McDonald Creek (flowing into Horsethief Creek)
Alternate spellings: MacDonald Creek
The creek name acknowledges McDonald’s brief presence in the creek valley, and is the most enduring record that survives of the mineral claims he staked there.
The origin of the name McDonald Creek is one of those mysteries that I had long since reconciled myself to never knowing. The name seemed to appear out of nowhere, and as “McDonald” is not a particularly unique name, it seemed impossible to speculate whether a “McDonald” mentioned as living/working in the valley was responsible for the name.
So I set McDonald Creek aside with a shrug and a “who knows” (this is not the only place residing in the “who knows” category – number one on that list is Dutch Creek).
But then I happened across a solitary newspaper article with an answer. The surname “McDonald” remains incredibly common, so I still have a lot of questions about this particular McDonald, but it’s a start. Brace yourself West Kootenay fans: he’s one of yours. But first, let’s take a closer look at how the creek likely came to be named.
McDonald Creek was given its name by a prospector who was, quite literally, just passing through. In August 1897, John D McDonald (or MacDonald), stopped by a newspaper office in Golden to inform the editor that, “He has just succeeded in locating some claims, which he thinks of great promise, about 15 miles up Horse Thief creek, in the Windermere division. He has called the group of claims “The MacDonald” group, and they are on a fork of the creek which he in his simple complacency has named in honor of himself – MacDonald Creek.”1 On August 2nd McDonald recorded two claims, the J.D. and the McDonald, at the Government Office in Windermere.2
This is the only trace I have been able to find of either one of these mining claims by name. I had hoped to find some record of their being transferred to another party, but no luck.
There are, roughly speaking, two possibilities for what happened to the J.D. and the McDonald. The first, with no evidence to support it, is that McDonald sold them off. The second is that McDonald allowed the claims to lapse, which opened the door for another party to re-stake them. This is a more probable scenario, and to understand why we need to take a moment to step into the boulder-field of early B.C. metal mining and examine how claims were staked.
A Short Summary of B.C. Mining
There were very specific rules in British Columbia legislation at the time as to how a prospector staked a mining claim. On paper, a prospector had to register their claim with the local Mining Recorder within fifteen days of staking it. If the claim was more than ten miles from the office an extra day was permitted for each extra ten miles.
Once a claim was recorded, the prospector was understood to have an annual lease of the land and mineral rights to that property, and in order to keep that lease the claim holder was required to do a certain amount of work on the property every year. This work, called “assessment work”, was also recorded with the local Mining Recorder. The amount of required annual work was understood to be the equivalent of $100, and there was a controversial provision in which the claim holder could pay that amount directly to the recorder in lieu of doing any work on the ground.
Beyond our current interest, but useful to note, is that after five years of annual assessment work (or a payment of $500) a claim was eligible to be awarded to the claim holder(s) via a Crown Grant. A Crown Grant gave ownership of the property to the holder(s), who was no longer required to do any annual work, but was required to pay taxes on the property.
But back to those initial stages of staking a claim. If the holder did not do either the assessment work or pay the $100, then the lease to the property was considered to have lapsed and it could be re-staked (or “relocated”) by another prospector. At times this rule was used strategically. If a prospector didn’t want to, or was unable to, do the annual assessment or to pay the fee, they could just let the claim lapse and relocate it. Doing so, however, opened the door to a claim being taken up by someone else.
Still, although prospectors might find the practice of relocation useful, it creates a bit of a tangle for historians. There was no official record made when a new claim was a relocation of an old one, so the same mining claim can (and does) re-appear in records under a new name, often with a different owner, and there is no way of knowing what the claim used to be called. It makes following the paper trail rather difficult.
But while the paper record may be difficult to trace, the situation back in the mountains was entirely different. Due to how a claim was required to be “staked” in the first place, it was next to impossible for a prospector to unknowingly relocate a claim (unless quite a bit of time had gone by).
This is because a prospector was required to literally “stake” their claim. A mining claim was (ideally) a rectangular or square piece of land, all right angles, that typically extended out on either side of a promising mineralized vein. The vein itself was marked by three posts, each not less than four feet high, that had to be squared on the sides. The “discovery post” was placed where the mineral was discovered, with Nos 1 and 2 posts being placed as close to the vein as possible along the the outer boundaries of the claim.
All three posts had to have on them the name of the claim, the name of the locator, and the date of location. The No 1 post also had to have an approximate compass bearing to the No 2 post, as well as how many feet to the right and left of the post was contained within the claim. If located in trees, the line between No 1 and No 2 posts had to be marked by blazed trees, and on mountainsides by earth or rock monuments at least two feet high.3
Why This Matters
So how does this apply to J.D. McDonald and the two claims he staked up McDonald Creek? On paper, these two claims were recorded at the Windermere Government Office in August 1897, then are never mentioned again. Again on paper, just over a year following these claims being staked, in September 1898, new claims are recorded on what is then called McDonald Creek. These claims are all presented on paper as fresh new discoveries but, as we’ve seen, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they were.
The first of these new 1898 claims is the most famous of the McDonald Creek claims: the Red Line Group, staked on 14 September 1898 by some combination of Ben Abel, Charles Watt, Wellington Kinnee, George Scott and Pete Larson (individual names on each claim varied somewhat).4 The Red Line Group initially consisted of three claims, two being located together in a basin (the Red Line No 1 and No 2), and a third just to the south on the other side of a small sub-peak (the Iron Cap – you can take a closer look at the locations of the claims on the map at the top of the post).
Another, lesser known, claim was staked in the McDonald Creek basin on 21 September 1898 by H Mathews (possibly Herbert Matthews).5 This was the Tecumseh, located at the head of McDonald Creek immediately to the south of the Iron Cap claim of the Red Line.6 This was accompanied by other even lesser known claims in the same vicinity that same September, including the White Elephant group in the same basin as the Red Line.7
But it was the Red Line Group that almost immediately prompted a flurry of excitement within mining circles. By that November, the site was bonded (mortgaged) for $50,000,8 and was re-bonded the following July (1899) for $100,000.9 Suddenly it was very profitable indeed to own a lease on a mining claim up McDonald Creek, and yet there is no mention of the original McDonald Group. This silence strongly suggests that the McDonald Group no longer existed, and if it no longer existed, that’s likely because the claims had been relocated.
So Where Did the McDoanld Group Go?
As to which claims were relocations of the McDonald Group, it’s very likely that they were two of the three claims of the Red Line Group. There is a slim possibility that one of the McDonald Group became the Tecumseh, but the timeline doesn’t quite match, as it doesn’t make much sense for prospectors to relocate one mining claim while leaving the other.
That the McDonald Group claims were relocated is supported both by the timing of the 1898 claims rush and their locations. In terms of timing, the claims in 1898 were staked just outside of a year following the location of the McDonald Group, meaning that there’s a decent chance the McDonald claims had lapsed.
As for their location, prospectors going into the McDonald Creek basin at the time arrived not up the creek from the Horsethief, but rather via a trail up Law Creek then up and over the divide.10 Depending on which route he took up from Law Creek, J.D. McDonald would have gone into either the basin in which the Red Line No 1 and No 2 were located (in the valley to the north of what is now Law SW4), or along the ridge just to the north of Red Line Peak, where the Tecumseh and Iron Cap were located. It is possible that McDonald ventured further down the creek, but unlikely considering that subsequent claims on McDonald Creek were much further down, closer to Horsethief Creek itself, and would have required a good deal of bush bashing to get to.
It is therefore likely that when prospectors in 1898 crossed over one of these divides they would have looked down and, it being above the timber line, had no problems spotting the four-foot high wooden posts that McDonald was required to have erected to mark the locations of his claims, interspersed with rock monuments to mark the line of each claim. Wherever the McDonald claims were located, they were rather impossible to miss.
It’s impossible to say whether the 1898 prospectors stumbled across the 1897 McDonald group, or whether they went over into the McDonald Creek drainage for the purpose of relocating McDonald’s properties. In all of the hype following the staking of the Red Line Group the original McDonald group, and the origin of the name McDonald Creek, is never mentioned. The claims are presented as a fresh new discovery, and the name “McDonald Creek” appears out of the blue.
But the name “McDonald Creek” is still used, and it had to come from somewhere. It could be that the prospector grapevine had already established the name before September 1898, according the McDonald’s own announcement following his explorations. It could also be that those 1898 prospectors saw the name “McDonald” on existing claim stakes and named the creek accordingly. Regardless, the creek name acknowledges McDonald’s brief presence in the creek valley, and is the most enduring record that survives of the mineral claims he staked there.
So Who Was McDonald?
As I said at the start, there are plenty of questions still to be asked about John D McDonald, but those familiar with West Kootenay history might recognize him by his (nick) name: Lardeau Jack. This is a situation where the nickname is both an advantage and a disadvantage to the historian. There are many J. D. McDonald (or Macdonald)’s, but there is only one Lardeau Jack.
As I couldn’t often verify that a J.D. McDonald mentioned in print was the right J.D. McDonald (the name is surprisingly common), this research is largely limited to mentions of the man by the nickname.
John D. McDonald was born August 1846 in Nova Scotia to parents David and Christina (or Christy Ann).11 Thanks to the commonality of the name “John McDonald” (even limited to those born in Nova Scotia circa 1846), this is about all that can be said about Lardeau Jack until he reappears in the Kootenays.
We don’t know exactly when McDonald came west. A much later record suggests that he was in the Kootenays as early as 1885,12 but this evidence is shaky. More reliable evidence from 1892 has him having gone prospecting and trapping “two years ago” up the Lardeau River.13 It’s very unclear if he became “Lardeau Jack” before or after this Lardeau River prospecting trip.
Even more firm evidence of McDonald’s presence in the Kootenays comes from his being listed on the 1891 Census as a resident of the Lower Kootenay and working as a silver quartz miner. Curiously, this record also has him married (this is the only mention of a marriage).14
Lardeau Jack became something of a legend in the West Kootenays. A later account places him and John Allen as hunting and trapping up Blue Ridge Creek, about ten miles west of what is now Kalso, in 1890, when they located the Beaver claim (among others). The following year, in August 1891, McDonald and Allen were accompanied to the claim by Andrew Jardine, who returned to Ainsworth with a very rich ore sample. That find prompted a number of prospectors to re-visit the Kaslo and Slocan area (previous visits had returned nothing),15 with the subsequent rush being responsible for the creation of the town of Kaslo and the thorough prospecting of the Slocan area.
A version of this story appears in Kaslo lore, that sometime in 1891 Jack, in a group of four that also included Andrew Jardine Sr, his brother Archie, and J[ack] Allen, walked from Ainsworth, “over the summit to what is 10 mile on the New Denver road. Here they found a showing of lead and copper which they staked [the Beaver Claim] and recorded in Ainsworth. This was the first claim staked in the Slocan and it started the great rush of prospectors.”16
With the mining rush and the creation of Kaslo by the Kaslo Townsite Company, McDonald made a land pre-emption just outside town limits. In November 1892 he announced his intention to put some of his land on the market as a townsite of his own.17 I don’t have access to a quick and dirty history of Kaslo, so I’m not sure the specifics of this, but in 1911 there was a townsite adjacent to Kaslo owned by J.M. Allen (possibly former partner Jack Allen), who installed a water system for residents taking water from Lardo Jack [sic] creek.18 In 1916 a break in the water supply pipe for Kaslo proper also prompted the entire city to rely on Lardo Jack creek for a time.19
A Wandering Prospector
But back to Lardeau Jack who, although arguably based out of Kaslo for the rest of his life, was a prospector who very much got around. In 1892 he and his partner, Jardine, were “putting in some hard licks” on the Beaver claim with hopes to ship ore (it’s unclear if they succeeded).20
This is only one of many claims in which McDonald was interested in. He had a long standing involvement in the Glengarry and/or Highland group, located north of the town of Trout Lake,21 and was later developed by a stock company with offices in Cody B.C.22
McDonald went further afield as well. In 1894-95 he spent some seven months prospecting around Fort Edmonton,23 followed later that year by his staking a claim on the west side of the lake from Vernon.24 In 1897 McDonald ventured over to the East Kootenay, visiting Wasa Creek, Elk River, Bull River, Moyie Lake, and Perry Creek, and locating two claims on Tracy Creek and one on the Elk River.25
It is while on this East Kootenay trip, on June 26, that McDonald reported his intention of travelling from Fort Steele to go up Toby Creek and over the divide to the Duncan River. This plan was altered to stake those claims on McDonald Creek, and then to venture north for a chat with the Golden newspaper editor. Later that year, in October 1897, he is reported as being back in Fort Steele, having come from the Elk River and on his way to Tracy Creek.26 He went on to sell at least one property on the latter.27
Of course, these are only the prospecting trips we know about: McDonald himself reported in 1897 as having, “been in almost every mining camp in West Kootenay, Camp McKenney, Cariboo, Slocan and Boundary Creek.”28 This does not seem to be much of an exaggeration, as he had a tendency to wander. In 1905 he was also living up in the Bella Coola district,29 and in 1906 had wandered up into the Skeena River area.30
McDonald’s timeline is somewhat confusing at this point, as he also appears back in Kaslo in 1906 (we’ll get to that story), but he seems to have firmly settled back in the Kaslo area in 1911, when he was back on the trail chasing a rush for new diggings.31 Fast forward to 1920 and McDonald was again back with Jack Allen and Andy Jardine working of the Beaver claim.32
Through all of this, McDonald continues to appear on the Canadian Census as living in Kaslo City, including in both 1911 and 1921 with his half sister, Margaret McKenzie.33
Lardeau Jack passed away on 13 January 1926 after having been found lying in the snow near his cabin after going out to cut wood. At that time his knowledge of the Slocan country was described as “unrivaled.”34 It should be noted, to avoid confusion, that McDonald got his nickname from his association with the Lardeau, and not the other way around (ie. Jack was named after the Lardeau, not that the Lardeau was named after Jack).35
As I said at the outset, there are a lot of outstanding questions about John D. McDonald, aka Lardeau Jack. I have not yet found evidence that he returned to the Windermere District after that one visit. Furthermore, as already mentioned, although the name “McDonald Creek” was rapidly adopted after the announcement of the Red Line discovery, there is no hint printed as to where the name came from. It is likely that prospectors knew who McDonald was, but this information was not widely shared and was eventually lost.
I have a feeling there is more printed out there about Lardeau Jack that I simply don’t have access to, so I will pass this one off to the West Kootenay experts. In the meantime, I came across a couple of stories about McDonald, one being rather dark, the other more amusing, so I’ll close off with those:
A Bit Dark
“We might mention a story told by McDonald which goes to show the attachment and affection these open-hearted prospectors have for one another. Lardeau Jack, as he is familiarly known, with a companion went up the Lardeau river two years ago prospecting and trapping, intending to remain through the winter, which proved to be a very severe one, a great deal of snow falling and compelling them to remain the greater part of the time inside their cabin. In the meantime Jack’s companion was taken sick, gradually getting worse, and at the end of six weeks died.
“So attached was Jack to his companion that even after dead he was loth to part with him and kept the body in the cabin, where he ate and slept, until he was finally compelled to bury it beneath the cabin floor. There now stands in place of the cabin a well kept grave enclosed with a neat picket fence, and I may venture to say that although away back in nature’s solitude no grave in the large cemeteries is watched with greater care or visited with deeper affection than that of Lardeau Jack’s companion.”36
As a summation of events at the Kaslo fair in 1906: “The bannock making contest was “out of sight.” There were four contestants, all prospectors, and each man had a sack of flour and wood in position for a fire when the signal to begin was sounded.
“Oh, the fun of it. Pat Maloney had a comfortable jag to help him along, and he got away badly by having to go among the crowd to borrow a match. Then he got going. He mixed his dough, washed his hand in the clean mixing water, and then discovered he had no frying-pan. … He espied a large flat rock, upon which he smurmed his paste, and then he put it to bake. After a while the crowd grew impatient for the bannocks to be cooked, so Pat… became the but of their jests. “Turn her over, Pat,” but the spongy-looking, smoke begrimed creation wouldn’t turn…
“In the meantime the other contestants paid strict attention to business, and one competitor submitted his effort to the judges, but it was too doughy. That made the ladies smile. Meanwhile “Lardeau Jack,” with a critical eye, was touching up his fire: a twig there, a shaving there, then a swift twirl with the handle of the pan, and the flap-jack spun in the air, was deftly caught again and triumphantly submitted to the judges. “Winner!” cried the Gold Commissioner Chipman, and the crowd gave vent to their pent-up feelings in a gigantic roar. ‘Twas a famous victory; for did not the champion’s title of BBB [Best Bannock Baker?] go with it, and didn’t the crowd know that a case of whiskey was the prize?”37
Hi Dale Steedman introduced me to your site and I read the part about Edmund Johnston and the mountain named after him. Ralph Johnston did a lot of research in getting this done and left me a copy before he passed. I am passing it on to you. Thanks for your site. Very interesting. I also have a portion of a diary that Ed kept and one that James Stuart Johnston kept as well. If you’re interested, I’ll start with this. Thanks, Deb Ron and Deb Weber
Nice post on your post!
Thanks dad 🙂