by Kristina Kapitza
In 1888, Donald Dan McClaren arrived in the region known as Grande Prairie, accompanied by an Irishman named McDonald. They had travelled from Nanaimo and gone through the Dewdney Trail from Hope with buckboard and horses, looking for a place to settle.
Dan pre-empted land along the International Boundary, on the east side of the Kettle River. He built a cabin, a stable and a blacksmith shop, and soon found that he had a natural stopping place for travellers coming into the country from Marcus, Washington.
Seeing an opportunity to prosper, he invited his brother John and their father in Ontario to join him. The three of them went on to found the Townsite of Carson.
By 1895, the McClaren brothers had built the Grande Prairie Hotel and a hall, which would house the Independent Order of Oddfellows, the first fraternal order in this part of the country. The IOOF was located on the top floor of the hall, and Dan’s blacksmith shop was on the ground floor.
John Coryell surveyed the townsite in 1895, and lots “as good as gold” were put on the market in 1896. Named for Isabella Carson McLaren, the mother of Dan and John, the new town was advertised in the Midway Advance as “The Trade Center for the Colville Reservation, and the Gateway to the Famous Boundary Creek Mining District.”
By 1896, a rush of prospectors to the Colville Indian Reservation led the brothers to add 12 rooms to their hotel. E. Spraggett became the first postmaster in the area on April 1, 1892, and Dan McLaren replaced him in 1897. J. A. Stewart was the customs officer at Carson between 1901-1905.
There was a town called Nelson (which would become Danville) just across the border from Carson. A few crafty businessmen from Nelson built stores right on the 49th parallel: their front doors opened in Canada and their back doors opened in the U.S.A. One general store had the slogan “save money, save time, shop at Joe’s on the line!” Needless to say, few of these stores lasted very long.
The McLaren brothers always ensured that they had a good relationship with the native peoples who lived on the nearby Colville Reservation. A delegation from the chief from Toroda Creek once invited Dan McLaren to a potlatch. They wanted him to bring his “Ting-Ting” (violin) to play for their dances. Dan was hesitant and tried to make an excuse, but the delegation refused to be put off.
Eventually the man known as “Crazy” Brown said that he would go with Dan. All went very well, and Dan called out square dances in Chinook.
A lull came, and Crazy Brown took two butcher knives from the kitchen, laid them crossed on the floor, and did the “Sword Dance.” He was very agile on his feet until one of his moccasins caught a knife, which flew through the air and stuck fast in the wall between two women!
Everyone thought it was part of the act and waited for him to throw the next knife. Crazy Brown didn’t miss a step and continued with his dance, but much to Dan’s relief, the other knife stayed on the ground.
Despite the prosperity of the early years and the enthusiasm of the McLaren brothers, Carson could not compete with Grand Forks for the commercial centre of the area. The Townsite of Carson gradually faded and became a residential area, especially after fires in 1919 and 1929 wiped out the pioneer buildings.
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