Updated: Jun 7
Recently the Nelson Museum de-accessioned a remarkable item to the Silvery Slocan Historical Society: the guestbook from New Denver’s Newmarket Hotel covering Sept. 28, 1897 to Nov. 30, 1899. I am the conduit for its transfer, but first I went through the whole thing and made notes.
While I’ve seen pages out of old hotel guest registers before, I’ve never had the privilege of examining one from start to finish.
The Newmarket was built in 1893 by Sam Wharton and burned down in 1973. It was at the foot of 6th Street where the Valhalla beach shop is now and was among the most outstanding local hostelries. While it was renovated, from the outside, at least, it never lost its old-time flavor.
While the historical society has some other guest books from the hotel, this one is by far the earliest. The leather-bound book, which is 18.5 inches tall and 12.5 inches wide, has “Register/Newmarket Hotel/Henry Stege Proprietor” gilded in gold leaf on the spine. Stege was the portly, popular proprietor from 1894 to 1912.
The first page reveals the book’s partial provenance and how close it came to being lost.
The property of E.T. Coleman
904 Front St. July 21, 1952
(Found this book on city dump)
This book donated to
Mr. and Mrs. E.T. Coleman
May 6, 1967
At the bottom of the opposite page, Coleman and a Joseph Desrochers of Nakusp also signed their names on Feb. 23, 1963.
The hotel was still in business both when the book was rescued from the dump and when it was donated to the museum, but it’s not known where it had been immediately prior.
Each page of the register bore the following at the top:
However, strangely, many of these headers have been cut out, including from the first few pages.
The bottom of each page had an ad for Bailey Bros Co. Ltd. of Vancouver, the guest book’s distributor:
Between each page was an ink blotter full of advertising in red and blue: C.W. Weller, Rossland plumber; Knox Brothers Jewelers which was actually in the Newmarket; Charles F. Nelson, New Denver druggist; LoCasto and Brindle of New Denver, hatters, gent’s furnishing, tobacconists, confectionery and fruits; Rasdhall and Fauquier of New Denver, mines and real estate; and the Mitchell-Lewis and Staver Co. of Spokane.
The reverse was the same except in place of the Mitchell-Lewis ad were ads for Weeks, Kennedy, and Co., real estate, insurance, and mining stocks of Rossland, and W.H. Stowell & Co., chemists and assayers of Spokane.
Many of these pages are also torn out.
Opposite the Oct. 5, 1897 page were clipped a number of Nelson Daily News stories Gus Stankoven wrote in the 1960s on the history of the Silvery Slocan, which were entertaining but not very accurate.
Sometimes an entire page was devoted to a single day, but much more often several days’ worth of guests could be squeezed upon the same page. At least one page was left completely blank, presumably by accident.
The first person to sign the guest book proper was Edward Davidson of Toronto. Guests came from near and far. At least a few signed in every day, although there is no easy way of telling how long any of them stayed.
Also recorded in addition to name and hometown was room number and “time,” which was not always recorded and I haven’t cracked the code yet: the notations were either D or L. You could spend a lifetime figuring out who each person was and what brought them to New Denver, but here are just a few who stood out to me.
Noteworthy names and famous folks
Oct. 8, 1897: Lord and Lady Hamilton of Hong Kong. I don’t know what to make of that. There was a Lord George Hamilton who was then England’s secretary of state for India, but I don’t see that he had any BC connection. No mention in the local newspapers at the time.
June 14, 1898: G.A. Farini, Toronto. This was Guillermo Antonio Farini, real name William Leonard Hunt. Best known for crossing Niagara Falls on a tightrope in the 1860s — including with someone on his back, blindfolded, and doing somersaults.
June 21, 1898: Swiftwater Bill, Klondyke. Swiftwater Bill was a real guy (real name Bill Gates!) but this is likely a gag. Legend had it that he became rich on a Yukon claim numbered 13 that other miners were too superstitious to touch.
Swiftwater Bill liked to flaunt his wealth, outfitting himself with a silk shirt and top hat and diamond stick-pin necktie. But thanks to his gambling habit, he burned through his wad quickly. The Newmarket would have been wise to request payment in advance, for the same year that he supposedly stayed in New Denver, he reportedly lost $50,000 in three weeks playing pool in Dawson.
Sept. 23, 1898: E. Mahon, Vancouver. Edward Mahon and his brothers had mining interests in the Slocan, most profitably the Vancouver claim near Silverton. A year earlier he had also had a townsite laid out at the confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay rivers and named it after his Irish ancestral home. However, for various reasons the townsite did not develop very quickly and by the time it became a going concern, his connection to it had been forgotten. In fact, more than a century went by before he got his due as the father of Castlegar.
Oct. 15, 1898: Pomolskoi Pablovsky, Tchernaya, Russia. No idea who he was, but Pomolskoi (помолской) means “grinding” in Russian.
One thing that quickly becomes apparent is how few women signed their names. The ones who did stand out, especially when grouped together.
Oct. 30, 1897: Mrs. H. Mandall of Mood Ville (?), Lottie Bryan of Minneapolis (?), Miss Hazel Pearl, and Miss Rena Dexter of Kamloops.
April 22, 1898: Miss Robertson and Miss Cambie of Vancouver
Theatre troupes, journalists, and bed makers
While most people just signed their name and hometown, members of two professions went a step further. Journalists and other newspaper representatives routinely noted the paper they worked for.
Jan. 5, 1899: W.W. Beaton, Nelson Daily Miner
Jan. 7, 1899: J. Mackay, Vancouver News Advertiser
Feb. 21, 1899: E. Odlum, Vancouver World
Also, travelling entertainment troupes used the guest book as an advertising opportunity. First to check in was Johnny Carter, comedian, on Sept. 28, 1897. He returned on July 5, 1898. Not obvious from his signature: he was Black. The Ledge, New Denver’s newspaper at the time, did not appear to review either of his shows, but in 1895 the Vernon News said his act consisted of telling jokes, singing and playing the banjo, and “dialect speeches” including what he thought sounded like Chinese.
Next up was the Four Leaf Comedy Co. on Nov. 19 and 24, 1897, consisting of three men and three women. The Ledge said the company “played to a good audience in the Clever hall … and their entertainment was so enjoyed that they concluded to repeat their comedy farce Behind the Screen Wednesday night in the Grand Central hall.”
The Clever hall was next to the Newmarket, but burned down in 1903. It was rebuilt on the same site and still stands. The Grand Central hall was in the hotel of the same name on Eldorado Avenue, which burned in March 1907.
The Ledge, Nov. 18, 1897
Though it was still winter, the Somers Family Musical Comedy Co. signed in on Feb. 19, 1898: P.T. Somers, his wife and their kids, Nellie, Lottie, Perrin Jr., and Carl, plus Hale Cady, “pianiste.” However, they didn’t actually perform in New Denver. They were merely en route to Silverton and Sandon. In the former town they performed in McKinnon’s hall and were declared “the best show that ever visited Silverton. The songs were new and well rendered and nothing in the program was in the least objectionable.” Not to 1890s eyes, anyway. Today we’d take a much dimmer view of Carl Somers’ minstrel act.
The six-member Cosgrove Co. showed up on Sept. 8, 1898 and performed for two nights at Clever Hall before what The Ledge said were “large and appreciative audiences ... Their entertainments were fully up to expectations; indeed in many respects excelled anything that has ever appeared here and Mr. Cosgrove can always depend upon a large house when his company returns to New Denver. The Kinetoscope was the most pleasing feature.”
The 16-member All-Star English Specialty Co. arrived on Feb. 3, 1899 and according to The Ledge gave two “excellent performances” at the opera house, i.e. the still-standing Bosun Hall.
Markham’s New York Theatre Co. was next on March 8, 1899, performing Ole Olson for two nights at the Bosun Hull. The eight members took up three rooms. Many theatre companies included a child performer, invariably known as Baby So-and-So or Little Such-and-Such. In this case, Little Fitz. The company “managed to greatly please New Denver theatre goers.”
April 24, 1899: The Metropolitan Opera Co., which was so large that 22 of them stayed at the Newmarket and others apparently had to find accommodation elsewhere. The Ledge had a good anecdote about the company’s advance agent visiting Silverton and trying to convince people to come to New Denver for their performance of La Mascotte in the Bosun Hall. Asked why he didn’t bring the troupe to Silverton, he replied: “Oh, you see we only play in large towns.”
The Ledge said “Considering the size of the Bosun stage and its shallow wings, the opera was well put on, and the audience, large and appreciative, thoroughly enjoyed the jolly Prince Daisy and his chamberlain.”
May 14, 1899: One of the better-travelled Canadian companies arrived, the Harry Lindley Co., consisting of a dozen members. Although best known in Atlantic Canada, by 1897 they finally made their way west and toured the Kootenays extensively. They produced Daughter of Virginia and Little Lord Fauntleroy at the Bosun Hall.
May 24, 1899: A 13-member lacrosse team from Nelson signed in to play at the Slocan Lake Jubilee marking the Queen’s birthday. They beat Slocan 4-0.
Also arriving that day was the W.W. Bittner Co., a fairly prominent troupe of the time, who performed the popular farce Charley’s Aunt. The Ledge, which seemingly never saw a performance it didn’t like, said “no better entertainment was ever given in the Kootenay. The Bittner people put up an excellent show and Bosun hall was crowded to the doors.”
June 25, 1899: The Nix Family Concert co. performed at the KP Hall for two nights. The Ledge noted they were in town but didn’t review the show. The Sandon Mining Review, however, said they played to small crowds there: “Though they are good musical performers and put up a clean show, the time is past, for Sandon at least, when three or four children can entertain a large audience all the evening.”
I lament the guest book doesn’t stretch as far as May 1900, otherwise we may have seen the signature of J.G. Stuttz, the dean of North American theatrical company managers. He was performing in Sandon the night the town burned down. But he brushed the soot off himself and took to the stage again in the Bosun Hall less than a week later.
I only spotted one other person making his profession known.
Aug. 12, 1898: J.D. Young of the Metropolitan Cigar Co. of Vancouver, with a note in the margin that he was also a “bed maker,” whatever that means.
Strange names and other oddities
I admit to being delighted by the smart-alecks who essentially vandalized the book, old-timey style.
July 10, 1898: “J.L. Retallack supporters, all drunk.” Then, scratched out, “Retalloch, Red Allick in soup, Green’s supporters, all sunk.”
One day earlier, John L. Retallack (namesake of the place between Kaslo and New Denver) and Robert Green ran against each other in the West Kootenay-Slocan riding in the provincial election. Green prevailed, 525 to 425.
Dec. 6, 1897: A bunch of people, mainly locals, signed in with highfalutin but phony titles. To wit:
Hon. F. Locasto, Palmero, Italy; Sir H.H. Knox; HRH D. McLeod, London; The Rt. Hon Thos. Avison, Duke of “The Black Isle,” Rt. Rev. Peter Linquist, Rector, Stockholm (who also signed in earlier that day merely as “Peter Lindquist, Esq,, City”), and His Corporation H. Stege, 1st Cousin Bismark.
Jan. 24, 1898: John Stewart signed in four times, twice giving his home as London, once as Spokane, and once as … Paderawski. Polish pianist Ignacy Paderewski was a big deal at the time, but I don’t know if that had anything to do with it.
March 26, 1898: Three more John Stewarts plus a J.J.J. John, one from what looks like Oshkosh, another from Kuskonook, and the other two from parts unknown.
Aug. 19, 1898: “Rubber Nick, Kuskonook”
Oct. 9, 1898: “S.M. Stumbelfunk, Sandon.”
Oct. 17, 1898: “Miss Imogene Montmorency McSwatt, Elks Parade, Spokane Fruit Fair.”
We know the story behind this one, sort of. Eleven days earlier, the Spokane Chronicle explained that at the forthcoming Elks Day at the fruit fair, the club would present their “goddess of plenty, Imogene Montmorencie McSwatt, and her escort.”
This lady was born in New York, received her education in New Orleans and is one of three honorary members of the order of Elks now living. She will appear in costume especially prepared for this occasion, and beyond doubt will be voted by every person present the handsomest woman who ever appeared in any parade in the streets of Spokane.
So I’m guessing she was a guy in drag or a mannequin. The answer was not revealed. However, Miss McSwatt made another surprise appearance later that month in the Yakima Herald as the author of a palmistry column offering political advice to candidates. It presumably made a lot more sense to readers then than it does now.
It may be coincidence, but Imogene Montmorency was also the name of an actress in a theatre troupe in a 1904 novel by George Vere Hobart called Jim Hickey: A Story of the One-Night Stands.
Jan. 8, 1899: “Doc Jim the Tooth Puller, Most any place” and “Doc Red Nose with the flask in his hip” (it actually looks more like “hack in his lip,” although that makes less sense).
Jan 11, 1899: Scratched out in pencil: “Raisk [?] the one eyed astronomer.”
May 25, 1899: “Old Jack The Fisherman, Sandon” whose $100,000 was due.
Dec. 31, 1898: Seems like the better part of Three Forks decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve in New Denver, along with Sam Thomas of the Klondike Reporter.
One frequent guest, Alex (Sandy) McKay, never seemed to list the same hometown twice.
March 10, 1898: Glenora
March 14, 1898: Michicopten
March 19, 1898: Kamloops
March 26, 1898: At large
Sept. 10, 1898: Sandyville
McKay lived to be 100. Wee Sandy Creek is believed to be named for him.
Inserted after the May 4, 1899 page was a reminder to order a new register from the Hicks-Judd Co. of San Francisco, who had a thing for underlining.
Tucked after Aug. 7, 1899 was an unused Newmarket letterhead from 1902!
The final entry on Nov. 29, 1899 looks like “C. Hallis, Hastings, Minn.”
But my favourite things in the whole book were thanks to William Dickson Mitchell, a guy from New Denver who appears to have had too much egg nog on Christmas Eve 1898.
On this particular evening, Mitchell ran roughshod over the guest book, first vandalizing an entire page by scribbling overtop a list of other guests. It begins with his candidacy for office, with the words getting progressively bigger:
I am a candidate for the voters of British Columbia electors. I am qualified to fill any position — official or [illegible] to which the people of British Columbia approve of. And I am qualified to act. W.D. Mitchell
There’s other stuff that’s illegible. I can make out “August 1899” and either “wondrous” or “numerous” and “but to you.”
The facing page is easier to decipher. Mitchell signed in three times and appears to have also spent the evening with James Ward, George Longer, and a Mr. Stock from Toronto.
Mitchell began by quoting lines from Robert Tannahill’s poem The Braes o’Balquhidder:
I will build thee a bower
Near the clear silver fountain
I will cover it all oe’r
With flowers o’ the mountain
I will range thro’ the wilds
And the dark glens sae dreary
I’ll return wi’ their spoils
To the bower o’ my dearie
Then he waxed poetic himself:
Jim Ward is a Cosmopolitan
I am a latitudinarian
And we divide the Longitudinal lines of friendship closely that we meet on Common ground on this beautiful Christmas Eve with the snow gently falling and dripppping [sic].
Dec. 25th, 12:10 a.m.
A latitudinarian, I learn, is someone who “allows latitude in religion” and shows “no preference among varying creeds and forms of worship.”
Mitchell wasn’t done. On Boxing Day, he added another entry:
The remonetization [?] of silver
Means the amelioration
of the condition of the
people of the world
We are the People
On the 27th he followed up (why wasn’t Henry Stege hiding the book by this point?):
Let us to listen to Prof. McCrosh of Princeton
We see through a glass darkly
— or —
Speech is silver
Silence is golden
That’s what John A. Macdonald said to Charles Gamble [?]
James McCosh was president of Princeton University of 1868-88, best known for criticizing slavery and the Confederacy and admitting Black students into his classes. “Through a glass darkly” is a Biblical phrase. “Speech is silver, silence is golden,” is an Arab proverb that dates to the ninth century but I don’t know if Sir John A. ever uttered it.
I’d never heard of W.D. Mitchell before, but he first showed up in New Denver in 1897. He was the secretary for Thompson, Mitchell, and Thompson, a firm that dealt in mines, real estate, and insurance. The 1901 census indicated he was born in Ontario in 1844 and was therefore 57. He was then a bookkeeper and mining partner with N.C. Dingman. He was also secretary of the New Denver school board from at least 1903-06.
The Ledge, March 11, 1897
In 1904, the Poplar Nugget published his latest New Year’s poem, describing him facetiously as “one of the three great living poets of the empire.” It was called Our Lady of the Snows and plucked a line directly from The Braes o’Balquhidde.
The next we hear of him, Mitchell sent away for a patent medicine in 1906 and swallowed the four shiny black pills sent to him in the mail. They nearly killed him.
The Vancouver Daily World, with whom Mitchell shared his predicament, sagely counselled: “The practice of swallowing sample doses of patent medicine is dangerous and often ends in prostration and sometimes in death.”
Whether it was due to those pills or whatever he was taking them for, Mitchell died in Perth, Ont. in 1908, age 64. It’s not known if his wife Mary Ann survived him or predeceased him, but it doesn’t appear she came to the Slocan. They had a son and three daughters.
When the Slocan Record began publishing a couple of years later, an underwhelmed Robert T. Lowery wrote that the Record’s sad attempt at poetry was “enough to make the late W.D. Mitchell shed his wings long enough to make an earthly protest.”