Paradise Mine/Paradise Ridge/Paradise Basin
The Paradise mine captured the local imagination in a way that no other mining property in the valley has quite come close to.
This is the second post on the history of Paradise Mine. The first post, covering the initial discovery and early development of the mine, can be found here.
As we left off in the previous post, the Paradise Mine was closed in 1906 while its owners waited for cheaper transportation options and better ore prices. The mine’s primary owner, Herbert Carlyle Hammond, passed away in 1909. Following his death the Hammond estate held the controlling interest in the mine with Robert Randolph Bruce as part owner and local agent, and S.S. Fowler as the consulting engineer.
Rumours emerged in late summer of 1915 that the mine was about to be re-opened.1 The Kootenay Central Railway had been formally opened on January 1st of that year, providing cheaper transportation, and with the continuation of the First World War prices for lead ore were rising.
The Paradise Re-opens
The process of turning the property back into an active mine took some time. The softness of the ore meant that tunnels required extensive timbering to keep the earth from falling in, and during the period of closure some of these timbers had collapsed.2 The walls were so soft that cave-ins were just a matter of time: the highest workings, which were the earliest developed, were unknown decades later as the tunnels had completely disappeared.3
It wasn’t until 1916 that the mine resumed shipments, with the Paradise making its first shipment to the Trail smelter in late summer of that year.4 The intention was to keep the mine open throughout the winter, and an average of 150 tons per week was sent out.5 When the mine had been operated at the beginning of the century (1900-1906) only the very highest quality of ore had been shipped, so it is likely that these initial 1916 shipments were of medium-grade ore left on the dump rather than from active underground mining. As teams hauled ore from the dumps, work on the mine itself was limited to replacing old timbers and cleaning out the mine.6 A short aerial tramway was also constructed to carry the ore from the mine to storage bins at the head of the road in the basin.7
Bruce Takes Over
In 1917 Robert Randolph Bruce acquired the Paradise property outright by buying out the interest owned by the Hammond Estate.8 With the freedom to make decisions, Bruce energetically continued development.
Additions were made to the mine including a new bunk house, capable of housing forty employees, with up-to-date hot and cold water, a pool table, and a large lounge room with easy chairs.9 Bathrooms and dry rooms were also put in, “and everything done to assist in the comfort and cleanliness of the men.”10
By the following year, ore was being taken out of the mine itself, and thirty-five to forty men were employed. Improvements to the aerial tramway were also completed.11 The Paradise had become a steady shipper, and ranked as one of the four most important producers of silver-lead ore in the East Kootenay.12
It is due to the reopening of the Paradise Mine, and with the goal of decreasing transportation time and costs, that a new road was put in on the south side of Toby Creek in 1917.13 This road cut out many of the steep grades down to the railway siding on Windermere Lake, making, “almost a bee line to the ore chutes on the point of rail.”14 This is the road with the often photographed Toby Creek bridge.
The movement of ore from the mine was further improved from its early horse and wagon days with, “a re-converted Packard made over into a motor truck … hauling three heavy ore waggons behind it.”15 The Packard was later replaced by a caterpillar tractor, an “amiable implement” built “like a tank” that “slowly but inevitably” hauled five trucks behind it.16
Even with a motorized vehicle only one trip could be made per day from the mine to the railway and, for the time at least, ore still needed to be brought down from the mine to Pinehurst (on Toby Creek) by wagon as the tractor could not make the steeper grade. Still, enough ore (15 to 20 tons per trip) was hauled in every tractor load as to make it economical.17 After the ore was hauled down, it was kept alongside the railway siding in ore bunkers to await shipment.18
Production at the Paradise slowed again between 1920 and 1922, with work hampered by a lack of men and a drop in lead prices following the end of the war.19 Operation costs were further economized with the purchase of a five-ton White motor truck to haul ore directly from the mine to the railway, eliminating the hassle and cost of transferring ore between vehicles at Pinehurst.20 Development at the mine itself also continued with a small crew, and some of the highest grade ore was shipped to meet expenses.21
Production picked up again in the latter part of 1922, and the mine resumed as a steady shipper with about forty men employed.22 Although higher lead prices made it less necessary to carefully sort the ore being shipped, production at the mine was still precarious. The complex geology of the area meant that bodies of ore were irregularly distributed, and it was unknown how much ore (and of what quality) there was at any time still to mine. Ore was mined out of one pocket before going to look for another, a “hand-to-mouth method” that somehow gave “satisfactory results” as an additional pocket was always found in time before the last had played out.23 Long-term planning was certainly not a concern.
The Paradise is Sold
The long-time owner of the mine, Robert Randolph Bruce, sold the Paradise in 1926 when he became Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. It was acquired by Robert H. Stewart on behalf of the Victoria Syndicate of London.24
The new owners were enthusiastic about the property, and decided in 1927 that there was sufficient ore to warrant the installation of a fifty ton concentrator up in Paradise basin.25 The concentrator was intended to allow for lower-grade ores to be mined profitably by processing the rock to extract and “concentrate” the valuable ore out of the worthless (but expensive to ship) waste rock. The concentrate could then be shipped to the smelter for a higher profit.
The first Paradise concentrator was erected in 1928, but there were immediate problems in the extraction process. Ore from the Paradise mine was oxidized, meaning that it was chemically combined with oxygen, and this made traditional techniques used to extract the valuable ore from the waste rock insufficient. A large proportion of the valuable ore would pass through the concentrator without being removed.
After extensive tests and experiments, reports state that engineers at the Paradise were able to make ship-able concentrates by the end of the summer,26 but subsequent events and later problems of a similar nature suggest that they were not so successful after all.
Just one year after all the equipment for the concentrator had been hauled up the hill into Paradise basin, the concentrator was closed in November 1928. In addition to the problems of extracting valuable lead ore out of the oxidized rock, water shortages also limited hindered its operation. Initially this closure of the concentrator was thought to be temporary. Plans were made to move the machinery down the hill to Pinehurst, where there was a greater water supply, and surveys were made to build a four mile tramway to bring ore from the mine down the hill.27
Neither of these plans were carried out.28 In December 1929 a new company, Paradise Holdings Limited, was formed to take over the mine, and all development work stopped, “for an indefinite period.”29 Once again, the Paradise mine closed down.
Tentative steps to reopen the mine were made in 1943 by yet another owner, Sheep Creek Gold Mines Ltd, with exploratory work being done that summer to study the distribution of the ore-bodies.30 Similar exploratory work was conducted the following year as well,31 and in 1946 the company salvaged the upper aerial tramline and other equipment deemed not necessary to future operations.32
Studies of the property were promising enough that Sheep Creek resumed operations in the summer of 1948 with an aim to start shipping ore as soon as possible.33 Another 50-ton concentrator mill was constructed, this time down at Pinehurst with equipment from the Euphrates mill near Nelson.34
The re-opening of the Paradise was not without problems. Again, due to the oxidation of the ore, it was difficult to fully extract the valuable ores through the concentrator process, and a large amount (25 percent) of lead remained unrecoverable, even after extensive troubleshooting.37 This certainly undercut projected profits. The irregular distribution of ore was also again a problem as it was difficult to block out pockets and plan future development or project expected long-term profits.38
As Sheep Creek Gold Mines Ltd continued to operate the Paradise in the late 1940s, the company’s attention was drawn to the Mineral King mine further up Toby Creek. In 1951 the company acquired the Mineral King property with the intention of using it as an additional ore reserve and to truck ore down to their concentrator at Pinehurst.39 As discussed in the previous post on Mineral King, subsequent surveys showed the ore reserves to be much larger and richer than initially believed, and the Mineral King soon became a separate, full-scale operation.
The Sheep Creek company continued to work on the Paradise until a sharp decline in metal prices in early December 1952 prompted the concentrator to be “closed indefinitely.”40 A small crew was kept on to continue development work underground,41 but this too was short lived. Operations were closed down entirely at the beginning of February 1953.42 As this was the same time that activity at the Mineral King began in earnest, it makes sense that company funds would be dedicated to developing the new mine at the expense of funding others.43
Fits and Starts
By this time the Paradise concentrator had been removed, so the Paradise ore was brought up the road to the company’s concentrator at the Mineral King for processing. The company continued to officially report respectable ore reserves on the Paradise property, but attempts to actively pursue these reserves were minimal.46 A final 931 tons was taken out in 1964.47
The Paradise changed hands later in the 1960s as its holding company fell into financial difficulties (see the Mineral King post for more on the Sheep Creek Mines company and its demise). By 1974 the Paradise property was owned by J.A.C. Ross of Vancouver.48
The mine saw a brief resurgence starting in 1974 as part of a broader enterprise aimed to bring mines in the Purcell Mountains in the Windermere Valley back under production. Purcell Development Company Ltd put together a plan to construct a “portable mill” that could be moved from site to site, and the first step in their plan was to construct the mill up near the Mineral King mine and to truck down ore from the Pinehurst tailings to be processed (they also planned to eventually re-open the Paradise to remove further ore).49 The profits from processing the Mineral King and Paradise ores were projected to be lucrative enough to finance the continuation of the enterprise.50
The Purcell Development scheme was not successful, and the Paradise ore was partly to blame. The company had estimated that the Pinehurst tailings contained some forty per-cent of recoverable ore, and placed the blame on previous concentrators for not being able to extract it.51 Predictably, the optimism of their plan fell through as the Paradise ore, once again, “failed to convert into a suitable concentrate.”52 The ore being taken out of the Mineral King was also not of a high enough quality to support operations, and the entire enterprise collapsed under expenses.
Legacy of the Paradise
The Paradise mine, for all it is one of the most successful and long operating mines in the valley, was never more than a small scale operation. For example in 1923 the Paradise shipped 1,057 tons of ore to the Trail smelter: in that same year, the Sullivan mine down in Kimberley was producing 2,000 tons a day (admittedly the Sullivan mine was a world leader in ore production, but the contrast is sharp).53 For years ore at the Paradise was mined with pick and shovel, and the only equipment on site was a short length of tramline from the mine mouth to the head of the road, and a single truck to haul ore to the rail line (as an upgrade from horse and wagon).54
The reputation of the Paradise as a long-lived operation is also somewhat misleading. Discovered in 1899, with the last work the unsuccessful 1974 operations, the Paradise was (generously speaking) active for just thirty-six of these seventy-five years, and ore was shipped in just twenty-eight of them. The mine was enduring in the sense that it was re-opened multiple times, but operations came in fits and starts.
The total ore mined was also somewhat underwhelming, totaling around 81,600 tons (15,600 tons of which was shipped directly, the rest being processed into concentrates). Although certainly respectable, this is minuscule in mining terms: the Mineral King Mine, which was provincially classified as a small mine, took out 2,313,067 tons of ore in fourteen years.
Still, the Paradise mine captured the local imagination in a way that no other mining property in the valley has quite managed. Perhaps this is due to its proximity to the valley itself. The lights at the Paradise Mine were visible from Invermere, and visitors and locals alike used to be free to drive up to the mine site.
The extended period of operations at the Paradise, over a stretch of seventy-five years, also brought the mine to the attention of multiple generations of valley dwellers. No matter that actual operations were sporadic, this drawn out period made the mine much harder to ignore.
Even when the mine was not being worked the mine workings also remained (until recently) easily accessible for the curious to explore. I can remember a drive up to the former mine site, when I was very young (and when the road was still open to the public), as a fun and adventurous day out.
There is not much remaining today at the old mine site. The soft-walled tunnels have mostly collapsed, most of the buildings are gone, and the basin is privately accessible through Toby Creek Adventures for snowmobiling and ATV tours. Even for those with no interest in poking around old mine sites, the views alone are absolutely spectacular. There’s a reason the mine was called the Paradise.
|1901||755 tons56||Herbert Carlyle Hammond & Robert Randolph Bruce|
|1902||133 tons56||Hammond & Bruce|
|1903||723 tons56||Hammond & Bruce|
|1904||287 tons56||Hammond & Bruce|
|1905||54 tons56||Hammond & Bruce|
|1906||46 tons56||Hammond & Bruce|
|1916||415 tons57||Hammond Estate, Bruce|
|1917||2100 tons57||Robert Randolph Bruce|
|1918||2,768 tons58||R.R. Bruce|
|1919||about 2,000 tons59||R.R. Bruce|
|1920||1,208 tons60||R.R. Bruce|
|1921||about 500 tons61||R.R. Bruce|
|1922||623 tons62||R.R. Bruce|
|1923||1,057 tons63||R.R. Bruce|
|1924||1,186 tons64||R.R. Bruce|
|1925||951 tons65||R.R. Bruce|
|1926||717 tons66||R.R. Bruce to the Victoria Syndicate|
|1928||7,631 tons milled67||Victoria Syndicate|
|1929||895 tons68||Victoria Syndicate|
|1949||4,007 tons milled69||Sheep Creek Gold Mines Ltd|
|1950||12,002 tons milled (none mined)70||Sheep Creek Gold Mines Ltd|
|1951||15,169 tons milled71||Sheep Creek Gold Mines Ltd|
|1952||19,250 tons mined and milled72||Sheep Creek Gold Mines Ltd|
|1955||694 tons mined, 534 tons milled||Sheep Creek Gold Mines Ltd|
|1960||1100 tons mined||Sheep Creek Gold Mines Ltd|
|1964||931 tons milled||Sheep Creek Gold Mines Ltd|
|1974||Unknown (4,600 tons milled combined with Mineral King)73||Purcell Development Co|