Geary Creek (flowing into Columbia River just south of Fairmont), Geary Creek Road
“‘I can’t tell you much about [George Geary], although I knew him well. He was a reserved fellow, never said much about himself but he lived for horses, they were his life.'”74
Geary Creek, located just south of Fairmont Hot Springs, is named after George Geary, who owned property near the mouth of the creek as well as in various other places in the valley.
There is not a lot known about Geary’s early life. He is mentioned in later accounts as having been born in Perth, Ontario,1 and census records from 1851 until 1871 show a George Geary living with his family just west of Perth in the township of Bathurst (now part of Tay Valley).2 The year of his birth varies widely depending on the source, ranging from c.1841 on the 1851 census,3 to c.1847 on the 1891 and 1901 censuses,4 and c.1843 on the 1871 and 1911 censuses.5 George Geary appears to be the youngest of three siblings through his father’s (Richard Geary’s) first marriage. His father remarried and had an additional seven children.6
George was living in his father’s household and working as a labourer at the time of the 1871 census, but he had left his father’s household before the census of 1881.7 It is unknown what he did between leaving home and when his name reappears, in British Columbia Public Accounts records for the fiscal period between July 1882 and June 1883, as part of a party engaged in “Explorations” in the Kootenay.8 His name appears again in the 1884-1885 fiscal year as a labourer up the Bull River.9 Later accounts have Geary arriving in the Kootenays as early as 1880,10 although his name does not appear on the 1881 census of the area.
Land Acquisitions in the Windermere Valley
Geary went on to have a variety of land and business interests in the East Kootenays. He was particularly adept at starting business ventures, leaving the day-to-day management to someone else (as a partner), and eventually selling the business outright to that partner. The one constant in his enterprises is that Geary kept a series of horse ranches, and became known as a horse breeder.
Geary is first mentioned as being in the Windermere Valley in a December 1886 newspaper report as one of two “energetic men” with ranches at what is now Fairmont Hot Springs.11 This ranch likely referred to what became District Lot 40, which is mentioned in another land application in February 1887,12 and for which Geary formally submitted a pre-emption application that September.13
Although Lot 40 is the first property in the area that Geary applied for, it is not the last. In January 1888, he also applied to purchase Lot 138,14 which now encompasses the commercial centre of Fairmont. He went on to pre-empt one more parcel of land near Fairmont, in January 1891, along the north-west shore of Columbia Lake (Lot 450).15
The Geary Ranch
Geary’s ownership of two separate properties (Lots 40 and 135) in close proximity to the hot springs at Fairmont results in some confusion when reading through early historical records. In at least two travelogues that recount made through the area in 1887, the authors mention stopping at Geary’s Ranch, which they report as being “the legitimate and licensed stopping place of the road,”16 and operated, “as a kind of hotel.”17
An easy assumption might be made (and I have made) that these early reports were referring to the stopping house operated by Geary and Samuel Brewer, and later just by Brewer, on Lot 138. The Brewer stopping house at Farimont went on to become at least locally famous. Look closer at the timeline, however, and events don’t quite add up. Geary didn’t purchase Lot 138 until January 1888, and a stopping house/ “hotel” wasn’t built on the property until later that spring.18
More likely the “Geary Ranch” mentioned in these 1887 travelogues referred to the authors’ stays on Geary’s Lot 40, which was then located on the “Main Trail” connecting Fairmont and Canal Flats. It is possible that this early tourist business prompted Geary to recognize the potential of a more formal stopping house/hotel closer to the hot springs itself, and to purchase Lot 138 (located on the wagon road) at least in part for the purpose of building such a business.
The Fairmont Stopping House
Geary spent an unknown amount of time at the Fairmont stopping house. On 1 April 1888 the first post office was established at Fairmont, with Geary as postmaster,19 and through the year 1888, both Brewer and Geary are referred to as “hosts” at the Lot 138 property.20 Geary resigned his position as postmaster at Fairmont Springs on 23 July 1889, however, and was replaced the following spring (1 April 1890) by Sam Brewer.21
At some time during this period, Geary sold his interest in the Fairmont stopping house, and the surrounding property of Lot 138, to Brewer. Dating this change is challenging. In the fiscal year between July 1887 and June 1888 Geary’s name appears alone as a payee in Public Accounts records as providing accommodation for law enforcement at Fairmont,22 while the following year (1888-1889) it is only Brewer’s name that is listed.23 The best we might say is that Geary probably left sometime in 1889, likely at around the same time as he resigned as postmaster.
From Fairmont to Windermere
Geary moved on to other ventures, and in the July 1890-June 1891 fiscal year, his name again appears in Public Accounts records as providing accommodation services, although this time it is out of Windermere and alongside James Stoddart.24
Geary’s shift from Fairmont to Windermere somewhat mirrors his time in Fairmont, as Geary’s roll in the Windermere business is again unclear. In 1891 he and Stoddart are noted as being the proprietors of, “a nice little hotel… with good accommodation,”25 and the 1892 British Columbia Directory (likely with information collected in 1891) lists the Hotel Windermere as being under the ownership of George Geary.26 Even a January 1895 cattle farming agreement in the British Columbia Gazette lists Geary as a hotel keeper (although this could have been of a different hotel – we’ll get to that).27
However, on the 1891 census, Geary is listed as lodging with James Stoddart, who is employed as a hotelkeeper, while Geary’s occupation is listed as a free miner.28 In addition, by 1893 Stoddart is noted by passers through as owning and operating the Windermere Hotel while Geary is, “the village blacksmith and mail carrier.”29 If we again follows the money in Public Accounts records, Stoddart’s name appears alone as a payee for providing accommodation in Windermere starting in the July 1892-June 1893 fiscal year.30 In short, it is likely that Geary provided early capital to the business, left the day-to-day operation to his partner, and was quite willing to be bought out.
Throughout this period living in the Windermere Valley, Geary continued to hold ranch property close to Fairmont Springs. In 1887 he is listed in the British Columbia Directory as a farmer,31 and in 1888 he is noted as keeping cattle and horses.32 By the time of the 1891 Directory he is perhaps more accurately described as a rancher.33
Geary continued to have varied interests as, in 1891, he is also listed as carrying mail between Golden and Windermere.34 He received the mail contract again in 1892 with, “a splendid new outfit.”35 There are also reports of Geary racing his horses in various local challenges, and he gained a respectable reputation for his horses.36
A Move South
Geary’s primary residence through to about 1891 seems to have been Fairmont, and from then through 1896 at Windermere, but in 1897 his business interests shifted further south. In January 1897 he purchased an interest in the Fort Steele livery business previously owned by Freeman and Little, following Little’s retirement.37
Freeman and Geary seem to have worked together for much of the year,38 but in October Geary began listing advertisements as sole owner of the livery stable, and in November issued a notice, “that no partnership ever existed or now exists between Frank Freeman and [myself].”39 This apparent contradiction is never explained.
Geary’s move to Fort Steele was permanent, and in March 1898 he advertised to rent out the “Geary Hotel and Farm” in Windermere.40 The purchasers, John H. Taynton and Hugh G. Gordon, opened up the Lakeside Hotel on the premises.41 As is often the case, it is unclear the extent to which the “Geary Hotel” operated out of Windermere. The Windermere Hotel (owned by Stoddart) was separate, although that 1895 cattle agreement with Geary listed as a hotel keeper might refer to this.
A Livery Business
Meanwhile, Geary expanded his stables and livery business into Cranbrook, opening up “The Palace” on Norbury Ave (10th Ave) in August 1898,42 before purchasing a lot on Hanson Ave (now 8th Ave; Lot 24 in Block 91) and setting up a stables there.43
Geary’s livery business was broad. The stables themselves provided teams, single rigs, saddle horses, and pack animals, as well as stabling of other mounts.44 Geary also successfully applied in December 1898 for the contract to carry mail between Windermere and Fort Steele,45 and he put on a passenger stage coach both between Fort Steele and Cranbrook,46 and later between Cranbrook and Kimberley.47 Later still, a stage route was briefly advertised between Fort Steele, Windermere, and Peterborough (Wilmer).48
Initially Geary seems to have managed the Fort Steele part of the business himself, while hiring a separate manager to take care of the Cranbrook stables.49 Then, in July 1899, Geary sold out an interest in the business to Al Doyle, with Doyle “tak[ing] charge of the business.”50 Reading between the lines, it seems that Doyle took over direct management of the Fort Steele branch, as well as indirect control of the Cranbrook branch.51
The livery business continued to do well and to expand, with an addition made to the barn in Cranbrook in 1899/1900 that doubled their stable capacity.52 Geary and Doyle went on to buy out a competitor in Cranbrook later that same year.53 It wasn’t until November 1907, as Geary was suffering from ill health, that Geary and Doyle dissolved their partnership and Doyle took over the entirety of the business.54
To some extent this 1907 purchase by Doyle of the entirety of the livery business was a formality, as once again Geary seems to have taken a hands off approach and left the day-to-day management to Doyle ever since Doyle had bought into the business in July 1899. That autumn (1899), Geary is described in newspapers as being, “formerly of Fort Steele, but now of Peterborough [Wilmer]”,55 and he spent a good deal of time prospecting in the Windermere Valley.
Among these mining ventures, Geary was a partner in locating a group of claims in the Paradise basin known as the Garland Group,56 although he sold out his half-interest shortly after the discovery.57 He was also one of the original owners of the Mineral King claim on Toby Creek,58 and had properties on both Bruce and Horsethief Creeks.59 Outside of the Valley, Geary also, “did considerable prospecting in the Bull River district.”60
Meanwhile, Geary continued to own his ranch property near Columbia Lake, and in 1901 is reported to have made a large sale of 100 horses, “or all the bunch of the Armstrong range at Columbia Lake” to be sent to Dublin, Ontario (or perhaps to Pincher Creek).61 Just over a year later a further 30 horses were sold to be shipped to the Northwest Territories (later Alberta/Saskatchewan).62
Despite Geary’s continued financial involvement in the Windermere Valley, the bulk of his investments remained in the Fort Steele area. In March 1898, he pre-empted a property (Lot 3061) just north of Fort Steele,63 where he set up yet another horse ranch. The 1901 Canadian Census places Geary in the Fort Steele area with a household that included a groom and a servant.64 Geary and Doyle also continued to diversify their interests, and in 1903 they purchased timber limits in the Fort Steele area and set up a series of logging camps.65
Geary suffered the first of a series of health events in 1905, when he was in hospital for about two months following, “an attack of appendicitis.”66 Another health setback put Geary back in the hospital in March 1908, this time, “suffering from neuralgia.”67 He was back in the hospital again in 1915, this time in serious condition with a newspaper note, “that he is holding his own and there is a fighting chance to save his life.”68 He recovered, and in July 1917 was supervising a road gang near Fort Steele.69 He continues to be noted in Public Accounts records in the Fernie/Cranbrook districts through to the 1919-1920 fiscal year.70
George Geary passed away on 8 February 1921 at the St Eugene hospital near Cranbrook, and is buried at Fort Steele.71
Remembrances of Geary following his death were generous, although somewhat sparse on details. He was, “greatly respected, and all who knew him speak well of him as a man of kindly disposition and of sterling worth.” The same author notes that, “his life story, could it have been obtained in full, would have proved intensely interesting.”72
It is unfortunate that his life story was not recorded as, without any children or family in the area, there is not a whole lot recorded about Geary, and a many gaps in information about his life. On one hand, “George [knew] every old timer in the country,”73 and “they all knew him,” but on the other hand, “[They] all … say much the same, ‘I can’t tell you much about him, although I knew him well. He was a reserved fellow, never said much about himself but he lived for horses, they were his life.'”74
According to a much later remembrance of Geary, “It is said of him that he would rarely sell a horse. When he was approached with a view to a sale, the horse would immediately increase in value beyond the financial means of the would-be purchaser. Not because Geary was trying to strike a bargain but because he could not bear to part with his horses.”75 We know from records that this isn’t precisely true, that Geary did sell his horses at times, but this is the closest glimpse into his personality that I was able to find.
The name “Geary Creek” appears on an undated survey map of Geary’s Lot 40 pre-emption, and seems to have been the accepted place name ever since.