The following story was written by Lynn Shervill, and is republished here with permission from the author. Lynn is also the author of the Smithers history book “From Swamp to Village” .
WHO WAS TATLOW?
Even after living in a town for many years, I can’t seem to acquire a working knowledge of its street names. I know where every business and service is located but can’t tell you the name of the street they’re on.
“Go two blocks down here,” I’d say to a visitor, “turn right at the used bookstore and the post office is at the end of the block on your left.”
But there are always exceptions.
After more than 40 years in Smithers BC, my wife and I moved to Powell River three years ago. And one of the first things I noticed was that Powell River has a Tatlow Street in an area of town called Cranberry. It jumped out at me because there’s a Tatlow Road in Smithers. There’s also a Mount Tatlow in BC’s Coast Mountain Range and, according to the provincial place names website, an official ‘locality’ of Tatlow in the Bulkley Valley about 300 km west of Prince George.
Unlike a lot of street names in and around Powell River, I was pretty sure Tatlow St. was not named for some Spanish explorer like Galiano, Malaspina, Texada or Hernando. So who was Tatlow?
According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography (DCB), Robert Garnett Tatlow was a BC businessman, militia officer and provincial cabinet minister. He was first elected to the legislature in 1900 and later served in the Conservative government of Richard McBride as minister of finance and of agriculture. He acted as house leader and premier when McBride was away.
The DCB also states that, in an attempt to prevent Asian immigration, Tatlow twice introduced legislation requiring all immigrants be able to write in a European language. And twice the proposed legislation was disallowed by the federal government. He also cooked up a scheme whereby the Salvation Army would “bring in one or two thousand British unskilled labourers and domestics to reduce the need for Asian workers.”
Tatlow was born in Ireland in 1855, emigrating to Montreal in his mid teens and on to Victoria in 1879. He died in 1910 at age 54 as the result of a road accident. He was thrown from his carriage, suffered a skull fracture and died in hospital three days later.
Mount Tatlow, a 10,050-foot peak in BC’s Chilcotin Range, was officially named as such in 1911, honouring the former provincial cabinet minister. In 2019 it was renamed Mount Ts’il?os on the recommendation of the Ts’ilhqot’in National Government and supported by the Caribou Regional District and BC Parks. The Tsilhqot’in people maintain it is unlucky to point at the mountain, to mention its name in casual speech or to climb it. They consider it a spiritual site where a man named Ts’il?os was transformed to stone and watches over and protects the people.
Tatlow Road, which runs south out of Smithers, picked up its name from a section of CN Rail track –Tatlow Siding — used to load cattle during the First World War. It’s odd that any railroad company would name anything after Tatlow because he was an ardent opponent of provincial funding for railroads. In fact, he resigned from government in 1909 when McBride decided to financially support rail construction.
BC’s Geographical Place Names website today lists Tatlow as a ‘locality’, an area with a scattered population of less than 50. When CN decommissioned the siding in the early 1980s the land was picked up by the late Dick Goble. He was a local surveyor, a Rotarian and a bit of a joker. “As soon as the sale went through,” said Dick’s son Dave, “Dad said ‘I own it now’ and declared himself the [unofficial] mayor of Tatlow.”