This ca. 1940s postcard is labelled “Custom House

Nelson-Spokane highway gave customs port its name

One hundred thirty-seventh in a semi-alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names.

Nelway is a contraction of “Nelson and Spokane highway,” although some have speculated it might actually be derived from “Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway,” which didn’t run through Nelway, but was in the general vicinity.

The Nelson-Spokane highway (now Highway 6) officially opened on Aug. 29, 1923, but the name Nelway wasn’t adopted by the Canadian customs crossing until a few years later. An early mention is in the Nelson Daily News of Aug. 2, 1926: “Large crews of men were yesterday dispatched to Nelway to fight the Slate creek fire …”

The Nelson Board of Trade worked hard to promote the highway, but its efforts were sometimes stymied by mapmakers. According to the Daily News of Oct. 8, 1926: “Latest of bodies to be oblivious to the existence of the Nelson-Spokane highway, in use now several seasons, is the bureau of provincial information

“Copies of the otherwise excellent manual on ‘Highways, Motor Camps, and Stopping Places in British Columbia, Compiled for Visiting Motorists,’ received by the Nelson Board of Trade, plainly mark on the road map therein the international connection at Yahk, via East Kootenay but fail to show any record of the connection between Nelson and Spokane.

“Secretary E.F. Gigot, on receiving a supply of the new publication was almost stunned when he found this official road map had this glaring omission, for an appreciative part of his correspondence the past two years has been in drawing attention to the omission of this highway.”

While Nelway is in BC, there are plenty of erroneous references to “Nelway, Wash.” The American side of the crossing is known as Metaline Falls.

 

NEW GLASGOW

(aka NEW GALWAY)

This phantom townsite east of Burton was founded by John Gibb Devlin (1865-1925), nicknamed the Gunner from Galway after a song he often sang.

According to Whistlestops Along the Columbia Narrows: “During the gold rush days there was a rivalry about which townsite up Caribou Creek should be reached by the wagon road Devlin staked a townsite on Rodd Creek and called it New Glasgow City. The other townsite was staked on Mineral Creek and was named Mineral City. The wagon road crossed Caribou Creek and went into Mineral City, bypassing the Gunner’s townsite. Had he lived he would have found the present road now goes over the site of the New Glasgow City which he had staked.”

Elsewhere the book says the townsite was also known as Gunner’s City. No contemporary references have been found to either name. In fact, while Devlin was born in Glasgow, his town was called New Galway. The Ledge of March 28, 1895 reported: “J.D. [sic] Devlin is building an hotel on his pre-emption on Cariboo creek. His townsite will be known as New Galway.”

New Galway was also mentioned the following week in the Revelstoke Kootenay Mail and Vancouver Daily World, but never again. The Rossland Miner of March 7, 1896 noted Devlin was planning to reopen his hotel in a week or so, but it might not have happened.

There are lots of stories about the Gunner and here’s one: that fall, he landed on the front page of the New York Times and many other newspapers after declaring a critical shortage of women in West Kootenay. He insisted that if “1,500 nice girls [came] out to Rossland alone, every one would get a good husband.”

Soon after, the Gunner himself took a bride, Isabella Watson, although he returned to Glasgow to marry her before they moved back to Canada. They had four children.

 

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