Sometime in the 1980s a movement was afoot to change the name of Nakusp to Nakusp Hot Springs, following in the footsteps of other hot springs towns like Ainsworth, Harrison, Radium, and Fairmont. However, old-timers objected to the idea and it was abandoned.
In October 2003, then-mayor Bill Cowan resurrected the idea and sought input from residents.
“This is a good opportunity, as all the maps and brochures will be redone over the next few years because of the Olympics,” he said, pointing to potential tourism benefits.
Nearly a year later, a new committee appointed to oversee development of the hot springs was asked to gather public opinion on changing the village’s name.
In February 2005, Tad Derbyshire asked village council to consider changing the name. He presented a petition with 119 signatures and a letter of support from the Chamber of Commerce. But then-councillors Karen Hamling and Janis Dahlen called for the matter to go to referendum. It quickly became apparent that the nays outweighed the hays.
Bea Anton led a delegation to council to oppose the change and ask for a commitment that it be put to a public vote.
“Public outrage and the emergence of a counterpetition against a recent proposal that would see the Village of Nakusp change its name to Nakusp Hot Springs has led council to more fully explore the potential costs associated with such a decision,” the Arrow Lakes News wrote.
“While council had been generally receptive to the proposal, that support has now been tempered somewhat by public feedback questioning the need and motivation for the name change.”
Cowan said he wanted the public fully informed, but worried that a referendum could cause rifts in the community that “take a long time to heal.”
“What I look at is the two million or more vehicles passing the Highway 1 and 23 intersection at Revelstoke, not even noticing the Nakusp sign on the way by, yet put the words ‘hot springs’ after Nakusp and it will catch the attention of some,” he said.
An editorial in the Arrow Lakes News read in part: “For many people it seems, there is more than just the name of the village at stake in the recent proposal to change the name Nakusp to Nakusp Hot Springs. There are also historical issues and a debate as to what it is that defines the village itself as such an unique place. For others, the village’s very identity has been called into question.
“The debate has become, in part, a reflection and discussion about how the village perceives itself and how it wants to be viewed by others. A name can define a community, and for many it seems, Nakusp is more than just a hot spring.
“No issue in recent memory has stirred such a public and outspoken response. But a debate requires two sides, and those who support changing the name have been silent on the issue so far.”
The referendum results were beyond lopsided: eight in favour and 607 against. By contrast, when Ainsworth changed its name to Ainsworth Hot Springs in 1964, there was little fuss.