Skookumchuk in the Rockies: Undertakings of the Staples Family - Naming of Wycliffe -

June 1st, 2022 2 Minutes

Part one of our series sponsored by the Regional District of East Kootenay and the Columbia Basin Trust:

Overview of Wycliffe and the Otis Staples Lumber Company – Image courtesy of the Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History

As with many aspects of history, the naming of Wycliffe is a little unclear. Bonnie McLean claims to have verified through postal records that Wycliffe was first formally called Bernadette. However, she says this caused confusion due to a Bernadette already existing in Alberta. 

She contacted a Mrs. Upton in Seattle who claimed it was named after her father, a Mr. Wycliffe, a water boy for the Staples Lumber Company.  

The Cranbrook Herald of February 1, 1905, states that a new post office has been created in the district “to be known as Staples.” Then on May 23, the same source says that Bradford and McDonald opened a new hotel at Bayard, “comfortable in every respect” and “a pleasant place to stop.” 

One of Otis Staples’s sons was named Bayard.

One source says Mr. W. H. Bradford, who was living at Wycliffe when it was called Staples Siding, named it. Harry Bradford owned the 295 acres that became the mill and townsite and planned to develop a farm. However, Otis Staples determined that the Bradford property was the best on the river for his purposes. George James proclaimed that a deal followed, with Bradford reserving an acre near the river to build a hotel.

Townsite of Wycliffe c. 1904 – Image courtesy of the Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History

It is known that Harry Bradford and John McDonald secured permission from the Otis Staples Lumber Company in September 1904 to build a hotel near the mill property and immediately started construction. In November of that year, Bradford applied for a liquor license for the St. Mary’s Hotel at Staples Siding. The hotel was very successful, and in 1909, Harry Bradford transferred the retail liquor license in the premises situated at Wycliffe and known as the Wycliffe Hotel to Harry Edwards.

In his book ‘The Post Office of British Columbia 1858-1970’ George H. Melvin, citing postal records, says that Bayard was established on March 3, 1905, with F.P. Davis as postmaster, then was changed to Wycliffe on February 1, 1906, with Mr. Davis remaining as postmaster. 

No reason was given for the name change.

Winnifred Aikens quotes a 1914 letter to the District Forester in Cranbrook that stated three hundred and five men were employed at the Staples Mill with a payroll of $150,000 (about $4,312,560 in today’s dollars).

Otis Staples’ Railway Tracks and Crew – Image courtesy of the Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History

The Royal Commission on Forestry (1944) pronounced the death of Wycliffe in its publication ‘Growth of Ghost Towns.’ 

“This community disappeared in 1927 when the Staples Lumber Company ceased operations with a cut of 100 thousand feet per day. The holdings of accessible timber became too small to allow the Company to continue the business. 

“Wycliffe brought a considerable measure of prosperity to Cranbrook, and its loss was a severe blow to that city. The hotel, beer parlour, post office, general store, garage, and the residents’ homes were dismantled or abandoned, and today, nothing remains of this small community.”

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