By Greg Nesteroff
West Kootenay Advertiser
The first printed reference to Ainsworth Hot Springs, the oldest mining camp on Kootenay Lake, appeared in a legal ad in the Victoria Daily Colonist of September 8, 1882, in which George J. Ainsworth (1852-95) applied to buy 160 acres of land, “Commencing at a stake on the West shore of Kootenay Lake, about eight miles north of the Hot Springs …”
Ainsworth’s father John (1822-93), of Portland, was a successful steamboat operator on the Columbia River. The area’s mining potential attracted the pair, not the hot springs themselves.
They received a charter to build a railway from the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia rivers to present day Balfour, but John later wrote bitterly of this failed enterprise, blaming both the provincial government and their agent, Gustav B. Wright.
It’s unclear if either Ainsworth ever saw their namesake town — author Ted Affleck suggested in High Grade and Hot Springs that George visited in 1890, but didn’t cite his source.
Ainsworth was first known as Hot Springs Camp or Warm Springs Camp. The earliest use of the former was in the Spokane Falls Review of November 7, 1888: “The Hot Springs camp is 145 miles from Bonner (or Bonner’s landing) …” and the first use of the latter in the Spokane Morning Review on January 1, 1889: “From Mr. Sweet it was learned that the Warm Springs Mining Camp referred to in the above is comparatively new, it having been discovered some two years ago.”
The townsite, however, was called Ainsworth, and was referred to as such by Randall H. Kemp in the Spokane Falls Review of June 2, 1889. But the old name was more common, for as Fred Herb wrote in the same newspaper on August 4 of that year: “Some people call the place Ainsworth, but Warm Springs is certainly more appropriate and more symphonistic.”
The names were first combined as Ainsworth Hot Springs in Nelson Daily News headline on March 23, 1911, when an attempt was being made to develop the springs as a resort, but it didn’t catch on until decades later.
The post office opened on December 1, 1890 as Ainsworth and was renamed Ainsworth Hot Springs on January 11, 1964 to promote tourism at the suggestion of resort proprietor Sam Homen, with the support of the Kaslo Board of Trade. (A similar proposal a few years ago to change Nakusp to Nakusp Hot Springs was soundly defeated in a referendum.)
A Ktunaxa name for Ainsworth, a’k1nuxleétna’na, was recorded by Alexander F. Chamberlain in 1891 and mentioned in a collection of myths he and anthropologist Franz Boas compiled in 1918.
Next week: Remember the Alamo.
Caption: Ainsworth Hot Springs, home to the popular resort of the same name, is named for John and George Ainsworth, who staked a claim to the area in 1882.