Earlly Nelson, BC Golf


Nelson 1899

As the fourth oldest city in the province in 1900, it is not surprising golf may have been played at Nelson during the early part of the century. Research already shows North Vancouver, Vancouver, New Westminster, Kelowna, Atlin, and Victoria had golf courses.

Incorporated in 1897, the “Queen City” of the Kootenays had 6000 residents in 1900. Probably some had played golf in Scotland or eastern Canada before arriving in Nelson. From its central position on the west side of Kootenay Lake, Nelson became the terminus for the Columbia & Kootenay railway. Also it served as the northern terminus for the Nelson & Sheppard Railway Co. connecting Nelson to Waneta at the international boundary. Because of its size, government offices naturally established their headquarters in the city. The government agent, the gold commissioner, the deputy registrar for the supreme court, the district freight and passenger agents, and the customs agent all occupied office buildings in the business district. The city had four banks, two daily and one weekly newspapers, two sawmills, a sash and door factory, a foundry, and several machine shops. The generating station at Bonnington Falls, operated by West Kootenay Power & Light, supplied the city with ample electricity. Hall Mines and Smelter provided employment for four hundred men. Kootenay Lake Hospital served the needs for the south Kootenay region residents.

Strong evidence now exists that several locals played golf in Nelson prior to 1910.  The Victoria Golf Club invited players from Nelson to participate in the 1899 British Columbia Men’s Golf Championship hosted by the Victoria G.C. Similarly, the Pacific North West Golf Association invited players from Nelson and Rossland to their annual outings (championships) in 1901 at the Spokane CC and in 1907 at the Victoria GC. The strongest evidence that players actively played the Royal & Ancient game in Nelson around the 1900 is found in a newspaper article published in the Vancouver Daily Province newspaper on July 13, 1930. Douglas Lay, the resident government assayer in Nelson from 1900 – 1903, recounted his golfing experience in Nelson. Lay described the challenges he and his brother faced playing golf in early Nelson around 1900.

Vancouver Daily Province July 13, 1930 “They Laughed at B.C. ’s First Interior Golf Course”

While playing golf at the opening of the Willingdon Links in Williams Lake, BC, Douglas Lay, the resident mining engineer at Hazelton, recalled his early golfing experiences in Nelson.

“In 1899 my brother, the new manager of the Imperial Bank, in Nelson and I plus another Englishman, started the first golf course in the interior of British Columbia at Nelson. But we had to abandon the course owing to the crushing remarks made by the locals. There was no such thing as plus fours in those days and the absurd spectacle offered by three full-grown men with turned up trousers against the dewy grass proved too much for the spectators – too much, at any rate, for the golf enthusiasts. Our ardor became so thoroughly dampened that we finally gave up.”

The Tribune (Nelson) April 8th, 1899 “Nelson Should Have Suitable Recreation Grounds”

For two years the citizens of Nelson attempted to have the council purchase a tract of land near Hall and Vernon Streets for a recreation grounds. In 1898 the Council planned to purchase land near the cemetery for recreation activities such as, baseball, tennis cricket, and golf.  Finally in April a group of citizens placed an ultimatum in front of the council.

“There is a plot of land lying between the Hals Mine road and the train way, distant about one mile from the post office, that is suitable for all recreation activities. The land should be acquired by the city. , but if the council do not view the project favorably, then let the people themselves organize and acquire an area sufficient for all outdoor sports, including horse racing. Twenty acres would be ample for a half-mile track, a baseball field, tennis courts, a cricket field, and a golf link, the admirers of each particular sport improving their own fields, but the grounds to be held in common.”

Judging by Douglas Lay’s comments in 1930, the citizens or the council constructed a golf links.

The Spokane Falls & Northern Railway serviced the Nelson – Rossland region a semi-weekly train. Utilizing the train service, the Spokane Daily Chronicle newspaper distributed their publication throughout the West Kootenays. Starting in the fall of 1898 golfers informally formed into a group to play golf. In April this group formed the Spokane Country Club. The Chronicle published all the club’s activities on a regular basis. Aspiring golfers in Nelson and Rossland may have used these articles as an inspiration to build their own golf links.

The Challenge

From October 2 – 16, 1900 Spokane hosted their first Spokane Industrial Exposition. Judge Forin arranged a challenge match between a group of Kootenay golfers against members of the Spokane Country Club.

Nelson Daily Miner September 22nd, 1900

“Dear Mr. F.W. Bobbett, Spokane CC member.

I have been talking with a number of friends. How does the idea of an international golf match during the Spokane Exposition strike you? Talk it over with your golf enthusiasts, put up any kind of a trophy and I will try and get up a team of Britishers that will either pluck the feathers from your bald headed eagle or you can twist the lion’s tail or it may be a little of both. Say the second week in October, when I think we can get a team of five or six players who only have past experience, for practice in the mountains is out of the question.

Yours truly,

Judge John A. Forin.

Mr. Hawley, the fair manager supported the idea: “He would do anything in his power to advertise the match in connection with the fair.”  Henry Hoyt, the most prominent golfer in Spokane, replied: “ He believed arrangements could be made to put up a suitable cup or something of that kind that could be taken by the victorious team and held until the other team wins it back.”

Nelson Daily Miner September 29th, 1900 “Spokane Club Preparing to Meet B.C. Team”

From this article it is obvious the Spokane CC took Judge Forin’s challenge seriously.

“The Spokane CC is holding a competition to determine who will constitute the team to meet the British Columbia team. The club competition will be match play against Bogey, and those players who bring in the best absolute score against Bogey will constitute the team. To give the preliminary contest additional interest, F.W. SMITH, HOLLEY, MASON, MARKS & CO., and Ware Bros have generously donated three prizes. The prizes will go to the three players who bring in the best score.”

The Nelson Tribune Oct 8, 1900

“Judge Forin leaves this afternoon for Rossland to accompany the B.C. team to Spokane. The members of the Canadian Team include: Captain, Judge Forin, Mr. W. Dickson of Nelson, James Cowan, Alex W. McNaughton, and Peter McLarin Forin of Rossland, and Dr. J.B. (Jack) Carruthers of Revelstoke.

An article from the October 11th, 1900 The Spokane Review newspaper describes the match, the results, and biographical information for the B.C. players.

The Spokesman – Review October 11th, 1900 “Spokane Won Golf Game forty-seven up on B.C. players”

“The Spokane CC team won yesterday’s golf match from the Nelson team 47 up. The game was close with regards to the morning play, Spokane being only 4 holes up, but in the afternoon the British Columbia team felt the fatigue of hard play and did not fair well. They were sadly out of practice, and as one of them stated we are playing upon our past records. It is impossible to find space level enough and large enough in Nelson for a course. The visitors brought but four men with them, and Spokane members Mr. Binnie and Mr. Coleman filled out their team.  Judge Forin described his team as,” Our team is composed of old golf players, but they have been away from the game for a number of years. Mr. Dickson held the Amateur Championship of Canada in 1897, and also the record score for the Buffalo Links at the eastern meet, but for the past three years he has had no opportunity for practice. Mr. McNaughton a Scotsman from Perthshire. He played the game since childhood. In the spring of 1899 he left Scotland, since then he has not had a golf stick in his hand.’ Judge Forin his brother both renewed their acquaintance with golf for the first time yesterday, after an absence of six years.”

The Spokane newspaper article claims a Canadian champion R.W. Dickson played their links in 1900. The article names R.W. Dickson as the Canadian champion who played. Was he the Englishman Lay mentioned in the 1930 article? Research shows no Dickson won the Canadian Amateur Championship. An Outing Magazine article from December 1896 states R.W.. Dickson won the Niagara International Championship at the Niagara-on-the-Lake GC in 1896. The article reports Dickson along with his brother J. Geale Dickson, and Charles Hunter founded the Niagara GC in 1894.

Did R.W. Dickson migrate to Nelson BC? A search of the Nelson City Directories for the period 1895 – 1905 shows a W. Dickson listed as a local real estate agent and the manager of Kootenay Electric Supply & Construction Company from 1903 – 1905. Judge John A. Forin and J. Murray Lay, the Imperial Bank manager resided in Nelson from 1899 – 1905. Douglas Lay, the local assayer in Nelson resided for only two years 1901 – 1903. Because excellent evidence exists Rossland had golfers in 1899, Alex William McNaughton, the owner of the Velvet Rooms in Rossland, probably joined the Nelson players at Spokane? Peter Forin and James Cowan resided in Rossland from 1899 – 1905. Dr Jack Carruthers played in the 1897 British Columbia Men’s amateur Championship as a member of the Vancouver CC located in Moodyville, North Vancouver. Carruthers founded the Kelowna GC in 1899, and then moved to Revelstoke in 1900. He retired in 1913.

The Nelson Tribune March 23rd, 1901

From this article it appears the first course venture probably failed. As Judge Forin indicated the challenge facing the golfers in Nelson was to locate suitable flat ground.

“There are a number of golf players in Nelson who talk of starting a club. Where to locate the links is what is puzzling these enthusiasts rather than the fear of any scarcity of caddies.”

Edmond C. Wragge arrived in Nelson as a barrister and Solicitor in 1899. The Nelson newspapers provide no indication Wragge participated in any early golf activities in Nelson. Edmund Wragge’s diaries contain the following entry:

“In the fall of 1918 on the way home from playing golf on the C.P.R. Hotel course at Balfour, I suggested to Clement Appleyard that we ought to have a golf club in Nelson, so that fall and the next year (1919) we looked all over for sufficient ground for a nine hole course. Having decided on the John DeKinder farm and a small adjoining piece of land, also a couple of C.P.R. lots, we incorporated the Nelson Golf & Country Club Limited (January 20th 1920) with two hundred shares of $150.00 each. And sold enough shares to get started. I was elected the first President in 1920.”

Because the Rossland – Trail G&CC area is celebrating their 100th Anniversary in 2022 we are using this an inspiration to investigate the possibility a golf course really existed in Rossland in 1899.

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