Mount Swansea (overlooking Windermere), Swansea Road, Swansea Avenue
Other Names: Windermere Mountain, Morigeau Mountain
It is said that the first shipment of ore from the Windermere Valley was sent from the mountain to the smelter in Swansea, Wales. There is some truth to the story, however it’s also somewhat more complicated than that.
Located east of Windermere and overlooking Windermere Lake, Mount Swansea is something of a central feature to the Windermere area.
There’s a traditional story attached to the naming of Mount Swansea. According to that story, the name commemorates the town of Swansea in Wales after a shipment of copper ore was sent from Windermere to the smelter there. This is said to be the first shipment of ore from the Valley. There is some truth to the story, however it’s also somewhat more complicated than that.
In 1888, copper was discovered and the first claims staked on the mountain just east of Windermere (then Windermere Mountain). Assays gave about 30 per cent copper, which is quite high.1 Not much happened on those claims until 1890, when Orestes A. Brown of Spokane took hold of the claim with the intention to ship the following spring.
Work on the Windermere Mountain claims did not proceed nearly as quickly as anticipated. Between 75 and 100 tons of ore were on the dump in 1890, however only ten tons were shipped the following year, and these were taken only to complete a shipment from elsewhere.2 Ten tons is not a large shipment. It was not recorded where that shipment was sent, however the smelter in Swansea, Wales is possible.
Shortly after this shipment, the Windermere Mining Co Ltd was formed in Spokane (c.1891) to work the claim, however again not much was accomplished.3 Another ten tons were shipped as a test shipment in the summer of 1892, this time definitely being sent for a mill test in Swansea, Wales.4 Test shipments were used to establish the quality of the ore in a mine, and were commonly used to “prove” the value of that ore with the intention of attracting the attention of larger companies who had the capital to buy a claim and pursue further development.
At this point the mine was known as either the Brown and Brewer Mine or the Windermere Mine, named for Orestes A. Brown (of Spokane) and Samuel Brewer (of Fairmont). The outcome of the mill test may have been promising, as the mine was said to have been sold to an English Syndicate in 1893.5 That being said, once again no significant development was done of the claim for some years after.
Work began again in 1896 with Ben Abel doing work on the claim which was then described as being, “more than ordinarily rich in copper.”6 It was at this time that the mine became known as the Swansea claim, possibly in reference to at least one of the two ten ton shipments having been sent to Swansea, and possibly in the hopes that a future shipment would be again made to Swansea. Abel sunk a sixty foot (eighteen metre) deep shaft, and found that the vein of copper appeared to improve the deeper he went.
With these improved prospects, work began on the Swansea claim in earnest. The property was bonded in 1897 to George B. Kirk of London, and the following year to Fred A. Mullholland of Rossland.7 A possible factor in encouraging development was a policy announced by the CPR in 1897 that they would carry ore from Golden to the Swansea smelters for $20 per ton.8 The operators of the Swansea claim never took advantage of this policy, however, as no further ore was ever shipped to Swansea.
Instead, in 1898 the Mines Development and Trust Company of Rossland intended to ship twenty tons to the smelter in Trail for a trial (seven tons were actually sent).9 Meanwhile, development on the mine continued swiftly. A tunnel and shafts were begun with a “large force” of men and the intention of making shipments to the smelter the following spring.10
As the mine was developed, the copper ore being dug out was found mostly in blue and green coloured masses mixed with broken rock. It’s worthwhile to take a moment to address the geology of the deposit. The rock of the mountain was broken along faults, and along one of those faults the rock was all crunched up and cemented together with lime. As water filtered through the rock it brought with it copper, which was deposited in this cemented together zone. The result was a number of large blobs of rich copper ore scattered along the fault: very rich masses of copper ore that were large but not continuous.11
The claim was promising enough that it was sold again in 1899 to the Darby Company for $30,000.12 The former owner, Mr Mulholland, retained an interest in the mine, while the president of the new company, A.S. Goodeve, was the mayor of Rossland. The majority of the company’s stock was held in Scotland.13
The new company built a rawhide trail to bring down some 2,000 sacks of ore to the Windermere dock during the winter months.14 A rawhide trail was used specifically during the winter when there was snow on the ground. Ore was packed in animal hides, which were dragged over the snow by horses. The trick to rawhiding is that it required a trail with a relatively low grade so that the hides would slide without going too fast for the horses: the beautifully graded road going up Mt Swansea is likely the result of the original rawhide trail.
The burst of activity in 1899 was followed by a reasonable shipment (about 500 tons) of ore in 1900.15 This was to be the most extensive activity on the Swansea claim. Another carload of ore was packed down and shipped to the Trail Smelter in 1906, but that was pretty much it.16 Given the way the copper ore was deposited in large blobs along the fault line, although the copper ore was very rich, once those deposits ran out the mine could not continue. Even before the small 1906 shipment, the mine was already being referred to as “the old Swansea Mine.”17
Even after the Swansea Mine ran out, the trail up Mount Swansea continued to be used. In 1924 a forestry look-out was established on the top of the mountain with a full time employee living on the mountain to keep a look-out for forest fires.18 Some may remember the look-out hut on top of the mountain, or at least the forester’s cabin that was located in what is now the parking lot at the top of the Mount Swansea Road.
That forestry look-out remained for decades. Going back to 1928, it was, “one of the town [Invermere’s] features of the night season watching the [Swansea] look-out’s signal light blinking from the cabin, 5,000 feet up, [over] to the lights of Paradise mine, some three thousand feet higher, away across the Columbia Valley, a distance of twenty-five miles.”19
The Story of Mount Swansea
So how accurate is the story that Mount Swansea was named after the first mine to ship ore from the Valley with a shipment of copper to Swansea, Wales? First, it depends on what one counts as the Windermere Valley. The first recorded shipments of ore from the valley south of Golden were in 1888, with a thirty-five ton shipment from Vermont Creek and a thirty-ton shipment by Charles Law from Jubilee Mountain.20 The latter shipment from Jubilee Mountain was copper ore sent to Swansea, Wales. Jubilee Mountain is somewhat on the boundary: it has been part of the Golden Mining Division at times and the Windermere Division at other times, so it depends on what one takes as the boundary.
If we do not count Jubilee Mountain and Vermont Creek as being part of the Windermere Valley, then the ten-ton shipment in 1891 from the Windermere Mountain to fill out another shipment would qualify as the first. It is not specified where that 1891 shipment went, although Swansea is certainly likely. The additional ten-ton test shipment the following year, in 1892, was definitely sent to Swansea.
There is also perhaps a distinction to be made between test shipments and regular shipments from a mine. Test shipments were usually smaller, and intended to “prove” the mine. These are different from the regular shipments of a working mine that were intended to pay the bills and keep the mine in operation. Swansea was not the only mine in the area to send a test shipment in 1892: the Thunder Hill mine also sent out a test that year.21 The owners of the Delphine Mine later claimed, in 1899, to have the first ore shipped from the Windermere District, perhaps as that shipment was something closer to a regular shipment than a small test.22
Naming the Swansea
Regardless of whether the first ore to be shipped from the Valley was from Windermere Mountain to Swansea in Wales, the re-naming of the Swansea claim c.1896 was certainly deliberate. Whomever decided on the name would have likely known that some ore – even if it was only ten or twenty tons – had been shipped to the Swansea smelters in the past. While such a small amount of ore was not even a drop in the bucket at the smelter itself, the name “Swansea” was well-known in mining circles at the time and would have been immediately associated with making money from selling ore. Using the name “Swansea” on a claim could therefore be good for marketing to potential investors in the claim, even if ore from the Swansea claim (while it was named the Swansea) was never actually shipped to the Swansea smelters.
Meanwhile, the most productive years on the Swansea claim were while it was named the Swansea. The “old mine” became a defining feature of the mountain, particularly as there was trail leading straight up to it. It is not surprising, then, that over time the name “Swansea” became associated with the mountain as a whole.
As a post script: the official name for the mountain is not “Mount Swansea” but “Swansea Mountain”. Mountains named after people have “Mount” proceeding; those named after other things have the “Mountain” afterwards. Official rules aside, “Swansea Mountain” just sounds wrong to me!