Paradise Mine/Paradise Ridge/Paradise Basin
“In its early days Hammond used to say it [the mine] should have been called the ‘Parasite’.” 46
The Paradise mine, located in the high alpine basin below Mount Nelson near Invermere, is one of the most well known mines of the Windermere Valley.
This is part one of two discussing the history of the Paradise Mine. This post covers the discovery of the mine, the initial rush to develop the property, and the subsequent termination of activity (1899-1906).
Discovery and Initial Investment
The Paradise Group was first staked in August 1899.1 Three prospectors quickly became associated with locating the claim: John Watson, James Jeffery, and Tom Jones, although it’s somewhat unclear as to who actually ‘discovered’ the location. Although sources contradict each other,2 it seems that Watson and Jeffery made the original find, then quickly sold Tom Jones a one-third share in exchange for his bringing the property to the attention of his employer, the New British Columbia Syndicate.3
The three original claims were recorded as the Parridice [sic], the Comstock and the Royal Stag. A story later emerged that the claim was intended as the “Pair-o-dice”, but there is no evidence of this. The group is referred to even in the earliest newspaper reports as the Paradise, and as “parridice” is a phonetic representation of “paradise”, it is likely that the person filling out the original paperwork, or the mining recorder at the time (or both), just weren’t that strong at spelling.
The Paradise group was considered so promising that the first mention of it in the newspapers is that it had been bonded (one resource states that the deal was completed on 30 September 1899; the first appearance in a newspaper is on 6 October 1899).4 This is quite unusual. Typically prospectors has to “boost” a property in the hopes of getting investment – a process that could take years. In these initial reports, the Paradise is described optimistically as “a world beater,”5 and “the most important discovery yet recorded in that section.”6
This initial bond of the Paradise Group was made by William Gilbert Mitchell-Innes for $100,000 (or perhaps $150,000 – reports are confusing) of the New British Columbia Syndicate (for more on Mitchell-Innes see the post on Mount Nelson).7 The high value of the property came from assays of its ore, which gave between 57 to 60 per cent lead, 40 to 50 ozs silver, and $14 to $15 of gold to the ton. The ore could be easily mined as it was a “sand ore” rather than a hard rock, meaning that it could literally be mined with pick and shovel: no explosives required.8
Activity on the Paradise began almost immediately after the deal for its purchase was officially recorded, on 26 October 1899.9 A force of men was put to work under the foremanship of Tom Jones,10 with the goal of getting 1,000 tons of ore down to the Columbia River for steamboats to transport it in the spring.11
These plans temporarily stalled over the winter. In part this may have been due to weather and trail conditions, but the local representatives of the New British Columbia Syndicate also met with personal tragedy. In October 1899 one of the brothers representing syndicate, Harry Mitchell-Innes, tragically drowned in Lake Windermere.12 The British Columbia Syndicate ended its interest in the Paradise property, and by February 1900 the Paradise had a new owner in Herbert Carlyle Hammond, who was represented locally by mining engineer Robert Randolph Bruce (this purchase was made official in June 1900).13
The First Two Seasons
Under the management of Hammond and Bruce, the summer of 1900 saw a flurry of development on the Paradise Group.14 A force of men was immediately put to work constructing a rawhide trail from Toby Creek up Spring Creek, and bunkhouses and offices were built (the mine was also accessed in early years from Boulder Creek (now Bruce Creek) over the Paradise ridge).15 Access was made easier as, that summer, the Government put in a road from Athalmer just over eleven miles up Toby Creek to improve access to mines in the area.16
Meanwhile, between fifteen and twenty men were employed at the mine itself on three separate tunnels, using pick and shovel to take out the soft ore.17 At least 3,000 sacks were taken out that first summer (each sack was about 120 pounds – 54 kilograms). At one point workers at the mine were putting out 200 sacks per day.18 By November, the rawhide trail down to Toby Creek was completed, and some one thousand tons of ore was brought down to the mouth of Spring Creek.19
From the valley floor at Spring Creek (just before present day Panorama), Captain Francis Patrick Armstrong had the contract to deliver ore to the landing at Columbia River, where a warehouse had been constructed to store it until it could be shipped by steamboat in the spring.20 Eight teams and some fifty horses were employed in hauling the ore down.21 The first load made it as far as “the lake just above Peterborough [Wilmer]” (possibly Lake Lillian or Munn Lake) in mid December, where it awaited a further snowfall to bring it down to the river landing.22 This initial contract was to bring down some $30,000 worth of ore.23
Activity continued through the winter of 1900/01. As temperatures became colder, a sprinkler was used to ice the roads to aid in hauling.24 A “friendly rivalry” also emerged between teamsters as to who could bring the most ore sacks in one load, with several claiming to have had 100 sacks (12,000 pounds, 5,443 kilograms) loaded for the initial stage of the trip.25 The road down from Spring Creek to the Columbia River landing was mostly downhill, save for a mile and a half at a two percent grade, making transport somewhat less labor intensive.26 By the beginning of March, the 1,000 ton shipment was ready and waiting to be sent downriver,27 a process that was begun in April 1901 when the river opened up.28
Development work at the mine continued so long as the ore was being transported to the river, but once the first shipment was ready activity stalled and the men were laid off.29 This was likely a cost saving measure while the initial shipment was laboriously brought by steamboat to Golden, by train to Revelstoke, and by steamboat again down to the Trail smelter. This transportation (requiring multiple stages of loading/unloading) was the most expensive part of the entire operation. The first half of the shipment was sent off in June 1901 with 20 carloads of ore, each car containing about 5,040 pounds of ore (23,133 kilograms).30
The results of this first shipment failed to meet expectations. The owners of the Paradise actually lost money on it as, in the time that the ore waited on the riverbank to be shipped, ore prices dropped so that the ore had to be sold at a loss.31 Hammond and Bruce had put in some $30,000 into developing the property in 1900 alone, and now found themselves unable to fully recoup costs.32
A More Conservative Approach
The owners of the mine maintained confidence in the Paradise property, but their strategy for working the mine changed dramatically after this early setback. A new approach had the mine being “extensively and systematically developed,” with no more ore being taken out than was necessary to carry on development, as they waited for the lead and silver market to improve.33 By August 1901, only six to ten men were at work on the mine, compared to twenty during the winter before.34
In 1902, mining engineer and consultant Mr S.S. Fowler advised Hammond to close the mine entirely until the market improved.35 This advice seems not to have been fully heeded, as a large contract was made to drive another 1,000 foot tunnel later that year.36 Still, comparatively little development work was done on the mine after 1903.37
The Mine Site
The more methodical approach to developming the mine was much less exciting than the burst of activity in the 1900/01 season, but it resulted in some improvements. By 1902 the Paradise group had expanded from three claims to nine, and the rawhide trail from Toby creek up to the mine – complete with some fifteen switchbacks – had been expanded into a wagon road.38
Men were employed at the mine itself to work on various tunnels and shafts, and further down the mountain to construct a company town at Jack Pine Flat, later changed to “Pinehurst” (and still later returned back to “Jackpine”).39 Marking the point on the Toby Creek road where the road starts up to the mine, Pinehurst in 1903 consisted of five large buildings constructed “of the great trees that are found here,” including a bunkhouse and cookhouse, a storehouse, an office, and stables.40 (Pinehurst was located just before where Panorama is today, at the later site of Toby Creek Adventures)
There was another camp up at the mine itself in the Paradise basin, at an elevation of some 7,000 feet (2,133 meters). The mine camp consisted of the mine office and a further storehouse, a bunkhouse, and a cookhouse. A telephone line also ran between Wilmer and the mine.41
Some further ore was shipped each year between 1902 and 1906, but this was cherry-picked to be only the very highest quality in order for the mine “to pay its way” and allow for work to be continued.43 Large quantities of ore were blocked out in the hopes that ore prices would rise and transportation costs would decrease enough to cash in on all the work being done.44 Talk briefly emerged about constructing an ore concentrator up at the site, but this was not done, possibly due to lack of capital.45
According to Henry Toke Munn, who personally knew both Bruce and Hammond, “in its early days Hammond used to say it [the mine] should have been called the ‘Parasite’.”46 A great deal of money was being put into the mine, but the profits were disappointing. Regardless of how promising the property was, it could not overcome the costs of shipping or the lull in the metal markets.
In 1906, this cycle of waiting finally became too much for its owners and work on the property petered off and ceased entirely. Construction had begun on the Kootenay Central Railway and hopes were high that transportation costs might finally decrease. Putting ore on the train to go straight to the smelter would also permit the owners to take advantage of fluctuations in the market. Hammond and Bruce, like many mining property owners in the area at the time, decided to cease activity until the railway arrived.47
It was only after closing down the mine that Herbert Carlyle Hammond applied for and received Crown Grants for the three main claims of the mine as well as an additional claim (the Ptarmigan). These were issued 12 March 1908.48
An Interlude: The problem with a lead mine
The decision to cease work at the Paradise Mine in 1906, though prompted primarily by hopes for better transportation, was likely also influenced by the deteriorating health of its energetic local manager, Robert Randolph Bruce. In August 1906 Bruce spent some three weeks at Banff “for the benefit of his health”, having been unwell for some time. He was suffering from the effects of being, to use the mining expression at the time, “leaded.”49 This is also known as lead poisoning.
Bruce was not the only one to suffer from the effects of being “leaded” at the Paradise Mine. As lead was the primary ore at the Paradise, and the ore was soft enough to be extracted with pick and shovel, miners in the tunnels and shafts would have breathed in lead particles from the air on a daily basis. During the flurry of initial activity in 1900, three miners at one time had to be taken down from the Paradise to the hospital at Wilmer due to illness, with the newspaper noting that, “Quite a few of the men have suffered more or less from lead poisoning of late at the Paradise.”50 Another serious case is noted in a 1902 article,51 and again in 1903.52 The patients are all noted to have “recovered”, but the effects of overexposure to lead were probably more long-lasting than understood at the time.53
The health problems suffered by R.R. Bruce were attributed to his exposure to lead. Certainly his overall well-being would not have been helped by six years of heating ore samples in an enclosed space in order to test whether that sample had enough lead to warrant its being shipped. In the course of these six years, Bruce went mostly blind in one eye and had reduced sight in the other, so much so that he walked with a cane for the rest of his life.54 The cause of his loss of sight was generally understood at the time to be from these years doing mineral assays on the lead ore,55 although it is only recently that scientific studies have positively linked lead exposure to an increased risk of cataracts and blindness.56
As the Paradise Mine ceased operations in 1906 in hopes for better transportation and stronger markets, and with a mine manager in somewhat poor health, we’re going to leave the rest of the story for the next post. Check back in two weeks for the second and concluding post on the Paradise Mine.