Two hundred seventy-fourth in a series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
How did Octopus Creek, south of Fauquier, get its name? There are no octopuses in the creek. Perhaps after a mineral claim called the Octopus? None is known to have existed.
The book Just Where Is Edgewood states “Dec. 15, 1919: It had been a very cold winter with the lake frozen except where ‘Fly’ Creek (now Octopus Creek) emptied into the lake.” No source for this reference is cited. It couldn’t have been the Arrow Lakes News, because it didn’t yet exist.
Octopus Creek first shows up on the map in 1900, on Geological Survey sheet 791 of West Kootenay, by W.A. Brock.
The late Bill Laux of Fauquier told the following story, which he attributed to Capt. Albert Forslund’s grandsons: “Forslund, who was usually captain on the SS Rossland, said that one time coming up the lake, some inebriated passenger saw a stump floating upside down, and raised the cry that there was an octopus in the water! And of course, everyone came crowding to the rails to look. That’s why they called it Octopus Creek.”
Who knows if it’s true, but at least it’s a story. If accurate, it must have occurred between 1898, when the Rossland launched, and 1900. The idea of an upside down stump being compared to an octopus is not such a stretch. But a simpler explanation may lie in the number of forks the creek has: eight, or possibly nine, depending on how you count them.
Octopus Creek was officially adopted in 1949. It’s also the name of a forest road, a recreation site, and a hard-to-find set of hot springs. It also spawned Octopus Creek Design, a Nelson desktop publishing business of the early 2000s.
In addition to Octopus Creek, the BC Geographic Names website lists around the province three Octopus lakes, Octopus Island, Octopus Point, and Octopus Mountain.
Concerning the latter, in the Assiniboine range, William L. Putnam wrote in Canadian Mountain Place Names: “This was named by [surveyor] Robert Daniel McCaw (1884-1941), but despite lengthy effort we haven’t been able to grasp a reason why.”
Smelter Creek, which flows into the West Arm of Kootenay Lake just west of Nelson, remains officially on the books although it’s no longer in common use. It recalls the Hall Mines smelter, which operated in Rosemont from about 1895 to 1905.
The creek was first mentioned in the Nelson Tribune of Oct. 4, 1900: “The property is intersected by Smelter creek, from which a fair supply of water can be procured.”
The name wasn’t officially adopted until 1948, long after the smelter ceased to be. Much of it was destroyed as part of Nelson’s notorious arson spree of 1911. The smokestack survived until 1923, collapsing one day before its scheduled demolition.
We’ve previously seen in this series that Nelson was known in the late 1880s as Salisbury, or Salisbury Landing, after Robert Arthur Talbot Gasconye-Cecil, third Marquess of Salisbury, and prime minister of Great Britain from 1895 to 1902.
Salisbury appointed his nephew, Arthur Balfour, as chief secretary for Ireland in 1887 — a bit of nepotism that supposedly resulted in the phrase “Bob’s your uncle.”
Balfour succeeded his uncle as prime minister from 1902-05. He was also the namesake of Balfour on Kootenay Lake, so called in 1890 by Charles W. Busk, who staked a pre-emption there and surveyed the townsite.
• Gray Creek is the Home of the Gold Boulder, which appears on its welcome sign, erected by Tom Lymbery around 1986. It refers to a massive boulder supposedly lost in Kootenay Lake in 1894, which was fictional, but that didn’t stop people from trying to find it.
The same signs also declare Gray Creek to be Metric Free — due to mix-ups between imperial and metric measurements that caused headaches when the present Gray Creek Store was built in 1979.
• A sign erected in Silverton sometime before 2014 declares the village to be the Middle of Nowhere and the Centre of Everything.