Delphine Creek, Delphine Glacier, Mount Delphine, Delphine Hotel, Delphine Avenue
“Mr. Starke called the property [Delphine Mine] after me. I was in the habit of going to the property with him before the trails were even cut. I was about the first white woman to go to the Selkirks and my trips often occasioned surprise.”6 (Delphine Starke, 1918)
Delphine Starke (née Francour) is the namesake for a number of geographic features up Toby Creek, as well as the world-famous-in-the-valley Delphine Hotel in Wilmer.
For a name affiliated with a long-time local resident, I was unable to find as much as I had hoped about Delphine’s early life. We know that she was born in November in Quebec, but we don’t know exactly what year:1 on the 1901 and 1911 Canadian census, Delphine reports her birth as being in November of either 1864 or 1869 respectfully.2 I was also unable to confirm any listing for Delphine on a census previous to 1901, although it is possible that she is listed in 1871 as Delima Francour (born 1862) and in 1881 as Delvina Francour (born 1861 and living in Fraserville, Témiscouata, Quebec).3
According to Delphine’s brief obituary she, “was a true pioneer woman and accompanied her husband on many hazardous trips through the mountains in connection with his mining interests.”4 A statement shared by Edmund T Johnston in 1922 goes a little bit further. Johnston was one of the first settlers in the Valley, and in a conversation with reporter Benjamin Richard Atkins, he identified Delphine as the “first white woman prospector in the Kootenays.”5
According to a letter written by Delphine herself to Basil G Hamilton in 1918:
Living in the Valley
We get a marginally clearer picture of Delphine after the couple moved to the Valley. While living in Wilmer, Delphine was involved in the establishment of the first Windermere District Hospital, as well as in helping to organize Christmas entertainment for the children of Wilmer.7 When Delphine left the Valley in April 1918, it was remarked that, “with the departure of Mrs Starke it may truly be said that a place has been left vacant which in time and generation it will be very difficult to fill.”8
There are some further glimpses into Delphine’s skills and personality. A special note in the local newspaper after the New Years Eve Ball of 1903/04 remarked that “perhaps the most enjoyable” of the dances that night, “was the ‘duck dance’ led by Mr Baptiste Morigeau and Mrs Starke.”9
Delphine also had a steady eye with a rifle. She was one of the women involved in the organization of the Ladies Rifle Association in the Windermere District, started in 1904, and it was due to her shooting on Dominion Day (Canada Day) that year that the women beat the men by two points. According to the newspaper:
George and Delphine adopted their daughter, Kathleen Gwen Riblet, in 1909, changing her name to May Graham Starke.11
Why the Windermere Valley?
Delphine and her husband, George, settled in the Windermere Valley in about 1897 and stayed there for about twenty years. In part this decision on location was due to George’s history with the area. George Starke was also from Quebec, however he lived in the Windermere Valley possibly by 1884 and certainly by 1888. Edmund T. Johnston, the owner of the stopping house at Hog Ranch (Parsons), recalled George Starke working with him there in 1884, and Starke later became the first operator of the first hotel at Windermere (Starke is the confirmed operator in 1888).12 Later in 1888 Starke took up residence in the Golden area, and by 1891 he operated one of three hotels in Field.13 Starke sold that property in 1892.14
In addition to working in hospitality, George was an avid prospector, locating claims on Toby Creek as early as 1888, including possibly the Jumbo Claim (with Rosamund and Kirkpatrick).15 He also had claims with Archie McMurdo in the International Basin up the Spillimacheen River.16
The Delphine Mine
George Starke had a reputation for making various “good strikes” but the Delphine claim up the North Fork of Toby Creek (later Delphine Creek) was the most productive that he was associated with. George purchased the claim in 1897 from its original locator, Baptiste Morigeau, and named it the Delphine in honour of his wife.17
The property itself was located towards the head of the creek valley at an approximate height of 6,900 feet (2,100 metres).18 It was a grey copper/galena ore property with a large (3 foot wide) lead. By the following year, in 1898, Starke co-owned the Delphine claim with Rufus A Kimpton and Arthur Harrison, and it was declared as, “one of the best things… in the district.”19
Assays of the quality of ore from the property were very good, so much so that the owners decided that profits would be enough to pay the high costs of shipping. They soon had at least thirty horses packing ore out to the Columbia River.20 This was a feat in itself, as the mine was on a steep hill above the creek valley about twenty miles from the Salmon Beds (Athalmer). At this time there was an unmaintained pack road going up the Toby Creek, but no officially formed trail going up the 6-8 miles of the North Fork of Toby Creek to the Delphine claim itself.21
About 20 tons of ore were taken out as a trial shipment to Kaslo in 1898, however due to low water in the river, that shipment had to be held over until spring.22 Work on the mine under the direction of George Starke continued through the winter, and in June 1899 the Delphine shipped its first load of 359 sacks of high grade galena ore to the smelter at Trail. At the time this was celebrated as, “the first [ore] shipped in the Windermere District.”23 The truth of this claim depends on the definition of a “shipment”, as small amounts of ore had previously been taken out as trial or test shipments from other mines. Nonetheless, the returns from the smelter came to $103, giving a profit after charges of $70 per ton. These results were deemed to be, “so good that the owners… believe they have a mine.”24
The success of that first shipment attracted the attention of the mining syndicate owned by Osler & Hammond, and in September 1899 Kimpton, Harrison and Starke sold out a three-quarter interest in the mine for $35,000.25 The remaining forth interest remained with the former owners, and management of the mine was taken over by Robert Randolph Bruce, the syndicate’s local representative.
Within a month of the sale Arthur Harrison, one of the three original owners, had sold out his interest and gone to Ottawa to visit family over the winter.26 Starke also sold out his interest, possibly by the end of that year, and certainly within the first months of 1900, leaving Kimpton alone holding the one-quarter interest.27
Under Bruce, the three claims of the mine, the Delphine, the 616, and the Eureka, were officially surveyed to obtain a Crown Grant.28 At its height the property had a significant amount of development, including cabins, ore-sorting sheds, and a blacksmith shop.29 A five mile (eight kilometre) sleigh road was also built to bring ore from the mine to Toby Creek.30 A further seven carloads of ore were taken out to the Columbia River for shipment.31
There were some unspecified complications in ownership and development later in 1900 and into 1901, stalling production at the mine.32 After these were resolved, small amounts of ore continued to be shipped between 1902 and 1905, totalling about 150 tons.33 Although the claim had been lucrative for a time, work at the property stalled as the vein of high quality ore ran out. This was not an uncommon problem in mining properties in the Windermere Valley. With few exceptions, when bodies of high quality ore were found they tended to be pocketed and not very large. The property was re-examined much later in 1951 and again in 1963, but when a new adit was drilled in 1964, it uncovered only a very narrow and scattered vein without enough mineralization to warrant further development.34 All of the good ore from the Delphine had been removed.
The Delphine Hotel
The early success of the Delphine Mine had a longer term impact for George and Delphine Starke. Just months after the townsite of Peterborough (later Wilmer) was put on the market, and weeks after a majority interest in the Delphine Mine was sold to Osler & Hammond, George Starke used his profits from the Delphine mine to build a hotel, which he also named after his wife.35 The Delphine Hotel was soon in operation and became something of an institution in the area.
On a grim note, in its first year of operation, the Delphine Hotel was the scene of Peterborough’s first murder. In October 1900 Arthur Dando, nicknamed the Banjo Kid, was shot to death by Fred Collins.36
In 1901 the Starkes built an addition to the hotel, including new pool rooms, which proved to be very popular.37 The hotel was the site for various gatherings. During one banquet held in 1902 to celebrate Captain Francis P Armstrong having successfully brought the steamboat North Star through the canal at Canal Flats, the attendees followed the general practice in the Kootenays at the time of having first a toast to His Majesty (at that time King Edward), followed immediately by a toast to the President of the United States.38 The duel toast was common, as was it also typical for venues to be decorated with a mix of Union flags and the stars and stripes.
Delphine and George lived in Wilmer in “The Green Villa,” a little log house with a lovely garden and a latticed summer house. They also had one of the best orchards in Wilmer.39 To aid in the operation of the hotel, the Starkes established a water system which pumped water up from a well and into a large water tank behind their house.40 From that tank, measuring about thirty feet high, water supplied the Starke residence, the hotel, and the local general store.41 A couple of years later, the water system had been extended to supply private houses at 50 cents a month, and was also connected to a fire hydrant. 42
There was discussion in 1903 about a new Delphine Hotel being built, however it is unknown if this was ever completed.43 Regardless, George and Delphine had left the Delphine Hotel by 1909 to be taken over by Allan “Al” Moore.44 Under Moore, the old Wilmer Hotel building was added to the Delphine, turning the two hotels “into one large and commodious hostelry capable of catering in the more ample way for all the needs of travellers and residents in the valley.”45 The hotel remains standing in Wilmer.
As Time Goes On
After leaving the Delphine Hotel, George operated the Columbia Hotel in Athalmer for a time.46 Then, in 1911, George was recruited to manage the Invermere Hotel (formerly the Canterbury Hotel) in the new tourist town of Invermere. The hotel had eleven bedrooms with an addition added to bring that up to twenty-three, and was promoted as, “one of the finest [hotels] in the country, being on a level with any of the C.P.R. hotels in British Columbia.”47
In 1917, George contracted pneumonia while on a fishing trip and never fully recovered.48 The family moved to Victoria in the hopes that the change in climate would help, but George passed away on 11 January 1918 at the age of 62.49
Delphine and her daughter May returned to the Windermere Valley briefly after George’s death, as in April 1918 Delphine was presented with a sterling silver card case by the members of the Invermere Golf and Country Club for her contributions to the club. At that time, Delphine and May intended to live in Vancouver, however within a short time they had moved back to Delphine’s home province of Quebec.50 May was then ten years old.
In November 1921 Delphine passed away from cancer, leaving behind her thirteen year old daughter.51 Delphine’s estate was managed by Colonel John Stoughton Dennis, Chief Commissioner of the CPR’s Colonization and Development Department, and through Dennis May was given an allowance of sixty dollars per month for her rent and living expenses. Around this time May also changed her name to Marie Kathleen Starke.52
Sometime after 1926 Marie visited the Valley where she met George Williamson, whom she married on 22 June 1929. As many of the older residents of the area already knew her as May, she became known as May Williamson, and she and her family lived in the area until 1958 when the family moved to Ontario. May passed away in January 1997.53
The name of Delphine Creek, previously the North Fork of Toby Creek, was in use by 1916 and officially adopted in 1917 in association with the Delphine mineral claim, which for a time was the most widely known claim up that creek. Delphine Glacier (previously known as Tilbury Glacier) was identified as such on a 1911 trip into the area by Canadian Alpine Club members, and Delphine Mountain was adopted in 1917.54