“We sat down and sliding – not always smoothly or comfortably – from one foothold to another and making sharp angles around rugged corners of the bluff we got to the mouth of a tunnel. Dave… with a smile asked; “How would you like to pack these timbers on your back down there?” pointing at some timbering. No one replied as we were very anxious then to get further into the tunnel to take a long breath.”11
McLean Lake is located up near the head of the Frances Creek valley west of Brisco, approximately across the valley from Lead Queen Mountain. As was the case with Lead Queen mountain, McLean Creek and McLean lake also owe their names to a mining development, although unlike the locally famous Lead Queen Mine property, the McLean group has been largely forgotten.
Mining up Frances Creek
In June 1900 David R. McLean and Tom Brown were reported as having located five claims on what was then known as the north fork of Number Two creek (also known as No 3 creek, now Frances Creek). These claims included the First Effort and the Three Bears on one lead, the Second Effort and Evelyn on another lead, and the Wild Cat on a third.1 The ore discovered was reported high in lead and silver,2 and described as a “remarkable find,”3 with the observation that McLean, “thinks he has something good.”4
Of the claims noted in newspaper reports the First Effort, Second Effort, and Evelyn claims were officially recorded by McLean and Brown on June 13.5 A few weeks later Brown transferred his shares in the Evelyn and Second Effort to McLean, while McLean transferred his share in the First Effort to Brown.6 The First Effort later became the lowest claim in the Lead Queen group (the Lead Queen itself was located by Samuel Derr and Henry Schweisguth on 17 July7), while the Evelyn and Second Effort claims across the valley became known as the McLean Group.
As a speculation as to the origin of the name “Evelyn” for one of these claims, the teacher at the Windermere school at the time was Evelyn Mary Howard-Gibbon. In the week before McLean left on his prospecting trip up Frances Creek, he, Miss Gibbon and two others, “paid a very pleasant visit to Fairmont Springs.”8 It is possible McLean then named the claim after her.
The McLean Group
David R. McLean spent the following prospecting season, in 1901, working on the Evelyn and Second Effort, including locating the ore vein by making a series of cross cuts.9 He returned the following year to do further work.10
By 1903 the development work on the McLean group was much less compared to the Lead Queen group across the valley, although this is not surprising as the Lead Queen was being worked by three people as opposed to the individual effort being made by McLean. A 1903 description of the McLean group from a newspaper reporter who visited the site gives an indication of the work being done. As the visitors hiked up from Frances creek towards the claim site:
McLean had driven a tunnel into the bluff following a vein of silver-lead ore. From the mouth of the tunnel looking across the valley there was a direct line over to the lower and upper workings of the Lead Queen and over the ridge to the Steele group.12 The ore in all three groups was quite similar, suggesting all three were on the same vein of ore.
Unfortunately, unlike the Steele and Lead Queen groups, the exact location of the Evelyn and Second Effort claims of the McLean group has not survived. The two were surveyed and given a crown grant, but this grant seems to have reverted back to the crown and the location of the surveyed lots has been lost. The claim is later described as being on a steep hogsback near the summit of the steep mountain to the west of McLean Creek.13 It’s unknown if the tunnel still exists.
Work Stops on the McLean Group
It’s unclear how much work McLean did on the group after the 1903 season. In the spring of 1905 he was considering returning to the Windermere Valley, but there is no record that he did.14 There is another vague hint that he was continuing some development on the claim in 1906.15 Further work on the claim was halted with the sudden death of David McLean in 1907 (see below).
Some work on the claims continued after McLean’s death. The “Evelyn No 2” and “Second Effort” claims were surveyed in 1908,16 and a certificate of improvement for the claims was also applied for two years later on behalf of David McLean’s estate.17 A crown grant was awarded the following year.18
By 1915, when the group next appears in the official mining report, the owners of the claims were unknown to the writer and the property was, “somewhat inaccessible, [as] the old trail to it is practically obliterated.”19 In 1926 David’s brother (Wendell MacLean) bonded the group to A.P. Denby of Vancouver,20 although nothing seems to have come from this as the news didn’t even make the official mining report. The Evelyn makes one final appearance in 1974 when it was explored by Purcell Development Co as a potential small scale development property (see post on the Mineral King for more on Purcell Development Co).21
Early Life and Career of David R. McLean
In 1882, David became a railway mail clerk for the Nova Scotia Division of the post office department. In subsequent reports of David holding this position we learn that his full name was David von Renssellaer McLean (although David’s middle initial “R” is used consistently throughout his life, this is the only example of it being spelled out).24
In October 1886 McLean received a promotion to second railway postal clerk as well as change of scenery: he moved to work for the British Columbia Division of the post office department25 based out of Victoria.26 McLean stayed on as a railway postal clerk until at least 1892,27 and is described in this time as being “one of the most popular postal clerks on the CPR.”28
From Post Office Clerk to Free Miner
In 1893 McLean’s name disappears from the civil service list to reappear that summer on the voters’ list for the electoral district of West Kootenay.29 It is unknown why he left the postal service (with a decent annual wage) for the Kootenays, but there was a mining boom in the West Kootenays at the time. In 1894 McLean is listed as a miner,30 and by 1896 he was living in Sandon B.C., in the Slocan district, with a profession as a free miner.31 McLean kept his Sandon address up through the 1900/01 edition of the British Columbia Directory.32
McLean dabbled in various aspects of mining after moving to Sandon. In 1897 he was part of a group that incorporated the Consolidated Mines Company of Sandon, a company that I was unable to find any further mention of.33 By 1899 he is referred to as a “well known practical mining authority,” and had been given the task of making “a general report on the Windermere district for eastern capitalists.”34 That year McLean examined several properties on Delphine and Law Creeks,35 and this is likely how he came to be introduced to the Windermere valley.
From Sandon to Windermere to Calgary
As already discussed, McLean spent the next few seasons in the Windermere Valley developing his own claim up Frances Creek.36 He returned to Sandon for the winter during both 1900 and 1901,37 but he is no longer listed in Sandon directories in 1902, and his name appears in the directory in Athalmer in 1904.38
McLean did not stay in mining, and his interest in developing his group of claims on Frances Creek also seems to have waned. In part this may have been due to difficulties in getting to the claims: upon finishing his 1903 work on the group, McLean told the newspaper that the trail up the creek had not improved: “The hills are all there yet, and the trail goes up and down every one of them.”39
McLean’s story came to a sudden and tragic end 4 June 1907 when he was found dead in the stairway of his office block, apparently after having fallen down the stairs.42 He is interred in the Union Cemetery in Calgary.43
McLean or MacLean?
The first confirmed mention I was able to find of McLean creek is in the 1904 mining report as “MacLean creek”.44 In the report the year following the spelling had changed to McLean creek,45 and that spelling remains consistent in government documentation from this point.
David’s last name, however, appears with some frequency as “MacLean” rather than “McLean”. Both the official death notice in the newspaper and his gravestone spell his name “MacLean”, while the official registration of his death uses McLean.46 As most official documents (census records, civil service records) use McLean, and the geographic name used is also McLean, I have used that variation as the preferred spelling.