Nelson’s streetcar system was among the attributes that helped lend credence to its claim as Kootenay’s capital. (Greg Nesteroff collection)

PLACE NAMES: Nelson’s many nicknames

Although Nelson is chiefly known as the Queen City of the Kootenays, it has had many other nicknames

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

Earlier in this series, we saw that Nelson’s chief nickname has long been Queen City of the Kootenays.

But Nelson has also had many other nicknames, foremost among them Heritage City, or Heritage Capital. This appears to date to the 1980s revival of Baker Street and appeared in a few variations.

The 1981 Nelson and District Credit Union’s annual report called Nelson the “Heritage Centre of the Kootenays.” An ad in the Nanaimo Times of Jan. 5, 1982 for Whitewater pointed to “accommodation in Nelson, a heritage city,” and an ad for a dental hygienist in the Vancouver Province of Sept. 12, 1986 said “Our office is located in Nelson, a beautiful heritage city …”

The Richmond Review of March 4, 1984 called Nelson “the heritage capital,” and an ad for hair stylists in The Vancouver Sun of Sept. 4, 1985 mentioned two vacancies in “Nelson, the Heritage Capital of BC.”

In his 1986 book The Kootenays, Al Ranger wrote: “Its many turn of the century buildings have made Nelson the Heritage Capital of the Kootenays.”

Long before that, Nelson claimed to be the Capital of the Kootenays, or Kootenay’s Capital, never mind the heritage aspect.

The earliest use was in the Nelson Miner of April 6, 1895: “[I]t will not be long before he and the rest all come trooping back to Nelson, with plenty of money we hope, to start afresh in Kootenay’s capital.”

Charles St. Barble also used it in a booklet that year entitled The Kootenay Mines: “NELSON — The capital of the Kootenay doubtless owes it [sic] origin to the discovery of the Silver King and Kootenay Bonanza on Toad Mountain in 1886.”

And the BC Mining Record of December 1895 stated: “Nelson … is almost invariably termed Kootenay’s Capital, which it is.”

Rossland at that time had a larger population than Nelson and also vied for the title. But the Nelson Miner of Aug. 7, 1897 wasn’t having it: “An English exchange refers to Rossland as the ‘capital of Kootenay.’ This is something new. Nelson is the headquarters of all Dominion and Provincial officials in the district and is the point at which all transportation lines in southeastern British Columbia center …”

This was true. Nelson also had its own streetcar system, power plant, and smelter to bolster its status. Eventually, however, Trail’s growth gave Nelson a run for its money.

Cominco magazine of February 1961 asked: “Is Trail BC’s inland capital?” L.A. Read, writing the same year in Trail: 60 Years of Progress, answered in the affirmative: “During these 60 years the progress in the development of the Inland Industrial Capital of British Columbia has been sure and steady.” (Inland capital was previously claimed by Kamloops — as well as Nelson.)

Other less frequently used Nelson nicknames included:

• The Virginia City of the Great Northwest (Spokane Falls Review, April 1, 1890)

• City of Destiny (Slocan Drill, March 29, 1901)

• The Lake City of Canada (Nelson Daily News, Sept. 1, 1907)

• Electric City (Nelson Daily News, Sept. 25 1908, on account of its city-owned power plant, although Kaslo previously claimed this title for different reasons)

• The Canadian Venice (Nelson Daily News, Jan. 8, 1912)

• Capital of Canadian Switzerland, Gem of the Interior of BC (Nelson Daily News, Jan. 9, 1912)

• Metropolis of the Kootenays (Nelson Daily News, Oct. 8, 1914)

• City of Roses (Nelson Daily News, Oct. 13, 1919)

• Interior Capital, Hub City, Kootenay Lucerne, Scenic Capital, Mining Capital, Public Utility City (all Nelson Daily News, April 22, 1927)


The father of Nakusp apparently envisioned a town in the hills southeast of Silverton.

On July 1, 1897, The Ledge reported “Thos. Abriel of Nakusp has had a townsite surveyed at the junction of Four Mile and Fennell creeks. He will name it either Newhell or Jubilee City. Tom says that it sure to be a second Sandon.”

New Hell?

Abriel applied for the property in question in April of that year, but there is no sign that he received a Crown grant for it or that Newhell amounted to anything.


This ad in the Spokane Falls Review of April 1, 1890 might have been the earliest use of a nickname for Nelson: “The Virginia City of the Great Northwest.” But was the comparison to Virginia City, Nevada or Montana?

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