Two hundred twenty-eighth in a series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
In the spring of 1892, American journalist Randall H. Kemp (1852-1914) joined the Silvery Slocan mining rush. He had previously visited the West Kootenay on two occasions and extolled its virtues, but now he was here to stay. Kemp soon discovered — or was introduced to — a mineral spring about five kilometers west of Kaslo and seized on its commercial possibilities.
The earliest mention of the springs was in the Nelson Miner of July 2, 1892: “Nearly every day parties take a trip to R.H. Kemp’s mineral springs about three miles from Kaslo. The water is very refreshing and pleasant to drink, and it is claimed to be of great medical value for affections of the kidneys. Mr. Kemp has cut trails to the springs which are very prettily situated, and purposes [sic] to make them a distinct feature in the attractions of the lake country.”
In this venture, he initially had two partners, James Brennand and James Pringle, “who have spent considerable time and labor improving and beautifying the grounds.”
A visitor noted “a sign tacked on a tree, informing us that that trail took us to the soda springs, half a mile down the canyon, and having heard flattering reports of the water of the ‘poison springs,’ as the Indians term them, we concluded to investigate. We were surprised as well as delighted to find the reports had not been exaggerated.”
There were three springs, each a slight distance apart, “located in a beautiful grove of trees, where the waters gush forth from the earth’s surface a boiling, seething mass. What the waters contain will be determined by Professor Parks of Galena, who has no hesitancy in pronouncing the water equal to the best imported.”
Kemp began shipping mineral water to Nelson and Pilot Bay, and claimed the demand already exceeded his limited supply. He also left a sample with the Nelson Miner, whose staff figured that “Properly diluted with whisky, it ought to go pretty good.”
By October, Kemp formally established Kemp’s Mineral Springs, although there is no sign of him incorporating a company by that name. Kemp began advertising two brands: Kemp’s Therapeutic Mineral Water and Kootenay Lithia Water.
By early 1893, he completed and furnished a “handsome frame building for general purposes” at the springs and soon his mineral water was in all of Kaslo’s hotels. He also hired Ira Jenkins, a former Kootenay Lake steamboat purser as “chief factotum,” who was “like everyone employed there, getting fat.”
Kemp apparently built a house at the springs as well, but seems to have put his business on hold after 1894, as no further ads or references to the operation appear for several years.
To supplement his income, he was the Nelson Tribune’s Kaslo correspondent, acting editor of the Slocan Prospector, and contributed to the British Columbia Mining Record. He also advertised his services as a mining engineer.
When the Kaslo and Slocan Railway began operating in the fall of 1895, Kemp’s Springs was one of 17 stations on the timetable. However, a mining boom the following year at Sanca on Kootenay Lake’s east shore drew Kemp’s attention to that place. By 1898, he returned to the mineral springs with plans to re-establish a bottling works. He claimed the springs were “destined to be one of Kaslo’s largest enterprises” and indicated he had already made shipments locally and to Spokane. But for some reason, the business failed.
Years later, E. Jacobs of the Mining Record suggested that an interesting story could be written of Kemp’s “efforts to develop a mineral water supply industry in connection with Kemp’s springs, and of the dog-in-the-manger opposition of those who prevented him from doing so.” He didn’t elaborate, so the opponents remain unidentified.
In 1904 Kemp went to Seward, Alaska to edit a newspaper for a year or so, and later worked as a mining engineer throughout the Pacific Northwest. In 1912, he returned to West Kootenay, intrigued by platinum discoveries around Nelson. He still owned the dormant Kemp Springs.
He worked at the Standard mine in Silverton until being diagnosed with tongue cancer, whereupon he and his wife moved to Victoria to seek better medical treatment. Although he was said to be improving, his condition took a sudden and fatal turn.
Kemp Springs vanished from the map not long after its namesake’s departure, only being mentioned a few more times. Locals thereafter simply called it the Soda Springs, and it appears that way on maps.
In 1951, the Gas-Ice Corporation of Seattle took an interest in the property, looking for carbon dioxide gas deposits that they planned to turn into dry ice for refrigeration systems. But drilling tests weren’t as encouraging as hoped and the project was abandoned. More recent industrial activity has destroyed or at least obscured the site of the springs.
Randall Kemp is, however, commemorated in Kemp Creek, which flows northeast into the Kaslo River and is the village’s primary water source. It was first mentioned in the Nelson Tribune of Feb. 3, 1902: “[A] foot bridge will be built across the Kaslo river soon to accommodate the prospectors who have claims at the head of Kemp Creek.” The name wasn’t formally adopted until 1948.
There’s also Mount Kemp, southwest of Kaslo, named in 1962.