Sultana Creek, Sultana Peak
Previous Names: Michelsen/Michelson Creek
Sultana Creek gets its name from Sultana Peak, which was itself named after a short-lived group of mining claims, known as the Sultana Group, located in the early 1900s.
This is a surprisingly tangled story so to give some semblance of order we’ll approach it in three parts. Starting with the obvious.
Part 1: Sultana
From what I’ve been able to research, the first geographic feature to be given the name “Sultana” was not the creek, but the peak. In a 1945 Alpine Club article, Dorothy Richards remarks, “Mount Nelson’s nearest neighbour to the southwest is Sultana (c 10,500 feet [3200 metres]). By whom so named I know not, but the reason is clear enough. She glitters and allures, and tempers her attractions with a certain majesty – from the north at least.”1
Dorothy’s confusion as to how Sultana Peak was named is understandable as the name does seem to come out of nowhere. A clue to its origins, however, can be found in the early 1900s. In the Annual Report to the Minister of Mines in 1904 there is brief mention of development work on the Sultana Group up Michelsen (often Michelson) Creek off the North Fork of Toby Creek (now Delphine Creek).2 The following year, a 70 foot (21 metre) tunnel was dug on the Sultana Group site as well as several open cuts.3
The Sultana Group consisted of three claims, and their exact location along Michelsen Creek is unclear.4 It is also not clear whether the peak was named after the mining group or the group named after the mountain. Considering that few mountains in the area were officially named in 1904, evidence leans towards Sultana Peak getting its name from this Sultana Group of mining claims. It did not take long for this association to be forgotten, however, and although the Sultana name continued on in the peak, there is no further mention of the Sultana mining claim after 1906.
Part 2: Michelsen
Which brings us to the aforementioned Michelsen Creek. Michelsen Creek is an earlier name for Sultana Creek, and it first appears by the name “Michelsen” in that 1904 Annual Report to the Minister of Mines.5 It re-appears regularly as Michelsen Creek until the late 1940s.
As the name “Michelsen” appears the same year as the first mention of the Sultana Group, it is likely that the two names are connected and that it was Michelsen who developed the Sultana Group.
A likely candidate for the origins of the name is Peter Michelsen, who was involved in prospecting and mining various properties up Toby Creek. In 1905, Michelsen is reported as taking out ore from his claims near the B.C. claim.6 The B.C./Tilbury claim was located just to the west of the Michelsen/Sultana Creek basin, on the ridge coming down from Mt Catherine, so it makes sense that claims described as being near to the B.C. Tilbury might be in the Michelsen Creek basin and that this referred t o the Sultana Group.
As Sultana Creek was known as Michelsen Creek for at least half a century, it seems worthwhile to spend a minute with the person it was likely named after. Peter Thorvald Otto Michelsen was born in Denmark on 31 May 18707 as the eldest of four children.8 Michelsen emigrated to Canada in 1900, and in 1901 is listed on the Canadian Census as a miner living as a lodger in the home of William P Evans (The Outcrop newspaper editor) and family.9
Michelsen worked as a miner and prospector, often in the area of Toby Creek and what later became known as Delphine Creek. In 1901 he was a co-owner of a claim up Mineral Creek,10 and he leased the Delphine claim for a time in 1902.11 In 1904 he mined ore from the B.C./Tilbury,12 and also spent a lot of time working on the Black Diamond claim on Toby Creek.13
Peter Michelsen was married on 10 October 1904 to Mary Louise Letty in the Athalmer Hotel.14 The newly married couple started out the next morning with a load of supplies to live up Toby Creek on the Black Diamond claim for the next seven months. There they remained, “all through the long winter, without even one visitor to chat with over a cup of tea or to disturb the sublime solitude of the romantic honeymoon they had chosen. Talk about young lovers being cast adrift on the briny ocean and washed on the shore of an unknown island.”15 The couple was also later reported to have a ranch near Goldie Creek.16
Peter and his wife, Mary Louise, moved away from the valley in 1910/1911 to the area of Bamfield on Vancouver Island,17 where it seems that Peter became a farmer. They lived there for the rest of their lives, with Mary Louise passing away in 1941 at the age 74 in Port Alberni,18 and Peter in 1946.19 Peter also remarried, although it is not clear when. At the time of his death his wife was listed as Daisy Leonora.20
Part 3: Thunderbird Mines Ltd
Although the Sultana Group was forgotten, Michelsen Creek remained, and a new wave activity began on the creek in 1934. That year, a company known as Thunderbird Mines Ltd began to examine the old mining prospects on the creek with a goal of starting new development. 21 By the summer of 1935, at least fifteen men were employed at the mine.22 Although this mine was owned by Thunderbird Mines Ltd, it was officially called the Excelda Mine.
Thunderbird Mines Ltd was a private company with John Paulding Farnham (the son of George Paulding Farnham) as president and RC Moffitt as vice president, with the two also being the principal shareholders.23 Farnham’s involvement was short lived: by 1936 he had disappeared and Moffitt was the president and general manager of the company.24
The Excelda Mine consisted of seven claims with an option on a further three. It consisted of a packers’ camp on Delphine Creek from which, “a rather steep “go-devil” trail four miles [6.4 kilometres] long leads to the mine camp at an elevation of 7,500 feet [2,300 metres].”25 It is not clear if this trail was put in by the Thunderbird Mine company, or merely repaired from one of the claim’s earlier iterations.
The mine workings themselves were surprisingly widespread and varied with pits, trenches, tunnels, and shallow shafts at elevations ranging from 8,700 to 10,100 feet (2,600 to 3,100 metres).26 These attempts to find commercial mineralization of silver-lead-zinc ore were, in 1935, completely unsuccessful. An underground tunnel of some sort was extended in 193627 to reach a total length of some 440 feet (130 metres).28
In addition to the various workings, permanent buildings at the site included a mess house, a camp building, a wash and change room, a black-smith shop, a powder magazine, and a power house.29 The location of the mine is described as being, “extremely rugged and above camp-level there is practically no vegetation.”30
This description stands nearly a century later: seeing the old powder magazine and power house buildings precariously perched on bare rock far up the slope is striking. This rugged location caused problems for the mine: in 1937 work was inhibited by the extremely dry season and lack of water available.31
Development at the Excelda Mine slowed in 1937 after the company had difficulties in renewing their agreement with the owners of the claims. The Thunderbird Mines company suspended operations,32 and activity halted. At the end of 1939, an application was made on behalf of Thunderbird Mines Ltd to obtain Crown grants for claims in the Michelsen Creek basin (none of which were named either Thunderbird or Excelda).33
It wasn’t until 1946 that activity at the Excelda Mine resumed, still under Thunderbird Mines Ltd with R.C Moffitt as president. The underground tunnel was advanced another 400 feet (120 metres), with little mineralization found. A proposal was also made to install some kind of tram to give better access to the uppermost workings near the top of the ridge, at an elevation of more than 10,000 feet (3,000 metres). The thought was to give better access to what was deemed the best mineral showing.34 This plan was optimistic as a geological study the following year “proved discouraging,” prompting the company to drop its claim to the property.35 There is no evidence that any ore was ever actually shipped from the Excelda Mine by Thunderbird Mines Ltd.
Postcript: Diamonds, Again?
I mentioned in my post on Henry Neave that there were rumours around the turn of the century about diamonds in the mountains west of Invermere, with particular interest paid to the Toby and Horsethief Creek valleys. Curiously enough, diamonds appear again in association with the claims up Michelsen/Sultana Creek. In 1993 an assessment was conducted on what was then called the Sultana Claim Group, encompassing the old mine workings on Michelsen Creek, to identify potential diamond-bearing properties. A scientific paper had suggested the area might have kimberlite dykes, known to contain diamonds.36
Unfortunately no diamonds seem to have been found, although “some medium red garnets” were sent away for analysis.37 This is not the first time I’ve read about garnets being found in Toby/Horsethief Creek area, and I wonder if anyone out there has found any (or would even know what they look like).
I did warn that the names in this area were confusing. To summarize the details: Sultana Creek gets its name from Sultana Peak, which was itself named after a short-lived group of mining claims, known as the Sultana Group, located in the early 1900s.
The Sultana group was likely staked and developed by Peter Michelsen, and the creek those claims were on (now Sultana Creek) was known as Michelsen Creek for well over half a century. It’s unclear when or why the name Michelsen Creek was dropped in preference to Sultana Creek. The most likely answer is that the name Michelsen was simply forgotten, and the name Sultana was adopted out of a need for a name.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Thunderbird Mines Ltd developed a group of mining claims on Michelsen Creek, likely including the previous Sultana Group claims. This mine was officially known as the Excelda Mine. The colloquial name for the old mining development (the Excelda Mine) on Michelsen (now Sultana) Creek is now the Thunderbird Mine.
I tried to figure out the history of the Thunderbird Mine back in 2013 for the Mines in the Windermere booklet and quickly ran into a dead end. I can easily forgive my younger self: turns out the whole history of that particular area is a convoluted maze.
i have a book “A History of Panorama” by Andy Stuart-Hill and it states that Sultana Peak name was name by a couple of local mountaineers Mr and Mrs Richards who climed the peak and were eating a Sultana candy bar on the summit and decided on this name for the peak..
I like that origin story! What an amazing coincidence if both were correct: that the Richards happened to name a peak for a candy bar that happened to have the same name as an old group of mining claims on that mountain.
Unfortunately, the mountaineering Mr and Mrs Richards referred to in the Andy Stuart-Hill book are likely Dorothy and I.A. Richards from the Alpine Club article quoted at the top of this post. In this article Dorothy Richards states not knowing how the Sultana name came about. Alpine Club tradition tends for members to take credit when they do name a mountain, so the Sultana candy bar is likely apocryphal.