PLACE NAMES: Tunnel, Vallican, and Velvet

Bulldog Tunnel is the most impressive feature of the old Columbia and Western Railway.

Two hundredth in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names

The most outstanding man-made feature on the former Columbia and Western Railway between Castlegar and Christina Lake is the nearly one-kilometer long Bulldog Tunnel, also known as The Tunnel or simply Tunnel.

Its earliest mention is in the Nelson Tribune of Dec. 2, 1899: “About six miles east of the Bulldog tunnel, while rounding a sharp curve, the engineer saw a great mass of earth and rock …”

The Greenwood Miner of Dec. 15, 1899 noted: “The big tunnel, known locally as Bulldog Tunnel, above Brooklyn, is 3,000 feet long, 16 feet wide and 23 feet high.” (At that point it hadn’t been completed.)

It was named after Bulldog Mountain, through which it was driven. The mountain, in turn, was first mentioned in the Nelson Miner of July 29, 1898 as the site of a mining claim — called Big Tunnel.

Tunnel merits inclusion as a place name of its own because on Nov. 4, 1899, MP Hewitt Bostock recommended the Brooklyn post office be transferred there. The postal inspector agreed and the Tunnel office supposedly opened on Dec. 18, but didn’t last long.

The following March, Bostock wrote: “I do not think it is worthwhile troubling to appoint anyone at this place. The tunnel will be finished in about two months and then there be no one there. At the present time some man is acting.”

Officially the office closed on April 30, 1900, but postal historian George Melvin suggested it may not have opened at all.

The last train passed through the tunnel in 1988. Today it’s a highlight of the region’s premier rail trail.

VALLICAN

This Slocan Valley community, at the confluence of the Slocan and Little Slocan rivers, was originally known as Barker’s Siding.

The earliest known mention is in the Nelson Daily News of June 22, 1912: “Barker’s Siding, near which is located the ranch of Frank Soucey, is a point of some historical interest, having been the old Half-Way house between Slocan City and Nelson, where the prospectors in the boom days of the Slocan broke their walk between the two points.”

It’s not known who Barker was. While there were lots of people by that name in the West Kootenay listed on the 1911 census, none were in the Slocan.

The halfway house, built in late 1891 during the mining rush, was one of the first buildings in the Slocan and likely the very first in the lower valley. Charles Brown and Rufus K. Evans operated it initially, followed by Brown and Fred Bates. It appeared on Perry’s Mining Map of 1893, but was probably already closed by then.

William Maher reopened it in 1897 ahead of construction of the Slocan branch of the Columbia and Kootenay Railway, but it would have been obsolete once the line was finished. It’s not known how much longer it stood.

The earliest known mention of Vallican is in the Nelson Daily News of Jan. 6, 1913: “A little further up the valley is the point known as Vallican. Prior to last summer it was called Barker’s siding.”

It’s not known why the name was changed, although Vallican was presumably derived from “Valley of the Slocan.”

Vallican was on the CPR timetable by June 1913, but curiously, James White’s Altitudes in the Dominion of Canada (1915), which enumerated railway sidings and their locations, included neither Barker’s nor Vallican.

The Vallican post office opened in 1916 and closed in 1959 — Tom Edgar was postmaster for all but the first six months. While Vallican is on both sides of the Slocan River, today the name is applied mainly to the west side.

An entry at slocanvalley.com says Vallican is “Almost as mythical as Oz, and about as hard to find (since there are no road signs) … Just to keep everyone guessing about ‘Where’s Vallican?’ Canada Post doesn’t recognize it (the postal address for Vallican is Winlaw), yet the phone [book] lists all phone numbers from Appledale to Slocan Park under Vallican.”

Vallican’s name is perpetuated chiefly by the Vallican Whole Community Centre, built in the 1970s. Vallican is also home to a Sinixt burial ground that since 1989 has seen the repatriation of more than 60 sets of human remains.

VELVET

Legendary Rosslander Olaus Jeldness staked the Velvet mining claim on Sophie Mountain southwest of the city in September 1896. The name’s significance is unknown.

The Velvet’s sale the following year to New Gold Fields of British Columbia Ltd. made Jeldness moderately wealthy. (The company’s chairman was Sir Charles Tupper, who in 1896 served briefly as Canada’s prime minister.)

The mine itself was never a major producer, although it was worked for many decades. While it was in Canada, its ore was hauled to Velvet Siding, Wash. on the Red Mountain Railway and thence to smelters in Northport or Trail.

Velvet Siding was first mentioned in the Nelson Tribune of Oct. 30, 1900: “The Velvet mine, on Sophie mountain, has let a contract for the hauling of 25 tons of ore a day from the mine to Velvet siding, about two miles below Sheep Creek station.”

Velvet Siding was synonymous with Frontier, the name given to the post office that operated from 1901-12 and that the border crossing still bears. (In 1897, Frontier was also suggested as the name for the post office that eventually opened as Paterson.)

An application was filed in March 1901 for a post office at the Velvet mine with Alex McLeod as the proposed postmaster, but it never opened. Velvet didn’t merit its own entry in civic directories either. However, the Velvet building, built at the eastern edge of downtown Rossland in the 1890s, perpetuates the name.

— With thanks to Jan Jonker and Ron Shearer

 

The only sign that says Vallican is found on the Vallican Whole Community Centre. (Nelson Star file photo)

A Vallican postmark from 1950. Tom Edgar was postmaster for 42 years.

The halfway house at Vallican appeared as Brown’s Hotel on Perry’s Mining Map of West Kootenay in 1893.

The Slocan River halfway house was built at what became Vallican. This ad is from the Nelson Miner of May 21, 1892.

Bulldog Tunnel is completely dark when entered from the west. (Greg Nesteroff photo)

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