Mount Nelson, Invermere area
This prominent peak was the first mountain in the Windermere Valley to be named by a European. It was then renamed, renamed, and renamed again before the powers that be finally decided to return back to that first European name: after a heroic British naval commander who was also known for an extended affair with another woman while both were married.
There are a few figures to cover here as we trace the many names given to this mountain. We’ll start with the name that stuck:
In 1807, David Thompson established a trading post for the Hudson Bay Company near the Columbia River in the Windermere Valley. Thompson was the first literate trader to enter into the Upper Columbia Valley, and spent that summer establishing a trading post (Kootenae House) just north off present day Invermere.1
Demonstrating the speed of communication in the early 19th century, Thompson reportedly received word of Admiral Horatio Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar (in 1805) while he was in the Windermere Valley. He promptly named the prominent peak directly west of Kootenae House after Nelson, and reportedly held the peak in such high esteem that the entire Selkirk Range was called the Nelson Mountains on his map and referred to as such in his writings.2
Horatio Nelson was a British Naval Commander who has been widely written about and memorialized for his bold strategies and victories against the French in the Napoleonic Wars. His tactics are still apparently taught in naval war colleges, and his dramatic death led him to become enshrined in popular myth as a national hero in Britain.3 There are also loads of landmarks named after him.
In his personal life, Nelson was widely known for ignoring his wife, Frances, to carry out a years’ long affair with a married woman, Emma Hamilton. Frances seems to have loved Nelson, however the feeling was not mutual as he refused to see her and returned her letters unopened (and in one case included the note: ‘Opened by mistake… but not read.’).4 After his death, Nelson’s wife was given a generous settlement from his estate while his mistress (Emma) and his daughter were left destitute.
The name “Mount Nelson” appeared prominently on David Thompson’s maps of the area, so it never really went away. In some sources, even as another name for the mountain was mentioned, the author refers to its connection with Nelson and Thompson. The official name was returned to Mount Nelson in 1912, likely in recognition of that original 1807 David Thompson map.
Mount St Thomas (c.1897-1902)
The same mountain was known in official records at the turn of the twentieth century as Mount St Thomas. There are no records found as to the origin of the name or when the name was given to the peak. It may have had an ecclesiastical origin, however it was also not uncommon at the time to name places after other places, so there may be some connection to St Thomas (town) in Ontario or some other location. The name appears in newspapers and the mining journal before it was officially changed in 1902 to Mount Hammond.5
Mount Hammond (1902-1912)
This iteration of the mountain was named after Herbert Carlyle Hammond, a Toronto based stock broker, financier, and philanthropist who was also heavily invested in mining in the Windermere Valley, including as an early owner of the Paradise Mine. There’s a lot more to say about Hammond, and his story will be covered more thoroughly in a later post (The name Mount Hammond was moved to another mountain near Mount Farnham).
Mount Gilbert (?-1904-?)
The mountain appears to have had an unofficial name for a time in local circles, appearing sporadically in descriptions of the area as Mount Gilbert.6 This was in recognition of William Gilbert Mitchell-Innes, one of a group of brothers from Edinburgh who developed extensive interests in mines in the Windermere Valley and up into Golden in the 1890s.
The Mitchell-Innes Bros, particularly William Gilbert, were involved in the Golden British Columbia Development Company based in London, England to attract mining investment. In addition to properties up around Golden, they invested in properties on Toby Creek (the St George, Vulcan and Dragon), and on Boulder (now Bruce) Creek (the Pretty Girl) from 1897.7 Gilbert was also one of those (along with Henry Edward Neave and Robert Randolph Bruce) to stake out the future townsite of Wilmer in 1898.8
Gilbert Mitchell-Innes was the first person to take the Paradise Mine under bond shortly after its discovery in October 1899, however his association with this promising property did not continue.9 Gilbert’s brother, Harry (James Henry Mitchell-Innes) drowned in Lake Windermere that same month, and it is very possible that the tragedy was responsible for Gilbert distancing himself from the Valley.10 He could still be found in Golden for a time, but his investments in the Valley soon ended. Gilbert later married and returned to Edinburgh, where he had a son, who himself later lived in Campbell River.11
Gilbert was described as “courteous by nature and in disposition amiable…. Regarded by all members of the mining community as a “square” man, which is the highest compliment they can pay to integrity.”12 Highly respected in his day, Mitchell-Innes’ role in early mining in the district is virtually forgotten today.
An Early Description
The Mount Nelson of Thompson’s time, or even at the turn of the twentieth century, would have looked somewhat different than it does today. In 1912 it was described as “an isolated mountain with precipitous sides, a small hanging glacier, and a split summit.”13
This reference to glaciers on the mountains overlooking the main Windermere Valley is not isolated. In 1903, a glacier was also described at the head of the Boulder Creek Valley (now Bruce Creek).14 In describing the view while soaking in the hot springs at Fairmont in 1888, William A Baillie Grohman also mentions, “the most glorious views imaginable, ranging far over lake, river, forest, and glacier-clothed peaks.”15
Just a few years later, in 1906, the glaciers were reported as having diminished at an astonishing rate, some having receded from 100 to 200 feet further up than known before. Some prospectors estimated that if the glaciers continued to retreat at the same rate as they had in the past ten years, that in another ten years many of the smaller glaciers would disappear completed. That 1906 season saw thousands of tons of ice falling and crashing down the hills, and included the disappearance of ten foot thick ice up Boulder creek.16
By the first ascent of Mount Nelson (then known as Mount Hammond) in August 1910 by Charles D Ellis, there is no mention of a hanging glacier on the mountain itself, although there was a small ice field in the basin on the Toby Creek side. When Ellis reached the top, he admired the view: “Overhead the great blue bowl of the sky bent over me. All around stood peaks and series of peaks with amethystine valleys between. To the north-west Mt Farnham reared its cathedral spire … eastward lay the fertile Columbia Valley and its lakes; and further east the sublime Rockies and their sentinels, Assiniboine, Goodsir, Stephen and Vaux, standing at attention.”17
It is a pretty good view.