Ross Thompson and the naming of 'Ross'-land: Small imagination or big ego?

Allyson Kenning
By Allyson Kenning
February 15th, 2011

If you know anything about the history of Rossland, the origin of our town’s name came from is not likely a huge mystery. Likewise, if you know, live, or grew up on Thompson Avenue, as I did, it’s a no-brainer where that name came from, too. I’m talking about Ross Thompson.

I like calling a spade a spade, so let’s not make Ross Thompson into something he’s not, other than the person the town’s named after. Basically, the dude did this: he took a look around in 1892 and said to himself [or so I imagine], “Wow, what a lovely muddy mining camp in the middle of nowhere, filled with filthy rich Americans, dirty miners, boozers, prostitutes, and other assorted riff-raff! I’ll think I’ll name this golden haven of debauchery and lawlessness after myself!”
Well, that’s a bit of creative license on my part, but here’s the real story from what I can piece together from a variety of sources.
Before Thompson staked out the 160 acres on the “least sloping side” of Red Mountain, Rossland was known as Red Mountain Camp. Sources put Thompson’s arrival in Rossland at about 1890-1891, and tell us he was a gold prospector and a miner. At that time, the camp was pretty much a large collection of canvas tents, but with the completion of a wagon road from Northport that year, built for the transportation of ore to Butte, Montana for smelting, things were about to change–quickly.
Thompson spent a year in the camp, hacking away at the mountainside then realized that there was a lot of money to be made as a landowner in a gold-rich location such as Red Mountain Camp, so he applied to the government for a preemption of land on the side of Red in January of 1892 and promptly built himself a little cabin there. It took him two years to acquire the title to the land, and in 1894, with partners John R. Cook, J.F. Ritchie, and William M. Newton, he built the Clifton Hotel and started selling lots.
Possessing either a small imagination or a large ego (or both), Thompson named the site…Thompson.
I cannot imagine going into a land title office and applying to have a place named Allysonville, let alone Kenningtown (though that would hardly be original; there is an area of London called Kennington, but it doesn’t appear to be named after someone named Kenning), created in my own honour. Yet this is exactly what Ross Thompson did. I wonder how much behind-the-back snickering went on at that land title office after Ross had departed. That I can imagine.
It was a bad choice. Since Ross didn’t have access to Google back then, we might forgive him for not knowing there was already another town in BC named Thompson (it no longer exists), and with the huge growth spurt the town was experiencing, there was all of a sudden a lot of confusion with the post office. There were 3000 residents of Thompson #2 at that point, and many of them were sending and receiving mail.
What an aggravating position to be in. You go to all this trouble to set up a little mining town, you name it after yourself – only to discover that some other place out in the sticks has named itself after you, too! At any rate, the Postal Department wouldn’t have it: Thompson already existed somewhere else and someone was going to have to come up with Plan B.
It’s hard to say who came up with the idea of Rossland as a name. One source credits the Postal Department, which wanted to recognize Thompson as the town’s founder when they opened the first post office in the town in March 1895. Other sources indicate that Thompson himself chose the name and the town was renamed well before the opening of the post office, in September 1894.
Rossland was fully incorporated on March 4, 1897 and at that time had over 7000 inhabitants. There were eight doctors, 17 law firms, 42 saloons, and it’s own board of trade. On April 7 of that year, the town held its first election, and Colonel Robert Scott was declared the winner of the mayoral race. Ross Thompson was elected as an alderman.
Seven years later, in 1904, Thompson sold the rest of his holdings in Rossland and moved to Nevada. I can find no mention of any towns in that state named after him.
West Kootenay: The Pioneer Years, Garnet Basque
Archives from the BC Integrated Land Management Bureau at http://archive.ilmb.gov.bc.ca/
Photo source: http://www.virtualmuseum.ca


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