Opinion

UPDATED: Empress of Ireland hero’s last resting place

ABOVE: Robert Crellin is buried in the New Denver cemetery but his gravemarker is very hard to read. This is a digitally enhanced version. BELOW: Crellin with Florence Barbour, whom he rescued from the sinking of the Empress of Ireland on the St. Lawrence River on May 29, 1914; Work on the caves at Ainsworth Hot Springs at this point
ABOVE: Robert Crellin is buried in the New Denver cemetery but his gravemarker is very hard to read. This is a digitally enhanced version. BELOW: Crellin with Florence Barbour, whom he rescued from the sinking of the Empress of Ireland on the St. Lawrence River on May 29, 1914; Work on the caves at Ainsworth Hot Springs at this point 'looks like something from outer space'; a mural in the Slocan campground depicts Eli Carpenter's tightrope walk of 1897.
— image credit: ABOVE: Courtesy Village of New Denver BELOW: Bain News Service/Library of Congress; facebook.com/ainsworthhotsprings; 103.5 The Juice FM;

The Village of New Denver kindly sent me pictures this week of Robert Crellin’s gravemarker. He’s the Silverton man who a century ago rescued his goddaughter from the sinking of the Empress of Ireland, as detailed recently in the Star.

Although in an earlier version of this column I wrote that the grave was unmarked, turns out I was just looking in the wrong place — Crellin, his wife, and another relative are buried in the newer, lower cemetery rather than in the older, upper section.

However, the marker, which simply says “In loving memory of Robert W. Crellin 1878–1944” is very hard to read.

Crellin saved little Florence Barbour, whose fondest but unrealized wish was to be laid to rest next to him.

Her father Tom, who died after an accident transporting ore, is also buried in New Denver but the village doesn’t have any record of it. (Until the 1960s or so, the local funeral home looked after the cemetery.)

Florence’s mother and younger sister both drowned when the Empress went down. While her sister’s body was never found, a brief item in the Nelson Daily News stated her mother’s remains would be returned to New Denver for interment. However, she doesn’t have a marker there either and Florence thought her mother was actually buried in Quebec.

Meanwhile, after writing the story, I learned of yet another West Kootenay victim of the disaster: Freda Johnson Evans, who ran an hotel in Comaplix with husband Russell, was en route to visit her parents in Sweden. Her body was recovered and buried in Revelstoke.

CAVE REPAIR: Thank goodness Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort has found a creative way to keep the caves open. Lighting problems have placed them off limits for the last several weeks, but thanks to a fibre optic solution, they should re-open on the 13th.

I think a little part of me would die and a bit of Kootenay’s soul would be lost without the caves.

Contrary to popular belief, they didn’t form on their own nor are they old mine tunnels. Although there might have been a small natural opening to begin with, it was greatly enlarged by Nelson’s John Burns who developed the springs commercially around 1930.

Local miner Bob Sherraden blasted a second tunnel and crosscut passage to increase the springs’ flow. The mineral build-up and stalactite growth is natural but periodically has to be scaled back so bathers don’t get hurt.

Longtime residents will recall the caves weren’t lit at all before the early 1980s and you had to grope your way around, occasionally bumping into other people.

YOU LIKE THE JUICE? The Nelson radio station formerly known as 103.5 The Bridge has a new brand and format. It’s now 103.5 Juice FM.

For those keeping track of the various names attached to call letters CHNV since it signed on in 1994 (or am I the only one?) it began as Sunshine Radio, briefly became The Mountain, then Boundary Kootenay Radio, aka BK Radio, aka BKR from 1997-2006, then Mountain FM from 2006-10, then 103.5 The Bridge from 2010 until the end of last month.

Until the switch to The Bridge, programming was more-or-less simulcasted from CKQR Castlegar, but it’s now a standalone station.

MONUMENT’S MISSING MEN: In a column earlier this year about the Japanese-Canadian monument in Slocan’s cemetery, I enumerated those cremated there in 1942-43 before a crematorium was built in New Denver. The monument was dedicated in their honour.

However, I missed two. Add to the list Genjaemon Iguchi, 74, who died on October 30, 1942 and Haramatsu Fujita, 73, who died November 27, 1942. That brings the total to six men, one woman, one child, and an infant.

FUN WITH FUNAMBULISM: Probably the most memorable event in Slocan City’s history occurred on May 24, 1897 when as part of Queen Victoria’s birthday celebrations, pioneer prospector Eli Carpenter stunned everyone by walking a tightrope over the main street between a hotel balcony and store roof. He went forward and backward and gave a trapeze performance.

Carpenter told a reporter that years earlier he’d been with Barnum’s circus. He apparently also “created a great sensation” one day in New Haven, Connecticut by walking a tightrope five storeys above a thoroughfare — with his wife on his back.

I’ve never been able to corroborate those earlier feats. But while browsing a digitized newspaper site recently, I was thrilled to find the following in the Brattleboro (Vermont) Phoenix of July 25, 1879:

“Williamsville — Last Saturday evening a novel sight was witnessed here. Eli Carpenter, a workman on the bridges of the new railroad, walked a rope 30 feet in air and across the ‘square’ from the hotel, walking forward and backwards upon the rope several times, standing upon his head on the rope, etc. and showing great skill in that line.”

Maybe Eli was telling the truth!

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