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William Randolph Hearst in West Kootenay

Updated: Jun 19, 2018

Did William Randolph Hearst (pictured below in a photo from Wikipedia), the larger-than-life American newspaper publisher who invented (or at least popularized) tabloid journalism, vacation in West Kootenay?

Walter McRaye, sidekick to Pauline Johnson, the poet who toured Canadian concert halls in the early 1900s, related the following anecdote in his memoir:

I was told a good story in Nelson not long ago by J.E. Carter of the CPR who, by the way, once lived in Winnipeg and managed the Victoria Hockey Club the year they won the Stanley Cup. He said that the night Harry Thaw shot Stanford White in New York, William Randolph Hearst was at Slocan Lake Chalet where he had been fishing. His editor, Brisbane, wanting to get in touch with Hearst as to the paper’s policy, had wired all over the Pacific coast. Finally Hearst was located at the chalet; it was well after midnight and the telegraph operator had gone to bed. After much work the wires at Slocan City were put in use and the operator awakened. He went some miles, roused a section hand who, on a gasoline jigger, went a long distance and awakened Hearst and the operator at the chalet. For two hours the wires between New York and the little mountain station were bought by Hearst, the thing threshed out and the attitude of the paper determined. Hearst was generous in his largesse to the operator and others concerned. (Town Hall Tonight, Walter McRaye, 1929, p. 230)

Elsewhere in the same book, McRaye wrote that he “had a boyish desire to roll down the smooth grassy terrace in front of Sandy MacDonald’s hotel at Revelstoke. Pauline Johnson and I once spent a weekend there with Mr. and Mrs. William Randolph Hearst.”

However, he didn’t explain whether he actually met or talked to the Hearsts. The Revelstoke Herald of Aug. 25, 1904 reported Johnson and McRaye were to perform there a few days later, but neither Revelstoke paper mentioned anything about Hearst visiting.

We can assess the accuracy of the Slocan story in a few ways: First, J.E. Carter was a CPR passenger agent in Nelson, but while the Winnipeg Victorias won the Stanley Cup in 1896, 1901, and 1902, his name wasn’t on the trophy. However, a J.E. Campbell was on the team in 1900 while a J.S. Carter was vice-president of the Nelson hockey club in 1903. So McRaye either had his facts mixed up or Carter was making things up.

Second, the infamous above-mentioned shooting occurred at Madison Square Garden on June 25, 1906. Stanford White (pictured at left) was an architect, Harry K. Thaw was the son of a coal and railway baron, and the motive was a chorus girl named Evelyn Nesbit. At first, the crowd thought the shooting was part of the show. Hearst’s papers went crazy with the story. The Nelson Daily News had the murder on its front page the next day, but there was no mention of Hearst being in the area.

Arthur Brisbane was one of the most prominent newspaper editors of his generation, and was a close friend of Hearst’s. In 1897, he became editor of the New York Evening Journal.

I checked two Hearst biographies (Citizen Hearst, W.A. Swanburg, 1961, and The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst, David Ramsay, 2000) but neither say where he was at the time of the shooting, although he was probably preoccupied with the aftermath of the great San Francisco earthquake, which struck two months earlier and destroyed Hearst’s Examiner building.

However, Hearst did visit the West Kootenay on a holiday in 1904. According to the Nelson Ledge of Sept. 5 that year, he “often heard his father speak of the grand scenery along the Arrow Lakes,” and “for years … had a desire to visit this province.”

George Hearst came to Kootenay Lake in the late 1870s to investigate claims of a fantastic deposit at the future site of the Bluebell mine. (Hearst Ave. in Riondel is named for him.) But he concluded the ore samples actually came from elsewhere — a practice known as salting.

Hearst Jr. was also “told of what the country offered the sportsman by a Chicago friend who had visited Nelson two years ago,” according to the Nelson Economist on Sept. 10. He arrived shortly after losing the Democratic nomination for president and suffering a breakdown. As one of his biographers wrote:

He had been on a merry-go-round for more than a year, commuting back and forth from Washington to New York, running a political campaign and serving in Congress, trying, at the same time to oversee his publishing empire and spend time with his wife and newborn son. Exhaustion and depression took their toll. (The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst, David Ramsay, 2000, p. 184)

A trip to Canada, it seems, was the perfect tonic. As The Ledge story cited above noted, “He is glad to get away from the fierce war of US politics, and brace his nervous anatomy amid the glorious climate of Southern British Columbia.”

Neither biography mentioned the visit to BC, although Ramsay alluded to it. He quoted a letter from Hearst’s wife Millicent to her mother-in-law, written at a spa in Mt. Clements, Mich., on Aug. 16, 1904: “We expect to be here about two weeks, but I don’t know whether we shall stay so long or not. The papers get in every morning and there is always something the matter with them. I think we shall have to go someplace where there are no papers. We may run up into Canada.”

If the Hearsts thought there would be no newspapers in Canada, they were sadly mistaken. The couple checked in to Nelson’s Strathcona Hotel on Sept. 3 along with a Mrs. A.W. Torey, according to the following day’s Daily News. Hearst told a reporter he had

been making a tour along the main line of the CPR on a holiday jaunt. He had visited Banff, Glacier, and other points along the mainline. During his trip he had taken a number of photographs of Alberta and British Columbia scenery, and stated that he was much impressed with the scenic grandeur of the Canadian Rockies and of the Arrow Lakes, through which the steamer passed yesterday. (The Daily News, Sept. 4, 1904)

Although Hearst only planned to stay one day, he spent three fishing at Bonnington Falls:

I have had a splendid time and I caught a lot of fish, enough to keep my party going and some to bring back too, among them two four pounders. Your fishing is splendid and your scenery is enough to make any newspaperman forget his troubles. (The Daily News, Sept. 8, 1904)

Hearst might have stayed at the Kootenay Falls Hotel at South Slocan or in a cabin at Bonnington Falls. (I don’t think Creel Lodge, which still stands, had been built yet). Could this have been the “Slocan Lake Chalet” McRaye wrote about?

In the same story, Hearst made this cryptic remark: “My trip has done me good but you are getting so civilized that even here the everlasting telegraph boy is in evidence.” Was this a reference to his editor tracking him down? If so, there were no sensational stories in the Daily News that week which might have been confused with the Stanford White murder.

In Nelson, Hearst visited the customs house, jail, and other points of interest, escorted by James Johnstone, a prominent fruit grower. He also chartered the CPR houseboat, planning to do some hunting and fishing around Procter, but for some reason was compelled to leave for Spokane.

Though it was my intention to stay here for several days more … I find I cannot do so just now but I hope to be back this way, going out by Vancouver, and if I can manage it, I shall stay a few days on Kootenay Lake and try my luck on some more of those speckled beauties. I have enjoyed myself in British Columbia and now that the ice is broken I hope to visit it often. (The Daily News, Sept. 6 and 8, 1904)

Before leaving, Hearst

intimated that he will through his newspapers point out the unequaled advantages of the Kootenay as a resort for sportsmen and those in search of recreation … It is understood that Mr. Hearst’s secretary, an old newspaperman, has in preparation several letters dealing with the beauty of Nelson and the Kootenays which will be published several American daily newspapers. (The Economist, Sept. 10, 1904)

If Hearst made good on his promise, I haven’t been able to find the evidence. And if he returned two years later, as McRaye suggests, his visit flew beneath the radar of the local newspapers. However, for more than a year after Hearst’s visit — from Sept. 17, 1904 to Oct. 7, 1905 — the Nelson Economist carried a Hearst quote on its front page:

Of Hearst’s visit and his reputation for yellow journalism, the Boundary Creek Times, of Sept. 9, 1904 quipped: “William Randolph Hearst is fishing near Bonington [sic] and the waters of the Kootenay haven’t turned yellow.”

There is another story associated with Hearst’s visit that may or may not be any more accurate than the one McRaye told. Mountaineer Edward Feuz Jr. recalled that in 1905 or 1906, while at Glacier, near the summit of the Rogers Pass, Hearst arrived “with a bunch of girls … very good-looking girls, jolly-happy girls” and wanted to have a good time.

So he wanted to go camping up the Slocan Valley with the girls. So we went up with the girls with tents, and the pony boys with the horses … Went up the trail, and they took me along to go on the ice and they wanted to stay out out that night.
They rode above treeline, saw a bear, made camp, built a fire, and had dinner. It clouded over and looked as though a storm was coming. After singing songs, they went to bed.
[T]he girls disappeared and then finally Mr. Hearst disappeared, and I stood there with the fire, smoking a little bit … figuring out the next day to go up onto the ice, and so here comes Mr. Hearst, running back.
He says “Ed!”
“Yes, Mr. Hearst, what’s wrong?”
“I tell you, the girls are all scared … [T]hey’re scared in the tent of the bear they saw. They think the bear will come around. Would you mind sleeping with the girls, there?”
“A great pleasure, Mr. Hearst, in the mountains, to sleep with the girls!”
So I went in there, and it was a nice peaceful night … There wasn’t a thing around. There were six girls, yes, yes.
(From an interview with Feuz by Imbert Orchard on Nov. 8, 1964, included in Voices of British Columbia, Robert Budd, 2010, p. 55)

Updated on June 18, 2018 to add items from the Nelson Economist and Boundary Creek Times kindly supplied by Sam McBride.

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