John Houston was born in Ontario, but spent a great deal of his life travelling the North American continent. An accomplished newspaper man by trade, He came to Nelson from Rossland to establish Nelson's first newspaper, and like many smart worldly newcomers to the area quickly took stock of the 1890's mining boom around the Kootenay Lake area and became an entrepreneur. First in Real Estate, then branching out in many ventures.
One such venture inspired this drawing. Nelson being the centre of the Kootenay mining and transportation systems became an important City with a bright future. John Houston was determined to make the future and the City brighter by establishing the Nelson Electric Light Company.
This company was not a great success, and the Flamboyant Houston persuaded The City to purchase the system. it was thought that the cheap power would attract more business and enterprize. Not everyone shared in the good tidings of Nelson being independently able to produce it's own power.
West Kootenay Power Company of Rossland were expanding their hydro electric facilities, and had ambitions to supply to the bustling City of Nelson. When Houston left the City to be the Provincial MP- WKP signed a deal to supply Nelson's new street railway. Just before Christmas in 1899, The Manager of WKP Lorne Campbell himself drove the first railcar down Nelson's streets.......This is not the end of the tale. - But Nelson still owns it's own power! For the twists and turns in this magnificent story please read: The Business of Power by Jeremy Mouart, and Art Joyce's book -Hanging Fire & Heavy Horses: A History of Public Transit in Nelson, BC (City of Nelson, 2000).
John Houston's vision and legacy was to encourage the City to look to it's future as a viable community at the centre of the Kootenays at a time when the ore was running out and the mining activities were winding down.
Although many original buildings made of wood were victims of fire, others were built in their place. The town that was known as Shrewsbury then renamed Nelson has some wonderful buildings- many of them designed by well-known architects like Rattenbury who designed the BC Parliament Buildings.
The revitalization of Baker Street and the downtown core, and use of Nelson for the locale for ROXANNE the movie is a credit to all involved. Nelson has established itself as the Arts Capital of the West Kootenays, and soon will have a long awaited renovated heritage building that will house a new museum, art gallery and archives.
You can still ride the vintage streetcar, John Houston's home and office block still stands, and more info on heritage homes and their stories are told in another book by Art Joyce - A Perfect Childhood: One Hundred Years of Heritage Homes in Nelson (Nelson Museum & Historical Society, 1997)