One hundred eighty-ninth in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
Last week we looked at the little-known Boundary ghost town of Summit City.
Since then, the Regional District of Kootenay kindly provided a copy of the townsite map, which reveals that heavy traffic passes through Summit City every day, but you’d never guess it.
The former townsite is on Highway 3 between Grand Forks and Greenwood, about 19 km northwest of the intersection of North Fork Road and 2 km south of Wilgress Lake.
On April 4, 1900, James Lambert Jarrel (1858-1940) and his brother Samuel (1863-?) obtained Crown grants for Lots 1557 and 2005 respectively. On April 25, surveyor John A. Coryell laid out a townsite covering both lots.
Although other towns such as Sandon and Phoenix were adjacent to or directly over top mining claims, Summit’s configuration was very unusual, with lots and streets snaking around several mine sites including the the Remington, BC No. 2, Erwin, Cordick, Ophir, Last, and R. Bell. The northeastern part of the city was completely isolated from the rest of it by the mines.
Despite its geographical constraints, Summit was a very large townsite by local standards, with 87 blocks. Its only named streets were Copper and Summit avenues, while all others were numbered: First to Seventh avenues south, First to Fifth avenues north, First to Third streets west and First to Sixth streets east — which would have been very confusing, had the town amounted to anything.
On top of that, the BC Archives has a 72-page file on Summit City, which reveals a bureaucratic morass that lasted more than 50 years and hindered the town’s development.
When the Jarrels obtained their Crown grants, a stipulation in the Land Act entitled the Crown to one-quarter of the lots if the property was subdivided. Coryell suggested certain lots as the government’s share, but for some reason James Jarrel refused to sign the conveyance.
In 1902, the Vancouver, Victoria, and Eastern Railway applied for certain government lots for their right of way, but was informed they couldn’t be accommodated due to Jarrel’s intransigence.
After the government threatened to withhold registration on any property titles to the townsite, Grand Forks lawyer Ernest Miller signed the conveyance on Jarrel’s behalf. It was discovered, however, that some of the lots in question had already been sold, with titles and mortgages registered. The province asked Miller to straighten it out. He apologized and promised to fix it, but didn’t.
Four years went by, and they asked him again. He pledged to clear the matter up on his next trip to Victoria, but failed to. In 1910, the application to register the conveyance was cancelled.
By this time, Summit City was already a ghost town with back taxes owing on hundreds of lots. The province held tax sales in 1911 and 1919, which resulted in many lots reverting to the Crown.
Fast forward to 1949, when Wilfred Tremblay applied to buy Lot 2005. The lands superintendent discovered “a considerable number of parcels which have not reverted nor are they on the assessment roll.” This led to an enormous amount of work to figure out who owned what.
James Jarrel had been dead nearly ten years, but was still the registered owner of many lots. (Oddly, although Jarrel’s name comes up in local newspapers as a carpenter and prospector, he was never mentioned as owner of Summit City. He was also postmaster there from 1900 to 1902.)
Other lots were held by Edward Trout and Alexander Miller. The final piece of correspondence in the file is from 1951, in which the lands superintendent asks the surveyor of taxes to place some of the mystery lots back on the roll, assess 50 years worth of back taxes, and offer them at a tax sale, which presumably ensured their reversion to the Crown.
All of which was mostly moot since Summit City’s heyday was already far in the past. The 1901 census indicated it had a population of 488, but within a year, it began losing ground to the neighbouring townsite of Oro Denoro, later renamed Coltern. That settlement also declined into ghost town status around 1920.
Summit City has been ignored or overlooked by local history books. Garnet Basque’s Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of the Boundary Country doesn’t mention it, and no one has written about it in any of the Boundary Historical Society’s reports. No photos of the town are known to exist.