pool room, although it’s not known what the argument was about. In 1941, he was given the choice of a $200 fine or six months and took the jail time. In 1953, he was fined $300 and in 1964 the option of $300 or three months in Oakalla prison. He once again took the jail sentence.

In the latter two cases, the judge was very familiar with him: William Evans was formerly a merchant in South Slocan (of which see more below) whose store was across the alley from Ike’s pool hall. 

Ike was also twice the victim of incidents that resulted in other people being sent to jail: in 1943, Polly Sookerookoff was sentenced to one month for throwing a rock through his window and in 1951 Fred W. Saliken received two months for assaulting Ike and stealing a case of beer from him.

Ike Goldman’s pool hall is seen centre-left on Murray Road in South Slocan, mid-1960s. (Ellis Anderson photo)

I don’t know if Ike built the two-storey building where he lived and had his pool hall, but he didn’t own the property. When Bob and Diana Dunsmore bought the neighbouring Esso station in 1956 they discovered Ike and his pool hall came with the purchase. He claimed to have a perpetual lease.

“We had it looked into and it really didn’t hold water at all,” Diana says. “But he was an old man. He wasn’t really bothering us any, so we just left him there. People used to say, ‘oh, aren’t you worried about him with the kids,’ because my kids played in the yard right there. I’d say no. He would come over and say ‘hi baby’ and be very sweet to them. I never worried about him. To my mind, he wasn’t scary at all, he was just a very old, kind of pathetic man.” 

In February 1965, Ike’s heart expired. Someone who went to buy booze from him discovered his body. The coroner who signed his death registration was William Evans, the same man who twice sent him to jail. Ike was buried in Nelson in an unmarked grave and not long afterward, the Dunsmores demolished the pool hall and built a garage on the site that still stands.

But we are very fortunate that before that happened Ellis Anderson took a picture of South Slocan Village, capturing the pool hall, which bore two Coca Cola signs and a cigarette ad. 

Community hall and library (1912-64)

The community hall, which was close to the recently-demolished school, formally opened on Feb. 1, 1912 with a banquet and dance. The Nelson Daily News said the building was 28x50 feet with a dressing room, kitchen, and “good sized basement,” and constructed thanks to volunteer labour on land donated by Jack Moore. 

No exterior photos are known to exist, although there are a couple of interior shots. It served as the first school from 1912-18, hosted church services prior to the construction of St. Matthew’s (of which see more below), and was also home to the local chapters of the farmers and women’s institutes. 

“Little Darryl Box receives her gift from Santa, who never has any trouble finding youngsters in the power plant communities. This hall is in the village of South Slocan and is operated by the Women’s Institute.” (Cominco Magazine, October 1951)

The women’s institute, through the leadership of Bertha Yeatman, amassed a basement library that had 800 books when it opened in June 1951, fulfilling a dream that dated back to 1936. The library’s holdings were a combination of donations by Yeatmans as well as UBC and the Trail and Nelson libraries. Bertha’s husband built the bookcases. 

A call for more books resulted in hundreds more donations from every province and around the world. Annie Garland Foster donated her copy of Life of Pauline Johnson. J.T. Bealby donated his set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Others provided furniture. By 1953, the library had grown to more than 1,000 volumes. It was open Tuesdays and Thursdays with designated times for kids and seniors.

However, the hall suffered a fire in November 1956 that caused $2,000 worth of damage to the rear, stage, and rafters. Defective wiring was blamed. The building had to be completely rewired and its stage rebuilt. I don’t know how the books fared, but the library did reopen. Attendance in 1958 was said to be especially strong among teenagers. 

Nelson Daily News, May 21, 1953

But something must have happened in the next few years that affected the building’s utility, for in October 1963, the Women’s Institute called for tenders for its removal. They must not have received any offers for in April 1964 they tried again to auction it off, although no specific reason was given. That’s the last sign I can find of the building. Thereafter community groups who weren’t already doing so met in the No. 3 plant hall or Anglican church hall, of which see more about both below. What happened to the library books? It’s a mystery.

Shoemaker’s shop (1940-59?)

This was next to the Talbot/Hendren store, across from the school and right on the edge of what was then the highway and is now South Slocan Village Road. Bill Woykin (aka Shoemaker Bill) was listed as a shoemaker in the 1940 civic directory but appears to have turned it over to Bill Moojelsky for a while. When Woykin returned, he took out this ad in the Nelson Daily News of April 20, 1945.

The two-storey shop was next to but separate from Woykin’s house. The entrance was on the road level and there was a ramp/walkway from the road to the doorway. The house was right in the path of the new highway, built starting in 1959. The house was moved back and still stands, but the shop was eventually demolished.

The late Bob Oliver also recalled George Evdokimoff of Perry Siding running a shoe repair in South Slocan and commuting by horse. However, while Evdokimoff’s 1962 obituary said he opened a general store at Perry’s in 1942, it didn’t mention a shoe repair.

Fire hall (1956-’80s)

This was really just a glorified garage, but we know its origin. South Slocan had no fire protection until 1954, when a new water system was installed including six hydrants. There were soon plans to create the first women’s volunteer fire department in the BC interior. But for whatever reason it didn’t happen.

Instead in 1956 a fire brigade of 18 men was formed. They repaired and altered a double garage on the highway (now South Slocan Village Road) that Caroline Murray donated. (Ironically about a month and a half later a grass fire destroyed another garage of hers.)

Members of the brigade donated parts to build a trailer to carry equipment. Some hose and nozzles were purchased and a fire siren was installed with an alarm box at Hendren’s store (mentioned above). Jack Hendren was the fire chief. The brigade and the hall lasted into the 1980s when the Crescent Valley fire department was founded and a new hall was built. Peter Wood and Dave Adams then tore down the old hall.

West Kootenay Power No. 3 plant hall (1927-2005)

West Kootenay Power built this recreation hall for employees and their families which stood at the bottom of hill coming into the power plant site, just past the present gate on the left. The building’s grand opening was a dance and supper held May 7, 1927.

No. 3 plant hall seen in 2006 (top) and in the 1990s (above).

The ground floor had a two-lane bowling alley with little ledges on the end for pinsetters to sit on. Many South Slocan kids got their first job here and the South Slocan Ladies Bowling League continued to use the lanes until a few months before the building’s end. 

“A ball skids down one of the two alleys in the basement of the hall at the South Slocan plant. The onlooker (back right) is Jack Yeatman, postmaster and a pioneer resident of the valley. During the winter, there is bowling every night with men and women from all five power plants taking part. Youngsters take over as pin setters.” (Cominco Magazine, October 1951)

The Nesteroff family bowls in the No. 3 plant hall, 1992. 

The upper floor had a badminton hall that was also used for various functions and by many groups, most notably the cub scouts and girl guides. The building was also equipped with a projection room over the entrance and, at least during construction of the dam, silent movies were shown there twice a week. The projector came from the Starland Theatre in Nelson with music provided by a player piano. People sat on wooden folding seats, some of which survived to the building’s end.  

The badminton hall on the upper floor of No. 3 plant hall. It looks like it’s the 1950s but this photo was actually taken in the 1990s.

In late August 1929, opposition leader and future prime minister Robert B. Bennett spoke at the hall during a five-week tour of BC. The late Dave MacDonald remembered seeing him there. 

The building came in especially handy on two occasions: in June 1931, fire destroyed the West Kootenay Power bunkhouse and dining hall. Men were then housed on the top floor and the bowling alley was turned into a makeshift kitchen. In 1950, the upper floor also served briefly as a classroom before Mount Sentinel high school was completed.

The building originally had two wooden staircases, one at each end of the front wall, which were later replaced by concrete stairs at the rear.  

FortisBC tore the building down in 2006, although I don’t know what specific reason, if any, was given beyond that they didn’t want to look after it anymore. Near the building was a space that doubled as an ice rink and a tennis court. The concrete slab is still there, seen below.

West Kootenay Power company homes (1926-2006)

In addition to the recreation hall, West Kootenay Power had a number of modest company homes at No. 3 plant. Ten were built as construction was getting underway on the South Slocan dam in 1926 and at least a couple of others were added later. Residents maintained extensive lawns and gardens and anyone who failed to keep theirs up would risk the scorn of company president Lorne Campbell on his occasional inspections.

“Nestled among tall trees and carpeted by shimmering grass, these South Slocan power plant homes boast a pretty and peaceful setting.” (Cominco Magazine, October 1951)

“Mr. and Mrs. James A. Street pose in their living room at South Slocan with daughters Jean and Irene. Although the homes were constructed from a number of different plans, theirs is fairly typical. On duty, Jim is first aid man and head gardener.” (Cominco Magazine, October 1951)

The company homes are seen at centre and right, circa 1975.

I don’t know when the homes were last occupied, but I’m guessing it was the early 2000s. In early 2006, six were left and FortisBC gave local fire departments the go-ahead to burn them for practice. “They’re over 60 years old and many of them are deteriorated to the point that they require removal,” company spokeswoman Ameera Shivji told the Nelson Daily News, adding that the homes were all vacant and on land the company hoped to do other things with.

However, Brian Zacharias, who was in the renovation business and a volunteer firefighter himself, was appalled. After the first one was torched, he said he believed the homes were sound enough to live in. In the very least, he wanted fixtures and windows salvaged. Shivji said some things were removed, but they were concerned about mice and mold, and the doors and windows needed to be in place to provide a realistic scenario for firefighters. 

A second home (which was inexplicably numbered 367) went up in smoke and then a third one. But then a Fortis lawyer told them to cease and desist due to liability concerns, which the fire departments found baffling. FortisBC indicated that it would still donate the homes for search and rescue training. While I don’t know if that happened, the homes are long gone. 

These homes outlasted other West Kootenay Power company houses at Bonnington, Corra Linn, and Brilliant, but several of those were moved to other locations and are still standing at places including Slocan Park, Deer Park, Salmo, Raspberry, and Beasley.

West Kootenay Power staff house (1931-2018)

There was some debate about the age of the staff house. One document outlining buildings connected with the construction of the South Slocan dam indicated a “staff house with accommodation for 20 men” went up around 1926, in addition to bunkhouses for 500 men. 

However, the Vancouver architectural firm of McCartner Nairne was commissioned in 1929 to design a “hotel” for West Kootenay Power and Light. The same firm was responsible for the Marine building in Vancouver, the West Kootenay Power office and Cominco Arena in Trail, and Nelson’s Civic Centre among other works.

The drawings survive in the Canadian Architectural Archives at the University of Calgary and are seen below, dated Aug. 9, 1929 and July 28, 1930. It turns out the building the architects had in mind was a far cry from what was actually built. The plans look like Blaylock Mansion. Possibly the stock market crash of 1929 had something to do with the more austere design ultimately used.

University of Calgary Archives and Special Collections, McCarter Nairne fonds - “South Slocan Hotel - Elevations” Accession 71A/80.6, Project MCA 458

The first mention I can find of the completed building is in the Nelson Daily News of Dec. 19, 1931. A history by Dave MacDonald indicates the grand opening waited until Jan. 26, 1932 with West Kootenay Power president Lorne Campbell the first person to sign the guest book, even though there had certainly already been visitors.

MacDonald wrote Mickey Byrne was assigned suite No. 5 and “was to hold sway as major-domo of the staff house until his retirement in 1946.” 

The earliest known photo of the staff house, from June 2, 1937.

Nelson Daily News, Jan. 27, 1940

Adjacent to the staff house was a cookhouse that burned in 1931. Gardens subsequently rose on the site, tended to by Alec McGibbon who also planted ivy on the staff house. The garden became a favored spot for graduation photos.

The building had several purposes, serving as accommodation for company higher-ups, including Campbell, and a guest house and banquet hall that entertained such dignitaries as the governor general in 1948. Each floor had its own bathrooms. 

The building, boasting a bright red roof, is seen for a few seconds in a 1957 video posted by the Nelson Museum on YouTube.

The staff house in the 1960s. (Ellis Anderson photo)

In 1986, the furnishings were sold at auction in Creston, including a solid wood dining table and chairs that could seat about two dozen people, a china cabinet, silverware, dishes, beds, easy chairs, couches, and chests of drawers. Also removed was the ancient switchboard.

This was all preparatory to refurbishing the building as West Kootenay Power’s district headquarters. In addition to offices and a library, a second-floor solarium was turned into a meeting room and the basement was used for storage and a lunch room. (Prior to that the office had been in the former gardener’s house, which was subsequently demolished.)

From them until sometime in the early 2000s, you could admire the building’s splendor when you went to pay your power bill — in the days when many people still did so in person. 

The staff house in the 1980s. (Al Peterson photos)

In 2015, FortisBC presented a plan to the BC Utilities Commission for a new operations facility in Ootischenia that spelled doom for the staff house. The submission included a consultant’s report on the building’s deficiencies, which sniffed that the former guest rooms were too big for individual offices, the washrooms were redundant, and the office space was inefficient. 

Although the building was included on a Columbia Basin heritage register, its historic value was not factored in by the consultant. Fortis did listen to a rallying cry that went up to save the building but two hurdles proved insurmountable: a $6 million renovation tag and the company’s insistence that the building be moved.

Down it came in 2018. Although the gardens remain, today there’s nary a trace of the staff house.

The staff house and gardens in 2006.