Giant Mine Road (Spillimacheen)
Giant Mine, Silver Giant Mine, Giant Mascot Mine
The first hardrock mining claim staked in the East Kootenay… and the second hardrock location in all of the Kootenays.
The Giant Mine, located about seven miles (eleven kilometers) west of Spillimacheen and overlooking the Spillimacheen river, is the most successful of the many “mines” staked on Jubilee Mountain in the 1880s. These early records are often confusing and even contradictory, with some uncertainty as to which parts of the story relate directly to the Giant site, so we’ll untangle it as best we can.
I have well over 100 pages of notes on the Giant Mine, and to save us all from information overload I’m breaking this post into three parts. This week (Part 1) discusses the discovery and early development of the mine and some of the nearby properties, next week (Part 2) will cover efforts in the early twentieth century to develop the Giant, and Part 3 (two weeks from now) will explore activities at the Giant in its heyday (the 1950s to early 1960s).
Information about the early staking and development of the property that would become the Giant mine is scanty and often inconsistent. It was the first hardrock mining claim staked in the East Kootenay, being reportedly recorded in August 1883 at Wild Horse,1 and was, as far as I can discern, the second hardrock location in all of the Kootenays. The first hardrock claim in the Kootenays (and possibly the province) was the four claims later known as the Bluebell Mine in the West Kootenay, near Riondel, which were staked in 1882.
The Giant property contained a lead deposit that, according to later reports, was used “for many years,” by First Nations people in the area to make bullets.2 That same source states that the claim was brought to the attention of Ed Bray, a mail carrier through the area, who staked it in 1883 in hopes that it would give high values of silver. This is partly substantiated by the later report that the claim was first recorded in August 1883.
Bray dropped the property when assays of the ore brought back low silver values, and it was then re-staked in 1884 under the name “Spillemechene” [sic] by Tom Jones and a partner (there is potential for naming confusion here: for this post “Spillemechene” is the claim that would later become the Giant, “Spillimacheen” is the place/river).3 In the autumn of that same year (1884) the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) reached Golden City,4 located just eighty kilometers downstream from Jubilee Mountain.
Some General Geography
The Spillemechene (Giant) claim was not the only claim made on Jubilee Mountain, with unnamed locations for galena ore noted as being worked on the Spillimacheen River in Annual Mining Reports for the province in both 1883 and 1884.5
Among the other claims near to the Spillemechene were the Rothschild claim, located directly below, which was noted as early as 1886.6 The Rothschild was the first claim in the immediate vicinity of the Spillemechene/Giant claim to be awarded a Crown Grant, on 27 September 1889.7 It was owned in these early years by Stephen Redgrave, with work on its original tunnel (1886) being done by the “McKay brothers” (possibly Chalmers Cummin and James Lorenzo).8
To the east of the Spillemechene claim was the Homestake (later re-staked as the Hidden Treasure), which was also possibly owned by in part by Tom Jones. Directly below that were the Toronto Fraction and the Simcoe, which were at least co-owned (if not fully owned) by John McRae.9 Still further east was the Tiger, reportedly first staked in 1888, and owned by Chalmers C. McKay who sold it to his father, John McKay.10 All of these claims were located on what was then referred to as Spillimacheen Mountain, or the south-western spur of the larger Jubilee Mountain (see map at top of post).
Additional claims were also located on the ridge located further back from the Spillimacheen River and above the Columbia (what was confusingly called “Jubilee Mountain” in early reports).11 Among these claims were the Atlanta and the Constance (owned by Charles F Law, Edmund Boyd Osler, Herbert Carlyle Hammond, and Sidney Finlay McKinnon),12 the Horse Shoe (owned by Allan Granger),13 the Lancaster (owned by John McRae),14 and both the Mountain Daisy and Silver King (owned by Stephen Redgrave).15
Of these the Constance and the Atlanta were the first on all of Jubilee Mountain to be Crown Granted, on 9 September 1889 (just weeks before the Rothschild), having both been located sometime in 1887.16
The last spike for the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven in November 1885, and the summer following saw a rush of activity on Jubilee Mountain and the Spillimacheen mines, driven in large part by the proximity of the mines to the Columbia River for easy transportation down to the new line at Golden (the summer of 1886 was also when the first steamboat on the Upper Columbia River, The Duchess, was launched).
A tunnel was begun on the Spillemechene claim, and by the end of the summer this was one of two tunnels driven on the mountain, the other being on the Rothschild directly below (the Spillemechene tunnel was officially reported as no more than 100 feet (30 meters) long17; the Rothschild was unofficially reported at about sixty feet (18 meters)18). Plans were reported in 1886 to ship a couple tons of ore to Chicago to test, although it’s unclear which property this ore was to be shipped from or if this shipment was ever made.19
The owners of the Spillemechene property were, in 1886, Tom Jones and Fred Wells (the town of Wells, British Columbia was later named after Fred). Jones and Wells were both present in the valley from the autumn of 1883, when they were involved in the incident that gave Horsethief Creek its name.20 Some later reports give Wells full credit in staking the Spillemechene/Giant property,21 but although there is clear evidence that he was partnered with Jones on the property from at least 1886, evidence from closer to 1884 suggests that Jones is more likely as the original staker.22
According to Wells himself, however, in a 1953 speech to the Vancouver branch of the Canadian Institute of Mining and Mineralogy, “I was one of the first to stake at Giant Mascot [the Giant Mine] and I spent six years digging that tunnel. I guess a geologist could have told us where we were going wrong.”23 The newspaper report about this speech also claimed that this was British Columbia’s first hardrock mine tunnel.
The Jubilee Mountain mining boom continued through 1888 as owners of the various claims developed their properties and searched for investment. Jones and Wells put in a wagon road to their claim in the fall of 1888 with the intention of taking ore out to the Columbia River to ship,24 although it’s unclear that any such shipments were successful at this point. The first confirmed shipment of ore made from Jubilee Mountain was in 1890 by Charles Law, from a claim owned by John McRae, for a car load of high grade copper ore.25
The Spillemechene property continued to be worked extensively through the winter of 1888/89, with three shifts being put on to lengthen the tunnel in hopes of crosscutting the ore ledge at a depth of 200 feet (60 meters) in order to prove the property as a worthwhile investment to a smelting company.26
A General Optimism
Early comments in newspapers and official reports are very optimistic about the claims on Jubilee Mountain. The Spillemechene claim, for example, was said to have an extensive ledge of galena ore with high values in silver,27 while also carrying copper, zinc, antimony and a trace of tin.28 The proximity of the claim to water from the Spillimacheen river and shipping on the Columbia River was also considered favourable, as it would allow both for development and to keep shipping costs relatively low.
It was soon clear, however, that although there was a large amount of ore in the area, it was low grade. Most shipping mines during this time period were small scale operations on deposits rich enough to ship directly, as these required minimal capital and manpower. Low grade ore needed to be concentrated before shipping in order to make it profitable, and a great deal of capital was required for equipment and operating expenses.
Early efforts on various claims on Jubilee Mountain to sink tunnels and shafts seem to be in the hopes that the low grade showings on the surface indicated the presence of a high grade vein or ore body below.29 If such a vein could be found, a claim would be easy to sell and develop. Unfortunately, such rich veins were not uncovered, and with the presence of other, richer, claims nearby, the low grade ore claims of the Rothschild and the Spillemechene were passed over for investment.30 Some further work to try and uncover a vein on the Spillemechene was done in 1890,31 but then activity ceased.
A Sidenote: The First Smelter in B.C.
It is at some point during this early period on Jubilee Mountain that one of the hopeful prospectors there constructed the first smelter in British Columbia.
There are quite a few outstanding questions about this structure, including when it was built and for exactly what purpose. Scant records agree that the smelter was a homemade rock and iron structure, built by Nova Scotia prospector John McRae, and that it was located across the river from the Spillemechene/Giant claim close to the junction of the Spillimacheen and Columbia Rivers.32 As there was no coal in the area, it would have used charcoal (or wood) for fuel.
The earliest suggested date for construction of the smelter is in 1883, the year that the Annual Report to the Minister of Mines first mentions mineral locations having been worked on Spillimacheen River.33 A later paper documenting early smelters in British Columbia suggests that an article in the Kamloops Inland Sentinel on 27 March 1884 may have referred to the smelter (I’m unconvinced).34
The first record I was able to find of John McRae in association with Jubilee Mountain is in spring 1888,35 with the implication that he was present in the area in 1887. A man named McRae was also present in 1884 looking for gold in Canyon Creek (south of Golden), but it is unknown if this is the same McRae.36 In short: the date 1883 is possible, but so too are slightly later dates, and I was unable to confirm anything.
The ore that McRae intended to smelt is also unspecified. McRae is later reported as having a copper claim on Jubilee Mountain,37 and he was the presumptive locator of the Simcoe and Toronto Fraction claims (located south-east of the Giant), as well as the Lancaster on the ridge to the east.38 McRae may have intended to work the ore of one of these or possibly even other claims (the Toronto and Simcoe claims were closest to the location of the smelter).
The first report that I found about this smelter suggests that McRae was trying to extract lead for the purpose of making bullets.39 The lead from galena ore is quite easy to remove, as it requires only a fire, so a purpose built rock smelter may have made this process more efficient. One later article from mining engineer E.A. Haggen suggests that McRae was after the silver, “as lead was of no account in those days.”40 The smelting of silver is more complicated than simply heating the rock, so it is unsurprising that this didn’t work. Haggen later changes his story to McRae wanting to provide lead to hunters.41
Regardless, there is no indication that McRae’s smelter ever succeeded in producing anything. The structure was deconstructed early in 1906 for the stone to be used for the piers of the new bridge over Spillimacheen River.42 Certainly it would be an interesting project to attempt to locate the site of the original structure.
The Spillemechene Becomes the Giant
Following the general slump in activity on Jubilee Mountain after 1890, the lease on the Spillemechene claim (owned by Jones and Wells) seems to have been allowed to lapse at some point (this was possibly due to the not-uncommon practice of “relocation” – a means to get around the requirement for a certain amount of annual work to be done on a mining property to keep the lease). On 17 September 1894 Tom Jones officially located both the Giant claim (previously the Spillemechene),43 and the Hidden Treasure (previously the Homestake).44
Work resumed on Jones’ claims in earnest in 1895, particularly in search of copper on the Hidden Treasure.45 In November the Hidden Treasure was being operated by Tom Jones and William McNeish, who had five men working it.46 Once again the owners were in search of the rich “lode”. There is mention in these reports of doing work “in the old tunnel”, but it is unclear when this original tunnel had been driven.47
In December 1895 Tom Jones applied for Certificates of Improvement as a necessary precursor to getting a Crown Grant for both the Hidden Treasure and Giant mineral claims,48 and in October 1896 Jones transferred half ownership of the claims to his partner and attorney, William McNeish.49 The Crown Grant application was successful, with grants being awarded for both claims in January 1897.
Work continued on both the Hidden Treasure and the Giant through 1896, with a small galena vein being discovered on the Giant,50 resulting in an unknown amount of ore being shipped (along with ore taken down from Vermont creek).51 This is the first confirmed shipment of ore made from the Giant/Spillemechene.
A “carload” of ore was also shipped in 1896 from the Hidden Treasure (between 5 and 10 tons).52 This shipment was of 53% copper, and was extracted by “gophering” the deposit, following small stringers of richer ore in a somewhat haphazard manner.53
The profits from all of these efforts seem to be negligible: the trail up to the mine was of questionable quality, and shipping to the smelter was difficult and expensive.54
Just months after receiving crown grants, the Giant and the Hidden Treasure were sold, in June 1897, to W.R. Cowell of Victoria for $10,000.55 By the end of 1898 the Hidden Treasure was owned by mining engineer Henry Croft of Victoria,56 and the tunnel on the Hidden Treasure was driven in some further forty feet (twelve meters) in 1899,57 presumably again in search of a rich vein. Once again, the results were disappointing and activity again ceased. It does not appear that Cowell did any work on the Giant.58
In July 1896, at the time of application for a Crown Grant, Jones stated that since 1 September 1895 he had run 37 feet (11 meters) of tunneling and spent $800 dollars in work on the Giant claim,59 as well as a 40 foot (12 meter) long cut, sixty feet (18 meters) of tunnels, and about $2,000 on work on the Hidden Treasure.60
This was in addition to some unspecified amount of work done during the late 1880s that resulted in the description of the Hidden Treasure as having an “old tunnel” in 1895. In an 1898 description of the Giant, the property was said to have both a lower and an upper tunnel, with the lower in about 300 feet (91 meters), and the upper having collapsed.61
A great deal of effort had been made in an attempt to uncover a rich underground deposit of galena and/or copper ore on these claims, but only a small amount of ore was shipped as a result.
The situation on the rest of Jubilee Mountain wasn’t much better, with a respectable amount of development work having been done, resulting in a number of Crown Grants being awarded, but very little ore actually being shipped.
Still, the Jubilee Mountain claims were significant in other ways: they were the location for the first hardrock mine to be staked in the East Kootenays, the Spillemechene had at least one of the first (if not the first) hardrock tunnels in British Columbia, and it is because of these claims that the first (albeit crude and never used) smelter in British Columbia was built. Interestingly these weren’t the only firsts or “one of the first” claims to fame that can be made about these mines, but we’ll cover those in the next post.
That’s where we’re going to leave things for this week. Check back next week (messing with the schedule a bit) to learn more about the next stage of development on the Giant Mine.
|1896||Hidden Treasure||5-10 tons||Tom Jones52|
List of Crown Granted Claims on Jubilee Mountain (until 1900)
British Columbia, Crown Land Registry Services, Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Victoria. Crown Grant No 40 , Lot 134: Atlanta, British Columbia Land Grants, Vol 47 (no 0040/0047-0130/0047), 1889-1893, FamilySearch Database: img 2 to 29 of 1051. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-99WZ-1N8L?cc=2052510&wc=M738-WTL%3A351099401%2C351517501
British Columbia, Crown Land Registry Services, Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Victoria. Crown Grant No 40 , Lot 135: Constance, British Columbia Land Grants, Vol 47 (no 0040/0047-0130/0047), 1889-1893, FamilySearch Database: img 30 to 43 of 1051. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-89WZ-1F8P?cc=2052510&wc=M738-WTL%3A351099401%2C351517501
British Columbia, Crown Land Registry Services, Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Victoria. Crown Grant No 91/47, Lot 266: Horse Shoe, British Columbia Land Grants, Vol 47 (no 0040/0047-0130/0047), 1889-1893, FamilySearch Database: img 635 to 653 of 1051. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-99WZ-1DJ5?cc=2052510&wc=M738-WTL%3A351099401%2C351517501
British Columbia, Crown Land Registry Services, Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Victoria. Crown Grant No 132/73, Lot 647: Mountain Daisy, British Columbia Land Grants, Vol 73 (no 0131/0073-0216/0073), 1893-1896, FamilySearch Database: img 17 to 38 of 1074. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-99WZ-TQMD?cc=2052510&wc=M738-CWL%3A351099401%2C351585801
British Columbia, Crown Land Registry Services, Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Victoria. Crown Grant No 133/73, Lot 648: Silver King, British Columbia Land Grants, Vol 73 (no 0131/0073-0216/0073), 1893-1896, FamilySearch Database: img 39 to 60 of 1074. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-99WZ-TQSQ?cc=2052510&wc=M738-CWL%3A351099401%2C351585801
British Columbia, Crown Land Registry Services, Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Victoria. Crown Grant No 135/73, Lot 650: Tiger, British Columbia Land Grants, Vol 73 (no 0131/0073-0216/0073), 1893-1896, FamilySearch Database: img 82 to 94 of 1074. ↩ https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-89WZ-T3BN?cc=2052510&wc=M738-CWL%3A351099401%2C351585801
British Columbia, Crown Land Registry Services, Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Victoria. Crown Grant No 251/82, Lot 1110 (Simcoe), British Columbia Land Grants, Vol 82 (no 0217/0082-0263/0082), 1896-1904, FamilySearch Database: img 438 to 447 of 582. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-89WZ-FFXY?cc=2052510&wc=M738-NNL%3A351099401%2C351889801
British Columbia, Crown Land Registry Services, Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Victoria. Crown Grant No 706/100, Lot 1111: Toronto Fraction, British Columbia Land Grants, Vol 100 (no 0688/0100-0777/0100), 1898-1899, FamilySearch Database: img 197 to 217 of 985. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9WZ-TQDJ?cc=2052510&wc=M738-6NL%3A351099401%2C351747001
British Columbia, Crown Land Registry Services, Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Victoria. Crown Grant No 250/82, Lot 1112: Lancaster, British Columbia Land Grants, Vol 82 (no 0217/0082-0263/0082), 1896-1904, FamilySearch Database: img 426 to 437 of 582. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9WZ-F6TF?cc=2052510&wc=M738-NNL%3A351099401%2C351889801