Two hundred twelfth in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
Wynndel doesn’t sound like a complicated name but its origin is maddeningly elusive.
In British Columbia Place Names, G.P.V. and Helen Akrigg used the community just north of Creston to illustrate the kind of misinformation they often sifted through: “The Cominco Magazine told us Wynndel … is named after Wynndel in England, but there is no Wynndel anywhere in England and the place is named after a Mr. Wynndel.”
The actual entry in the book reads: “Named for one of the early fruit-growers in the district.”
But it’s not clear how they reached that conclusion. Without providing an exact source, the BC Geographic Names website says it is “After Wynndel, one of the oldest and most successful fruit ranchers of the neighbourhood. Note that local residents discount this origin.”
No one named Wynndel appears in the BC vital events index or on the 1901 or 1911 census. If he was so successful a rancher, you’d think he would have left a longer paper trail.
Wynndel as a surname is exceedingly rare, although Wyndell as a given name is more common. The latter was an early alternate spelling for the community and sometimes it still appears that way by mistake.
The Cranbrook Prospector of July 10, 1909 recounted a baseball game in which “Wyndell, for Cranbrook, struck out five men, pitched great ball, the visitors popping up fly after fly right into the hands of the infield.” There was one other reference that month to his heroics on the mound, but otherwise nothing is known about him.
The naming of Wynndel is closely tied to two other W names: Wilkes and Wigen.
According to Roger Burrows’ Railway Mileposts: British Columbia, Vol. II, Wilkes was a siding at the 61.8 km mark of the Bedlington and Nelson Railway (counting north from Bonners Ferry) and was originally named Creston Junction.
In The Skyline Limited, Robert Turner and David Wilkie write that the B&N rented CPR trackage rights from Creston Junction north to Sirdar: “The station name for Creston Junction became Wilkes on the [B&N] and Wynndel on the CPR.”
Neither book gives a date for this change or explains where Wilkes came from, but it’s a good bet the namesake was Fred Wilkes, a CPR telegraph lineman from Fernie, mentioned in the Cranbrook Herald of May 18, 1905.
The earliest use of Wilkes as a place name was in an ad in the Herald on June 22 of that year: “Lovers of strawberries should get their supply of fruit for preserving this week … Wigen’s selected berries … will be sent to you COD, price $3.50 per crate for selected fruit at Wilkes … Price $3.50 per crate of 24 boxes, at Wilkes, BC – O.J. Wigen.”
If any fruit grower in the area could be called the “oldest and most successful,” it was Ole Johnsen Wigen (1855-1941), who was in area by the mid-1890s, working several mining claims at what was then called Duck Creek.
When the B&N line encroached on one of his claims, Wigen told them to back off and put up a fence. They ignored his warning, leading to a confrontation that resulted in the arrests of both Wigen and several engineers. The cases were all dismissed. Wigen later sued for damages and was awarded $350 (around $13,000 today) while a judge blasted the company for its high-handedness.
Sometime after October 1906, perhaps recalling his battle with the B&N, Wigen decided he preferred the name Wynndel over Wilkes. The earliest known use of the name, by any spelling, was in an ad for his strawberries in the Cranbrook Herald of June 20, 1907. A train schedule published in the Herald on Aug. 29 spelled it Wyndell. J.D. Anderson also used that spelling when he surveyed the Wyndell Fruit Lands in January 1908. But it was labelled Wynndel on a map of Kootenay Valley Lands published that October and also identified as Wynndel in the 1909 BC Gazetteer.
A post office opened in 1910 as Wynndel, but the spelling remained in flux for a few more years, as the Creston Review continued to write Wyndel, Wyndell, or Wynndell.
Might Wynndel have been loosely derived from Wilkes or Wigen’s name? Wynn is a runic letter in Old and Middle English that represents the W sound. A dell is a valley. So W (Wilkes/Wigen) valley? Then again, Wigen was Norwegian, not English. And why not just name the community Wigen?
Another theory, according to the BC Geographic Names website, is that it’s after a North West Mounted Police officer named Wynn, who was with Samuel Steele at Wildhorse Creek ca. 1885 “and later served with distinction in the Boer War.” However, no one by that name ever served with the NWMP.
In 1927, the CPR changed the name of its Duck Creek siding to Wynndel. The Creston Review explained that “to have postal and railway facilities in accord” would “obviate a certain amount of confusion that has always existed due to the dual titles … While for all round use Duck Creek would have been more serviceable than Wynndel, the change to the latter could hardly be avoided in view of the wider commercial publicity Wynndel has received through the activities of the Co-operative Fruit Growers Association …”
According to Roger Burrows, the new Wynndel siding was 1.7 km north of the old one. At the same time, old Wynndel was replaced with a siding called Loasby, named after Clarence McLean Loasby (1866-1938), a longtime yardmaster at Sirdar — who was in fact a Mountie in the 1880s, although he didn’t serve at Wildhorse Creek or in the Boer War.
In addition to the puzzle over the name’s origin, there’s some confusion over Wynndel’s pronunciation: locals rhyme it with spindle. Out-of-towners often say Win-DEL.