PLACE NAMES: Trading on Kootenay’s good name

Kootenay has been used to sell everything from stoves to washboards to cigars — even a patent medicine

Three hundred twenty-second in a series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names

We’ve spent the last few installments looking at the name Kootenay, which is a corruption of Ktunaxa, one of the First Peoples of our region.

As a result of 19th century mining rushes to our region, Kootenay had a very prosperous connotation that businesses sought to capitalize on.

For example, in 1899 at Atlin, in BC’s extreme northwest, you could stay at the Kootenay House hotel, eat at the Kootenay Dining Room, and sidle up to the Kootenay Bar.

The hotel advertised itself as “A home for all the old timers of Kootenay,” but proprietors Billy Haywood and Jack Byron didn’t appear to have any connection with the area. They probably just chose the name because it was synonymous with good health and wealth. The hotel was rebuilt after fires in 1913 and 1917, but burned for a third and final time in 1968.

Similarly, Klondike (or Klondyke) hotels popped up in Nelson and many other places nowhere near the Yukon. There was a Slocan Hotel at Glenora, on the Stikine River, in 1898, although proprietor Henry Stege was in fact from the Slocan. There were also Slocan saloons in Spokane and Bonners Ferry.

Rossland was another byword for prosperity in the 1890s, before it became shorthand for dubious stock offerings. Nelson, Greenwood, Westbridge, and Vancouver all had Rossland Hotels.

Among products that traded on Kootenay’s name:

• From about 1900 to 1928, McClary’s, a Canadian stove manufacturer, made a Kootenay steel range.

• Kootenay True Ale is produced by the Columbia Brewery in Creston, but not nearly as well known a brand as Kokanee, which also takes its name from a local place.

• In 1897, the Ames Holden Co. sold a Kootenay brand of mountain boot. Others in the same line were called the Columbia and Vancouver.

• In 1900, the Kootenay Cigar Manufacturing Co. of Nelson made Kootenay Belle brand cigars (as well as Kokanee brand).

• Western Woodenware Ltd. of Vancouver produced a Kootenay Mountain brand washboard.

• In the 1950s, the Kootenay Bleach and Chemical Company of Nelson marketed Kootenay Bleach.

• The Kootenay Jam Co. of Nelson produced a line of Kootenay-brand jams, canned fruits, cocoas, and chocolates from 1909 until 1915, by which time the factory had moved to Mission, but kept the same name.

The most notorious use of Kootenay, which threatened to bring its good name into disrepute, was Ryckman’s Kootenay Cure, a patent medicine peddled in the 1890s by Hamilton MP Samuel Shobal Ryckman.

He was one of several MPs lured to the Kootenay in 1892 by mining activity, specifically in the Illecillewaet district southeast of Revelstoke, where he bought several claims near the headwaters of the Incomappleux River.

He said that on a visit to his property, an old miner gave him a recipe for a rheumatism cure, which he tried on some of his Hamilton constituents. Lo and behold, it worked, and the S.S. Ryckman Medicine Co. was born.

Beginning in 1895, Ryckman filled newspapers with testimonials about his elixir’s amazing properties. It could cure paralysis, blindness, deafness, rheumatism, indigestion, gout, eczema, skin disease, hives, sores, liver and kidney disorders, and virtually any other ailment, real or imagined.

What was in this miracle potion?

“It is, I understand, largely composed of the root of the devil’s club,” A.O. Wheeler wrote in his book, The Selkirk Range.

If the Kootenay Cure failed to work on you, well, you probably weren’t taking enough. Buy some more.

Ryckman sold his cure for $1 per bottle, or six bottles for $5 — although in an embarrassing turn, one of his salesmen, J.W. Zimmerman, died of pneumonia and typhoid fever.

Ryckman used his parliamentary mail privileges to distribute 350,000 copies of a flyer that campaigned for the Conservatives and plugged the Kootenay Cure. The postmaster general took umbrage at this apparent abuse, but Ryckman shrugged it off. He didn’t seek re-election.

Ryckman’s Kootenay Cure disappeared from shelves within a few years, but its namesake moved on to other patent medicine schemes. He also diversified his pseudoscience business by issuing a booklet on phrenology.

Ryckman died in 1929 but surviving square amber bottles of Kootenay Cure are prized by collectors, particularly ones with their paper labels — providing instructions in English, French, and German.

He is remembered in Ryckman Creek in Glacier National Park, although it’s officially misspelled as Rykman.

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McClary’s manufactured a Kootenay steel range from about 1900 to 1928. You could buy one at Wood-Vallance Hardware in Nelson.

The Kootenay Hotel in Atlin was in business from 1899 to 1968, although it burned down three times.

Ryckman’s Kootenay Cure was a patent medicine peddled in the 1890s by a Hamilton MP who owned claims southeast of Revelstoke.

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