PLACE NAMES: Kootenaian

What do you call people from our region? (And how do you pronounce it?)

Two hundred sixty-first in a series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names

Q. What do you call people from the Kootenays?

A. Kootenaians.

This term was apparently coined by newspaper publisher David W. King in the spring of 1896, when he purchased the Kaslo Claim from Robert T. Lowery and re-named it The Kootenaian.

Judging from the reaction of King’s perplexed contemporaries, the word was unknown to that point.

The Rossland Prospector wrote: “But for the strong utility of the newspaper under Mr. King’s management, it would not be able to sustain such a burden as this name is surely to be.”

Lowery wrote in The Ledge: “If the new name does not paralyze it, the brilliant David will … soon be wearing diamonds that will outshine the starry firmament.” Later Lowery referred to the paper as the Kaslo Hootagaine.

The Slocan Mining Review lamented: “We always said the Kootenaian title was too much of a tongue twister. Why, they spelled it wrong themselves in last week’s sheet.”

And the Nelson Miner complained: “We have with some difficulty succeeded in learning how to spell the new name of the journal, but we are at a loss how to pronounce it.”

Indeed, it proved too difficult for the newsboys. According to the booklet Historical Kaslo, “Their version of it, shouted on the Kaslo streets, was ‘Koo-oo-ten-ninny, Koo-ten-ninny, get your Koo-oo-ten-ninny today.’”

(Like Kootenay itself, there are a few plausible ways to say Kootenaian: KOOT-nee-in; koot-en-AY-in, koot-en-EE-in, and koo-TEN-ee-in. It’s not obvious how it was first pronounced, nor if it changed over time.)

Despite all this, other newspapers quickly adopted Kootenaian as the word to describe residents of the area. But it fell out of use after The Kootenaian folded in 1969 and we’ve since seen the emergence of Kootenayer and Kootenayite.

(Kootenayite actually pre-dates Kootenaian. The Nelson Miner, Sept. 20, 1890 quoted the Victoria Times: “Small commiseration, however, is due the Kootenayites”; the Hot Springs News of Oct. 17, 1891, quoted the Golden Era as referring to “a number of East Kootenayites”; and the Rossland Prospector, Aug. 23, 1895 said: “William Thomlinson of New Denver and Jas. Delaney of Kaslo are two worthy Kootenayites …” Kootenayer first appeared in 2001 in the Nelson Daily News.)

While Kootenaian has just about disappeared from the local vernacular, there have been a few recent sightings:

• “Who are we Kootenaians?” — Kokanee: The Redfish and the Kootenay Bioregion, Don Gayton, 2002

• “Kootenaians should expect to see a $100 decrease off their bills” — Nelson Daily News subheadline, Dec. 15, 2003

• “What constitutes a Kootenay book’ is perhaps the first question, akin to ‘what constitutes a Kootenaian,’ something subject to opinion.” — Anne DeGrace writing in the Nelson Daily News, May 4, 2010

• “Most Kootenaians represent themselves as clean, green outdoor enthusiasts.” — Go & Do, Winter 2012/13

• “Native Kootenaian and part-time Balfour resident Tom Renney has been named the new president and CEO of Hockey Canada.” — nelsonstar.com, July 15, 2014

• “[Dryden] Hunt is the first native Kootenaian to be named WHL player of the year.” — Trail Times, May 10, 2016

• “[Stephanie Fischer] is the only Kootenaian among this year’s honourees.” — nelsonstar.com, Dec. 5, 2018

The word was also used by the East Shore Mainstreet in a November 2002 headline, by the now-defunct Kootenay Eye in a November 2003 editorial, and in a West Kootenay Advertiser headline of Jan. 31, 2013 — but in each case misspelled.

The Front Street office in Kaslo where The Kootenaian was once published is still known as the Kootenaian building. The name is emblazoned above the door.

Meanwhile, a novel word combining Kootenay and mountaineer appeared in the 2007 hiking guide Where Locals Hike in the West Kootenay: “Kooteneers who want to wow visiting friends cart them up Idaho Peak …”

A Google search for Kooteneer produces 70 results, compared to 56 for Kootenaian, 22 for Kootenayer, and 11 for Kootenayite. Another 70 results appear for the variant spelling Kootenayan, applied exclusively to members of the Ktunaxa First Nation, from whom we indirectly get the name Kootenay in the first place.

While admittedly a bit hard to say and spell, there’s still something elegant about Kootenaian.

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This photo of the Kootenaian newspaper office in Kaslo appeared in the Kootenay Mining Standard of July 1899 — but the caption misspelled it “Kootenain.”

The Kootenaian building in Kaslo (seen at left) was once home to a newspaper of the same name, which begat the word for people from our region. (Greg Nesteroff photo)

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