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The forgotten townsite of Fort Sheppard
Sixtieth in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
As described in this space last week, the Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway took part of its name from a misspelling of Fort Shepherd, a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post on the Columbia River named for governor John Shepherd (1792-1859).
The railway was an extension of D.C. Corbin’s Spokane Falls & Northern line, intended to close the gap between Northport and Nelson. Long before construction began, speculators were on the scene.
The (Ainsworth) Hot Springs News of March 16, 1892 announced the incorporation at Victoria of the City of Kootenay Land and Investment Co. Directors George A. Keefer, C.G. Ballantyne, and Dr. Ernest Hanington eyed the patch of land between the confluence of the Columbia and Pend d’Oreille rivers and the international border, expected to be the railway terminus.
Here Keefer’s partner Henry B. Smith surveyed a townsite called Kootenay City, or City of Kootenay. They announced lots would be on the market in early April, and a month later a Mr. Hammond was erecting an hotel and restaurant.
Ads for the fledgling town appeared in the Victoria Colonist through the end of August, but then a major problem was discovered: due to a surveying error, some of the lots were actually in the US. Consequently, the townsite plan was cancelled.
On May 2, 1893, Smith and George Keefer returned and laid out a new townsite on the same land, this time known as Fort Sheppard (first referred to as such in the Colonist on February 23 of that year).
The Touchstones Nelson archives has a townsite blueprint, which is faint but readable. Entitled “Plan of the Town of Fort Sheppard, Terminus of the Fort Sheppard and Spokane Falls and Nelson Railways,” it shows the railway passing through the middle of town. Avenues included Columbia, Kootenay, Ashnola, and Nelson. Streets included Sheppard, Penticton, Spokane, and Okanagan.
For a few years, Fort Sheppard and Waneta were separate towns on either end of the railway bridge, but the latter eventually subsumed the former. (A third town, Boundary City, was barely a stone’s throw across the border.)
Frederick Adie was described by the Northport News of November 7, 1895 as “the busiest man in the twin towns — Fort Sheppard and Waneta.” Adie ran the post office, general store, and Fort Sheppard Hotel, which closed sometime after 1928, by which time it had a reputation as a bootlegging joint.
Abandoned for years, a sign painted on it declared: “Hotel Atoll. No girls atoll. No beer atoll. Not a dam thing atoll. The Hotel Atoll.” (A similar inscription turns up in several places but apparently originated with US marines stationed on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands during the Second World War.)
The hotel — the last link to old Fort Sheppard — was demolished in the early 1950s when Cominco acquired the land in preparation for the Waneta dam. But the name is perpetuated in Nelson’s Fort Sheppard Drive.
Previous installments in this series