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The McPhee Place-name ...

The undisputed expert in toponymic research in the West Kootenay-Boundary at large, is undoubtedly Greg Nesteroff, a well known local historian, former newspaper editor and current columnist. His exhaustive research of the Ootischenia "toponym", the 142nd in a listing of over 300, is of particular interest to new and existing residents of a rapidly growing residential neighbourhood. This web page, the product of personal curiosity, and subsequent casual online research, will examine the street-level place-name, "McPhee", within Ootischenia. This place-name is most obviously seen on local street signs and is also associated with creeks, waterlines and trails, yet the source of the name has thus far, at least apparently, escaped the scrutiny of actual "toponomysts". As it turns out, a potential namesake may have been hiding nearby in plain sight all along, no further afield than Sproat's Landing, an old steamboat landing and settlement at the crossroads of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers a mile or two away.

McPhee Road
is a short paved highway in Upper Ootischenia, east of the Castlegar airport. It branches off Columbia Road eastward in two places, skirts the eastern edge of a wide Columbia River terrace or benchland, then returns to Columbia Road. The river bench itself then abruptly rises to another uppermost river terrace wherein lies the Castlegar Golf Course and the Tower Ridge subdivision, which are both accessible via Aaron Road, a steep and windy, but well traveled paved road. Golfers occasionally mishandle the blind curves of Aaron Road as they travel downward at the end of their day, breaching the concrete barriers and riding or tumbling their vehicles down the slope, to the dismay of local residents below. A gravel logging road, identified by Google as the McPhee Creek Road, branches off south-eastward off Aaron Road, and then circumvents the golf course northward, eventually winding its way up to the Fortis electrical sub-station and a number of forestry woodlots on the mountain slopes beyond. This gravel road was locally known as a McPhee Creek Forestry Service Road, although, to add to the confusion of local residents, a vinyl road sign now prefers to simply call it an extension of McPhee Road. The headwaters of the two McPhee Creeks (Big and Little) originate on the northern slopes of Aaron Hill and flow westward to the Kootenay River below. The larger McPhee Creek has served as a source of water for the historic Doukhobor settlements in Ootischenia in the early part of the last century, and both creeks likely contribute to the current Ootischenia aquifer and irrigation system. The McPhee Creek Doukhobor Waterline Trail is also a popular attraction for local hiking enthusiasts seeking a spectacular view of both the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers.

Street names, or rather road names, in this particular community, are typically associated with either cultural landmarks or physical features of the surrounding topography, their origins in most cases being self-evident. The "McPhee" place-name, presumably a family surname, is somewhat unusual, as there are few such road names in this category.

Such as they are, the origins of most Ootischenia road names, and indeed the road names of all former CCUB (Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd.) Doukhobor lands which they had historically acquired in this province between 1908 and 1938, can be traced back to approximately 1958 or 1959, when the BC Land Settlement Board initiated a massive survey and subdivision of these lands in 1956. The survey itself was completed in 1958 or 1959 and Ootischenia road names were likely assigned soon after that time, although more research would be required to confirm precisely when.

Nonetheless, we could presume that no matter how or when these properties were surveyed and named, there would have been good reason to keep in mind the naming of pre-existing settlements, historic trails, and topographical features, as new road names were being considered and assigned. And there is good evidence that the two McPhee Creek names were already firmly embedded on existing official topographical maps of the region by 1938. It would not be too surprising to find that Ootischenia roads nearby would have also inherited the same place-name.

Yet the question remains. What or who was the actual original source of the McPhee Creek place-name itself in the first instance? To this date, it is not clear whether there has been any attempt to connect the dots to the original McPhee namesake.

An obvious starting point for place-name researchers, amateur and otherwise, would be to first identify the earliest possible evidence of a place-name in question in old newspapers and maps. And in the case of a family name such as McPhee, we would obviously consult census records.

Researching early print and newspaper "McPhee Creek" references ...

The UBC Open Collections newspaper archive, spanning the years between 1865 and 1989, is the goto destination for newspaper searches in British Columbia. (Link) A quick search for "McPhee Creek" finds three newspaper references to new mining claims in the Nelson District between the years 1897 and 1898.

1897 August 2 Little Giant- W Donald, Bald mt, bet McPhee and Ten mi ck (later becomes Big McPhee Creek)
1897 Golden Canon - W Cumming on McPhee Creek
1898 Shamrock - T. Begley on McPhee Creek, 3 mi n e Apache Group

The last reference of the three, is particularly interesting as it refers to a miners' pack trail leading from Waterloo Landing to the Apache Group of mines near Ootischenia. These details appear on a map to be examined later below.

There are however earlier references to McPhee Creek in other historic literature, particularly with a focus on late 19th century Kootenay Mining developments. The 1895 Mining Record, describes what may be the earliest of such references, "three mineral claims on McPhee Creek between Toad Mountain and Waterloo". The full page in question can be viewed here. (Link)

Having identified 1895 as possibly the earliest reference to McPhee Creek in print, we can now look for early evidence of a "McPhee" person of interest who may have been living nearby, as well as evidence of the place-name, on creeks or other geographical landforms on early maps.

Researching historical records for "McPhee", our person of interest ...

A possible census record
The 1881 Canadian Census describes an Allan McPhee, a possible candidate, as a 35 year old male (born in 1846) Scottish Catholic labourer, living in Dartmouth, Halifax Nova Scotia, in the household of an Alfred I. Creighton (possibly a landlord). A following newspaper account of an Allan McPhee in British Columbia, reveals that he too was a native of the Maritime Provinces, with a similar, though not exact, age and birthdate. This may or may not disqualify him as our "person of potential interest to Ootischenians", but one might then ask, "Who else could this Mcphee ... really be?"

Looking at historic newspapers
Once again, off to the UBC Open Collections. Obviously knowing the current location of the Ootischenia McPhee Creeks, we now filter our search to zero in on known historic mining towns as near as possible to this location, and we find this:

The Miner, Nelson B.C., Saturday, February, 21, 1891

"Sheet-iron works have been established at Sproat, with Allan McPhee, a skilled blacksmith, as manager, he will make a specialty of shutters for doors and windows."

A search for "Allan McPhee" returns several more references. A New Denver paper reported an "A. McPhee and A. McKay leasing the Wharton Sawmill, placing a J. Clement in Charge." It was known that this mill supplied lumber and shingles for the fledgling mining camps, around New Denver, and this leaves us with the possibility that Mr. A. McPhee may have personally resided there as well in the early 1890s, prior to working at Sproat.

Aside from tin-smithing, Allan McPhee is also reported to have made a request for someone to claim a stray horse that had wandered onto his property at Sproat's Landing, in February, 1892. This clipping reveals a thoughtful man of good will and moral character.

A reference to Allan McPhee as a postman at Sproat is particularly interesting, describing an episode at Ward's Ferry involving his mule train enroute to Nelson and Ainsworth. This episode proved to be worthy enough to inspire further research into the actual track of his mail route on existing maps. These and other clippings are posted here in transcripted form, (Link), but the final newspaper clipping is the most revealing, and it is reproduced below in its entirety.

The  Ledge, New Denver, B.C., April 4,1895 (Link)

Allan McPhee, an Old Pioneer, Passes Away at Sandon.

"Grave No. 7 has been filled in at the New Denver cemetery. The occupant is Allan McPhee, one of the best known characters in the country. Tuesday deceased was in excellent spirits and health, but towards evening complained of severe pains in the region of the heart. He went to bed in Bob Cummings' hotel, at Sandon, and a message was despatched to Dr. Bruner, at Three Forks. Before the Doctor could reach the spot, McPhee had passed away in great agony. An examination showed that he had succumbed to neuralgia of the heart, from which he had been a sufferer for years. The body was brought down by train to this place yesterday and interred, there being a large turnout of friends from the surrounding camps.

Deceased was a native of the Maritime Provinces and had been in the Kootenay country for years. He was about 48 years old and unmarried. When the Slocan was discovered Allan was running a ferry at Sproat's Landing. He joined in the rush hither and secured interests in a number of promising claims. The news of his sudden death has been forwarded to his relatives in the east."

A final conclusion regarding the McPhee toponym ...

We now know that Allan McPhee died in 1895. The earliest print reference to a West Kootenay creek with this name also appeared in 1895, followed by newspaper references in 1897 and 1898. With this evidence in mind, we can reasonably conclude that the Allan McPhee from Sproat, "one of the best known characters in the country", appeared to have earned the respect of his contemporaries at that time, who henceforth may have begun referring to the creek in his name. The name has since then been perpetuated in the West Kootenay as a place-name to this day.

Aside from a number of map references to McPhee Creek, little additional information about Allan McPhee can be readily found online.

This web page will not end here however, and readers with an interest in local history, may wish to continue further, to view a number of old maps and photographs related to the McPhee Place-name ...

Early map references to McPhee Creek ...

1898 Ministry of Mines Map of the East and West Kootenay Mining Districts
This map can be found in the Digital Commonwealth online collection. (Link) Compiled under authority of the B.C. Minister of Mines, J. Fred Hume, the map can, in a sense, be viewed as a virtual time capsule of the West and East Kootenay in 1898, marking townsites, rivers, creeks, railroads, mining camps and pack trails, and their associated place-names. Looking at a closeup, we can immediately recognize two creeks just east of Robson, appearing to flow into the Kootenay River, as we would expect. One of these is clearly labeled "McPhee Ck.", the other as a "10 Mile Ck", which is surprising. We now know that both creeks share the same name, although we can confirm that the "10 Mile Creek" place-name persisted on official B.C. topographical maps, until even the 1930s, albeit in a slightly different upstream location. The other nearby creek place-names; Iron Creek, Cai Creek and Champion Creek, are also familiar and still in use today.

While here, we can recognize other known places of interest, such as Waterloo Landing and the Montgomery Landing townsites on the Columbia River, just south of its confluence with the Kootenay. Looking more closely, we can also see a dotted line marking the route of a mining pack trail, originating at Montgomery Landing and climbing eastward into the mountains, toward the Finance and Apache Group of mines near the source of McPhee Creek. This historical detail alone makes this particular map quite unique, and of potential interest to local mining enthusiasts.


While inspecting this map, it would be useful to pause here momentarily to review a little basic railway history, to better understand the wider significance of this map, and the significance of Sproat's Landing in the life of Allan McPhee.

Sproat's Landing and the Toad Mountain-Nelson or Ward's Ferry Pack Trail

Sproat's Landing (also Sproat, Sproats, Sproat's) does not actually appear on this map, although most local residents are aware of its early existence near Robson and the site of the old Genelle-Waldie sawmill on the river's edge by the old CPR railway bridge. Prior to the railroad era, the only connection between Sproat's Landing and Nelson was by horse or mule train over the Toad Mountain-to Nelson pack trail, and it is of significance here as being part of Allan McPhee's postal delivery route.

The first leg of the trail eastward along the Kootenay River valley was particularly narrow and treacherous and does not even apppear on the map, perhaps being obscured by the marking of a railroad track. But we can pick up its route on the map at Ward's Ferry, near Rover Creek further on the way.

The route crossed the Kootenay River here by ferry and followed its southern or right bank all the way to Nelson. This final stretch, as marked on the map, appears to be more substantial, perhaps a wagon road, with smaller pack trails branching off into the mountains following a number of creeks. Most significant of these was the "49 Creek", which the trail followed to the foot of Toad Mountain and the mine itself. A.E. Picard describes the trail in more detail in the book, Kootenay Yesterdays, from which a number of relevant endnotes have been reproduced here. (Link) The following map, a closeup of a detailed inset on the Perry Map of 1893, more clearly marks this trail, tracing the route of the main trail beyond 49 Creek, and branching off to Kootenay Crossing and Nelson itself. You will need to view an enlargement of this closeup to better visualize the trail. (Link) We will look at the Perry Map itself more closely later on this page.

And of particular interest to modern mountain-bike enthusiasts, it appears that they can still cycle Allan McPhee's mail route today, beginning at Glade, as the Ward's Ferry Trail is clearly marked on current OpenStreet maps, on both desktop and cell phone versions. (Link)


The CPR Columbia and Kootenay (C&K) and the Columbia and Western (C&W) railroads

The Kootenay River itself was not navigable hampered as it was by a series of rapids and the Bonnington Falls. The CPR ultimately addressed these challenges in the early 1890s by constructing a short railroad, the Columbia & Kootenay, to portage or bypass the river altogether. CPR trains could thereby connect their sternwheelers on Kootenay Lake via Nelson, with those on the Lower Arrow Lakes, at Sproat's Landing, directly by rail. A C&K Railroad locomotive and train is seen below on the Kootenay Crossing bridge, as it crosses the Kootenay River on its way south toward Sproat's Landing. The modern Highway 3A bridge would later appear by its side at right.

Robson replaced Sproat's Landing as the western terminus of the CPR C&K railway in 1892, to better accomodate rail to steamer connections and a turn-around for locomotives. The townsite hotel, a strip of commercial establishments and a landing ramp-spur are seen in the photograph below, the sternwheeler Lytton, awaiting Arrow Lakes cargo and passengers.

For the next decade or so, train traffic at this point was barged across the Columbia River from Robson (East) to Robson (West), where CPR trains could then connect to their Columbia & Western railroads. A CPR bridge ultimately spannned the river in 1902 to connect Robson East with Castlegar, finally rendering both the Sproat and Robson transport infrastructure non-essential.

Although Sproat's Landing is unmarked, we can find evidence of Thomas Sproat's Crown Grant (Lot 237), on this map which, although quite tiny, appears vaguely just below the "Robson" label, as does Judge Haynes' Crown Grant (District Lot 9). These Crown Grants can be viewed more clearly on the graphic below, where we do indeed find the "Sproat" townsite on both the Thomas Sproat map (Map2) and Albert McCleary's map of 1891 (Map 3).

The CPR Columbia and Western Railroad, the brainchild of Trail's smelter magnate, Fritz Augustus Heinze, is also shown on the 1898 mining map, tracking north from Trail toward Robson (West), then further west along the Lower Arrow Lakes, off the map, and over the Paulson summit to the Boundary country. Under construction at the time, the railroad reached Grand Forks in 1899, the following year. Looking at the Columbia and Western Crown Grant - Lot 4598 below (Map 6), we find that the BC Government was quite generous with their subsidy, allocating a narrow strip of land west of the Columbia River for the railroad itself, and a substantial parcel east of the river as an incentive to construct it. All the pre-existing smaller crown grant lots shown within L 4598, however, were to be excluded from this massive C&W subsidy.

This web page will return to Sproat's Landing in subsequent paragraphs, but viewers looking for more comprehenseive, and likely more accurate information on Sproat's Landing, can learn much more online from Greg Nesteroff (Link) and local historian Walter Volovsek. (Link).

Historic maps of the Crown Grants at the River Confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay
Click maps to enlarge

1893 Perry's Map of the Southern Dist. of West Kootenay
Perry's Mining Map is possibly the most well known, and most remarkable map of mining activity in the West Kootenay region in the 1890s. An excellent digital copy of the map can be found online in the David Rumsey Collection, (Link) and a low resolution screen preview of it appears immediately below.

Compiled and drawn by T.P O'Farrell for the Nelson C.E. Perry & Co. Civil and Mining engineers, the map was published by Rand Mc Nally & Co. in 1893, to promote the mining potential of the Trail Creek, Nelson, Ainsworth and Slocan Mining Camps at the Chicago World's Fair of that same year. An elaborate special building was dedicated to mining which housed displays from across the globe, including Canadian provincial exhibits, such as that of Ontario shown below. Presumably Perry's map would have been displayed here as part of the B.C. exhibit.

Comparing this 1893 map with the newer map of 1898, we can examine place name changes. Perry' s map does not identify McPhee Creek, but marks Robson as the railway terminus, and the general location of Sproat's Landing as well as the Tin Cup Rapids on the Columbia River. This confirms Picard's comment in his endnotes, that Robson could have replaced Sproat's Landing by 1891, two years prior. A relevant closeup portion of the Perry map appears below.


"Sproat's Landing" - immortalized in silver salts, ink and graphite ...

At first glance, this 1892 view of Sproats' Landing may appear to be a digital copy of a historic photograph, but it is in reality a reproduction of a contemporary pencil drawing. As one of a set from this writer's personal collection, it is a print of a drawing by Mal Gagnon, a former Trail resident, artist and Cominco staff graphic designer. Created to celebrate Cominco's 75th Anniversary, reproductions of several of these drawings were also made available as a packaged set of prints from the Castlegar Credit Union in the late 1980s. The series of drawings depicted historic street scenes from West Kootenay-Boundary mining towns, Rossland, Trail, Nelson, Sandon, Nakusp, Sproats Landing (Castlegar), Grand Forks and Salmo. If viewers collect artwork and are interested in local history, they may be pleased to find that these art prints are still available and can be purchased directly from the artist himself, by visiting his personal website here: (Link)

Mal Gagnon would have undoubtedly been intensely focused on the details of this view of Sproat's Landing as he developed this photo-realistic drawing, day by day, hour after hour, one square inch at a time. But Allan McPhee, who was a well known resident of Sproat's Landing in the 1890s, may have witnessed this same scene directly in real time, day by day, for several years as he practised his trade as a blacksmith, ferry man, and postman. We have learned from newspaper accounts that he also knew the local terrain well, having scavenged the mountain slopes between Sproats, Nelson, New Denver and the Slocan, looking for traces of silver and gold in mountain creeks and river bottoms for several years, "securing interests in a number of promising claims".

The following closeup from a rare photograph from the Exporail CPR collection, reveals what appear to be the remnants of a portion of Sproat's Landing, across the Columbia River behind the foundations of the new CPR railroad bridge, which was then under construction to Castlegar in 1902. One of the cabins we see across the river could very well have been Allan McPhee's blacksmith shop. The photograph demonstrates that even by that time, Sproats Landing and the townsite of Robson itself, had already outlived their usefulness as steamboat-railroad crossroads, soon to be bypassed by a direct rail connection from Nelson and the Kootenay Lakes, to Castlegar, the Trail Smelter, and westward to the Boundary country.

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