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What’s Trout Lake’s second-oldest building?

Updated: Jul 8

Trout Lake City is one of my favorite spots in West Kootenay because it’s just so darn unusual. A mining camp set amidst staggering beauty, it very nearly became a complete ghost town yet somehow lingered long enough to be reborn as a vacation spot. 


“The Lardeau district is remote, even by Kootenay standards,” Michael Kluckner correctly noted in Vanishing British Columbia and that certainly applies to Trout Lake, an hour’s drive from Nakusp or an hour and three quarters from Revelstoke, not including any time spent waiting for the ferry. Access from the south is via Highway 31, a glorified logging road at best. Telephone service arrived in 1981 and electricity in the mid-1990s.


Despite its isolation, Trout Lake boasts wide, paved streets adjacent to dense brush that is vigorously trying to reclaim the town.

By far its most outstanding heritage feature is the Windsor Hotel, built in 1897, and the sole survivor of four hotels from its heyday (a few other hotels were planned but may not have been built). 


The Windsor wasn’t the town’s biggest hotel (that title that belonged the Queen’s, which burned down in 1906, and appears in only one photograph) but may have been its classiest. Its survival is thanks in no small part to Alice Jowett, its proprietor for 40 years, who kept it up long after it made much economic sense. Heritage restoration efforts began in the late 1970s and continued in the mid-1990s, reverting the hotel’s appearance to the way it appears in early photographs. 

The Windsor Hotel seen in 2000. Despite repeated attempts, I have never taken any pictures to equal these. That was my white Dodge Spirit.


Although I’d been to the Windsor many times, I’d never stayed it in it until this month when my wife and I spent a night there. It’s operated as a B&B and I highly recommend it.  


Other surviving signs of Trout Lake City’s heritage are harder to spot, as nearly every other early building burned down, collapsed under the weight of snow, or was scavenged for lumber. 


Among the last to go: the school and the Anglican Church, both completed in 1904 and both burned in 1970, as well as the resort store, formerly the Imperial Bank, which stood near the Windsor and burned in 1971. 


What remains:


• The cemetery, nearly perpetually overgrown despite periodic efforts by the Trout Lake Community Club and Arrow Lakes Historical Society to cut back vegetation so you can see the grave markers. At least 45 people were buried here between 1900 and 1945 while a handful of others are commemorated here but buried elsewhere. Yet you’ll only find eight grave markers (six badly deteriorated wooden ones were removed for safekeeping).


Until our recent trip, I had seen seven, and was determined to locate the one that proved elusive on a half dozen previous visits for reasons I couldn’t understand. Lawrence O’Brien, who died in 1909, has an upright monument I had seen in photos. 


After slogging through the wet brush for a half hour, I was about ready to again admit defeat. Fortunately my wife is less easily discouraged. Through the woods, she spotted what she thought was the back of a marker. We regrouped back on the path that leads into the cemetery and started bushwhacking. 


Sure enough, we were soon upon the O’Brien marker, which is in its own sub-jungle. While it’s not far from the other graves, there is no path to it whatsoever. In other photos I have seen of it, the surrounding brush isn’t too thick, but now it’s being swallowed whole.

• In 1906, after many false starts, and probably in reaction to the fire that consumed the Queen’s Hotel, Trout Lake finally installed a fire protection system that included hydrants. We don’t know exactly how many or where they were all placed, but at least two survive, pictured below. Both are on private property.


They bear the inscription “Ross Valve Mfg Co/Troy, NY/Pat Jun 24, 1884.” Amazingly, the company is still in business, although it no longer makes hydrants. I fantasize that other hydrants may still exist, hiding among the parsnips.


(Courtesy Linda Wall)


• The current store (seen below in 2000) has a couple of gravity-fed gas pumps, although they weren’t operating when we visited recently. Reportedly one came from Sidmouth, a now-drowned town south of Revelstoke, and the other from nearby Beaton. The store also has a working payphone, which today is nearly as much of an anachronism.

Three things you don’t see much anymore: two gravity-fed gas pumps frame a payphone in 2012.


• The directional sign at the corner of Highway 31 and John Street is the last of its kind in the West Kootenay. I don’t know how old it is, although it’s of a style that was common probably until the 1960s. (See Kyle Kusch’s comment on this at bottom.) Interestingly, however, the distances are given in kilometers rather than miles. Distances on Canadian road signs were changed to kilometers beginning in 1977.

• A giant stone structure and some pilings stick out of the lake between the wharf and the campground, the ruins of the Clink sawmill. Nearby are the sunken remains of the tugboat SS Procter, which was built for the CPR in 1900 and sank in 1926.


• Part of the community hall used to be the Beaton school, built in 1948, and relocated to Trout Lake in 1967. Dramatic photos exist of the move along the narrow road, with part of the building sticking out over the edge, threatening to topple down the bank.

Next to the Windsor Hotel, what is Trout Lake’s oldest surviving building?


I checked every building in the community on the BC Assessment website, which gives construction dates. However, it is not always reliable, exemplified by the fact that it inexplicably suggests both the Windsor Hotel and the gas station/store date to 1935. As mentioned, the hotel is from 1897. The store was built with lumber salvaged from derelict structures probably in the 1960s. So take this all with fistfuls of salt. 


There are 90 sites listed with buildings, including homes, garages, and sheds, although when multiple buildings are on a property, a construction date is given for only the primary one. 


Nearly half have been built since the 1990s. In fact, not counting the hotel and the store, BC Assessment reports only three pre-1950 buildings. They include a home at 6178 Sawczuk Road given as 1942 and the garage seen below at the corner of Kellie and Denver streets, given as 1930.

There is also a cabin that is probably pre-1950 but not listed in the BC Assessment system because it shares the property with a newer home.

Given its style of construction, I’d believe it if someone told me it was pre-1900. This 1970 photo may show the backside of it from across Lardeau Creek. The caption just calls it a trapper’s cabin, but I know nothing else about it.


BC Assessment says the homes at 506 and 508 Kellie St. were built in 1956 and 1955 respectively, but Keith Thomas says they are both much older (see his comments at bottom) and strong contenders for the oldest or second-oldest buildings.


However, the oldest building as adjudged by BC Assessment is now an ice cream stand. The tiny building at 510 Kellie St., two doors down from the Windsor Hotel, is given a construction date of 1915. For the past two years, it’s been operated by Pascal Janin, who also runs the amazing teahouse in nearby Ferguson.

Not only is it likely as old as BC Assessment indicates, it might be older still. For this was once the home of George Mahon Yuill, a man who was nothing if not adaptable. During his many years in Trout Lake, he was a prospector, miner, jeweler, watchmaker, deputy sheriff, and possibly a barber.


Yuill was from Great Village, Nova Scotia and was reportedly a mate on the SS Nelson on Kootenay Lake in 1893, but the first sign I can find of him in the area is working various claims in the Lardeau in 1898. According to one source, he once ran a jewelry store in Nanaimo, but that was actually his brother Silas. Perhaps George apprenticed there. Another source says he once worked in the Queen’s Hotel. 


But by 1904, George was advertising himself as a jeweler operating from the Oddfellows Block, one of the most stately buildings in town, built in 1902. His ads continued to run through 1907.

Lardeau Mining Review, Nov. 18, 1904 


Roy Jacobson recalled George spent summers working his mining claims “just to sweat the fat off” and the winters doing watch repairs. In the book Circle of Silver he added:

George Yuill was the best watchmaker ever. I would watch him fix watches in the winter. He could take them completely apart and lay the pieces out on the table where he could clean them with a brush and chalk. The jewels and holes were cleaned with a wooden stick. Time meant nothing. He didn’t mind you watching as long as you didn’t have snow on your hat.

Yuill was very cranky, although that may have been a put-on, at least partly.


“You got caulks on those shoes?” he would snap. “I got good linoleum in here, you understand. You’re gonna put holes in it. You get the hell out of here.” Or: “You got a cold? Get the hell out of here. I don’t wanta get a cold. I get a cold, I can’t get rid of it.”

On the other hand, Jean Craig said Yuill was generous with children: “He gave me my first watch. It had a white mother-of-pearl backing on it.” 

George Yuill, ca. 1890s-1910s. (Arrow Lakes Historical Society 2014-003-4690)


When he wasn’t fixing watches, searching for silver, or telling people to get the hell out of here, Yuill had a part-time gig as deputy sheriff for North Kootenay. His appointment was no later than 1905. The position mostly consisted of seizing and auctioning property rather than law enforcement, but he did arrest a man wanted for “a murderous assault on parties at Comaplix.” Yuill had the suspect in custody 10 minutes after receiving a wire to be on the lookout for him.


When the Trout Lake economy hit tough times, Yuill looked further afield to make a living. He became a constable with the BC Provincial Police in Silverton in 1912 and was there at least two and a half years. The only mention of his duties there I could find was when he accompanied a youth convicted of theft to the reformatory in Vancouver.


Yuill returned to mining at Trout Lake after that. Perhaps that is also when he took up barbering, a profession I haven’t otherwise been able to connect him to. 


On a visit to Nelson in 1935, Yuill reminisced about the days when Trout Lake City was a “hustling town” with a skating and curling rink that “never lacked for ice in winter.” A friend chimed in to add that Yuill had been a figure skating champion.


A lifelong bachelor, Yuill died in Trout Lake in 1950, age 80, and was buried in Revelstoke, the local cemetery seemingly no longer in use.


In Circle of Silver, Milton Parent summed up his life thusly: “George Yuill: barber, sheriff, jeweler, prospector and all-round advisor was not always appreciated for his holier-than-thou attitude but is remembered as one of the true characters of the Lardeau.”


That brings us back to his cottage. The Arrow Lakes Historical Society has several pictures of it. The one below is undated but sure looks like it could be pre-1920.

George Yuill (top) and Alex Cummins (bottom) with unidentified children at Yuill’s cottage. (Arrow Lakes Historical Society 2014.003.5504)


But that doesn’t tell us whether Yuill built the place or bought it, nor whether it ever doubled as his storefront. But there are a couple of indications it might have. When the Oddfellows block burned in 1922, there was no suggestion Yuill was still doing business there. And a map of Trout Lake created by Marilyn Taylor based on Edna Daney’s memories of the community as of 1930 suggested the Yuill cottage was indeed also his barber shop and jewelry store.


Here it is in May 1959 when Joyce and Len Hopton bought it, nine years after Yuill’s death. 

(Arrow Lakes Historical Society 1998.003.6)


Here are Hans Hansen and Joyce Hopton sitting on the porch in July 1959, after the cottage received a paint job and the windows were opened up. Apparently a barber shop pole existed on which Joyce and Len painted “Hopton.”

(Arrow Lakes Historical Society 1998.003.01)


A much more recent photo of the cottage was posted on Michael Kluckner’s website in 2020 with a note from Jeannette Kovatch, who by then owned it and was trying to determine when it was built. It showed the building with light blue metal cladding and the original front window replaced with a much larger picture window. The cladding has since been painted and rockwork added at the bottom of the building.


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Actually the two homes beside the ice cream store are much older. They were built of hand hewn logs in the 1880's. They were later covered with plywood and siding but news items found in the walls indicate their age. Even a New years eve menu invitation from the Mayfair hotel. (Quite sophisticated even including Lobster)

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Thanks! I will add this. 1880s would pre-date the townsite, so I wonder if they were moved to their current location. Which Mayfair hotel are we talking about?

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Fingerboard directional signs are still regularly used and maintained by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure at 'major' rural intersections all around the province; just not really in the West Kootenay for whatever reason. The Trout Lake sign is probably from the 2000s judging by the typeface.

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Several good reasons for me to visit Trout Lake next time I'm in the Kootenays, ice cream being only one of them! You've convinced me to add it to my itinerary.

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