The 1996 Annual Conference of the Mining History Association (MHA) was in Rossland, British Columbia, Canada, June 6-9, 1996. Rossland is called the “Golden City” because of the large gold output from its mines from 1891 to 1928. The Uplander Hotel in downtown Rossland was the venue for most of the conference events.
The conference program included a diverse series of mining history papers. About half of the presentations covered aspects of Canadian mining history while the other half included presentations on topics from elsewhere in the world.
Two field trips provided a contrast between the historic and modern mining activities in the area. The visit to the Teck Resources (then Cominco) smelter in nearby Trail allowed the attendees to see one of the world’s largest zinc and lead production complexes. A full-day trip explored several historic locations in the “Silvery Slocan” mining district north of Rossland in the mountains between Slocan Lake and Kootenay Lake.
There was much more mining history for conference attendees and current travelers to explore in southern BC. The steep north-south trending mountain ranges and valley lakes that hindered early development in BC, still pose a challenge to drivers, albeit a scenic one. Kimberly was home of the famous Sullivan Mine which supplied the Trail Smelter from 1909 until 2001. The town, 167
highway miles north and east from Rossland, is now a ski resort. A portion of the mine is open to visitors.
Those driving to Rossland from Vancouver could visit the historic Similkameen Valley mining district, 200 miles to the east and 185 miles west of Rossland. It was home of the Nickel Plate and Mascot Mines among others. Underground mining in the area stopped in 1949. Surface mining by Homestake at the Nickel Plate Mine continued until1996. The Mascot Mine, high on the mountain above Hedley, BC, has been restored and is open to visitors since 2004.
Less than an hour drive north from Vancouver, is the historic mining town of Britannia Beach, home of the Britannia Mine which was operated by the Howe Sound Company. It was discovered in 1904 and closed in 1974. The mining and milling complex is now the Britannia Mining Museum, a National Historic Site. Visitors can go underground and also visit exhibits housed in the historic buildings.
Those making the 129 mile drive from Spokane, Washington to Rossland will pass through Northport on the Columbia River. In 1892 it was the terminus of the Spokane Falls and Northern Railway from Spokane which connected with a trail to the Rossland mines. The trail became a wagon road. In 1896, the Red Mountain Railway connected Rossland with Northport. In the same year, the Le Roi Company erected a smelter in Northport to treat its Rossland ores. All traces of the smelter were removed in a 2004 site clean-up by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Just 70 miles east of Spokane in the famous Coeur d’Alene silver, lead, and zinc mining district in northern Idaho (site of the 2002 MHA annual conference). This historic mining area is a worthwhile side trip for all mining history buffs.
Mining History of Rossland and Trail
The discovery and development of the mines at Rossland, British Columbia, was one of the most important events in the mining history in Canada. It led to the establishment of the large smelting complex in Trail which is still in production by Teck Resources. In 1890, Joe Bourjouis and Joe Morris were working the Lily May Mine along the Dewdney Trail south of today’s Rossland. They decided to explore the slopes of Red Mountain, about two miles to the north. Several gossan deposits were exposed at the surface but had been ignored by earlier prospectors. In a single day, Bourjouis and Morris staked the Le Roi, Centre Star, War Eagle, Idaho, and Virginia claims. CLICK HERE to view a Rossland Claim Map (Drysdale, 1915). The Le Roi claim was given to Col. E. S. Topping who paid the recordation fees. Topping secured financial support of a syndicate of Spokane businessmen headed by Oliver Durant. Mine development began and the first ore was shipped from the Le Roi in 1891. Transportation was a major challenge for the early operations. Ore had to be packed by mule train to the Columbia River with the final destination being a smelter in Butte, Montana. This initial shipment of ore was valued at $84.60 per ton containing 4 ounces of gold, 3 ounces of silver, and 5.21% copper.
In 1892 a wagon road was constructed to Northport, Washington on the Columbia River. That year, the Spokane Falls and Northern Railway was completed from Spokane to Northport, further simplifying ore transportation. The Centre Star Mine started production. In 1893, a wagon road was built from the mines to the landing where Trail Creek joins the Columbia. Ore shipments from the Le Roi began using this route. In 1894, development was underway at the War Eagle and Josie Mines. In 1895, F. Augustus Heinze, one of Butte “Copper Kings,” contracted for ore from the Le Roi and started construction of the first Trail smelter. The smelter began operation in June of 1896. Heinze also constructed a tramway from the mines to the smelter but it was soon converted to the narrow gauge Columbia and Northwestern Railway. Also in that year, the standard gauge Red Mountain Railway was extended from Northport to Rossland, providing access to three transcontinental rail lines in Spokane.
Rossland boomed in the mid-1890s. It was named for Ross Thompson who established the town in 1892. From a mining camp of 50 men in the winter of 1890, the town had grown to a population of over 6,000 by 1897. In that year, the Le Roi Company constructed a smelter at Northport. Consolidations of mines brought greater stability to the area. The British American Corporation purchased several of the mines on Red Mountain and then acquired the Le Roi Mine and smelter. In 1898, the Centre Star was purchased by a Toronto company and the Canadian Pacific Railway purchased the Trail smelter and railway from Heinze. The construction of the Canadian Pacific’s Crowsnest line brought lower cost coal and coke to Trail. The West Kootenay Power Company made electricity available to the mines and smelter from its hydro power plant at Boddington Falls.
In 1900, the Le Roi No. 2 Company was formed to operate the Josie and several other claims. In 1901, the mines were idled for 9 months by a bitter strike by the Western Federation of Miners. After the strike, Rossland production peaked in 1902 but ore grades had begun to decline as the mines reached greater depths. In 1906, the Centre Star and the War Eagle mines were purchased by the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada, the predecessor of Cominco and today’s Teck Resources. The Le Roi Mine, the most productive in the district, was closed in 1910 and acquired by Cominco in 1911. Cominco purchased the Josie Mine in 1923. The entire group of mines was operated as a single unit until it was closed in 1928. At that time the workings extended to a depth of 1650 feet and encompassed about 60 miles of underground tunnels. From 1932 to 1942 parts of the mines were operated by lessees who extracted remnants of the orebodies. The mines were finally closed in 1942. Through the 1960s, Cominco and other companies conducted exploration campaigns on Red Mountain; however, none of these efforts were able to justify reopening of the mines.
The estimated total production from the Rossland mines was 6.2 million tons of ore which averaged 0.47 ounces of gold, 0.6 ounces of silver, and 1 percent copper. Ninety-eight percent of the production came from four large interconnected mines, the Le Roi, Centre Star, War Eagle, and Josie. (Gilbert, 1948)
Although the Rossland mines closed, the history of the Trail smelting industry continues to this day. The Sullivan Mine in Kimberly, BC had been discovered in 1892 and was acquired by Cominco in 1909. Smelting of the Sullivan ore began in Trail in 1910. Selective flotation enabled the production of lead, zinc, and iron pyrite concentrates at Kimberly. New lead and zinc plants constructed in Trail enabled production to increase during the 1920s and 1930s. Concerns about damage to Washington State agriculture caused by emissions from the Trail smelter led to an international agreement in 1927. To reduce pollution, Cominco began to produce sulfuric acid from the sulfur dioxide emissions and fertilizer became a new product for the company. During World War II, the Trail facilities played an essential role in supplying critical materials to the Allies.
The postwar period saw continuous improvement and modernization of the Trail operations. The ore reserves at the Sullivan Mine were exhausted and it was closed in 2001; however, concentrates from the Red Dog Mine in northern Alaska began to be smelted in 1991. The Red Dog deposit was delineated by the U. S. Bureau of Mines in the 1970s. It was subsequently developed through a joint venture of Cominco and the NANA Regional Corporation, one of the Alaska Native Regional Corporations created by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. The Red Dog is one of the world’s largest zinc mines and continues to be a major source of smelter feed for the Teck Resources Trail operations.
CLICK HERE to read an article on the Teck Cominco Trail operations (CIM Magazine, May 2006).
Rossland Mines Historical Marker near the Rossland Museum.
View of Rossland looking east from the Le Roi Mine, the largest on Red Mountain.
View of the Centre Star Mine, Rossland.
Rossland Miners’ Union Hall, 1894. Some of the MHA program sessions were held in this historic venue.
Augustus Heinze’ smelter at Trail Creek, 1898, processed Rossland ores.
Modern view of the Teck Resources lead-zinc-lead smelting complex, Trail, BC, 2013.
The SS Moyie, a Lake Kootenay sternwheeler, provided a vital transportation link to the interior of BC. The restored vessel was visited on the Silver Slocan field trip.
Miners at the Standard Mine, Silverton.
Last Chance Mine, Sandon.
Hall Mines Smelter, Nelson.
(Photos courtesy British Columbia Archives and Teck Resources)