Arrow Lakes News
Minnie Caldwell Smith arrived in Arrowhead from Nova Scotia on February 10, 1911 to visit her brother and father, who worked in the sawmill there. But before leaving, her fiancé, whom she had never known to use even mild profanity, asked: “Would you please tell me what in hell made you make up your mind to go to British Columbia?” She told him she’d better travel before getting married, or might never have the chance.
The trip proved life-altering. As one of five single women in a town with 500 to 600 men working in two sawmills, she was showered with gifts. “You only had to mention that you liked a particular thing and you got entirely too much of it,” she said.
Then along came Sam Irvin, owner of the Lakeview Hotel, much to the dismay of her Nova Scotia beau. “I met him on Sunday at noon, was engaged to him on Wednesday, and 19 days later I married him. And made a very fine choice.”
They wed on September 19 in Revelstoke. They moved to Athalmer the following year, where they took over a hotel, and then to Rossland in 1915, where they bought the Central Hotel and renamed it the Irvin. They operated it until 1958 and then retired to Chilliwack.
Smith’s evocative memories of Arrowhead, which she describes as a town “just like one big long street,” are included in Robert Budd’s new book, Echoes of British Columbia: Voices From the Frontier. Her interview is drawn from nearly 1,000 conducted across the province by CBC Radio journalist Imbert Orchard in the 1950s and ‘60s. The 2,700 hours of Orchard’s tapes are held by the BC Archives, where Budd was hired to digitize them.
The late Milton Parent of the Arrow Lakes Historical Society did the same thing with over 200 pioneers starting in the 1970s, and used the interviews in compiling the popular centennial series of books.
Not only can you read Minnie Irvin’s story, but you can hear her tell it, as it’s part of a CD set included with the book, a sequel to 2010’s bestselling Voices of British Columbia. The latter didn’t have much Kootenay content, but this time in addition to Irwin, Rossland’s Warren Crowe is featured, describing how he brought the city’s founder back to town in the 1940s and sent him on a tour of his old West Kootenay haunts.
Minnie Irwin also recalls skating to Comaplix and back — a distance of nine miles — and describes Arrowhead’s “three lovely big hotels.” She concludes her memories by saying: “There are a few living there yet and I suppose always will be.”
That was 1964. Just four years later, Arrowhead would be abandoned ahead of the construction of the Hugh Keenleyside dam. Today much of the townsite lies beneath Upper Arrow Lake. Its former site is visible from aboard the Galena to Shelter bay ferry.