This oft-reproduced photo of Nelson’s Baker Street, ca. 1900, was taken by Allan Lean of Queen Studio. Nelson has been called the Queen City of the Kootenays since 1899, but the title was disputed. (Greg Nesteroff collection)

PLACE NAMES: Queen City of the Kootenays

Nelson and Kaslo both claimed Queen City status

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

Nelson is the Queen City of the Kootenays — but it wasn’t the only one.

Kaslo also used this nickname, as the Slocan Mining Review of Sept. 27, 1906 observed: “It’s strange that both Kaslo and Nelson lay claim to and use the appellation of ‘Queen City.’ They do though, and Kaslo is sore at Nelson for swiping it. Why can’t Nelson leave Kaslo its pet name and coin an original one for itself? Which is the queenlier of the two we know not, but we do know that New Denver has them both skinned to a fareyouwell finish.”

In fact, an embryonic form of the nickname, applied to Nelson, first appeared in the Tribune on Feb. 9, 1893: “The day Nelson is incorporated, that day will she stand erect and say to her rivals: ‘Behold the queenliest city in all Kootenay.’”

But Kaslo held the undisputed title for the next few year:

The Prospector, July 11, 1895: “W.H. Brandon, one of the owners of the Bon Ton and of the Canadian group alighted in the Queen city yesterday …”

• The Rossland Miner of June 9, 1897 carried “Queen City gossip.”

• The British Columbia News of July 9, 1897 called Kaslo the “Queen of the Lake” (although The Ledge of Dec. 7, 1899 called New Denver “the Queen City of the Lake” — different lake).

• A subheadline in the Rossland Miner, July 13, 1897: “Last series at Kaslo put the Queen City club in the lead for the trophy …”

• A subheadline in The Kootenaian of Aug. 4, 1897: “Butte paper libels the Queen City of Kootenay,”

Nelson got back in the game with the Daily Miner’s special illustrated edition of June 30, 1899: “At Robson the train is again taken and a short run brings you to Nelson, the Queen City of the Kootenay.”

Then, from the Daily Miner of Aug. 1, 1899: “With appropriate ceremonies in the presence of a large gathering of representative citizens, at 5:30 last evening, the first spike was driven in the enterprise that will give to Nelson, ‘Queen City of the Kootenays,’ an electric street railway system …”

The quotation marks imply that it was newly coined.

Another example from the Daily Miner of Sept. 2, 1899: “Nelson’s main thoroughfare will compare favorably with any in Eastern towns much larger than the Queen City of the Kootenays.”

“Queen of the Kootenays” also appeared as a Daily Miner headline on Sept. 24, 1899. The story quoted the Cornwall Freeholder, whose representative, C.W. Young, visited Nelson the previous month as part of a Canadian Press delegation: “Nelson is the Queen of the Kootenays and knows it.”

From there on, Queen City mainly referred to Nelson, although The Kootenaian continued to give the title to Kaslo through at least 1915.

The Nelson Daily News of Sept. 25, 1908, however, thought the nickname ought to be retired: “[I]t is probable that in days to come Nelson will no longer be known as Queen City of the Kootenays but as the electric city of the west. There are many Queen cities. There is only one city in the west which has had the courage of its convictions as to the use of electricity …”

Regina and Cincinnati also claim Queen City status. Regina has a good case by virtue of its name; Cincinnati’s basis is less clear.

The Ledge of Sept. 21, 1899 said New Denver was looking forward to being the “Queen City of the Slocan,” while The Prospector of April 2, 1898 believed Fort Steele was the “future Queen City of East Kootenay.” The Grand Forks Daily Gazette of April 2, 1900 also opined pessimistically: “Grand Forks is dead … never again can it hope to claim the proud title of Queen City of the Boundary.”

Nelson’s chief nickname survives today in businesses such as Queen City Shuttle and Queen City Crisps as well as in the annual Queen City Cruise car show. There used to be a Queen City Motors as well. The nickname’s status is also subtly enshrined in a large crown of lights across from Gyro Park. The city installed it in 1953 to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Next week we’ll look at nicknames of other West Kootenay/Boundary communities.

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