Kokanee’s Name Spread Far and Wide

The Origin Of Kokanee’s Name

Article Credit: Arrow Lakes News (December 3, 2015)

by Greg Nesteroff
One hundred and fourth in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names

In addition to being a fish and a popular beer, kokanee is the name of 14 geographic features in BC: a settlement, bay, creek, two provincial parks, glacier, recreation area, lake, landing, narrows, pass, peak, point, and range. As a result, it’s probably this areas most widely used indigenous word. Kokanee is derived from kekenit the Sinixt term for the landlocked salmon once plentiful in this region. (There’s no need to capitalize kokanee when referring to the fish, al­though many people do anyway.)

Kokanee spawning at Taite Creek
Kokanee spawning at Taite Creek

However, when Europeans first adopted the word, they didn’t know its definition. The earliest reference in the Nelson Miner of June 15, 1895 said: “The jagged ridge visible from Nelson away up the lake to the North-East is Ko-ko-nee, of the meaning of which we are sorry to say, we are ignorant”. The present spelling was adopted the follow­ing year when the Columbia and Kootenay Steam Navigation Co. launched the SS Kokanee on Kootenay Lake. The Trail Creek News of March 21, 1896 explained the name was “after the range of mountains near Nelson.”

Kokanee Creek, also known as YuiU Creek, was so named by October 1896 and a town site called Kokanee was laid out at its head, adjoining the Molly Gibson mine. The Sandon Pay streak of Aug. 14, 1897 kidded that “its inhabitants, when they become numerous enough to need a name, will be called the Kokakanucks.” Kokanee Glacier was first called by that name in The Ledge of lune 17, 1897. After climbing the glacier in the fall of 1898, mining promoter Ernest Mansfield renamed it after Lord Kitchener, but following his departure from the area in 1901, it reverted to Kokanee. Near the spot that the creek emptied into the lake was Kokanee Landing, first mentioned in the Nelson Tribune of April 9, 1899. The earliest known reference to kokanee mean­ing the fish was in a promotional booklet produced in late 1899 or early 1900 called Health and Wealth: Kaslo, BC: “During summer months in many streams emptying into Kootenay Lake, spearing a peculiar red fish of the trout species, called by the Indians ‘Kokanee is quite an amusement. Long strings of these are frequently seen.”

Biene Klopp hiking with me in Kokanee Glacier Park
My wife hiking with me in Kokanee Glacier Park 2001

Somewhere along the West Arm of Kootenay Lake — probably at Lasca Creek, directly oppo­site Kokanee Creek — was what the Sinixt called Yaksakukeni: place of many kokanee. However, it was many more years before kokanee was com­monly used by European settlers to refer to the fish. Two Kokanee post offices existed, the first ap­parently at the townsite, from 1902-11, and an­other at the landing, from 1911-15.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Biene’s Nephews Norbert and Christian at Kaslo 2005

But what made kokanee a household word be­yond West Kootenay was a conversation between Nelson mayor Tom Shorthouse and H.F. Puder of Interior Breweries in 1959 about the company’s recent move from Nelson to Creston. Shorthouse pointed to the potential of Kokanee Glacier Park — created in 1922 — as a tourist attraction and sug­gested the company name a beer brand Kokanee. “This thought really stuck,” Puder told Shorthouse a year later, “and the more the name ‘Kokanee’ was considered, the better we liked it … To you goes full credit for originating the idea and you may be assured that you will be among the first to sample the product.”

Popular Kokanee Beer
Popular Kokanee Beer

Kokanee pilsner beer first appeared in the spring of 1960 with a label featuring a painting of the gla­cier by Vancouver designer George Me Lachlan. While the artwork has changed over the years, it continues to use a glacier motif and remains one of BC’s best-selling brands.

The name has since spread far and wide. Lots of businesses adopted the name — including Kokanee Springs golf resort. There’s a Kokanee Bay in the Cariboo; a Kokanee elementary school near Seattle; and streets named Kokanee in Nelson, Cranbrook, Vancouver, Whitehorse, Ontario, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Colorado, California, and New Mexico. Most of these were presumably taken out of atlases and don’t have anything to do with our area, but there’s a Kokanee Bend fishing area in Montana.

Canada Fauquier BC Kootenays Local History Photography Writing

4 Comments Leave a comment

    • Ich muß dir ausnahmsweise mal recht geben. Das deutsche Bier ist wirklich besser. Aber selbst da gibt es Ausnahmen. Lies bitte meinen Post zum Wochenende über das koblenzer Bier, das Soldatenbier aus meiner Jugendzeit.

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