One-hundred and ninth in a semi-alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
The last two installments in this series looked at the origin of Kuskonook (or is it Kuskanook?) on the south end of Kootenay Lake. No matter which way you spell it, the name sounds remarkably similar to another local place name: Kuskanax Creek at Nakusp.
Although they’d appear to be derived from the same word, Kuskanax is in the heart of Sinixt territory and Kuskonook is closer to Ktunaxa territory.
Kuskanax has also been spelled many different ways — and it took a long time to decide whether it was a creek or a river. The earliest mention is on Walter Moberly’s 1866 map, where he calls it Kushenox. James Bissett of the Hudson’s Bay Co. recorded it in his diary in 1868 as Koshkenox. Gilbert Malcolm Sproat’s Report of the Kootenay Country, dated Feb. 7, 1884, refers to “Koos-koon-axe Creek.”
George Dawson, writing in his Report on a Portion of the West Kootanie [sic] District, British Columbia, 1889 said: “A small river named Koos-ka-nax flows in. This name, meaning ‘long point’ is descriptive of the delta-flat which has been formed by the stream …”
A legal ad by the Minister of Mines published in the Nelson Miner of March 24, 1894 also referred to the “Koos-ka-nax River” although the 1892 British Columbia Gazetteer called it “Koos-Ka-Nax Creek.”
A ca. 1920 CPR brochure called The Lake District of Southern British Columbia called it Kooskanux Creek while a ca. 1931 brochure entitled From The Lake Route of British Columbia for Tourists Featuring the Arrow Lakes District spelled it Kuskanax in one instance and Kooskanax in another. Ethnographer James Teit transcribed it in 1930 as ku’sxEna’ks.
In First Nations’ Ethnography and Ethnohistory in British Columbia’s Lower Kootenay/Columbia Hydropower Region, Dorothy Kennedy and Randy Bouchard didn’t consider a connection to Kuskonook, which is believed to come from the Ktunaxa phrase for “end of the lake.”
Rather, they state Kuskanax is an anglicization of the Okanagan-Colville term kwusxenaks which means “long point; point of land sticking out.” Of their Sinixt informants, only one woman was familiar with the name, though she didn’t know what place it referred to.
Teit included it on a list of “old villages and main camps” but didn’t give a more precise location. However, Kennedy and Bouchard cite a 1970 letter by former MP Bert Herridge who indicated he “went to school in Nakusp with several Lakes Indian children who lived in wigwams on the Kuskanax Point.”
No one appears to have remarked before on the similarity of Kuskanax and Kuskonook, although writing in Cominco Magazine in September 1942 about a trip on the Arrow Lakes, Ian Nicholson said: “We passed a number of boats, all taking their limit at the mouth of the Kuskinook creek …”
(The latter spelling also shows up in “The Lady of Kuskinook,” a chapter in Ralph Connor’s 1906 novel The Doctor: A Tale of the Rockies. Connor was a pseudonym for the Rev. Charles William Gordon [1860-1937], a founder of the United Church of Canada.)
So is there a connection? Or is it just an odd coincidence?
Nelson author Eileen Delehanty Pearkes, who has written extensively on local First Nations, doesn’t have much doubt the two words could be related: “The Arrow Lakes/Sinixt and Yaqan Nukiy (Creston Ktunaxa) are known to have intermarried. They share cultural traits that are distinct from the other Ktunaxa tribes and similar to the Salishan Kalispel, Sinixt, Skoyelpi.”
She says those Salish women or men intermarried into the Yaqan Nukiy tribe could well have influenced the influence, though she doesn’t know that anyone has studied the subject.
“It is entirely possible that this term was applied to more than one location,” she says. “More than anything, this mystery indicates how rapidly and thoroughly the indigenous use and history of the region was overwhelmed by settlers coming from elsewhere. So much information has been lost.”
Previous installments in this series