Botts Channel (Brisco), Botts Lake
Bott’s “problems seemed to wear on his mind. He was frequently heard to shout across the valley, perhaps to hear his own echo.”29
William George Bott, long time resident of the Brisco area, remains a surprisingly obscure character, despite his long residence here.
An Unknown Family
Sources agree that Bott was born in Ontario, possibly in Ottawa to George and Mary Bott,1 but they disagree as to when. Various dates can be found including 8 June 1861,2 sometime in April 1863,3 or perhaps in June 1866.4
I could find no trace of Bott (by the name William George Bott, or some variation) in either birth records or census records in Ontario, and the name “George Bott” (possibly his father) is too generic, even limiting the search to Ottawa, to confirm the presence of his family there.
I was able to find one mention of a presumed relative visiting William while he was living in the valley: in June 1901 a Mr George Bott of Ottawa passed through Golden on his way to Galena (Brisco).5 This George Bott could have been his father or a brother.
Early Years in the Kootenays
The first mention found in local records of William Bott is in August 1887, when he is mentioned in a newspaper as opening a butcher store in Golden.6 This is followed, during the fiscal year of 1887-1888, by WG Bott providing meals and a bed for a constable in Golden.7 This expense (providing meals and bed) in public accounts records often indicates that the payee is operating a hotel or stopping house, but this is not necessarily the case.
Down to Brisco
On 7 January 1889, William Bott filed a pre-emption for 311 acres of land of what became Lot 2563, located on the west bank of the Columbia River just south of where Salmon River (now Templeton River) empties into it.8 Indeed, Bott would regularly give his address as “Salmon River.”9 This land, “was flat with open meadows fringed with trees and Bott raised horses and put up a lot of hay that he sold … in Golden.”10
On the original sketch survey of the lot, filed with his pre-emption, Bott notes the presence of a “Spring Creek” just south of the property, which flowed through the centre of the lot to form a slough. This slough came with its own problems. In 1894, Bott submitted a report to the province’s Department of Agriculture discussing the agricultural potential of the area. According to Bott, “Small fruits do well. I recommend mixed farming with dairying for this locality. The valley is well adapted for a creamery. … I consider that the Government should encourage dyking along the Columbia River, as at present the swamp lands are useless except as a hot-bed for breeding mosquitoes.”11
Bott’s neighbour, Daniel Campbell, in his own submission to the Department of Agriculture at the time, mentions that grasshoppers had “destroyed” all of Bott’s crop the previous year, but he is also less militant against the mosquitoes. In discussing the pest, Campbell notes that, “They doubtless make a breeding ground on his [Bott’s] ranch, as they do not appear to any alarming degree anywhere else in the country. His farm is in a rather isolated place on what is called Salmon River, west side of Columbia River, a tract of beautiful land some 200 or 300 acres in extent.”12
Pests aside, the location of Bott’s property alongside the river made it productive for farming. When George Mitchell arrived in 1897 he, “was amazed at the crops,” and Bott reportedly called his ranch, “El Dorado.”13 His ranch was also rather isolated, however, particularly in the early years, which may explain why I have been unable to find his name on the 1891 Canada Census (another explanation is that he was spending some time outside of the valley when the census was enumerated).
While Bott self-identified as a farmer,14 he also found odd work elsewhere, likely to help make ends meet (farmers in the valley often took outside jobs where they could get them). In 1890 he is noted as being foreman on work done on the “McMurdo Trail”, going up to mining properties up the Spillimacheen River.15 He was also part of a labour team for a week doing work on a bridge over Bugaboo Creek, sometime in 1893/1894,16 and did thirty-two days of labour for the province’s public works (on an unspecified project) in 1899/1900.17
In spring 1906 he and Thomas Brown started building a sleigh road from his property (Bott’s landing) up to the Lead Queen Mine on No 3 (Frances) creek. Bott hoped that the mine would provide a ready market for produce grown there.18
An Educated Man
Through all of this, Bott remained well read and opinionated about broader goings on. On 13 June 1895, he wrote a long letter to the Editor of the Golden newspaper objecting to the Liberals Free Trade policy,19 while in 1896 got into a newspaper letter writing exchange with Frederick Aylmer arguing about salmon in the Columbia River. Bott suggested that a salmon hatchery might be built somewhere along the Upper Columbia River, while Aylmer considered such a project a waste of money as spawning salmon were “almost worthless” and, given the Columbia empties into the ocean in the United States, American fishermen would enjoy the benefit of a salmon hatchery more than the Canadians.20 In reply, Bott reasoned that “preservation and increasing the fish supply of Canada is above party politics,” but in this case, Aylmer’s argument likely held greater weight.21
Bott was also, in March 1907, appointed by the Provincial Government to take affidavits for the court.22
An Unwise Investment
Meanwhile, Bott’s desire to improve the yield on his ranch proved his downfall. Sometime in the early 1900s, he borrowed money to put in an irrigation system on his property. The idea was that more water would result in more crops, but unfortunately, the opposite happened. Flooding the property with water changed the alkalinity of the soil, making it less productive, and Bott was unable to repay the loan.23 In 1907 Bott’s Lot 2563 was transferred to a company called Sports Club Ltd c/o G.L McCarter, out of Revelstoke.24
A dedicated farmer, the loss of his ranch was no doubt devastating to Bott, although there are only traces in the record as to what he did in the aftermath. He remained living in the Brisco area, and is noted occasionally in provincial public accounts records for odd contracts. For example in 1908/1909, Bott provided lumber for a bridge for public works,25 and in 1911/1912 provided powder and fuse, again for public works.26 He is also noted as doing some prospecting work,27 and on the 1911 census was lodging with George Mitchell and his wife while working as a labourer on roadworks.28
An Unhappy End
William Bott was not well, however, and according to local history, his “problems seemed to wear on his mind. He was frequently heard to shout across the valley, perhaps to hear his own echo. Finally he deteriorated to the point that he was declared insane and around 1912 taken to an asylum.”29 Its unknown how long Bott was gone, but he did return, appearing again on the 1921 census living in Brisco, and noting his occupation as a farmer.30 It’s unclear where, of even if, he was actually farming at this point. Local history notes that upon his return, “he moved to a shack.”31
Bott was reportedly sent away again to an asylum around 1932.32 This time he did not return, and an individual whom I assume to be our William G Bott passed away 14 March 1935 in New Westminster, presumably having lived out his final years at the asylum there.33 His remains were interred at the Woodlands Cemetery, located in New Westminster, which was used by the Essondale psychiatric hospital in Coquitlam.34
Bott’s Channel, located along his original property, is the unofficial name that originated from Bott’s presence there. The landing along the Columbia River (Bott’s Landing) has since been replaced by a bridge. I was unable to determine the exact reason behind the naming of Botts Lake, located up Dunbar Creek, but there’s a decent chance it had something to do with the sleigh road he and Tom Brown built up towards Frances Creek.