by Sam McBride

It was Friday, June 1, 1900, a day before the official public opening of the new eastern line of the fledgling streetcar system in Nelson, British  Columbia.

To publicize the event and build support for the new service, Francis White “Frank” Peters, founding president of the Nelson Electric Tramway Company, organized and led an advance tour of the new line and its stops for a group of Nelson businessmen, including Nelson Daily Miner newspaper editor Donald J. Beaton.  They knew Peters well from his day job in Nelson as assistant freight agent, Kootenay district, for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).


F.W. Peters, c. 1916, City of Vancouver Archives

According to Beaton`s report in the next day’s paper, the businessmen greatly enjoyed the tour, and were impressed by improvements the streetcar company made to the park facilities so as to increase passenger numbers and generate much-needed revenue for the fledgling company.

During a break in the tour, Peters playfully pushed a couple of the men on children`s swings to relive their youth, while the rest of the group enjoyed relaxing in a shady spot with a cool breeze.  Upon Peters’ return, a spokesman of the group announced they decided to name the park Petersville in his honor.  While the naming was essentially in jest, they stipulated that the beach area known as Lake Park would retain its name.

As it turned out, the beach and green space would become solidly, and affectionately, known as Lakeside Park.


Nelson’s streetcars were replaced by buses in the late 1940s, but today Streetcar 23 on a section out of Lakeside Park operates seasonally for tourists and locals.  I took this photo July 1, 2017 when the streetcar was free as part of the Canada 150 celebrations.

But the unauthorized Petersville naming reflected the high regard they had for Peters.  Two books on the history of Nelson streetcars – “Streetcars in the Kootenays” by Douglas Parker and “Hanging Fire and Heavy Horses” by Art Joyce – both note that F.W. Peters was popular and well-respected in the community.

His railway connection was valuable in getting the new service off the ground, as British investors, wary of investing in Nelson because its population of less than 7,000 was much less than that of other communities with streetcar systems, admired the CPR as a company and approved of a long-term CPR man being president of the local operating company.

The previous December Frank Peters was among the dignitaries who dutifully deposited a dime in the fare box to commemorate the official launch of the first stage of the new streetcar service, which would be a big part of life in the city until the aging system was replaced by buses in 1949.  But the romance and nostalgia of Nelson streetcars did not end there.  Thanks to the work of local volunteers in the Nelson Electric Tramway Society, a section of the streetcar line from Lakeside Park to the Prestige Inn has operated Streetcar 23 seasonally as a popular tourist attraction since 1992.

In the late 1890s Peters and fellow Nelson boosters pushed for a streetcar service as something Nelson as a booming mining town deserved, and particularly needed because of its steep streets.

In late 1900 Frank Peters faded away from Nelson histories when his employer transferred him to Vancouver with a promotion.  He had lived in Nelson since 1896 when the CPR transferred him in from Winnipeg.  Though just 36 years old when he arrived in Nelson, he had 23 years of experience in railroading.

One of Peters’ jobs with the CPR while in Nelson was to organize and lead a three-day excursion of West Kootenay VIPs (council and board of trade reps) commemorating the start-up in December 1898 of the company’s new Crowsnest Line that connected the Kootenays with southern Alberta and points east for the first time.

On December 7, 1898 about 100 representatives of West Kootenay councils and boards of trade – including well-known names in the region’s history such as J. Fred Hume, Colonel E.S. Topping, John Kirkup and J.S.C. Fraser — boarded the brand new sternwheeler S.S. Moyie at Nelson and steamed up the West Arm and down Kootenay Lake to Kootenay Landing (near Creston).


The S.S. Moyie, safely preserved in Kaslo, B.C. in October 2017. Almost 120 years ago Frank Peters organized a special excursion of the new Moyie sternwheeler to transport local dignitaries toward a rail excursion to commemorate the CPR`s new Crowsnest Railway.

From there the group boarded rail cars east to receptions and tours in Cranbrook and then Fernie, where they witnessed the first shipment of coke to the Trail smelter (which the CPR purchased along with mines and rail rights earlier that year from mining magnate F. Augustus Heinze).  Next stop was a banquet at Wild Horse Creek, and then return voyage on the Moyie from Kootenay Landing to Nelson, arriving on December 9th.

In his four years in Nelson Peters made many friends and business contacts – particularly fellow members in the Nelson Club — who kept in touch with him in years ahead when he rose to executive rank in the CPR.   He was a talented raconteur, with many stories and jokes to tell from the historic construction of the CPR main line across Canada. The Daily Miner would publish some of them, prefaced by the phrase “Here`s another one from Frank Peters…“.

His goal in his CPR work in Nelson was to increase freight tonnage – and resulting revenues — for the company. He met regularly with boards of trade, as well as companies and individuals in industries like mining and fruit ranching to see how they could work together for mutual benefit in getting their products to markets.

Peters was born March 25, 1860 in Saint John, New Brunswick, the same port where his great-grandfather James Peters arrived in 1783 leading a group of United Empire Loyalists who fled their homes in Long Island, New York after the American rebels won the Revolutionary War.


Frank Peters`ancestor James Peters (1746-1820), United Empire Loyalist from New York

The Peters family in the 19th century was prominent in the Maritimes as lawyers, judges and government administrators, but young Frank was fixated instead on the exciting new industry of trains and railways.

In 1873 at 13 he started work as a telegraph operator with the Intercolonial Railway in his native province.  From there he went to the U.S. where he worked for the Chicago and Grand Trunk Railway in Michigan before joining the CPR in Winnipeg as a billing clerk in 1881, the year of CPR’s incorporation.  For his part in the history of Manitoba, the Manitoba Historical Society includes Peters in its online gallery of Memorable Manitobans.

After Nelson, Peters became general freight agent and then assistant to CPR vice president William Whyte.  On behalf of his company, he responded to questions the Nelson Board of Trade and the Nelson Daily News had regarding construction of the CPR`s Kootenay Lake Hotel at Balfour, which opened in 1911.  It was in line with the CPR vision in the early 1900s of building tourist resorts in the Kootenays along the new “southern line” through B.C. in similar fashion to resorts near the CPR main line that included world famous destinations such as the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise.

In 1912 Peters received his biggest and last promotion, becoming CPR`s general superintendent, B.C. division.

In 1916 the Canadian government, worried about shortage of facilities to care for the injured and sick soldiers returning from Europe, established a national Military Hospitals Commission, with Frank Peters one of two B.C. businessmen appointed as directors.  Peters, who lived with his wife Gertrude Hurd in the prestigious Shaughnessy neighborhood in Vancouver, was a driving force behind the construction of the Shaughnessy Veterans Hospital which opened in 1917 and served as a care facility for veterans until the 1990s.  At the same time, the CPR offered its luxury hotel in Balfour – virtually dormant due to lack of tourism in wartime — to the Commission, and it was used as a sanatorium for soldiers recovering from tuberculosis until 1920.  Unfortunately, the hotel had little appeal for tourists after serving as a sanatorium, and it was dormant for several years before torn down for building materials in 1929.

As the top CPR man residing in Vancouver, Peters was active in local and provincial business groups, serving as president of the Vancouver Club as well as the Canadian Club.  A keen golfer, he was president of the Shaughnessy Heights Golf Club in 1921.  His involvement with sports administration began in 1896 when he was president of the Manitoba Curling Association.  Three years later while in Nelson he was president of the B.C. Curling Association.


CPR B.C. superintendent Frank Peters (with handlebar moustache) greets President Warren Harding and wife Florence in Vancouver on July 26, 1923. Photo courtesy of City of Vancouver Archives

As a loquacious CPR executive, Peters was often approached by newspaper reporters for comments on CPR operations and the economy in general, particularly during and after his periodic inspection tours of the interior of the province.   In interviews in the 1920s he often commented on the success of the subsidiary company Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company Canada Limited (future Cominco and now Teck) having the world’s largest lead-zinc mine (the Sullivan) in Kimberley and the world largest smelter of its kind in Trail, while generating huge amounts of traffic between them on CPR lines in the Kootenays.

Peters had a memorable brush with U.S. presidential history in 1923.  President Warren G. Harding was in Alaska as part of a West Coast tour, and decided to stop at Vancouver, B.C. for a quick visit on July 26, 1923 on his way to Seattle.  Vancouver residents were proud their city was chosen as the site for the first visit to Canada of a sitting American president.

Warren G. Harding leaving Shaughnessy Heights golf club by car (1)

U.S. President Warren Harding returning from golf game hosted by former Nelsonite Frank Peters at Shaughnessy Golf Course in Vancouver on July 26, 1923.  City of Vancouver Archives

Like many U.S. presidents, Harding enjoyed golfing.  Authorities decided that Frank Peters would be a good host for Harding, particularly in organizing a golf game at the Shaughnessy Club, renowned as one of the best 18-hole courses in North America.  Arrangements were made for a golf foursome including Harding, Peters, a Vancouver judge, and the club pro to play in the afternoon, accompanied by caddies and presidential security staff.  This followed a speech by Harding to a crowd estimated at 50,000 in Stanley Park.

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President Harding prepares for a tee shot at Shaughnessy Golf Club, hosted by Frank Peters, on July 26, 1923. City of Vancouver Archives.

After just six holes, Harding, 57, told his golf companions he was extremely exhausted and could not continue playing.   However, knowing that reporters and cheering fans would be beside the 18th green to greet him and he did not want to be questioned about his health, he suggested they rest for a while and then walk over to play the 17th and 18th holes, and his health problem would not be mentioned.


news story in Ottawa Journal with comments by F.W. Peters on the late president Harding caption

It would be Harding’s last round of golf.  Exactly a week later the world was shocked to hear of the president’s death from a stroke in San Francisco, with vice president Calvin Coolidge succeeding him as president.

As the Vancouverite who spent the most time with Harding during the visit, Peters was contacted by reporters for comments on his passing.   In an August 3, 1923 article in the Vancouver Daily World (as well as other newspapers across the country through wire services), Peters praised Harding as a determined golfer and good fellow who was courteous to spectators, including a one-legged veteran who he invited within the security ropes, assisted in setting up his camera equipment, and posed for a photograph.  “Kindness and consideration for other people — that was the keynote of the president`s personality,” Peters said.

After the death of Harding’s wife Florence in 1924 there was speculation she may have poisoned him in revenge for his affairs with mistresses.  She was with him when he died, and insisted he be immediately embalmed, not allowing for an autopsy.  In 2014 Harding’s end was the subject of a PBS documentary “The Strange Death of Warren G. Harding”.

Peters retired from CPR in 1926, but stayed on as a member of advisory groups and as a director of the CPR subsidiary Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railroad.  One speaker at his retirement event said Peters could not possibly retire completely because he was the only person in the county who understood Canada’s incredibly complex freight rates.

In 1927 his older brother Col. James Peters, who had been District Officer Commanding, British Columbia in the early 1900s , died in Victoria.  As a major in November 1887, James Peters was in command of a contingent of 100 men, accompanied by wives and children, who travelled on the new CPR line across Canada from Montreal to Vancouver, and then by ship to Victoria, where they served as Canada’s first West Coast defence force.

The death of Frank Peters in Vancouver after a short illness at age 73 on May 13, 1933 was front page news across Canada, including the Nelson Daily News, which mentioned his freight work in Nelson but not his long-overlooked role in getting streetcar service off the ground.    Noting his 60-year connection with trains, he was dubbed “The Grand Old Man of the CPR” and “The Grand Old Man of Canadian Railroading”.

In a tribute to Peters, CPR vice president D.C. Coleman said “Genial, kindly and approachable, he knew how, without loss of dignity, to gain the confidence and affection of the western people.  He played the game of life to the end with boyish zest, but always with an honorable respect for the rules“.

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Gertrude Wynyard Peters (1863-1937)

There are some interesting connections between Frank Peters and his famous CPR boss, Sir William Cornelius Van Horne (1843-1915).  Van Horne also began in the railroad business as a telegraph operator, starting at age 14 in 1857.  Van Horne and Peters both joined the CPR in 1881 after working for Chicago-based railroad companies.  Their wives had the same surname of Hurd.  Van Horne married Lucy Adeline Hurd in 1867 in Joliet, Illinois and Peters married Gertrude Wynyard Hurd in 1884 in Winnipeg.  Census data shows they were not sisters, but could have been cousins.  Widow Gertrude died Oct. 10, 1937 in New Westminster, BC.


Memorable Manitobans (

City of Vancouver Archives

“Streetcars in the Kootenays” by Douglas Parker, 1992.

“Hanging Fire and Heavy Horses” by Art Joyce, 2000.

Shaughnessy Golf Course web site – history (Vancouver Daily World, Ottawa Journal and others)

Nelson Daily Miner

Nelson Daily News

Warren G. Harding & Stanley Park – History of Metropolitan Vancouver

A Peters Lineage, 1896

Knowles, Valeries, William C. Van Horne: Railway Titan, Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2010