One hundred ninety-sixth in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
Toronto Creek, which flows southwest into the Granby River, about 15 km north of Grand Forks, must be named after Canada’s largest city, right? Wrong.
It’s after Henry Peter Toronto (1853?-1924), a much-married prospector and hotelier. His parents were John Toronto and Marthea (or Marceline) Julbert, but his birthplace is murky: it could have been Quebec, Albany, or Illinois, depending on which document you believe.
The first sign of him in our area is a note in the Victoria Daily Colonist of April 19, 1895, reprinted from the Rossland Miner: “On Thursday H.P. Toronto sold a half interest in the Tuesday and Firefly and the whole of the Monday and Wednesday. The claims are situate on Deer Park mountain, and form a valuable group. The sale was for a cash consideration.”
Toronto was involved with several mining companies, including the English and French Gold Mining Co., founded in 1896 at Columbia (a rival town to Grand Forks). Their claims, including the Bonanza, Mayflower, Cleopatra, and Mark Anthony, were along the north fork of the Kettle River, in what was originally known as Brown’s Camp. (Brown’s Camp was first mentioned in the Midway Advance of Aug. 19, 1895. It was named after prospector Robert [Volcanic] Brown.)
With the mineral prospects promising, Toronto hunkered down to look after the travelling public. The Grand Forks Miner of Jan. 30, 1897 announced: “H.P. Toronto was in town yesterday and reports everything prospering in his neighborhood, his hotel is now in running order and he is about to bring in a large stock of liquors and thus be ready for the spring trade.”
The hotel was called the Toronto House, and according to North Fork Reunion ‘83, it stood on what eventually became the Evans ranch: “It had a large bar, dining room, kitchen, pantry and two extra rooms for the owners. There were four rooms up and four rooms down for rental purposes. The hotel was built to accommodate the miners and prospectors in the area.”
The hotel’s final ad appeared in July 1898, although it probably continued to operate. One year later, the citizens of Brown’s Camp applied for a post office to be called Volcanic City with Niagara merchant Arthur S. Williamson as proposed postmaster. They enclosed a petition with about 40 signatures, including that of Henry Toronto, who gave his occupation as farmer rather than hotelier.
Notably absent from the list of names, however, was Volcanic Brown himself, who planned to call his own nearby townsite Volcanic City (we’ll deal with it a little later in this series). Upon learning this, Williamson sent another letter to the postmaster general indicating: “We have been notifyed [sic] that we cannot use the name Volcanic City for our desired Post Office as other parties claim the name for a town in the same district so to avoid conflicting names, we have given the name Toronto, BC to our town.”
A supplemental petition followed a few weeks later, dated “Toronto, BC, August 1, 1899” requesting “that there be a post office established at Toronto.” It had about 25 names.
However, both Williamson’s clarification and the second petition seem to have been mislaid, for when postal inspector W.H. Dorman finally sent a note to his boss nearly five months later, he thought the proposed name was still Volcanic.
“There is a rival town about a mile distant from the proposed site, which I understand claims the name of ‘Volcanic’ and as it is probable a branch line of railway will be built to tap the mines in the vicinity, it is desirable to have full information before reporting on the application. I will endeavour to visit the place as soon as possible and report.”
By that time, the name Toronto had fallen by the wayside in favour of Eagle City — possibly after the Golden Eagle mining claim or an Alaska boom town. It was first mentioned in the Cascade Record of Oct. 21, 1899 when the BC Mercantile and Mining Syndicate bought Arthur Williamson’s store.
When the postal inspector provided an update in February 1900, he gave the proposed name as “Volcanic, now known as Eagle City” and the proposed postmaster as James Ellis, who worked for BC Mercantile. Yet the office didn’t open.
At the end of the year, there was some further correspondence between Dorman and W.H. Cooper, a general government muckety muck from Grand Forks who was offering to provide mail service to “stop the complaints which are made every day.”
Dorman seemed amenable, but the office still didn’t open. Ultimately, Eagle City failed to take flight, but remained a local place name for some time. It was a survey camp when a railway was built up the North Fork in 1907.
The latest known reference appeared in the Grand Forks Evening Sun of Aug. 4, 1911: “The road from Eagle City to Eholt is in bad condition and it is expected that it will be rebuilt.”
But while the town didn’t end up with his name and the hotel he built was torn down in 1925, Henry P. Toronto was honoured with a creek on which he held an early water license.
It was labelled Boulder Creek on an 1897 triangulation survey map of the Boundary as well as on a 1902 and 1912 BC lands maps. The adjacent stream to the north was labelled Volcanic Creek on the 1897 and 1902 maps, and “Volcanic or Toronto Creek” on the 1912 map.
Next week we’ll look closer at Toronto, the man — as well as his many wives.
— With thanks to Valerie Patanella