Paddy Ryan Lakes
“Paddy had some peculiarities, but he has a heart in him that is bigger than the average and as gentle and kind as a child’s.”19
There are a few parts to this post as research both stalled and took me in unexpected directions. We’ll start with who Paddy Ryan was and how he got his name, then summarize his time in the Valley, and finally go through some of the unanswered questions about his identity. To close out, there is a longer than expected history of Paddy Ryan Lakes, named after Paddy Ryan, and now Invermere’s domestic water supply. This was new ground for me, and I wanted to share what I was able to learn!
Who Was Paddy Ryan?
Paddy Ryan is the nickname given to John H Harris, who first arrived in the valley in the 1880s. I was unable to find any information about Harris either before his arrival in the valley, or after he left (1909). Research into Harris outside of the valley context is made complicated by his common name (John Harris), a lack of consistency in the records for other personal information about him (date/place of birth), and the unexplained switch in the early 1900s when Harris began going by the name “John H Walsh” instead of “John H Harris”.
For the sake of consistency, and because all early sources use the name “John H Harris”, that is the name I will default to. However, it’s important to note that I have been unable to establish either the name he was born with, or that he died with. The identity of Paddy Ryan remains a mystery.
The first trace we have of a John Harris in the valley is as a labourer on St Mary’s Creek Bridge near Fort Steele in the period from July 1882 and June 1883.1 This roughly matches with later reports that Harris arrived in the valley with Samuel Brewer and Robert Jackson (Tenas Bob) in 1883.2
Harris went on to apply for a land pre-emption just outside of Windermere in August 1885 (Lot 1093).3 He and Robert Jackson – known locally as Tenas Bob (Tenas is Chinook for ‘small’) – worked the farm together for the next twenty years.
Harris was widely known during his time in the valley by his nickname, Paddy Ryan. As the story goes, Harris got this name as the result of events at a dance in Golden sometime before January 1888 (January 1888 is when the first record has been found identifying John Harris as Paddy Ryan).4
For some context, in the 1880s, Patrick “Paddy” Ryan was a well-known Irish-American boxer. Ryan had become the bare-knuckle American heavyweight champion in May 1880, only to lose that title in a widely reported and very dramatic contest with John L Sullivan in February 1882. Ryan was older, taller, and lighter but was knocked out after nine rounds and twenty minutes. As the contest was remembered, “no one ever thought that [Sullivan] would win the battle, or that any living man could whip [Paddy] Ryan.”5
Keeping that popular culture in mind, back at the dance in Golden, John H Harris “fancied himself a fighter and on this particular night, we are told, being well lubricated, all his belligerent instincts were in high gear, and he was ready to challenge the world. John L Sullivan was not available to accept his challenge but a buxom young woman who said her name was Sullivan offered to pinch-hit for the famous fighter. Egged on by the dancers the two agreed to put on a show, the floor was cleared, a ring was formed, and the battle was one. It was a good fight and the feminine Sullivan emerged victorious. Then and there she nicknamed John … “Paddy Ryan.””6
Time in the Valley
There is some evidence that, soon after settling in the Windermere area, John Harris saw little reason to leave. A 1909 newspaper article conveys his reaction to seeing a train locomotive for the first time since watching the early trains pass through Golden in the 1880s. As it is recorded, “For a moment he was disappointed at the size of the smoke stack, until, as he phrased it, “I found out that in the old days and engines were all smoke stack and no boiler while now they are all boiler and no smoke stack. Why the little dinky affairs I saw in the old days at Golden wouldn’t make studding for one of those big wallopers you have here now.””7
Harris spent most of his time in the Windermere Valley farming near Windermere in partnership with Robert Jackson. That partnership came to an end in September 1905 when Harris and Jackson sold their Windermere ranch to Herbert Carlyle Hammond, then part owner of the Paradise Mine.8 The newspaper report of the impending sale of the ranch is the first record I have found of Harris being identified as John Walsh,9 although the same newspaper continues to use the name Harris in subsequent articles.10
Initial reports following this sale state that Harris intended to move out of the valley and take up a ranch near Sheep Creek (it’s unclear where this is referring to, although possibly near Salmo).11 This plan soon changed, however, as just weeks later Harris is reported as paying $1,300 “for a practically unimproved ranch,” on Goldie Creek, consisting of 320 acres formerly owned by Isaac Nolan (Lot 7156),12 and another 320 acres purportedly owned by his brother Eric (Lot 7157). Harris filed a pre-emption for Eric’s Lot 7157 on 15 November 1905 under the name J.H. Walsh.13
A year later, Paddy Ryan applied to purchase another piece of land (what became known as Lot 8369) immediately to the north of the other properties, again under the name John H Walsh. This third lot is adjoining what are now known as Paddy Ryan lakes.14
Harris did not spend very long on his new property. In November 1909, when he was reported as having seen trains again for the first time in years, he was also reported to be leaving the valley, “for a short visit to Hamilton, Ontario.”15 I was unable to find any record that he returned.
Right before he left, Paddy Ryan commented on the changes he had seen in the Windermere Valley, remarking that, “The Windermere country has changed more during the last year than it did in the twenty years before it. Very few of the old timers remain. They all sold out when they got the chance. Changes are coming – the railway and so on. Maybe it is just as well. Perhaps we could not content ourselves with the changes.”16
As indicated, there is very little biographical information that we can confirm about John H Harris, aka John H Walsh, aka Paddy Ryan. Even as he lived in the valley the historical record of his life is filled with inconsistencies.
In the 1891 Canadian census John Harris is recorded as being born in Ontario c.1862 with an English father and Scottish mother. He is also recorded as being of the Church of England.17
Ten years later, in the 1901 census, John Harris is not listed as living in the Windermere Valley under any of his known pseudonyms. Instead, a “John Ryan” is listed as the head of household living with Robert Jackson: it is known that Harris and Jackson lived together, so this John Ryan likely referred to Harris. To make the confusion even more confusing, John Ryan is listed as being born in Ontario 20 February 1858 with an Irish origin and Roman Catholic religion – something of a departure from the entry a decade before.18
The one consistency to records of Harris during his time in the valley is that he continues to be listed in entries to the British Columbia Directory as John H Harris, even after he began using the name John Walsh.19 These directory entries of John Harris (or John H Harris) go back as far as 1887.20
We do not know what happened to Paddy Ryan after he left in 1909. It is unknown where or when he passed away.
Even setting aside biographical details, there is surprisingly little recorded about the activities and personality of Paddy Ryan. He appears with some frequency as a character in local histories, but typically only as a name and rarely with any depth. The nearest thing to an insight into what Paddy Ryan was like comes from a 1905 local newspaper report reading, “Paddy had some peculiarities, but he has a heart in him that is bigger than the average and as gentle and kind as a child’s.”21 We will have to be content with that.
The (Nick) Name Lives on
The name “Paddy Ryan” is somewhat infamous, at least in the Invermere area, because the Paddy Ryan lakes are the source of Invermere’s water supply. Like Paddy Ryan the person, the Paddy Ryan lakes also have a somewhat convoluted history. There is definitely more to this story that could be told with access to more sources (which I do not currently have), but here in broad strokes:
When John Harris initially purchased the lot alongside what is now Paddy Ryan lakes, it is likely that these lakes looked more like sloughs or grassy meadowlands. It is only after Harris left that the “lakes” began to be used for water storage.
In November 1910 the town of Invermere was created as a tourist town and showpiece for the Columbia Valley Irrigated Fruit Lands settlement scheme. As part of the company’s development, they at some point dammed what is now Abel Creek to create a series of lakes to act as a water reservoir (Paddy Ryan lakes). The company supplemented the water from Abel Creek by diverting water from Goldie Creek, then put in a system of ditches and pipes to carry water down from the lakes to Invermere.22 This is why what is now 13th Ave was, for years, known as “Pipeline Road” then, “Waterway Drive.”23
This water system (the history of which would make for a very interesting study) remained the source of Invermere’s water until the village was incorporated in 1951. Upon incorporation a well was dug to provide water for the town.24 A second well was later added. I was unable to find any description as to the location of these wells – perhaps someone more knowledgeable remembers?
By this time (the 1950s), Paddy Ryan lakes were at least six small connected lakes that, after fish were introduced in 1931, had become a popular recreation spot.25 Beaver were also introduced into the lakes at around the same time as Invermere switched to relying on well-water.26
It did not take long before the Invermere well-water supply became a problem. By 1960 the two wells supplying Invermere’s water were incapable of keeping up with the rapidly increasing population and development of the town.27 With insufficient water, development in Invermere was essentially stalled – prospective businesses and houses did not have access to enough water to operate. The system also introduced a number of additional problems including the cost of pumping water up from the wells, the difficulty of having adequate water on hand in case of fires, the reliance on electricity to operate the water system, and the replacement costs of the pumping machinery.28
As an alternative to the well system, the village again looked towards a gravity fed water system from Paddy Ryan Lakes.29 The proposal took some time to investigate and gain approval. A December 1960 plebiscite was in favour of the proposal, and negotiations were begun with the provincial Water Rights branch to get a license to take water from the lakes.30
There were some differences to the proposed new system as compared to the old CVI water system. For one, the water was to be piped into town in an entirely closed system, as opposed to the old system that used a combination of pipes and ditches. Fencing around the water supply was also called for to prevent human or animal contamination, and as the storage capacity of the lakes was insufficient to supply the town, options were explored to increase the storage volume.31 A second by-law, authorizing the construction required to change Invermere’s water supply over to Paddy Ryan lakes, was passed in a 30 June 1965 vote.32
This new water system once again changed the landscape of Paddy Ryan Lakes. The isolation of the lakes from animal and human interference ended their use as a popular outdoor and fishing spot. The project also called for extensive construction. About fifteen acres of land at the lakes was cleared, and the lakes themselves were drained and cleaned, with four earth dams constructed to once again raise the water level. The lowest lake was raised about eight feet, with the lower end of this lake being created from what had previously been meadowland. As had been the case with the earlier system, water was again diverted into the lakes from Goldie Creek, although this time a pipe was used rather than an open ditch. This diversion license initially allowed for 1.5 million gallons a day to be taken from Goldie Creek.33
The water system was brought into use in June 1966,34 and was intended to be sufficient for at least twenty years. That life expectancy has since reached fifty-five years, and has been expanded to supply an ever growing tourist town. In about 2007, for example, the District of Invermere took 4,265,842 cubic meters of water from Goldie Creek in the year, an increase of 42% compared to the amount permitted in the initial 1965 water license.35 From my own experience (I grew up on Goldie Creek), the water level in Goldie Creek has decreased noticeably since my earliest memories (about 1995).
Did You Know?
One more interesting detail about Paddy Ryan Lakes is that the different lakes used to have separate names. In the 1930s (before the current expansion) the lowest lake was Lake Marion, above which was Lake Allison, and which was itself separated by a dam to Lake Gordon and possibly Lake Audrey.36 The very poor quality and cut off photo that I have of a 1933 map held in the Windermere Valley Museum and Archives also shows a Lake David and possibly (hard to make out) a Lake Florence. The presence of so many separate bodies of water, compared to the three identifiable lakes today, indicates how much the water level has been raised since then. All of these early names are local with unknown origins, and as far as I know they are no longer in use (please correct me if I’m wrong!).