Two hundred sixteenth in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
Ernest Mansfield (1862-1924) was a whirlwind in the West Kootenay at the turn of the 20th century. He brought English and French capital to mines in today’s Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park and ran a manufacturing company that owned brickyards at Balfour and Nelson and a quarry opposite Kaslo.
He was also responsible for several local place names — none of which survive.
If we can accept one of his novels as semi-autobiographical, Mansfield sailed from England to Wanganui, New Zealand at age 16 and was by turns a shoemaker, banjo instructor, songwriter, author, journalist, and mining promoter. In the latter capacity, he went to London in 1898 to place several gold properties on the market. When word got out about the Yukon gold rush, Mansfield headed there but didn’t stay long, instead diverting his attention to the West Kootenay, where he visited the Joker and Derby claims at the head of the south fork of the Kaslo River.
Although inaccessible due to high altitude and heavy snow, Mansfield decided to try reaching them anyway — and nearly died in a blizzard. Though it was already called Kokanee Glacier, Mansfield decided his near-fatal adventure entitled him to rename it Kitchener Glacier, after Lord Kitchener, commander of the British army in Sudan.
Kitchener Glacier is first mentioned in the Nelson Daily Miner of Jan. 25, 1899: “Messrs. Lambert and Mansfield took their time and while on the Kitchener Glacier struck a very severe blizzard …”
Mansfield bought or bonded numerous other claims in the area, which collectively became known as Camp Mansfield, first mentioned in the Sandon Mining Review on Dec. 10, 1898: “‘Camp Mansfield,’ as it has come to be called, promises to be a lively scene in the spring, several deals being on the carpet and adjoining claims to the Joker.”
Wadds Bros. of Nelson took a series of photos of Camp Mansfield, showing the arrival of a pack train, the exterior of one of the tunnel’s in winter, the interior of a blacksmith shop, and the interior of two cookhouses. Mansfield appeared in most. Also photographed were a general view from the camp and Marguerite Falls, an attractive cascade nearby named after one of the claims.
Welford Beaton described the scene in the Daily Miner on Oct. 13, 1899: “Away up in the clouds lies Camp Mansfield, with the Sawtooth range of mountains shutting off the view to the east and the mighty Kitchener Glacier forming an everlasting icy barrier on the southwest. It is here that a little mountain brook trickles down from the miles of ice to gather strength as it tumbles over the rocks on its journey eastward, and soon becomes the raging and foaming south fork of Kaslo Creek.”
That mountain brook became known as Mansfield Creek.
Mansfield impressed the local mining fraternity with his pluck and ability to raise capital. “There is room in British Columbia for several score of Mansfields,” the Daily Miner commented.
He was also well-liked and respected by his workers. When legislation was passed limiting miners to an eight-hour workday, most owners responded by reducing wages. Mansfield, however, continued to pay the full wage.
When the company he represented was late paying wages, Mansfield orchestrated a plan to have himself arrested and jailed, reasoning that it would speed up the payroll. The ruse worked. He spent about a week entertaining visitors in his Nelson cell and dining on meals sent over by the Hume Hotel until the company wired the outstanding wages.
Mansfield’s grandiose plans for his mining properties hit a snag, however, and work on the Joker did not resume. Mansfield went to Europe to raise further capital and announced plans to erect a marble building in Nelson. It didn’t happen. When Mansfield sailed for England in August 1901, he was never to return, although he may not have realized it. Various companies were formed to work the Camp Mansfield claims, but none was very successful.
Mansfield achieved much greater fame as the leader of the Northern Exploration Co., which worked marble deposits on Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago. Although a large amount of work was completed, the marble did not turn out to be commercially viable. Mansfield’s detractors called him a swindler, but his admirers, who were legion, praised his generosity.
Some cabins Mansfield built are still standing on Svalbard, but little remains in West Kootenay to remember him by.
Kitchener Glacier reverted to Kokanee Glacier; the last known references to it by the former name are from 1907. One peak is known unofficially as Mount Kitchener — as proposed in 1976 by the Kootenay Mountaineering Club — but its official name is The Pyramids.
Camp Mansfield is no longer on any map, although the site of its proposed mill site became the parking lot for a once-popular hiking trail to the Joker Lakes. Mansfield Creek is now Keen Creek.
Even Marguerite Falls, whose name Mansfield may or may not have coined, has been rechristened Bridal Veil Cascade.
The full story of Mansfield’s extraordinary life can be found in the book Gold or I’m a Dutchman, available at Touchstones Nelson and Otter Books in Nelson.