Galena School Road (Spillimacheen), Galena Street (Windermere), Galena (community, historical)
Galena was a long-standing way point in the Windermere Valley, existing from about 1889, until it was abruptly replaced by Spillimacheen in 1946.
Located on the Columbia River just 1.5 miles south of Spillimacheen, the settlement of Galena was established on 1 July 1889 when a post office was opened there under the operation of Peter McIntyre. Just three months later George McMillan was appointed as postmaster, and the Galena post office operated out of his ranch for the next two decades (until January 1909).1
Given the close proximity between Galena and Spillimacheen, it is likely this post office that explains the existence of Galena. There was already a steamboat landing and river crossing located at Spillimacheen, and in a place with very few settlers, having another named “settlement” in such close proximity to an already established point is strange. It would have made more sense for the new post office to be opened with the name “Spillimacheen”.
Unfortunately for the early prestige of Spillimacheen, there was little agreement as to how to spell the word, and there was already a post office established at the similarly named “Spallumcheen” in the Okanagan. In a world before postal codes, where letters were addressed only by the town name and province, it would be next to impossible to differentiate between mail intended for Spallumcheen B.C. and Spillimacheen B.C. (see post on Spillimacheen).
Enter an alternate and far easier-to-spell name for a post office in the Windermere Valley: Galena. The name itself comes from the name of a well-known ore at the time, galena, or lead sulphide (PbS). Galena ore is the main ore from which lead can be extracted, and can also contain from one to two percent silver as a byproduct, adding to its value. Galena was the dominant ore that was prospected and mined for in the Purcell Mountains of the Windermere Valley.
Among the sites mining galena were those on Spillimacheen Mountain (first staked 1884) and the claims on Jubilee Mountain that later became Giant Mine (or Silver Giant or Giant Mascot). In the excitement following the discovery of the Jubilee Mountain claims in 1888,2 it would have made sense to name a post office “Galena” to boost the area’s credibility as a mining centre.
Settlement at Galena
For a place named after a rock, however, Galena remained strongly entwined with ranching and farming. George McMillan, the postmaster for many years, had a ranch including eighty acres of meadow lands.3 Other settlers nearby included a 180 acre ranch owned by Neil McRae and 320 acres by William Botfield. Tom Pirie also owned a cattle ranch (Lot 1903) just south of Galena, and it was on this property that the first Presbyterian church in the valley was built (in 1896).4 A schoolhouse was also completed for Galena in 1904.5
For some fifty-five years there was little differentiation between Galena and Spillimacheen. If people were to post a letter they would have to send it to Galena, but if they wanted to step off the train (after 1910) they would do so some 1.5 miles down the road at the Spillimacheen railway station. A resident of the area might interchangeably report living in Galena or Spillimacheen, seemingly depending on their preference.
The situation was only resolved after the Second World War, when the name “Galena” was quietly dropped in preference to just using “Spillimacheen” to refer to the whole area, post office included. By this time Spallumcheen had become far less important, and the mines at Spillimacheen were expanding their operations. The name Galena remains only in reference to the Galena School Road just south of Spillimacheen, and you have to go looking to find it.