Giant Mine, Silver Giant Mine, Giant Mascot Mine
“There is nothing today to encourage anyone but a born gambler to take the chance [on developing the property], and everything to discourage anyone to do this.”58
This is Part 2 of 3 about the history of the Giant Mine. As we left off in Part 1, there had been a couple of attempts by owners of the Spillemechene/Giant claim to tunnel under the surface showings in search of a rich underground deposit of lead ore. This work was sufficient to have a Crown Grant given on both the Giant claim and its easterly neighbor, the Hidden Treasure, but very little ore was actually shipped. Shortly after these Crown Grants were given, in 1897, both claims were sold and activity on them soon ceased.
In this early stage of development the Giant and Hidden Treasure claims were worked somewhat in parallel by the same owners. The two were also sold together, to W.J.R. Cowell of Victoria, but by 1898 Cowell had sold the Hidden Treasure to Henry Croft. Now under separate ownership, the history of the two claims diverged. While both the Hidden Treasure and the Rothschild claim, located directly below the Giant, will eventually feature back into the story, for the moment we’re going to set them aside and focus on the Giant claim itself.
Another Go of It
Seven years after Cowell acquired the Giant claim, a period in which he did very little with it, in November 1904 the Giant was listed as being up for sale for unpaid taxes.1 In the case of such tax sales the owner had an opportunity to repay the owed taxes in order to keep the property, but Cowell did not do so, and in 1905 Captain Francis P. Armstrong, steamboat captain and then manager of the Upper Columbia Navigation Company, purchased the Giant.2
Armstrong had something of a reputation in the Windermere Valley as a problem solver. Back in 1902 he had spent two weeks directing efforts to force the too-large steamer the North Star north through the too-small and long abandoned canal at Canal Flats.3
So when Armstrong took over the Giant claim, he brought with him an optimism that he would transform the property into a shipping mine. Armstrong had help in the venture, with both Tom Jones and J.W. Devlin joining as partners in the group.4 (Let’s take a moment to appreciate Tom Jones, both for his dedication to the Giant, and his ability to keep coming back to it).
Work on the Giant began in autumn 1905 with the upper tunnel driven in about 50 feet (later No 2 tunnel), and the beginning of an inclined shaft to connect it to the lower tunnel (in a depth of 400 feet, later No 3 tunnel). This work appeared to uncover a body of zinc ore.5
The discovery of zinc brought a new wave of attention to the property, and in April 1906 it was bonded by the Canadian Metal Company Ltd, the owners of the smelters located in Frank, Alberta and Pilot Bay B.C.6 The company apparently offered cash, but the owners preferred to lease it as they had, “every confidence in the mine, and believe it will prove best for us and the whole country generally.”7
The company was to start development work immediately, with plans including the construction of a 200 ton concentrator.8 This deal fell through, however, and work on the property ceased that summer.9 Reading between the lines of later reports, although there was zinc ore on the property, such ore was pocketed, and lead remained the primary metal. The lack of a consistent zinc ore deposit diminished its value to a company interested primarily in zinc.
Cutting Edge Technology
Never daunted, the following year (1907) Armstrong was back at developing the property, this time taking a novel, but ultimately unsuccessful approach. In order to concentrate the low-grade ore of the Giant before shipping it, Armstrong installed a cutting-edge concentrating plant called the Elmore vacuum process. This plant was ultimately unsuccessful at the Giant, but it’s worth taking a moment to discuss why it was installed, why it failed, and why the installation of the plant is such an interesting part of B.C. (and Canadian) mining history.
Mining 101: Concentrating Ore
In the first years of the 20th century, mining engineers around the world were experimenting with techniques to improve methods of concentrating low grade ores, both in extracting more ore, and doing so affordably. The first practical solution to this problem was known as the Elmore process (not to be confused with the Elmore vacuum process – we’ll get to that). The Elmore process was first used at a mine in Wales, and involved mixing a thick oil in with crushed ore and water, and relying on the oil’s tendency to stick to valuable ore sulphides and rise to the surface where it could be removed and the valuable mineral recovered.
This general technique, of adding something in with the rock that would attach to the valuable bits and float them to the surface, became known as the “flotation process”, and it changed the mining industry. For the first time there was a means to process low-grade ores profitably. In Rossland, for example, a number of mines brought in the Elmore Process, the first being at Le Roi gold mine where it was used to re-process the mine’s tailings.10
Very quickly efforts were made to improve upon the idea of the Elmore process, both in making it more affordable and more efficient. Among these, the Elmore brothers in 1904 took out a patent for the Elmore vacuum process. This was a more efficient variation of their earlier technique, this time taking a slurry of crushed ore and water and, mixing it with oil and acid, putting it into a closed vat at a fixed temperature and pressure. A vacuum was then applied on the vat to pull out the air: this included both the air mixed in with the water, and the carbon dioxide gas created by the acid mixing with limestone in the waste rock (if limestone was not already present in the waste rock, it was added).
As these air bubbles rose to the surface they brought with them the oiled sulphide particles of minerals, which could then be removed from the top while the waste rock sunk to the bottom. This use of air bubbles to bring minerals up to the surface was an inadvertent step forwards in improving the flotation process, as air was a lot cheaper and easier to separate from minerals than oil was.11
In the next decade, techniques were explored to get rid of the acid and oil and to find chemicals (known as frothing agents) that would attach to the important minerals and, when put into aerated tanks, float to the surface. This process became generally known as froth flotation, and the same technique would later be used in waste water treatment and paper recycling. In mining, later versions of flotation concentration plants became standard and were used at the Mineral King, the Paradise, and subsequent mills at the Giant.
Concentration at the Giant
But back to the Giant and the Elmore vacuum plant. Units for the vacuum process began to be sold to mines in 1907,12 the same year that one was installed at the Giant mine.13 This was the first implementation of this process in Canada,14 and reportedly the first use of oil flotation for lead ores in B.C.15 (it’s unclear if the earlier Elmore Process, which also used oil flotation, had been used on lead ores in Rossland).
In choosing to use this new technology, Armstrong was searching for a way to profit from the Giant’s low grade ore. He had cause for optimism: this vacuum process was used with particular success at the Sulitjelma copper mine in Norway, and from 1907 to 1910 it was the preferred method of concentration at the Broken Hill zinc mine in Australia.16 At the Giant, tests of the process gave good results in separating out the lead, and “several cars,” of concentrates produced using the process were shipped to the smelter in Trail.17
Reasons for Failure
Unfortunately, the cost of the oil and acid used in the process made the treatment too expensive at the Giant to be profitable, and the method was soon abandoned.18 The low-grade ore was simply not rich enough to balance the costs of operating the plant. The failure of the Elmore vacuum process at the Giant illustrates the problems faced by the early mining industry in trying to process low grade ores, particularly in there not being a one-size-fits-all technological solution. The Giant experiment was a precursor to all later concentration mills used in province, but its failure showed that technological changes were still needed for these flotation mills to be widely successful.
Armstrong Tries Again
Returning back to Captain Armstrong, who would hardly let such a setback stop him. After the installation of the Elmore vacuum plant Armstrong and Devlin had incorporated the Golden Giant Mines Company, on 3 February 1908, to own and operate the property.19 Faced with the disappointing results of the vacuum process Armstrong, with financing from the company, began tests on a process using dry concentration to separate the ore instead (the particular process chosen was known as the SSS, developed by Sutton, Steele & Steele of Dallas, Texas).20
Instead of using water and bubbles of some sort, this method instead used tables covered with cotton cloth (referred to as “Texas tables”).21 It was reported to work well, so long as the ore was “accurately sized” before going onto the tables,22 but problems must have emerged as the plant at the Giant does not seem to have progressed beyond experimentation. According to an “old prospector” speaking about this method, “after a day’s run enough lead concentrates were made to make a good-sized slap-jack.”23
Activity on the Giant during this period was not limited to its mill. A mining camp was built, including a bunk house, a cook house and several cabins.24 By the end of 1909 there were also three tunnels, in addition to a large excavation on the side of the hill. The nature of this work was criticized over a decade later over the effort put into driving tunnels rather than systematically doing surface work to determine the extent and average values of the deposit.25 The concentration mill and tramway leading to it, which had been constructed for the new plant,26 were also later criticized as being, “premature and ill-advised.”27
Despite all of these efforts to make a profit at the Giant, its owners eventually claimed defeat and activity ceased. This decision was likely due, in part, to a drop in ore prices. When the metal market rose again during the First World War there was another brief burst of activity at the mine as Golden Giant Mines Ltd, with Armstrong at its head, made plans to operate through the summer of 1916.28 Around three cars of ore were shipped from the “big glory hole”, although little to no development work on the property was done.29 An examination of the property was also made by a mining company out of the United States.30
Further activity on the Giant was halted as Captain Armstrong went overseas in 1916 to serve as a boat captain on the Tigris and Nile Rivers through the remainder of the war,31 and work did not resume following his return (ore prices, which took a steep dive after the end of the war, may have been in part to blame, as was Armstrong’s change in career path to working for Public Works in the West Kootenay). Armstrong passed away in 1923, after which ownership of the Giant remained with the Golden Giant Company. As Armstrong seems to have been the driving force behind the company, activity stalled.
An Interval: Other Claims in the Area
As established in Part 1 of this history, there were a number of other claims in the immediate vicinity of the Giant. Among these were a few claims that haven’t been mentioned yet, adjoining the Giant to the south and west, know as the Dwarf, the Midget, and the Giant Fraction. These claims were first mentioned as being surveyed in 1908,32 and were owned by Golden Giant Mines Ltd in 1909 as part of the Giant group.33 The three were not crown granted until 1936,34 however, meaning that until then the three were held based on an annual lease.
Perhaps predictably, the owner of the leases on these other claims changed over time. In 1924 the Midget, Dwarf, Giant Fraction, and Giant No 2 were owned by James Paulding Farnham (the son of Paulding Farnham of Ptarmigan/Red Line mine fame). Farnham had also taken out an option on the Giant claim held by Golden Giant Mines Ltd, and had acquired the Rothschild claim (possibly from a tax sale in 1922, before which it was owned by the estate of Arthur W. Vowell).35 A very positive report on this entire group, from Mining Engineer Rush J White, strongly encouraged further development,36 but aside from shipping a few tons of ore from the Rothschild in 1925,37 nothing more seems to have come from Farnham’s unprecedented monopoly on the group.
The only claim Farnham did not control was the Hidden Treasure. In 1916 that claim was owned by Henry Croft and John Irving, who made some shipments that year after hiring contractors to work the claim.38 Unfortunately, Croft and Irving failed to pay the contractors, resulting in the Hidden Treasure being seized and, in the spring of 1917, put up for sale by the sheriff to recover funds owed.39 It was purchased by Thomas E Barry and unnamed partners, who shipped 14 tons from the property by the end of the year.40
Barry maintained ownership of the Hidden Treasure until as late as September 1939, when its surface rights were up for sale for unpaid taxes.41 Farnham also kept hold of the Rothschild as late as 1947, when it was also up for unpaid taxes.42
A Fourth Giant Wave
Back on the Giant, another burst of activity began in 1926 when the property was taken under option by the Pacific Mines Petroleum and Development Company Ltd, headed by A.B. Trites of Vancouver, who was also undertaking work on the Monarch Mine overlooking Field.43
The company brought in a diamond drill to test the deposit, marking the first time that diamond drilling was done in this part of the Columbia River Valley.44 There was a setback in this activity that summer when a forest fire burned down the cookhouse, the mill, and the office buildings at the mine, although the (rather valuable) diamond drill remained unharmed.45
Work continued through 1927, primarily on the Giant and Rothschild claims, under direction of engineer Angus W Davis and manager J.M. Milligan. The main working was the No 5 tunnel (3,340 feet elevation), located about 500 feet horizontally from the camp. 48 Other tunnels included the No 1 tunnel (3,600 feet) at 40 feet in length; No 2 tunnel (3,580 feet) at 75 feet in length, No 3 tunnel (3,341 feet) the lowest in elevation and at least 600 feet long (previously referred to as the lower tunnel),49 and No 4 tunnel (3,575 feet). All were located on the Giant claim save for the No 4 tunnel, which was on the Rothschild,50 and the No 5, which was on the Dwarf (No 3 entrance also appears to be on the Dwarf). In addition to the tunnels, there were also a number of open cuts.
The mine camp was also rebuilt, after the forest fire, on a bench at about 3,240 feet elevation. It included an office, kitchen and dining room, a warehouse, two log cabins for accommodation, a roothouse, a powerhouse, a blacksmith shop, a coal bunker, and a powder magazine. The power plant was fueled by oil and the camp was connected by telephone to Spillimacheen.51 The camp was located underneath the Dwarf claim, on land pre-empted by Tom Jones.52
The company did not find the ore deposits they were looking for, and work was suspended at the end of 1927.53 A series of other interests took up options or examined the property, including George Wingfield of Nevada in fall 1927,54 and F.R. Eichelberger in 1928.55
One More Time
The property was re-bonded by A.B. Trites in spring 1929, and another tunnel (No 6) was driven with diamond drilling being carried out from it in 1930.56 Counterintuitively, these drilling operations made the prospective value of the property less as they failed to find anything.
According to a report written after this drilling, the work meant that “the proposition is… a losing venture” and that, “having now exhausted all apparent chances [of finding ore], there is little hope of being able to lease or bond the property.”57 The same report went on to comment that, “There is nothing today to encourage anyone but a born gambler to take the chance [on developing the property], and everything to discourage anyone to do this.”58
Work again ceased following the 1930 season, and in 1933 the compressor plant from the Giant was brought to a new camp acquired by Trites in the Ymir area (the Two Star or Trites Gold Mining Co Ltd).59 As the Second World War began the Giant, and surrounding claims, once again remained idle.
That’s where we’re going to leave it this week. If you’re feeling a bit seasick from the continued on again-off again development at the Giant you’re not the only one. The claim was located early, those who examined it all seem to agree that there was a large deposit of low grade ore that could be very profitable if properly developed, but despite every effort at employing all kinds of new technology (a flotation mill and diamond drilling) the circumstances never quite lined up for large scale development to occur.
The final part of the story, in which development does indeed take off, will be posted next week.
|1896||Hidden Treasure||5-10 tons||Tom Jones54|
|1908||Giant||Concentrates from 500 tons||Golden Giant Mines Ltd57|
|1916||Giant||77 tons||Golden Giant Mines Ltd58|
|1916||Hidden Treasure||Unknown||Croft & Irving38|
|1917||Hidden Treasure||14 tons||Thomas Barry40|
|1925||Rothschild||Few tons||James Paulding Farnham37|