Despite being relatively inaccessible, there’s never been a shortage of famous and celebrated figures visiting West Kootenay/Boundary.
One of the first noteworthy guests was Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who sailed incognito down the Arrow Lakes in 1893, more than 20 years before his assassination sparked the First World War. (Ferdinand was horrified with the “spitting sons of the wilderness” he shared his voyage with.)
Another transient visitor was Thomas Edison, who passed through Nelson with his wife and children en route from Spokane to Banff on holiday in 1908. According to the Nelson Daily News, he “did not have an opportunity of seeing anything of the Queen City of Kootenay with the exception of its outline” and was too tired to talk much, but did predict concrete was “destined to become the building material of the world.”
Author Jack London, famous for his Klondike Gold Rush stories, probably passed through at some point in the 1890s. He mentioned the Kootenay in one of his stories, and it was later claimed that he worked in a tie camp near Lardeau.
Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (pictured at left) vacationed in Nelson in 1904. His father, George Hearst, visited Kootenay Lake in the 1870s to investigate claims of a fantastic deposit at the future site of the Bluebell mine. (Hearst Ave. in Riondel is named for him.)
Hearst Jr. said he “often heard his father speak of the grand scenery of the Arrow Lakes” and was also “told of what the country offered the sportsman by a Chicago friend who had visited Nelson.”
Although Hearst only planned to stay one day, he spent three days fishing at Bonnington Falls.
Many exceptional entertainers have performed around here, including the greatest name in jazz.
Louis Armstrong appeared at Nelson’s Civic Centre in 1952. He drew a less-than-capacity crowd of 700, but that probably had to do with the fact the show was only announced two days in advance.
At some point Armstrong also played Trail’s Cominco Arena, a venue that hosted some other incredible names in the 1950s: Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Lawrence Welk, and Spike Jones.
An unforgettable show in 1957 boasted a line-up of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Wanda Jackson. Cash returned to Trail in 1988 to perform with wife June Carter.
Pete Seeger apparently played in Rossland ca. 1958 and possibly Trail too.
Frank Sinatra’s plane supposedly stopped to refuel in Castlegar sometime in the early 1950s. He startled locals by popping into a cafe to say hello.
In 1991, the BC government brought big-name acts to towns across the province. The headliners in Nelson were folk singer Joan Baez, a young Sarah McLachlan, and comedian Bob Hope. Present Hume Hotel manager Ryan Martin was then a teenager and carried Hope’s bags. Hope quipped: “I got golf balls older than you, kid.”
There were lots of rumors that Bing Crosby, who grew up in Spokane, used to frequent West Kootenay. In 1946, Selwyn Blaylock’s widow denied a report that Crosby had purchased the Blaylock mansion on Kootenay Lake, or that any such sale had been considered.
Actress/singer Queen Latifah attended a wedding in Thrums in 2006 — and had to buy new clothes after the airline lost her luggage.
Every prime minister since Sir Mackenzie Bowell (with the possible exception of Lester Pearson) has visited West Kootenay/Boundary at some point, though not necessarily while in office.
Several had close ties to this area: Sir Charles Tupper (pictured at left) owned mines in the Slocan. John Turner’s mother was born in Rossland and he lived there for a while as a child. Michel Trudeau, Pierre’s son and Justin’s youngest brother, lived in Rossland and worked at Red Mountain Resort. On a backcountry ski trip to Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park in 1998, an avalanche swept him into Kokanee Lake. His body was never found.
Only one American president has ever visited West Kootenay, and for that matter he may be the only one who ever heard of it. Theodore Roosevelt came to Kootenay Lake on a hunting trip in 1888, and devoted a chapter to it in his book The Wilderness Hunter. Roosevelt also had many other Kootenay connections.
West Kootenay has hosted royalty on several occasions.
King Edward VIII, who famously abdicated the throne in 1936, came through twice while he was still the Prince of Wales. The first of those visits, in 1919, was caught on a newsreel which you can view at britishpathe.com/video/canadian-tour. It shows the prince arriving at the Nelson train station, boarding the SS Nasookin, and meeting with convalescing soldiers at the CPR hotel in Balfour.
Queen Elizabeth II came to Castlegar in 1971 during BC’s centennial celebrations, along with Prince Phillip and Princess Anne. Their stopover at Selkirk College lasted less than an hour but drew thousands of people.
In 1911-12, the Jeanne Russell Co., an itinerant theatre troupe, toured the Kootenays.
One of their members was a young Boris Karloff, who after achieving fame as Hollywood’s leading movie monster decades later, could still recall performing in Nelson.
Movie-making has brought several celebrities to the area, including Steve Martin and Darryl Hannah for Roxanne (plus Olivia Newton-John, whose then-husband had a bit part in the film).
Willie Nelson came to his namesake town in 1993 to appear in Starlight, a dreadful science fiction film that also starred Rae Dawn Chong. Lee Majors, the Six Million Dollar Man, was in Salmo for the ski farce Out Cold, Kurt Russell was in Rossland for Miracle, and Ethan Hawke was in Greenwood for Snow Falling on Cedars (he brought Uma Thurman with him).
Christina Ricci and Anna Chlumsky appeared together in Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain, filmed in Nelson. Jessica Biel was in The Tall Man, filmed in Nelson, Salmo, and Ymir. Her boyfriend (now husband) Justin Timberlake also visited, arriving in Castlegar on a charter fight accompanied by a bodyguard.
This area has also produced more than its share of celebrities, including athletes, actors, musicians, and labour leaders.
Scientist and broadcaster David Suzuki grew up in Slocan. His family was interned there during World War II.
Kiesza, a graduate of the Selkirk College music program (pictured at left), scored a No. 1 hit in the UK with her single Hideaway. The song’s video has over 318 million views on YouTube. She recently returned to her alma mater to speak to students and perform at a gala.
A fellow Selkirk alumnus, South Slocan-raised singer/songwriter Shawn Hook (aka Hlookoff), has several albums and singles to his credit. He’s nominated for a 2016 Juno Fan Choice Award and will perform at the ceremony on April 3.
Nelson’s Thomas Middleditch and Sarah Allen are both carving out successful TV and movie acting careers. Middleditch stars in HBO’s Silicon Valley. Allen is best known for playing a vampire in the series Being Human.
Half-brothers Liev and Pablo Schreiber both spent formative years in the Slocan Valley. Pablo is in the TV series Orange is the New Black; Liev stars in Ray Donovan.
The most famous athlete — and probably the most famous person who ever lived in West Kootenay — is Nancy Greene Raine, the Rossland-raised alpine skier who won gold at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics and now sits in the senate. She was voted Canada’s female athlete of the 20th century. Kerrin Lee-Gartner followed in her ski tracks, winning downhill gold at the 1992 Albertville Olympics.
Lester and Frank Patrick were already hockey superstars in eastern Canada when their father moved to West Kootenay in 1907 to establish a sawmill. They joined him in the business and helped Nelson to a provincial hockey championship. The mill’s sale a few years later financed the birth of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association.
Trail’s Ray Ferraro is probably the most accomplished hockey player the area has ever produced, but others include Fruitvale’s Barret Jackman, Rossland’s Dallas Drake, Nelson’s Danny Gare, and Castlegar’s Shawn Horcoff.
Bobby Kromm led the Trail Smoke Eaters to a world championship and went on to coach Detroit in the NHL and Winnipeg in the WHA. Rudy Pilous played for the Nelson Maple Leafs in the 1930s and later won the Stanley Cup coaching the Chicago Blackhawks.
Trail’s Jason Bay (pictured at left) is one of three major league baseball players born in West Kootenay but by far the greatest. His sister Lauren was an Olympian in softball.
Ginger Goodwin, a major figure in BC’s labour history, led a strike at the Trail smelter in 1917. His death a year later at the hands of a police officer prompted Canada’s first general strike.
Ken Georgetti, a Trail native, was president of the BC Federation of Labour and later the Canadian Labour Congress.
Thomas d’Aquino, who was born in Trail and raised in Nelson, is the past president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and has been described by author Peter C. Newman as “the most powerful influence on public policy formation in Canadian history.”
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