Eighty-seventh in alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
The Slocan Valley community now known as Hills is an unofficial amalgamation of four separate places. The oldest portion was Bonanza City, a townsite at the north end of Slocan Lake.
It appears on Perry’s Mining Map of 1893 and is first mentioned in an ad in The Ledge of Oct. 19, 1893 for the Bonanza City Hotel, operated by John Madden. In June 1894, Madden was reported to be moving his hotel to Silverton, but his ads continued to appear until September.
The Slocan Trading and Navigation Co. last mentioned Bonanza City as a port of call in an ad on Dec. 20, 1894. It was listed in the 1897 BC directory as a mining camp at the head of Slocan Lake but with the erroneous notation “See Bear Lake City,” a different place entirely. The Nelson Tribune of Dec. 28, 1899 listed W. Hall of Bonanza City as a guest at the Madden Hotel in Nelson.
The only photo of Bonanza City known to exist, held by Library and Archives Canada, shows a sawmill on the newly-cleared townsite and a sternwheeler on the log-strewn lake.
The name survives in Bonanza Creek, Bonanza Road, and Bonanza Marsh. (The creek appears to have been named after the town, as it doesn’t show up on maps until 1915.)
Meanwhile, Hill Siding was added to the CPR timetable on Oct. 14, 1900. Although the name reflects the local topography, it was actually after Alfred (1850-1907) and Wilson (1862-1929) Hill, who had the sawmill there from about 1893 to 1903. They were in Nelson in 1889 and “made a small fortune as real estate speculators and contractors.”
The earliest known newspaper reference to Hill Siding — and latest known reference to Bonanza City — is in the Slocan Mining Review of Feb. 14, 1907: “The last train to leave Sandon was on Wednesday the 6th, which pulled out several hours late, but it failed to force a passage through the heavy snow which had swept the track south of Hill’s Siding just beyond Bonanza City.”
The CPR changed the name to Hills by September of that year, judging by a timetable in the Revelstoke Railway Museum. However, it was interchangeably called Hill Siding, Hill’s Siding, or Hills Siding for many decades afterward.
Hills appears on a 1924 Department of Interior map and is also mentioned in the Slocan Enterprise of Jan. 18, 1928 regarding a court ruling “in favour of the claimants for damages to the [timber] limits between Summit Lake and Hills.”
Hills didn’t actually become a community until the late 1920s when several Doukhobor families settled there.
By that time, a third place existed about two miles northwest variously called Hunter Siding, Hunter’s Siding, or Hunters’ Siding. Its namesake was William Hunter (1858-1939), the father of Silverton. According to New Denver: Eldorado of the Past, “Bill Hunter had a sawmill in Rosebery, then at Silverton and next he moved to Hunters’ Siding.”
The earliest reference yet found is in the Slocan Enterprise of April 8, 1925: “Edward Hunter, who has been taking out ties at Hunter’s Siding, is home for a few days.” (Edward, better known as Buzz, was William’s son.)
The school that operated in the area from 1932 to 1950 was called Hunter’s Siding, but when a post office opened in 1952, it was known as Hill Siding before changing its name to Hills after a couple of months
Former postmaster George Markin wrote in the Arrow Lakes News of Dec. 16, 1981: “To distinguish from other sidings throughout the Slocan Valley, the postal department deemed it advisable to change the name of Hills Siding to Hills shortly after its inception, and thus it remains.” (However, by that time the only other siding in the valley was Perry Siding.)
The post office closed in 1970.
Hill Siding was originally located at mile 39.3 on the railway, but in 1953 it was moved 3.3 miles north to be closer to the post office, according to a CPR timetable.
There is a fourth place in the mix, the obscure Redhouse or Red House, another siding slightly northwest of Hunter Siding. A version of the name first appears in the Slocan Mining Review of Sept. 17, 1908: “Adolph Mero will leave on Friday for his ranch, near the Red Section house, where he intends to put in a lot of general work and also build a cabin.”
The Arrow Lakes News of May 26, 1938 carried a story about the accidental death of J. Alfred Jones, the CPR sectionman at Redhouse. The headline spelled it Redhouse, while the story said “He had been at Red House about three or four months.”
Rosemarie Parent of the Arrow Lakes Historical Society believes Redhouse “was just a bunkhouse and possibly red because it was the CPR’s colour. It was where Marc Dumont’s mill was, according to an old timer’s tape.”
Today, Bonanza City, Hill Siding, Hunter Siding, and Redhouse are all part of Hills.
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