March 1, 2012 marks the 113th anniversary of Revelstoke’s incorporation as a city. The community was already 14 years old, having been established in 1885 during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The long delay in incorporation was largely a result of the dispute between the original townsite owner, Farwell and the CPR, and the inability of the provincial and federal governments to agree on riverbank protection. The community was renamed Revelstoke in June of 1886, as a result of a request by the Canadian Pacific Railway to the Post Office Department. It was perhaps a measure of the C.P.R.’s political influence that the request was granted with little or no discussion. The name honoured Edward Baring, First Baron Revelstoke, and head of the Baring Bank of England, which had saved the CPR from bankruptcy and had allowed for the completion of the railway. The City of Revelstoke was honoured to host Edward Baring’s great-grandson, the Sixth Baron Revelstoke, James Baring, at our city’s homecoming in 2009 and we were saddened to hear of James’ death this February. James Baring’s oldest son Alexander Baring will become the Seventh Baron Revelstoke.
An editorial in the Kootenay Star newspaper of February 16, 1892 explained “How the Station was Built a Mile and a Half away.” The articles stated that one Canadian Pacific Railway official was prepared to purchase 80 acres of land from A.S. Farwell for the station and yards. The editorial states: “Had this been carried out, Revelstoke would have been one compact town, instead of being cut in two by a mile and a half of lonely, burnt-up timber…Mr. Van Horne (the company Vice-President) would have nothing to do with Farwell or his offer…and thus Revelstoke remains in two parts – the old and the new.”
Once the station was established near the present location, the Farwell townsite had a distinct disadvantage. Businesses had to pay extra shipping charges to transport their goods from the station to their Front Street locations. Government Road was built to provide a more direct route from the Station to Front Street. It angled from Victoria and Rokeby to Third Street between Pearson and Ford. The last vestige of Government Road can be seen in the angled street between the Alpine Shopping Mall and The Bargain Store and Chalet Bakery building.
The Canadian Pacific Railway began selling lots in their new townsite in the early 1890s and by 1899, many businesses had relocated to Revelstoke Station. The townsite dispute had finally been settled, and residents could get clear title to their land. The local Board of Trade was pushing for incorporation and this finally happened on March 1, 1899.
This photograph of Mackenzie Avenue in 1898 shows the early development of this part of town. The spire of the Catholic Church can be seen at the corner of First Street. It was moved to Fifth Street in 1899. There were still several homes in the first two blocks of Mackenzie, but within two years, they had all been moved to other locations. In the background, Mount Revelstoke is completely burnt off.