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Page last updated June 18, 2013

© Michael Kluckner

The view from the hillside above the house in 2003, with the coach house spanning the house's driveway on the left and the West Arm of Kootenay Lake in the distance.

Photographer unknown, 1940s.

Mining fortunes often slip away from the regions where they're made and end up endowing distant cities. San Francisco's growth from the Comstock Lode is a classic North American example; more modestly, the Klondike gold rush of 1898 paid for some fine buildings in Vancouver and allowed Alexander Pantages, for instance, to develop his North American theatre chain. The wealth from earlier mining rushes, like Barkerville's, apparently produced few tangible results, although it spurred the creation of infrastructure such as the Cariboo Road. There is little evidence of the fabulous Nickel Plate gold mine at Hedley other than a few scars on the hillside and a modest townsite; ditto for Princeton and its nearby coppermine. Coal mines on Vancouver Island built Dunsmuir palaces in Victoria, but those in, say, Coalmont, left future generations only a wooden hotel and a couple of boomtown-fronted stores.

The great copper and silver strikes in the Boundary and Kootenay areas at the end of the 19th century left a more significant local legacy. The Silver King Mine on Toad Mountain led to the establishment of Nelson, the Queen City of the Kootenays, and the construction of the fine commercial buildings and homes that, a century later, contribute to the quality of life of that reborn city. A few other instant towns from those times, such as Greenwood and Rossland, have also survived more or less intact, as has Trail, site of the huge lead-zinc smelter owned by Cominco and once affiliated with the Canadian Pacific Railway. In a similar vein (no pun intended) to Nanaimo and the Dunsmuirs, Trail's prosperity created the Blaylock Estate near Nelson.


The Hall Mines Smelter shortly before it was razed by an arsonist in 1911. Both postcards published by John Valentine & Sons, Dundee, Scotland.

The Blaylock Estate's owner/creator was one of those figures of BC industry whose life and achievements can be interpreted either as admirable entrepreneurship or exploitative capitalism, depending on where you sit politically. In a highly unionized part of the province, like the Kootenays, he has his detractors even now, a lifetime after his death, and is one of those "tall poppy" figures (as the Australians would describe him) that some people love to try to knock the head off.

There is an adulatory biography below (from the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame), a note from a Nelson resident quoting from a book and a BC Historical News article that present Blaylock in a negative light, and a note from another Nelson resident who believes that Blaylock was a significant figure who deserves more admiration than criticism. There are refutations by the correspondents of the various points that I present below without any comment, being a believer in the old Russian saying that "there is nothing more unpredictable than the past."

Born in 1879 in Paspebiac, Quebec, Selwyn Gwillym Blaylock attended Bishop's College School in Lennoxville and in 1899 graduated with a B.Sc. from McGill University. He immediately moved west and obtained work as a surveyor for the Canadian Smelting Works in Trail. Two years later, he became the company's chief chemist, but soon moved to Nelson to become general supintendent of the Hall Mines Smelter at Nelson, B.C., then general superintendent of the St. Eugene mines. In 1908, when the Silver King Mine ore body had diminished, Blaylock acted as company receiver, then joined the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company (Cominco), founded in 1906 and the successor to the original smelter owner in Trail.

Blaylock recommended purchase of the Sullivan mine near Kimberly and took responsibility for its development. In 1919, he became Cominco's general manager, a director in 1922, vice-president in 1927, managing director in 1938 and president in 1939. 

According to his biography in the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame:

"in his rise to the pinnacle of Cominco, his interest in the welfare of the employees never slackened. His stated belief, '...security, comfort and welfare of workmen will be paid for in increased efficiency and good will of employees...' became a benchmark in Canadian industrial relations circles. In part, at least, the Trail Smoke Eaters who twice carried Canada's hockey colours to a world amateur championship, were a reflection of his philosophy of human relations in a mining community. Recognition and honors for his work in his profession came to him in abundance. He received the highest award of the time, the Gold Medal of the Institute of Mining and Metallurgy of Great Britain in 1944. Other awards included the McCharles Prize for outstanding work in Canadian Metallurgy from the University of Toronto; the James Douglas Medal for Metallurgy awarded to him in 1928 by the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgy; the Inco Medal awarded by The Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy in 1935 for outstanding work in mining and smelting. He was awarded honorary degrees from McGill University and the University of Alberta, and was a director of a number of companies. A long-time member of The Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, he served as its President in 1934-35. Selwyn Blaylock went to B.C. and the predecessor of Consolidated Mining & Smelting when both the country and the company were young and feeling their way into a future that included a depression and two world wars. All three made excessive demands on the abilities of people in such key industries as metal production and fabrication. Selwyn G. Blaylock accepted all challenges, met all challenges, contributed vastly to the body of knowledge of his profession and remained a caring man of modesty and integrity."

The quality of his massive Tudor Revival-style home, and the way he built it during the Depression, lend credence to the statements above of his concern for the welfare of his employees. According to legend, Blaylock told the construction crew that "it's hard times, there isn't much work, so just take your time and do a good job." [Derrick Penner, "Sharing Nelson's historic Blaylock Estate with the people," Vancouver Sun, February 28, 2003] The head stonemason was Kuzma Golac, who died in Nelson in 1957 at the age of 70. Mike Robertson was the master carpenter and carver of the elaborate scrollwork panels. The main house is approximately 16,000 square feet and sits on 42 acres of grounds.

The house, properly called "Lakewood" but known in the Nelson area sometimes as "Sleeping Beauty's Castle," was built to the design of Montreal architect J. Cecil McDougal. A junior in the firm, William Frederick ("Bill") Williams (1904-1947), moved from Montreal to Nelson in 1935 to supervise the construction, fell in love with the area, and stayed on. Born in Melbourne, Williams had moved to the United States following graduation in 1926 and had worked for various firms there, and with McDougal in Montreal, as well as travelling in Europe. His wife, Ilsa Julie Clara Baker (1904-1984), was also an architect. Following wartime service, during which he rose to the rank of major, he died, leaving a busy Nelson practice which his wife took over and ran until her retirement in 1958. The firm became especially noted for its modernist designs, including a number of buildings in Trail for Cominco, its house designs which received notice in a variety of competitions, and his winning design of the Canadian Pavilion for the 1939 New York World's Fair.[Source: WF Williams biography by Elspeth Cowell and Donald Luxton, in Building the West, Early Architects of British Columbia--a book to be published in May, 2003]see footnote below*

As seems so often the case, Blaylock had almost no time to enjoy his creation, for he died in Trail on November 19, 1945, six months after his retirement following the difficult years of keeping metal production at peak levels to aid the war effort. He was buried at Danville, Quebec. Over the ensuing two decades, his widow Kathleen visited the home only occasionally, then put it up for sale in 1977. The Californian who purchased it wanted to create an deluxe resort but went bankrupt, with the property's title going to the McGauley family, whose concrete company was a major creditor. The McGauley children assumed control of the property in 2000 when their parents were killed in a car accident and have run it as a bed and breakfast. Dan McGauley has run it since as the Blaylock Resort and Health Spa, but is offering it for sale for $2.85 million.

* * *

From Jack Shrieves, 2013: My father, Albert Shrieves, started working at age 16 as a gardeners helper at the Blaylock estate, continuing for a number of years while the estate was being built in the mid 1930s. He didn’t comment regarding his work there but spoke well of the place. Just to let the you know and to give a little colour to the kind of person Mr. Blaylock was, dad approached Mr. Blaylock one day in 1937 while working at the estate (it must have not been easy as Mr. Blaylock was the head of one of the largest companies (CM&S) in the country at the time and a very intimidating man and Dad just a young man without an education) to ask if he could find a better job somewhere in the company. Within a few weeks, Mr. Blaylock sent Dad to a large new mine in Yellowknife NWT to become an assayer. Mr. Blaylock arranged for to Dad fly at company expense out of Trail , landed and spent his 21st birthday in  Fort McMurrray (he called that place the dirtiest place of earth as there was oil lying everywhere), Transferred to a float plane there and made his way to Yellowknife. Dad made a successful career, after that introduction ,first in mining where he ended up as a mine owner at Erie (Arlington) outside of Salmo, then starting and building Nelson Ready Mix concrete which he sold in the 1970s.

As a youngster (mid 1960s) I remember Mrs. Blaylock (Selwyn’s widow) coming into the ready mix office to pay her bills every summer in a Bentley which was usually driven by her daughter. Mrs. Blaylock always had a few minutes to spend talking to Dad. I think she knew her husband had given Dad that initial boost that helped him on his way to a successful life.

A less-adulatory view of Blaylock's life is Ron Welwood's, Nelson, 1985: 

1. Blaylock was not the saint portrayed in various books [Elsie Turnbull, etc.]. There certainly was no love between Blaylock and the smelter's union according to Al King's Red Bait! Struggles of a Mine Mill Local [1998] [co-authored by Kate Braid -- ed.]: "The only token protection that existed for the safety of workers was a company-sponsored group that called itself the Workmen's Co-operative Committee. . . . Under the labour laws of those days, companies were obliged to recognize unions and many of them set up the in-house equivalent of a union as a means of controlling their workers. They were called 'company unions' by legitimate union organizers because they were closely controlled by management. . . . Selwyn Blaylock sat as the chairman and he called and ran every committee meeting. The appointment of Blaylock was apparently divine in nature; he was never elected. His Committee met maybe once a month and Blaylock decided the agenda. He sat at the head of the table with a gavel and when that gavel came down, the decision was made -- period. Sometimes the men (they were all men in those days) would try and pass their own motions, but Blaylock just ignored them. He was king of all he surveyed."

One humorous incident involved the disclosure of Blaylock's legacy at a packed union hall meeting. "Before he died in 1945, the then President and Managing Director of CM&S, Selwyn G. Blaylock, had left a sealed envelope addressed to the returning warriors to be opened after his death, when all the veterans had returned. . . . The envelope was opened with a flourish and in the dead silence that followed, President Dawson read out in a choked voice Mr. Blaylock's legacy: 'One fifty dollar war bond'." [51]

[A contrary view is that of Patricia Rogers, 2008: The inference above is that it was just one bond: it was one bond each. I am not sure why the giving of a War Bond to the returning soldiers is humorous.  Considering how many Cominco employees enlisted this would certainly add up to a considerable amount of money - given freely. These Bonds paid 3% interest. Also wouldn't it appear that Mr. Blaylock was being patriotic by purchasing Victory Bonds in the time of War? Heaven knows the war effort needed the money. I am told they all had a job to come back to which I know was not always the case across North America.]

2. I notice on your web site that you refer to Dave Fairbank, Nelson Architect, who was a partner of Ilsa Williams. Dave was our next door neighbour for thirty years and Chris, his son who took over his father's firm, also served on Nelson's Heritage Advisory Commission. By the way, Ilsa's husband, William Williams' self designed house is located on the north shore just above the lake not too far after crossing Nelson's BOB [Big Orange Bridge].

3. The destructive Little Cherry Disease began at the Blaylock Estate: "The ornamental Japanese Flowering Cherry trees were on the "Lakewood" estate. They were imported clandestinely in the 1930s by the owner, Blaylock, who was aware of the Ministry of Agriculture ban but went ahead anyway. Mr. Foster stated that Cominco's Blaylock while developing the Lakewood estate in the late 1920s inquired officially about importation of Japanese Ornamental Cherries. He was told that the trees were diseased & might not be imported. He decided to smuggle some in anyway & did so; they were established & the disease likewise." See: Welwood's "Big Little Cherry", British Columbia Historical News, 33:2 (Spring 2000): 15-18. [Refutation: according to Shawn Lamb of the Nelson Archives, Mr. Blaylock did not single-handedly destroy the Cherry orchards of this area of the West Kootenay. At least one other family admits to importing these same cherry trees, during the same time period.] [Further counter-refutation from Ron Welwood, 2009: Indeed, the Japanese Flowering Cherry was also imported into the Kootenay Lake region by "one other family", but these trees were not the "same cherry trees". It seems that there were two varieties of Japanese Flowering Cherry growing in the Kootenay Lake region:
•    Prunus serrulata contaminated with LCD
•    Prunus hisakura from Layritz Nurseries of Victoria. This was a hardy, uncontaminated variety that was popular around Kootenay Lake.
I have a series of correspondence with the "other family" member and a Nelson arborist. It appears that not all Japanese Flowering Cherry trees are created equal!]

From Robert Foster, 2011: In the section on Blaylock, the quote from Welwood's "Big Little Cherry" mentions my father, W. R, (Bill) Foster, who was Assistant Provincial Plant Pathologist from 1929 to 1945 and Provincial Plant Pathologist from 1945-1965. I think a small clarification would benefit the article. "Mr. Foster" lacks context.

***

Note from Patricia Rogers, 2008: There are many myths floating about regarding Mr. Blaylock. One states his wife would lose her inheritance and share of Lakewood if she did not return for at least 6 months out of every year. I have the probated Will of Mr. Blaylock, dated September 19, 1945. There were no such conditions and Mrs. Blaylock received her 50% share of Lakewood free and clear. It is a simple Will of a man who is looking after his wife and children. (In it he wanted to ensure that his old family keepsakes would not be lost - a side of the man we rarely are shown in the literature).

There are many instances of the kindness of Mr. Blaylock, as well. A farmer from Columbia Gardens had two of his horses die. He approached Mr. Blaylock as he felt perhaps it was the effluents, etc. from Cominco that had caused the deaths. Mr. Blaylock, without admitting blame, advised the farmer to come to a certain place in a few days hence and pick out replacement horses - free of charge. (From the family of that farmer.)

I am sure he was a strong leader and ran a very tight organization. I suspect the success of the operation today is a testament to those skills. Someone always has an axe to grind or the desire to knock a successful man down. Rarely do we see a book written about a company that says good things about its management - there is always discontent between management and unions, it seems.

--------------------------------------------

*[From Shawn Lamb, Nelson Museum: William Fredrick Williams died on Saturday, December 20, l947 at his home on the North Shore a mile or two from Nelson. He was 43 years old. The B.C. Directories list him as Wm F. Williams, Architect, and give his business address with it, so that is probably what his firm was called. Ilsa Williams carried on the firm until October l958 when she retired. The newspaper story in the Nelson Daily News is October 14, l958. She had taken David Fairbank as a partner and he continued the firm, which is still operated by Christopher Fairbank, David's son. She died on December 16, l984 in the Willowhaven Private Hospital 6 miles along the North Shore from Nelson at the age of 80 years. They had one daughter, Joan (Mrs. Kurt) Thomas) of Kaslo. Prizes and buildings listed in the obituary for Williams are 1938: received first place in the architectural contest for the Can. Govt Pavilion erected at the l939 World's Fair in New York; previously he had won 3rd prize in the Dominion Govt contest for plans for low cost houses in connection with the Dominion Housing Act and 1st prize in the T. Eaton Co. contest for house designs. Buildings locally included: Trail/Rossland (where he was consultant architect for Cominco) houses in the Upper Warfield area, remodelling of the Canadian Legion, extensions to Trail and Rossland high school buildings, Cominco General Manager's residence at Tadanac, St. Anthony of Padua R.C. church. Nelson: Palm Dairies building, Bowladrome, numerous homes, and plans for Mount St. Francis Home for the Aged (constructed under Ilsa's supervision after his death). Also at least the design for Kimberley and Creston Legion buildings, and Palm Dairies Ltd building in Victoria. He was a member of the Nelson Rotary Club, Nelson Board of Trade and Nelson branch of the Canadian Legion.]

Trail about 1960, dominated by the stacks of the Cominco smelter. Photographer unknown, postcard by "Traveltime," Grant-Mann lithographers distributed by Hammitt Company, Kelowna.

Trail was founded in the 1890s as the supply point to the mines operating in the mountains around Rossland, 10 kilometres to the West. In 1896, Eugene S. Topping and Frank Hanna, both Americans who were at the time living in Nelson, started a small smelter on a bench above their townsite to process the ores from the Rossland Mines. In 1906, this smelter, a number of the Rossland Mines, and the Rossland Power Company, were amalgamated to form the Consolidated Mining & Smelting Company of Canada Ltd. After World War I, the Trail smelter operations expanded significantly with the break-through treatment of zinc-laden ores, then added gold, silver, cadmium, and bismuth in ensuing years. The CM&S also expanded into the production of fertilizers using byproducts of the zinc smelting process, and along the way reduced the notorious pollution which had traditionally denuded nearby hillsides and poisoned crops in the windplume from its smokestacks. With the enormous growth of the Trail Smelter, Trail's population tripled by 1941 to 10,000 and the City had expanded into the East Trail residential area. By 1951, the population had grown to 12,000 and the City had expanded into the Sunningdale and Glenmerry residential areas. Cominco Ltd.'s Trail Operations continues to be the economic cornerstone of the Greater Trail area and although the smelter is much cleaner than ever before, it continues to attract some unwelcome and unfair publicity, including a reference in a recent Lonely Planet guidebook that effectively told travellers to keep away. It is probably most famous for its hockey team, the Trail Smoke Eaters of the British Columbia Hockey League. [Historical source, City of Trail website]

The corporate successor to Blaylock's company is Teck Cominco, a diversified mining and refining company, mining zinc, lead, copper, gold and metallurgical coal, as well as producing zinc, lead and a number of by-product metals and chemicals through its two refining facilities in Canada and Peru. Teck Cominco held interests in producing mines in Canada, the U.S. and Peru, including both open-pit and underground operations. Early in 2003, this was expanded to include an additional five open-pit coal mines managed by Teck Cominco under a new partnership. Two new underground mines producing zinc and gold are also planned to be in production in 2004 and 2005 respectively. [Source: http://www.teckcominco.com/company/index.htm]

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Artwork and text ©Michael Kluckner, 2001, 2002, 2003