Ninety-third in a series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
The Inonoaklin or Fire Valley, on the west side of Lower Arrow Lake, above Edgewood, has a complicated naming history.
Inonoaklin is also the name of a creek, mountain, and park. The creek first shows up on J.W. Trutch’s 1871 map of BC as “Inonoaklin R.” (Supposedly explorer Alexander Caulfield Anderson mentioned it on his 1867 map as well.)
The Geographic Board of Canada officially adopted the name Inonoaklin Creek in 1904, choosing it over the alternative Sanderson Creek, and at the same time endorsed Fire Valley.
The Nelson Daily News of Oct. 21, 1952 claimed “Inonoaklin means ‘wandering’ and describes the river of that name which empties into the Arrow Lakes here.”
In the second edition of her Pioneer Days of Nakusp and Arrow Lakes (1964), Kate Johnson stated that Inonoaklin means “winding waters.”
However, Randy Bouchard and Dorothy Kennedy wrote in Lakes Indian Ethnography and History (1985), “Presumably Inonoaklin is the Anglicization of an Indian term, but we do not recognize it.”
The stream was labelled Fire Valley Creek on an 1890 survey plan.
The earliest known newspaper mention of that name is in the Vancouver Daily World of April 14, 1890: “Mr. Coryell, C.E., is surveying in the neighborhood of Fire Valley with the object of getting an easy pass over the divide for the line of the Kootenay and Okanagan Railway …”
As to the origin of Fire Valley, the BC Minister of Mines report for 1901 said it was “so called from the fact that a fire swept up the valley and killed all the trees on both hillsides,” but didn’t give the date of the fire.
Rose Wright elaborated in the Arrow Lakes News of June 19, 1958: “[L]egend has it was so named by the Indians who, from down the Columbia, made fishing and hunting trips up the river and lake each year. On one particular trip they found the whole valley on fire. A gigantic forest fire stretched from Killarney in a crescent shape, ending at Needles.”
Another theory suggests red granite surrounding the valley might have been the name’s origin.
An application for the Fire Valley post office was filed in 1893, but it didn’t open until almost a year later. In 1906, the post office was renamed Needles, although it’s unclear whether it actually moved. The name reverted to Fire Valley in 1908 when a new Needles post office was established. The Fire Valley post office closed in 1930.
According to the book Just Where is Edgewood, “In 1926 the valley name was changed from Fire Valley to Inonoaklin Valley … Some farmers felt the name Fire Valley was a deterrent to getting new settlers. They were instrumental in having that name changed.”
L.J. Edwards of Nakusp criticized the move in the Slocan Enterprise of May 21, 1930: “Would it not have been much more appropriate and certainly more euphonious and most certainly easier spelling than the atrocious name applied to Fire Valley, with its pioneering history, in recent years by newcomers who had no hand in that history?”
His letter brought an anonymous rebuttal the following week: “The change of name was only made after long discussion at the local Women’s and Farmers’ Institutes, and I only heard one old timer object to it and I might remind Mr. Edwards that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, as I fail to see where Nakusp sounds nearly as euphonious as Inonoaklin.”
The same correspondent added in the Arrow Lakes News on June 1: “[W]e are a little bit sensitive at anyone poking fun at such a pretty name as Inonoaklin which name is derived from the Indian meaning ‘winding river.’ Mr. Edwards asks what harm can a name like Fire Valley do? Well the gentleman who first suggested changing the name was Mr. J.B. Munro, the present deputy minister of agriculture who at a largely attended meeting of the inhabitants of Fire Valley, told them that the only thing wrong with the valley was the name, which gave everybody acquainted with the place the impression that it was devastated by fire and no good for anything and that was the prevailing idea at Victoria and other places …”
Today you’ll still hear both names, but Inonaoklin is much more common.
Previous installments in this series