The city of Nelson, named in the late 1880s after British Columbia’s Lieutenant-Governor Hugh Nelson, has a long and rich history.
The first citizens of Nelson were the Sinixt, who lived, hunted and fished along the shores of Kootenay Lake. Kootenay is a Sinixt word meaning “water people.” In the original spelling of Kootenay, Co means water and Tinneh means people. The traditional territory of the Sinixt (Lakes First Nation) is the West Kootenay region.
The early 1800s brought the European explorers and adventurers; then in 1876, the discovery of gold and silver attracted the prospectors. The town boomed quickly and in 1897 Nelson became incorporated. Toad Mountain’s rich mineral deposits were discovered, the Silver King Mine was developed and due to its location, Nelson soon became a transportation and distribution center for the mine.
By the 1900s, Nelson’s local forestry and mining industries were firmly established. In 1910, the city built its own hydroelectric generating system, the English immigrants planted orchards and the Russian Doukhobors worked the valley lands.
Many American draft dodgers settled in Nelson during the Vietnam War. During this same time period the Notre Dame University of Nelson started, which later became the David Thompson University.
During the 1980s, Nelson was devastated by an economic recession. The town saw local Kootenay Forest Products Sawmill and University close; many shops suffered greatly. However, by 1987, Nelson bounced back and was the star in the Steve Martin movie, Roxanne. Nelson’s forest-lined valleys, breathtaking mountains and crystal clear lake captured the hearts and attention of tourists and people desiring a simpler existence.
Today Nelson’s main industry is tourism. The city is a cultural center – a haven for artists, writers, actors and musicians. Outdoor enthusiasts travel far and wide for a chance to enjoy the pristine nature.
Learn first hand about the history of Nelson and surrounding area by visiting Touchstones Museum and Art Gallery; permanent exhibits at Touchstones bring to life the vibrant history of this area.
NEW – When the Walls Talk
Local Historian Patricia Rogers has created and maintains a Nelson History blogspot. Visit the When the walls talk blog here.