The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project

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THE MINING ERA OF THE CANADIAN COLUMBIA by Bill Laux – Chapter 14

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POLITICS AND RAILROADS

Canada had come into existence in 1867 as a confederation of the Eastern Colonies, independent of Britain, although its citizens remained British subjects.   Union with the new Canada was seen as one solution to the depressed economy in British Columbia.   Once the miners had departed from the Cariboo, Wild Horse and Big Bend, the flow of gold ceased, and many of the businesses supplying the miners failed.   There was a net out-migration from the Colony.

Protectionist sentiment in the U.S. had imposed a 10 per cent duty on imports from B.C., and the lumbermen, farmers and fishers of Oregon and the new Washington Territory were supplanting British Columbia in the California markets.   In 1854  the San Francisco lumber firm of Pope and Talbot had come north to set up the first steam sawmill in the American Northwest at Port Gamble on Puget Sound.   To allow B.C. lumbermen to compete in the U.S. market, the government’s royalty on timber was lowered, beginning a practice which continues to this day: letting U.S. market conditions determine the price British Columbia loggers pay for trees.

As well, the Colonial status was now seen as a hindrance to progress, an obsolete and inefficient form of government unrepresentative of the people’s wishes.   It was absurd to have all political decisions subject to ratification by London and the 6 months it took to get a question to the Colonial Office and a reply back.  The great trade centres of British North America were on the Atlantic seaboard; B.C. customers were in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii, still an independent kingdom), Hong Kong, 5000 miles to the west and the modest settlements of Oregon and the Washington Territory.   If a wagon road could be built to link British Columbia with Lake Superior, B.C. merchants believed they could then enter into partnerships with the great eastern houses.   Walter Moberly was given the job in 1864 of surveying a route for a coach road over the Selkirk and Rocky Mountains and east toward the new nation of Canada.  In 1868, Joseph Truch, Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works for the Colony, presented a Minute to the Colonial Assembly, An Overland Coach Road to Canada.  In it he outlined three possible routes and recommended one that would go by the Cariboo Road  to Cache Creek, its branch to Savona’s; by sternwheel steamer to Eagle Pass Landing (Sicamous); over the Eagle Pass to Farwell’s (Revelstoke); up the Columbia around Big Bend and over Howse Pass to the navigable North Saskatchewan River.   From there sternwheel steamer would be used down the North Saskatchewan and Saskachewan Rivers to Lake Winnipeg, and by the Red River cart road from Fort Garry to Fort William on Lake Superior where lake boats connected to Toronto and Montreal.   Truch thought of the project as a coach road only, as the many transfers from wagon to boat and back to wagon would make the shipment of freight uneconomic; it could better be sent by ship around the Horn.   

The chief sentiments animated those British Columbians who sought union with the Canada were the wish for representative government, and the hope of profitable trading partnerships with the east.   Above all, it was essential that a union with Canada “must be to the material and pecuniary advantage of this Colony,” Dr. Helmken insisted in the Legislature.  Amor de Cosmos, representing the populist view, envisioned a more radical kind of democracy,

“I would not object to a little revolution now and again in British Columbia, after Confederation,

if we were treated unfairly; for I am one of those who believes that political hatreds attest to the vitality of the state.”

Among the opponents of Confederation with Canada were those who would lose their Colonial appointments.   Judge Haynes, speaking for the appointed officials asked that some means be found to place them “…in safety, in view of the changes likely to take place on this Colony entering Confederation.”   The officials of the Hudson’s Bay Company, as well, were opposed to union, reluctant to lose their commercial ascendancy.    They would, however, make no common cause with the other anti-confederationists, whom they regarded as effete and snobbish drones.   There was also, among most British Columbians, a disdain for and dislike of  Canadians, who were found to be joyless and heavy Methodists, grasping and materialist.   To be obliged to accept these crude social inferiors as the Senior government, and lose their direct contact with Her Majesty and her Ministers was an intolerable thought for Anglophiles.   

With opinion divided in British Columbia, Governor Musgrave, who had succeeded Governor Seymour, suggested to the Colonial Secretary in London that, “If a railway would be promised, scarcely any other question would be allowed to be a difficulty.”   Like the idea of the Great Coach Road, a Railway from Montreal to the Pacific was to politicians but a line on a map, something that could be casually turned over to the Engineers for execution.    This was serious politics, and no one questioned the expense, the formidable mountains to be crossed, the availability of financing.   How sincere was this promise of a railway remains an unanswered question.   The suggestion seems to be that, should British Columbians appear likely to reject the terms of union with Canada, the promise of a railway, that red line on a map, would swing the vote in favour of confederation.   Once B.C. was in, the question of actual construction of such a work could be addressed, and its practicality and timing considered.   

In British Columbia, however, the railway was seen as real, an actual timber and steel line of unbroken track, a functioning link with the commercial centres of the east.  The railway, infinitely more than political union with the despised Methodists, would link its merchants with prosperous Eastern houses, and rescue the Colony from bankruptcy which now loomed since the gold diggers had departed.    

The terms of union were agreed on by the British Columbia and the Canadian delegations, and the proposal went to Parliament in Ottawa for ratification.   The terms provided that the Dominion of Canada would assume the Colony’s debt, and that the new Province of British Columbia would be granted an annual subsidy of $216,000.   Half of this sum was supposed to be a payment for a Provincial grant of a “Railway Belt,” 40 miles wide, along the route of the proposed track.   The future sale of these  Railway Belt lands were to pay for the construction of the line.   The railway construction was to be begun within two years, and be completed by ten.   Further, Canada would pay the salaries of the Lieutenant Governor, the judges, would maintain a postal service, a telegraph service, customs, militia, a penitentiary, and a geological survey.  Those Colonial officials who would be displaced would receive Canadian pensions, and the new province was to introduce responsible government whenever that might be desired by the inhabitants.

South of the border, however,  another railway was being projected for the Northwest, the American Northern Pacific line which was to run from Lake Superior to Puget Sound.   In the deliberations of the U.S. Congress the Northern Pacific was seen as a line which would open the Northwest of British North America to American annexation.   In  July, 1866, before the Confederation of the Canadian Colonies, Congressman, General N.P. Banks, introduced his Northern Pacific railroad bill to provide for, “…the States (sic) of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Canada East and Canada West, and the territories of Selkirk, Saskatchewan and Columbia (sic) are constituted and admitted as States and Territories of the United States.” On December 9, 1868 Senator Ramsey of Minnesota moved a resolution that asked, “ That Canada, with the consent of Great Britain, shall cede to the United States the districts of North America west of Longitude 90º on the conditions following…”

     Senator Ramsey proposed that the U.S. should pay the HBC $6,000,000 for its claims and rights.   The U.S. would also assume the debt of British Columbia to the amount of $2,000,000, and that the Northwest Territory should be organized into three territories with the same rights and privileges and government as the Montana Territory.    Further, the U.S. government should guarantee dividends of 5% on the stock of the Northern Pacific Railroad.   It is obvious that in the American mind the Northern Pacific Railroad was to be built to exploit the British as well as the American Northwest.  The resolution was passed and sent to the Railroad Committee for detailed consideration.   In their report, released in February 1869 the Committee noted that:

“The line of the North Pacific (sic) runs for 1500 miles near the British possessions and when built will drain the agricultural products of the rich Saskatchewan and Red River Districts east of the mountains, and the gold country of the Fraser, Thompson and Kootenay Rivers west of the mountains…  The opening by us of a North Pacific Railroad seals the destiny of the British possessions west of the 91st Meridian.   They will become so strongly Americanized in interest and feelings that they will be in effect severed from the new Dominion and the question of their annexation will be but a question of time.”

It was the view of politicians in the U.S. that the Northern Pacific Railroad was to Americanize the Canadians, while to the Canadians, the proposed Canadian Pacific Railway was to Canadianize those difficult British Columbians.   It is not at all evident that the Canadians in Ottawa followed the railway debates in the U.S. Congress.   From whatever they thought of the proposed Northern Pacific Railway, they seemed to suppose that Great Britain would not permit it to enter British Columbia.

But from the beginning, doubts were expressed, both in Ottawa and B.C., that the railway promise was sincere.   Building the railway would require a country of but 3 million to build two thousand miles of track to link up with only 10,000 Europeans and perhaps 30,000 Aboriginals.  It seemed to the hard headed, and the Canadians were certainly these, that it was a mad enterprise.   Nevertheless, south of the border, on February 15, 1870, the Northern Pacific began building  west from the head of Lake Superior headed for Puget Sound.   The next month debate on the motion for Union with Canada.   In the British Columbia Assembly Dr. Helmken expressed his deep misgivings, and suggested that if the Canadian railway were not in place in ten years, the Province would demand compensation and have good cause to secede.    He may well have been thinking that the Northern Pacific would be completed by then and ready to extend its tracks across the border into British Columbia.     

In Ottawa Parliamentary ratification of the terms of union was not automatic as had been assumed at the start.  Debate began on April 1, 1871.   Two weeks previous the Northern Pacific began construction on the western end of their line, by grading north from Kalama on the Columbia toward Puget Sound.   Whatever the Canadian parliament decided, the American railway would soon be in place to capture B.C. trade.   In Ottawa the opposition Liberals argued that the railway promise would bankrupt the country if built.   The governing Tories were unwilling to be bound by that ten year promise.  Debate began on April 1, 1871, and the government found itself in difficulty with its own members at once over that promise to begin construction in two years and complete it by ten.   Joseph Truch, who was a member of the Legislative Council of B.C. proposed to win over the recalcitrant  government members by softening the promise.   He apparently told the caucus that the people of B.C. would not hold them precisely to their promise, a statement which he had no authorization whatever to make.  Publicly he produced a masterful equivocation: British Columbians, he said, were a reasonable people and it would be a fallacy to assume that they would demand the railway promise “ to be carried out in the exact interpretation of the words themselves, regardless of all expectation.”   Truch was a British Colonial Officer, and these words reflected the genteel mendacity with which the British had for a century been administering their colonies.

Back in British Columbia, however, Truch’s statement was considered treasonous.   He had sided with the hated Ontarians, and betrayed B.C.   But the weasel words had worked.   The Union was approved, Truch was rewarded by being appointed Lieutenant Governor of the new Province of British Columbia in place of Amor De Cosmos who would have been the popular choice.

By betraying B.C. aspirations, Truch had accomplished two things, he had achieved union, and he had kept the populist leader from power in Victoria.    He had done the will of Great Britain and the Ontarians.   As Lieutenant Governor, Truch represented the members of the old HBC hegemony in British Columbia, and he attempted to govern it in the manner of the old Colonial despots, Simpson and Douglas.   He used his power as Lieutenant Governor to pick an utter non-entity, John McCreight as Provincial Premier, when again, the choice should have gone by popular will, to Amor De Cosmos.   And in a further perversion of his powers, Truch insisted on sitting in on all Cabinet meetings.    This would not be tolerated in Britain, nor anywhere else, and it was a bad beginning to a Provincial government which was to perpetuate in future legislatures, a tyranny of the government over the opposition.

In choosing union with Canada, the majority of British Columbians had opted for political change, for representative government.   What they had gotten, thanks to Joseph Truch’s betrayal, was the old Colonial system of appointed officials domineering over elective representatives.   The force for change, however, was stronger than Truch expected.   At the end of 1872, the ineffective Mc Creight was forced out, and Truch had to grit his teeth and call on De Cosmos, the only candidate with the confidence of the Legislative Assembly, to form a government.   De Cosmos took over and refused absolutely to hold a cabinet meeting with the Lieutenant Governor in the room.   Truch was obliged to distance himself, and finally, painfully, representative government was allowed to begin functioning in British Columbia.

Interior B.C. was, except for the old Colonial officers, quite untouched by the union with Canada.   The Langevin Report for 1870 stated that the Kootenays had 103 white males, 5 white females, 2 coloured males, 139 Chinese males, no Chinese females.   Aboriginals were not recorded. Of these 249 persons, 6 were employed in agriculture, none in manufacturing, 20 in trading, and 222 in mining.   The occupation of the one missing person is not recorded; perhaps this was the magistrate.     The HBC traders at Fort Shepherd and Tobacco Plains, the miners, some thousand or so Indians, and a judge comprised the population, the majority of which was Chinese.   Probably most of them had not heard of the Union.

  The Union was a fact, however, and the District of Yale-Kootenay was to send one member to the Dominion Parliament.   No one but Captain Houghton could be bothered.   Now, in 1871, he made his way to Yale on horseback to the nomination convention.   But astonishingly, there could be found but two eligible voters in Yale willing and able to participate. Nor was there any other candidate.   Captain Houghton was nominated by a vote of 2 to 0, and elected by acclamation.   It is doubtful if anyone in Kootenay, knew or cared.     

The Provincial Legislature continued a contentious body.   There were no political parties in British Columbia at this time.   In the Colonial Administration the Colonial Council had divided always into the majority of appointed members, representing the Governor, and the minority of elected members, the opposition.   Now, with a fully elected house, the members broke into local factions, which carried on the old quarrel between the two colonies, the Vancouver Island members opposing the Mainland members.   Those few from the Interior opposed both Coastal interests.    

In Ottawa B.C’s six members had no party affiliation, but were bound to support Prime Minister Mc Donald whose government had promised the railroad.   By the terms of Union, railroad construction was to begin by 1873.  The year came; there was no sign of construction.   Amor De Cosmos, who had promoted Union, and fought for it so vigorously, was now in trouble.   He went to Ottawa to lobby for the promised railway.   But the problem for Mc Donald and his Conservatives was to find someone to finance this extremely costly undertaking.   The efforts to put together a syndicate of wealthy men resulted in a corruption scandal that brought down the government.  The new Liberal government under Mc Kenzie was firmly set against building the railway until it could be afforded.   He suggested to a desperate De Cosmos that the terms of union be renegotiated with the railway time clause eliminated.    De Cosmos was devastated; he was now the man who had led B.C. into a union with a government which was refusing to honour its promises.    The best De Cosmos could get from Mc Kenzie was an immediate $1 million cash loan, and a further cash grant in lieu of the promised drydock.    But for these he had to agree to let the Dominion government indefinitely postpone the railway.

De Cosmos returned to B.C. to find a Legislature and a people wholly opposed to any changes whatsoever in the terms of union until Mackenzie should publicly and unequivocally promise the railway.   Now one of those salutary little revolutions that De Cosmos had previously favoured, took place.   A mob, insistent on presenting their demands for a referendum on any changes to the terms of union, stormed the legislature chanting, “We’ll hang old De Cosmos on a sour apple tree.”   Disorder followed.   Clubs were brandished, guns were drawn, the Legislature was thrown into tumult.   Although no blood was spilled, De Cosmos was obliged to lock himself in his room for safety, and the Speaker hastily adjourned the house and fled the assembly.

A victim of the “political hatreds attesting to the vitality” of British Columbians, De Cosmos resigned his seat in the legislature, but kept his seat as a Dominion member of parliament, and fled east to orderly Ottawa.    When the B.C. Legislature met again, it acknowledged the wishes of the people that the mob had represented, and passed a resolution that no change could be made in the terms of Union without the consent of the electorate.

With De Cosmos’ departure, Anthony Walkem became Premier and spokesman for the forces against the mendacity of Ottawa.   However, a split appeared in the pro railway forces, whether innocent or manipulated cannot be determined.    As the province was spilt politically between the Island and the Mainland, the railway supporters split as well.   Two routes for the Railway had been proposed, one would be a northerly route, reaching salt water at Bute Inlet, cross by boat (or improbably by a very long bridge) to Vancouver Island, and proceed by rail down the Island to Victoria.    The other route, equally formidable, would come down the Fraser canyon and reach tidewater at Burrard Inlet with a ferry connection to Victoria.  Premier Walkem chose the Bute Inlet route, since that would make Victoria the terminus of this transcontinental railway, while the Fraser Canyon route would put the terminus and its port on the Mainland.

The Imperial Government, which was responsible for introduction of the railway promise into the terms of union, now feared that separation was a real possibility if something substantial were not offered the disaffected Canadians of British Columbia.   It certainly did not wish to reassume the financial burden of the bankrupt Colony.    A compromise was proposed.   An immediate start was to be made on a railway to link the two Island cities, Victoria and Nanaimo, and railway surveys were to begin on the mainland.   A wagon road and a telegraph line were to be built from the Red River to the Pacific.   It was promised that $2,000,000 were to be spent annually on railway construction, but no firm completion date was mentioned.   These were the Carnarvon Terms from London.

This compromise could have been accepted by both parties in Ottawa and would have got the Dominion government out of an embarrassing spot.  For, if B.C. separated from Canada, the Americans stood ready to purchase her with their own Northern Pacific railway line which, delayed by mismanagement and failure of financing, was slowly creeping toward completion. In 1874 its trains were running from Portland to Tacoma, although the line through the Rockies was still to be built.  In Ottawa the influential Liberal, Eward Blake was implacably opposed to any subsidies whatever to the Pacific Province, and was quite willing to see it secede if that would preserve financial prudence.   Blake’s opposition tied MacKenzie’s hands and the Carnarvon Terms were rejected by the Dominion Senate. 

As a shamefaced sop to B.C. Mackenzie and Blake offered a cash payment of $750,000 as compensation for delay in beginning the railway.   This offer was greeted with intense suspicion by British Columbians and the Walkem government.   The cash offer could be interpreted as a payment for future as well as past delay.  Accepting it could be seen as releasing the Dominion government from its promise.   Standing on these principles, the offer was rejected in 1876, and a resolution was passed calling for secession from Canada.   The then situation in B.C. was intolerable; in joining Canada the province had been obliged to give up its chief sources of revenue, the Customs and Excise collections, to the Dominion government.  Without a revenue, B.C. was reduced to subsisting on humiliating handouts from Ottawa.   Without the railway there was no hope of integration into the Canadian economy which could have saved it.

With B.C.’s rejection of the cash grant and its threat of separation, the Liberal Government in Ottawa lost its nerve and dithered.   De Cosmos angrily attempted to insert an amendment into an unrelated bill calling for work on the Esquimalt to Nanaimo railway to begin at once.   Only six eastern members joined the British Columbians in voting for the amendment.   This vote made it clear to B.C. citizens just how little regarded they were in central Canada.   Their threat of separation had been met with casual indifference.   The Walkem government was  disgraced and driven from office.  It had stood on principle and refused the cash offer.   It had threatened separation, and Canada had not cared.   

Andrew Elliot, a former Colonial magistrate, took over as Premier.   His government was as ineffectual as Walkem’s.   The citizens of British Columbia were in a foul and angry mood and ready to lash out at anyone.    The Government in London had the Dominion Governor General  make a Viceregal tour in the old Imperial way, with smashed wine bottles and flag raisings.   The populist faction of the citizenry were unimpressed.   They erected the traditional arches festooned with fir boughs to welcome the Marquess of Dufferin, but pointedly hung signs on them threatening secession if the railway were not commenced at once.   His Excellency, equally pointedly, refused to pass under any arches so placarded.   Amid all this archaic symbolism, the situation worsened.   In 1878, De Cosmos rose in parliament to utter a new threat.  If the railway were not begun at once, British Columbia would have no other alternative but to seek annexation to the United States.   De Cosmos hated Americans from his time in California.   He made the threat, which only spite would have made him carry out, to try to make parliament understand the depth of feeling and legitimate anger of his constituents.   Parliament’s response was little more than a yawn.

In British Columbia the feeble Elliot government fell, and Walkem came back, promising to solve the railway impasse.   British Columbia had but one card to play, that of secession.   On August 9, 1878 Walkem moved an address to the Queen, asking Her Majesty, in light of the broken promises of the Dominion Government, to grant British Columbia the right to withdraw from the union and receive compensation for the defaulted pledges.   The motion passed, 14 to 9.

But at this point Walkem lost his nerve.    Instead of sending the message to London where it would have elicited some sort of action, he weaseled and sent it to the Dominion Secretary of State in Ottawa for forwarding to Her Majesty.   This made it clear to the MacKenzie government that the message was just one more threat directed at it, and not a serious move to separate.   MacKenzie’s government simply “mislaid” the Address to the Queen, and it was never transmitted.   Shortly after, MacKenzie’s government was defeated and Mac Donald was back with his Conservatives and a new National Policy in which the Railway to the Pacific was a major plank. 

The decade of political turmoil and mendacity of the 1870s had all been quite absurd.   The Province of British Columbia had for six years begged, cajoled, threatened and gone to the brink of secession over the railroad with the Dominion government.   Now, with a simple election, the railroad was to be built.  It should not be thought that the MacDonald had announced  his railway policy to mollify British Columbians, or to redeem the promise of 1870 as the residents of the Pacific Province believed.  Mc Donald had cleverly annouced the railway as a  National Project that would project the commercial interests of Ontario and Quebec onto the Pacific Coast so that they might enter the lucrative Asian trade.   This was the Conservatives’s railway policy, an expansion of Central Canada’s power to the Pacific; the wishes of 10,000 British Columbians were quite insignificant in Ottawa.

Amor De Cosmos, who had been politically destroyed by the railway issue, rose in bitter anger in the house in April of 1879 to excoriate the members of both parties for five years of hostility to British Columbia.   In wild sarcasm he challenged them to do in fact what for five years they had done by indifference, moving a motion to exclude B.C. from Canada.    British Columbia, he said, “has been called an excrescence, and incubus, has been accused of endeavouring to gain something from this Dominion without any equivalent.   I ask the honourable members who say they wish to get rid of this province, to second the motion.”   The house was silent.   Not even one of the five other B.C. members would second De Cosmos’ motion.   He concluded with the angrily prophetic  statement,  “The people of British Columbia have as little faith in one side (party) as they had in the other.”    De Cosmos, now eclipsed, had expressed the bitter judgment of the people of B.C.: the Dominion government, under whatever party, would never be trustworthy.    They wanted a Canadian commercial front on the Pacific, but they would never be willing to pay the price for the union of British Columbia.   It is a distrust of the Ottawa government, and an anger at central Canada that subsists in B.C. to this day, and is regularly exploited by Provincial politicians of all parties.     

The actual construction of the long promised railway was, if anything, even more difficult and frustrating than the five years of political wrangling over whether it was to be built at all.   First, the Dominion government had to find that syndicate of wealthy men able to raise the funds for 1900 miles of construction through an uninhabited country, four mountain ranges and six hundred miles of solid and barren rock north of Lake Superior.   Sir Sanford Flemming, who had surveyed the route through the tumultuous Seventies, had estimated it would cost $100 million, an astronomical sum for a country of but four million.

The wealthy banker George Stephen, whom MacDonald had with difficulty persuaded to lead the syndicate to built the CPR, held out for concessions without which he absolutely refused to undertake the project.   

First, was a monopoly clause in the contract, prohibiting any other railway from building between the CPR and and the U.S. border.   This was directed at the Northern Pacific Railway which had been completed in 1883 and had become the de facto link between British Columbia and Canada.   One took a steamer from Victoria or New Westminster to Tacoma, rode the Northern Pacific to St Paul, the Milwaukee Railroad to Chicago and the Grand Trunk to Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal.  All freight went in bond via this route as well and U.S. line was planning an extension north up the Red River Valley to Winnipeg.    The Dominion Government could enforce this prohibition in the empty Northwest Territory where it had sole authority.   In Ontario and British Columbia, MacDonald promised to have the Dominion Government disallow any Provincial Railway charter for a line in this CPR claimed territory.    This promise was redeemed  in 1883 when the B. C. legislature authorized the American Ainsworth Syndicate with mines on Kootenay Lake, to build a 40 mile portage railway around the falls and rapids on the Lower Kootenay River.   The Dominion Government found the Ainsworth’s railway to be essentially an entry of the Northern Pacific into the lands promised the CPR as its exclusive territory.

Second, the syndicate insisted on a cash subsidy of  $25 million and a land grant of 25 million acres along the right of way.

Third, that whoever built the railway should “run it forever.”

Fourth, that the syndicate would receive those portions of the railway already built or contracted for by the government.

These were enormous gifts, but the undertaking was even more enormous.   By its completion in 1885, it would very nearly bankrupt the syndicate, and nearly defeat the government as more and more loan guarantees had to be made to keep the work from collapsing.

No one knows to this day what it cost; $150 millions is a probably a good guess.

Natural Splendour of the Arrow Lake

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Wednesday’s Photos

Curves and Undulations in Ice and Snow

Today’s theme helped me find objects on this chilly winter day, which I would have missed to capture with my camera. I believe I mentioned it before, how important it is to have a theme in your mind before going out to take pictures. It gives you the focus needed to see things, which you would otherwise miss. In the following images the focus was on the many ways Nature expresses itself in curves and undulations. Enjoy.

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THE MINING ERA OF THE CANADIAN COLUMBIA by Bill Laux – Chapter 13

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SILVER ON KOOTENAY LAKE

The placer miners of the 1860s had noted in may places the presence of gold and silver in hard rock veins but had been obliged to pass them by. Lode deposits required money and machinery to develop. Tunnels and shafts would have to be dug, and the ore crushed by powerful machines. Lode mining was for capitalists; the ordinary prospector had but his pan and his shovel, and needed a gravel bar with gold at the bottom of it.

For the silver and copper showings, a smelter would be required to extract the metal, and none existed in the North American West in the early Sixties. Transportation was again the deciding factor.  Without an economical means to bring in heavy machinery and to move the ore out to a smelter, investors would not risk their money on lode mines.

However, that lead deposit on Kootenay Lake continued to attract attention. In 1868, American prospector Henry Doan investigated the surface showings of galena, on which he staked a claim.  In 1873,  he sent a very rich sample of ore which he said was from his claim (it was not) to some San Francisco investors who were impressed. They bonded the claim for $10,000, paying Doan $1000 in advance.  They then sent mining engineer, George Hearst, to examine the deposit and advise them if it was worth buying. Hearst came north from San Francisco by boat to Portland, by steamer to Walulla, and stage coach to Colville.   At Marcus, Hearst and Doan engaged Captain Albert Pingston, now without a steamer, but with serviceable rowboat, to take them up the Columbia, and then to portage around the falls and rapids of the Kootenay River to reach Kootenay Lake. On the portage Doan suggested to Captain Pingston that he “lose” the assay outfit that Engineer Hearst had brought along. Pingston indignantly refused.  At the lake Pingston rowed them across to the peninsula with the huge iron stain on the bluff overlooking the lake. Here was Doan’s claim. Hearst tested the surface showings and apparently built a small furnace of stones where he smelted  some of the ore over charcoal to test its lead and silver content.   Hearst’s assays revealed a low grade deposit with  6% lead, 8% zinc, and 2.8 oz. of silver to the ton. True, there was a lot of it, and it was on the surface, but it was nothing like the bonanza silver-lead ore Doan had sent him.

Furious at having been duped by the false sample, and having come all this way at considerable expense, Hearst, who had hired the boat, refused to let prospector back into it for the return trip. Captain Pingston protested to Hearst, “You can go and thrash him if you like but you cannot leave him there to starve and you must let him come back in the boat to where he can get something to eat.”   Presumably well thrashed, Doan was allowed back in the boat to return to Colville, though a still furious Hearst may have kicked him out at Fort Shepherd. It was supposed by prospectors around Colville, that the sample Doan had sent to San Francisco was specimen silver ore from one of the Colorado mines.

For the remainder of the Seventies, the Big Ledge of lead-silver ore on the east side of Kootenay lake remained undisturbed, except perhaps by Kootenais and Sinixt Indians casting balls for their Hudson’s Bay Company trade muskets..

There was a Canadian Pacific Railway promised to British Columbia by the Dominion government as part of the terms of union in 1870.   But it was virtually in limbo, as the result of a political scandal concerned with its financing.   The Conservative Party, which supported it, was out of power as a result of the CPR scandal, and the Liberals were offering money instead, and a government dry dock to the new Province to try to get out of the very costly railway promise.

In the 1880s with CPR, still unbuilt, it was the Northern Pacific Railroad, building from Duluth on Lake Superior, to Tacoma on Puget Sound, that revived mining interest in the Kootenays.   The Northern Pacific was to run down the Clark Fork River in western Montana to Pend Orielle Lake and Sandpoint, Washington.   This would put it just 30 miles from Bonner’s Ferry by that easy valley bottom route of the Walla Walla trail.   Suddenly, that low grade lead and silver deposit Henry Doan had tried to sell George (now Senator) Hearst was going to be within reach of a railroad.

  Robert Sproul, an American from Kennebec County, Maine, was in the Washington Territory in the 1870s prospecting for coal to supply the Northern Pacific Railroad which was under construction.   He was accused of claim jumping by another coal prospector, John Stone of Puyallup, and apparently framed by Stone or some other for a barn burning.   He was released by the Puyallup magistrate, who could find no evidence he was the culprit, and he quickly put the Cascade Mountain between himself and his adversary. 

In 1880 he turned up in Colville, and was befriended by the Jacob Meyers family.  In the spring of 1881 he was in Bonner’s Ferry helping the Fry brothers, Richard and Martin build a scow with which they intended to begin a transportation service down the river to Kootenay Lake.   The Frys, who as trappers and traders, knew the lake well, told him of the big galena outcrop on the east shore of that lake.  The next summer he obtained a grubstake from a Colonel Hudnut of Sandpoint, and with his friends, Jesse Hunley, and Jacob Meyers from Colville, borrowed a rowboat from the Frys to go down the river and prospect Kootenay Lake.   With the map the Frys had drawn for them, the three men found the place.   Sproul staked the Bluebell, and, believing himself to be the discoverer, staked an extra claim, the Comfort, for Col. Hudnut.   Hunley staked the Kootenay Chief, and Meyers staked the Ruby.   The mining law in effect in British Columbia at that time had been drawn up for placer miners working their claims though the summer season.   It required the claimant to remain on his claim throughout the season, June 1 – Oct. 31, not leaving it for more than 72 hours at a time.   This was intended to prevent disputes in which one miner might mine another’s gold in his absence.   It had no real relevance to lode mines, few of which had been staked in the Province up until this time.  It was amended to accommodate lode mining the following year.   But the law in effect in 1881 also required the claim to be registered at the nearest mining recorder’s office, which at that time was William Fernie at Wild Horse Creek, a difficult journey back to Bonner’s Ferry and up the old Wild Horse trail which could not possibly be accomplished in 72 hours.

Sproul, Meyers and Hunley were not the only prospectors interested in Kootenay Lake that summer.   By this time the Northern Pacific crews building from Wallula on the Columbia had laid rails as far as Sandpoint.   This brought the Ainsworths of Portland back into the boundary country.   They had put two steamers on Pend Orielle Lake and the Clark Fork River to supply the Northern Pacific contractors, and now an Ainsworth prospecting party came up the just completed line to Sandpoint.    With the rails a scant 30 miles from Bonner’s Ferry and navigable water to Kootenay Lake,  Kootenay minerals could have the transportation that had so long been lacking.   The Ainsworth syndicate’s party comprised Captain John C’s son, George; Enoch Blaisdel; the Englishman, Thomas Hammil; a man named Maxwell; and New York journalist, A. Y. Woodbury.   They were to investigate mining possibilities on Kootenay Lake.   The provision of bringing along a New York journalist ensured that any mines the expedition might discover would be reported in the American press and so generate investor interest.  With wise forethought, Woodbury wrote William Fernie, the mining recorder at Wild Horse, asking him to come to Kootenay Lake to give legal sanction to their mining enterprise, and record what claims they might stake.   All of this careful planning suggests that the Ainsworths had advance knowledge that there was mineral on Kootenay Lake and even where it was to be found.

William Fernie, who may well have been the source of the Ainsworth’s information as he knew the Lake region well, did come and met the Ainsworth party.   Sproul was able to record his Bluebell claim with Fernie on July 31, 1882.

Hunley and Meyers did not stay the full season, as required by the law, to hold their claims.  They probably did not think low grade lead worth the trouble, since Sproul had been unable to sell a half interest in his Bluebell to Fernie.   Fernie doubtless informed them that their discoveries had been recorded and abandoned several times previously, and in his opinion were not worth much.   Sproul, though,  stayed on, developing his claim and building a stone powder house.   It seems clear he intended to mine it if he could not sell it.   But on October 25 he tacked a note stating he was ill and out of food to one of his claim stakes, and set off in the Fry’s boat to row to Bonner’s Ferry.

  Upon his departure, Hammil and Woodbury came to the Bluebell camp and jumped Sproul’s, Hunley’s and Meyer’s claims.   This, under the law, was technically legal, as the men had left before the end of the season.    William Fernie was right there to record Sproul’s Bluebell for Thomas Hammil, Hudnut’s Comfort and Meyer’s Ruby for Woodbury, and Meyer’s Kootenay Chief in the name of Enoch Blaisdel.   Fernie’s actions in so openly favouring the Ainsworth party are open to question.    He had told Sproul that he was not the discoverer of the east shore galena deposits, and therefore not entitled to a second claim, though recording a claim in the name of a friend was a common American practice and sanctioned by most miners.   But it was clearly not proper for Fernie to record two claims for Woodbury.   Jumping claims, even under the color of a legal technicality, was a despicable act in the view of the miners of the Eighties, and William Fernie’s actions strongly suggests that he had been co-opted by the Ainsworths.

On the other side of the lake, the Ainsworth party set up their camp at the hot springs where they filed a townsite claim for 160 acres around the spring to be called Ainsworth.   As well, they located other mineral claims on the west shore in the area of their townsite.  This was obviously no speculative prospecting expedition; the Ainsworths intended to become the dominant influence on the lake.

The following spring Sproul and Hammill  returned to Kootenay Lake.    Robert Sproul  found the Ainsworths had jumped his claims, and Thomas Hammill was setting up camp at the Big Ledge as it was called, a few hundred yards from the disputed claims.  Sproul filed a lawsuit against Hammill, but since the decline of the Wild Horse diggings there was no experienced civil servant assigned to the Kootenays as magistrate.   Instead, a well liked but largely ineffectual local storekeeper at St Eugene Mission on Moyie Lake, the elderly Edward Kelly, had been  appointed Justice of the Peace.

At the end of August, 1883 Judge Kelly came to Kootenay Lake to hear the lawsuit.  Hammill had wanted to bring in a prominent lawyer from the Coast, but the man either could not or would not make the arduous trip. Sproul engaged the English sportsman, W.A. Bailie-Grohman, to speak for him. This was probably a bad choice, since Baillie-Grohman was a notorious meddler, more interested in the figure he cut in the wild Kootenays, than concerned for his client.   The trial was a choice morsel for the book of Western Adventures, Baillie Grohman was writing.

Baillie-Grhoman’s description of the trial, probably somewhat embellished for his English audience,  follows.

“…Judge Kelly, a genial old timer, whose silvery locks and quaint Irish humour soon gained him the respect of all concerned, arrived in due time.   It was a somewhat memorable scene.   The canoe bringing him had been sighted from the enemy’s camp,  for the little cove in in which it lay, faced south.   Forgetting for the moment all the dire threats exchanged by both camps, Winchesters and six shooters were laid aside, and the inmates of both camps streamed down to the shore to receive the representative of the law.   We were a motley little crowd, six or seven for our side, for some necessary witnesses had arrived, and twice that number in Hammil’s party…  It became unavoidable that Judge Kelly should take up his quarters in one or the other of the rival camps.   ‘Now boys,’he addressed the crowd, ‘I think it would be fair to both camps if I grub in the one and sleep in the other, so just let me know which has the better grub outfit.’   A hasty exchange of information concerning our respective culinary possessions…left no doubt that the enemy’s grub box was far better stocked then ours.   Molasses, onions, and canned stuff, of which we had none, decided the question in which camp the judge would take his meals.   Every morning and evening he was escorted to and from from one camp to the other by one of his late hosts, the distance being a few hundred yards…  

The largest of the three shanties in the two camps was selected as the courthouse where the trial took place… The court opened on Aug. 31, and the first thing Judge Kelly insisted on was that all revolvers were to be deposited in a box at his side so long as the court sat… The litigation had resolved itself into four distinct cases,  for each of the two parties had taken up the same four claims on the Big Ledge.  As several important witnesses were absent, two or three short adjournments became necessary, and it was only on October 16, 1883, that Judge Kelly gave his last judgment.   All four were decided in our favour!   Judge Kelly was an old miner himself, and knew little of  law; hence he took the view which from the first I had recognized as the saving of our case, namely the common sense interpretation of the actions of men, who, from causes beyond their control, could not possibly comply with the strict letter of the mining regulations…”

Thomas Hammil had the resources of the Ainsworth Syndicate behind him, and at once appealed Judge Kelly’s decision to the B.C. Supreme Court.   Justice Begbie heard the appeal

in March, 1884. His decision reversed Judge Kelly in respect of  Hunley and Meyers.   They had in fact abandoned their claims, Begbie decided, and forfeited them. But Robert Sproul had made a genuine effort to stay with his discovery until the end of the season, so he was entitled to a leave of absence, being ill, and could retain his Bluebell claim.   Justice Begbie made it clear that he considered Thomas Hammill a despicable claim jumper and Baillie-Grohman a meddlesome obfuscater.   

Sproul, who had meantime secured an appointment as Road Commissioner for the Third District of Kootenai County, Idaho, organized a  company to construct and operate a 32 mile toll road from Mud Slough, near the Northern Pacific’s Kootenai Station, to a spot he called Galena Landing on the Kootenai River near Bonner’s Ferry.    Having lost his associates’ claims to the Hammill-Ainsworth party, he intended to control their access to the Lake.    In 1883 Sproul had assigned a 1/3 interest in his Bluebell claim to Col. Hudnut, but the Colonel refused to pay the court costs of the transfer. To settle the debt the 1/3 interest was put up for sale. It was bought, to Sproul’s fury, by Thomas Hammill.   The fact that neither Sproul nor his partners bid on the 1/3 interest suggests possible collusion between the court and the Ainsworth interests.

  In June, 1884, Sproul met Dr. Wilbur A. Hendryx of Grand Rapids, Michigan in Sandpoint.   Dr. Hendryx was representing a brass fabricating company in Connecticut owned by himself, his brother, and Edwin W. Herrick of Minnesota.   Sproul took Dr. Hendryx to inspect the Bluebell claim at the Big Ledge Camp on Kootenay Lake, and convinced the would-be mining entrepreneur of its value. He also pointed out to the Doctor that he held a toll road franchise for the route Bluebell ore would have to travel to reach the Northern Pacific at Kootenai Station. Sproul sold Dr. Hendryx a half interest in his toll road franchise and transferred his interest in the Bluebell claim to the doctor in exchange for shares in the Hendryx brothers’ Kootenay Mining and Smelting Company of New Haven, Connecticut. Once the toll road was built, the Hendryx brothers intended to mine the Bluebell ore and bring it out to the Northern Pacific for shipment to a Missouri smelter. 

Now the Kootenay Lake region became the focus of two rival groups of American capitalists grasping for control. The meddlesome Baillie-Grohman was fortunately distracted, getting up a Mountain Goat hunt with the future American President, Theodore Roosevelt.   Looking down from the high mountains on the wide bottomlands of the Kootenay River near present Creston, Baillie-Grohman conceived the idea of draining the marshy lands to reclaim them for farming. He had the idea that if he went to the Rocky Mountain Trench in the East Kootenay north of Wild Horse, he could divert the Kootenay River into the Columbia, a scant five miles away. Then the lowered flow down the Kootenay would leave the bottomlands dry and farmable. Roosevelt refused to become involved in such a visionary scheme, but did make inquiries about mines which might be for sale before returning to the U.S. Baillie-Grohman, infatuated with his idea, approached one of the construction engineers for the Northern Pacific, then building through Sandpoint. He brought the engineer to the flooded lands and took him over to the site of his proposed canal, and asked for his professional opinion on the scheme. The engineer pronounced the thing possible, and Baillie-Grohman lost no time in forwarding the engineer’s report to his English friends, soliciting their funds for his Kootenay Lands Reclamation Company.

What Baillie-Grohman apparently did not know was that the Ainsworths were deeply involved in the Northern Pacific Company, and the NP engineer dutifully reported Baillie Grohman’s scheme to George Ainsworth. Ainsworth in turn set up his own Kootenay Lands Reclamation Company, and the dispute as to who was to get or drain the drowned lands went into the courts.  The incident demonstrates that the Ainsworth Syndicate’s intent was to dominate the Kootenay region, in mining, agriculture and whatever other possibilities might surface, shutting  all others out. 

Baillie-Grohman’s schemes, though well financed from Britain, came to nothing. He built his canal with Indian labor, but it presently silted up with debris from the spring runoff, and became useless.  The Ainsworth’s stronger rivals, the Hendryx group, proposed to ship Kootenay Lake ore via boat or scow up the Kootenay River to Bonner’s Ferry, and then wagon haul it down their toll road to Kootenai Station and the Northern Pacific Railroad where the Hendryx brothers had set up their headquarters.

  The Ainsworth group’s plan was revealed to be even more ambitious. They intended a portage railroad from the outlet of Kootenay Lake (Balfour), around the falls and rapids, 40 miles to the Columbia, and from there via one of the Ainsworth’s sternwheel steamers to Portland. Captain John C. Ainsworth had commissioned Captain Pingston and his rowboat to survey the Columbia from the Canadian line down to the then head of navigation at Priest Rapids to determine if it could be worked by steamboats.   Captain Pingston reported that with several short portages, at Priest Rapids, and  Rock Island Rapids, the river could be run for “2/3 of the season.”   However a 15 mile portage railroad would be required from Rickey’s Rapids around the 20 foot Kettle Falls, to Marcus.  

Captain Ainsworth then began lobbying the U.S. congress for the improvements  Pingston had recommended. Congress in turn sent out the Army’s Lieut. Symons to repeat Pingston’s survey and report precisely what engineering works would be required to allow U.S. steamers to reach Canada. The services of journalist Woodbury were next used to plant alarming stories in the B.C. newspapers about a supposed Northern Pacific invasion of the Kootenay district with a branch line from its Kootenai Station.   Once the fear of losing a potential Kootenay trade had gripped the Victoria and New Westminster merchants, Captain Ainsworth presented himself at the Legislature to request a charter for his portage railroad.

  Posing as a friend of British Columbia, and concealing his connection to the Northern Pacific Railroad, he painted a picture of a wagon road to be built from Shuswap Lake, navigable from Kamloops, across the low Eagle Pass to Farwell’s (Revelstoke) on the Columbia.   From there, he told them, his steamers would carry merchandise down through the Arrow Lakes to the mouth of the Kootenay where his railroad would connect to Kootenay Lake.   The ore from the Kootenay Mines would come out via the same route and the trade would be preserved for B.C., defeating the Northern Pacific’s plan to build a branch to Bonner’s Ferry. The B.C. Board of Trade and the Provincial legislators were enthusiastic about this scheme.  They  gave the Captain his charter in 1883, and let a contract to G.B. Wright, who represented the Ainsworth’s Syndicate in B.C., to build the Eagle Pass wagon road. To finance the costly and isolated piece of track, they set aside a strip of Kootenay Land from which Captain Ainsworth might choose any 750,000 acres for his Syndicate.

All of this, and especially the generous land grant, aroused opposition, particularly in Victoria where the huge grant of some of the Island’s best land to the CPR to build the Esquimault and Nanaimo Railway was being  bitterly opposed.   Handing his choice of Kootenay lands to this American for a mere promise of a distant railway to an even more distant bluff of lead, was held to be scandalous. However, before he could build his railway and claim his grant the Captain had to obtain Federal Charter as well. In Ottawa, apparently for the first time, someone actually consulted a map.  While Captain Ainsworth had concealed his backing for the sternwheeler, Forty Nine which had stolen the trade of the Big Bend for the Colville merchants in the Sixties, it was perfectly obvious to the Federal Minister of Railways and Canals that an Ainsworth steamer could just as easily connect the Columbia terminus of his proposed railway from Kootenay lake to Marcus, Washington Territory, as to Farwell’s and the proposed wagon road to Shuswap Lake.   The hated “traders out of Colville” could then use the railway to steal the Kootenay Lake trade, and Ainsworth’s Columbia and Kootenay railway would become a feeder to the Northern Pacific at Spokane Falls. Accordingly, the Dominion government disallowed the B. C. legislation, which brought on another crisis between B.C. and Canada.   In British Columbia, it was thought wicked enough for the Federal Government to intervene in Provincial matters, nullifying its legislation, but the worse insult was that in doing so it exposed an egregious B.C. blunder.   

The matter went into the courts for the next seven years, the Ainsworth’s with the backing of B.C.. trying to get back their charter and land grant, the Federal Government blocking them in favour of the nearly bankrupt CPR which was making its halting way toward the Kootenays, where it, and not the Portland merchants, could profit from a portage railway around the Lower Kootenay River rapids and falls.  The tragic events of 1885 were to be the result of this bitter struggle between the Eastern Hendryxs and the Portland Ainsworths for control of the Kootenay mines and commerce.

As the mining season of 1885 opened, Robert Sproul, now an officer of the Kootenay Mining and Smelting Company, hired three miners in Sandpoint, Charles Howes, from Shoshone County, Idaho, and the two Wolfe brothers, Adam and Charles, part Indians, from the Palouse.  The four arrived at the Big Ledge on May 29.   The Hammill party of six miners, was camped at the Ainsworth townsite across the lake.     On the 31st both the Sproul party and the Hammill party were working their adjacent claims.   A rifle shot was heard in the forenoon and at noon, miner Velnoweth of the Hammill party found Thomas Hammill lying on the ground, alive, but shot through the pelvis and spine.   Hammill was carried to his cabin where he died without being able to say who shot him.

Constable Anderson was summoned from the Ainsworth camp across the lake.  On questioning the other members of the Sproul party, he learned that Sproul had set off in a rowboat, for Bonner’s Ferry.   The Constable swore in a posse, and pursued Sproul in another boat.   Picking up a pair of Indian paddlers at the Outlet (Balfour), Anderson rowed furiously up the lake.   Sproul’s boat was shortly found abandoned on the lakeshore, but no trace of the miner was found.   Anderson had his men men row on up the Kootenay River to the boundary where the Boundary Commission’s 100 foot swath cut through the timber twenty years before, formed an open corridor down which anyone trying to cross into the U.S. could be spotted.   It was crucial for Anderson to intercept Sproul here, since if he managed to cross into the U.S. he could not be arrested.   

Three days later Sproul was spotted, walking out of the timber, and arrested for the murder of Hammill.   He was bound over for trial at Victoria before Judge Grey.   Adam Wolfe’s rifle was established as the murder weapon, and the defence did its best to implicate the two Indians. But Sproul was the only person at the Big Ledge that day with a motive for killing Hammill, and had been heard to make threats to him. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang.   The fact that only circumstantial evidence linked Sproul with the murder, and the repudiation by the two Indians, Adam and Charles Wolfe of their testimony raised a cry in the press for commutation to life imprisonment. The case went through appeals, up to the Supreme Court of Canada, with the Americans, and the Hendryx party protesting Sproul’s innocence, but judgment was eventually upheld.   Sproul was hanged at Victoria, still claiming to be innocent, on October 29, 1886. 

The controversy surrounding Sproul’s guilt or innocence brought general opposition to  the Ainsworth’s Kootenay projects. It was noted that the Ainsworth’s employee, the victim, Thomas Hammill, had been cited as a despised claim jumper by Justice Begbie. Miners in particular, sympathetic to a man who may have shot such a hated figure, began to oppose the Ainsworths.  For their part, the Ainsworths shunned publicity, while labouring quietly in Ottawa to reverse the Federal Government’s decision.     

With the Ainsworths in self imposed eclipse, Dr. Hendryx staked the Silver King claim along the shore of Kootenay Lake just west of the Bluebell.  From this spot he began tunnelling toward the Bluebell, intending to intersect the Bluebell glory hole at depth and bring out the ore though the tunnel.  In 1885 he bought a 31 foot screw propeller steamer named “Surprise” in Chicago, and had her shipped by rail out to Kootenai Station, where she was hauled by sled  to Bonner’s Ferry over the toll road, and launched. Pushing a scow ahead of her, the Surprise brought the Bluebell ore to Bonner’s Ferry where it was wagon hauled to the railroad and shipped to an eastern smelter.  In 1888 she was replaced by the larger twin screw steamer, Galena, built at Bonner’s ferry and capable of taking two scows on her trips to and from the Kootenay Lake mines, serving both the Hendryx and Ainsworth camps. Over on the Columbia in 1884, Captain Pingston bought a tiny steam launch, the Alpha, built in Hong Kong, and used it to barge supplies up to the CPR railroad camp at Farwells, for the Canadian Pacific Railway crews were  now across the Rockies, and would reach the Columbia river in 1885.

Natural Splendour of the Arrow Lake

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Wednesday’s Photos

Anatomy of an Old Tree Trunk

On one of our recent walks along the shoreline of the Arrow Lake my wife and I came across an old trunk of a tree that had been cut down more than 50 years ago. That mighty tree together with thousands of others had to go in order to clear the area for the flooding of the valley. It was a sad time for the many people, who were expropriated and driven off their land by this gigantic BC Hydro project. The venerable old tree trunk I am presenting here today has not lost its  beauty over so many years and I decided to devote the entire post to the natural splendour of  its individual parts. Enjoy.

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Well Rooted and Anchored to Last Hundreds of Years

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Its Centre Root Washed Free by the Changing Lake Level

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Elegantly Shaped Lateral Roots

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Its Centre Providing a Frame for a View

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Artistic Lines Leading to the Top

THE MINING ERA OF THE CANADIAN COLUMBIA by Bill Laux – Chapter 12

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THE PLACER MINERS

The placer miners who worked the gravel bars on the Columbia, the Fraser and Thompson, in the Cariboo, Wild Horse and Big Bend were participating on one of the last  occupations open to a healthy single man without resources.   A placer miner needed only a supply of provisions, a gold pan, shovel and axe.   He would learn of the discovery of gold bearing creeks or rivers from newspapers or from saloon cronies.   He would set off alone or with a a partner with perhaps a burro or a mule to carry his tent and provisions, or often with just a pack on his back.   He expected, once he arrived at the diggings, to find enough gold to purchase his needs at whatever store he would find there.    

The placer miner was not an immigrant; he intended to make his pile, and then to go home, buy a farm, a business, a hotel or saloon, and live a settled life.   Most placer miners in British Columbia went back south to San Francisco, or Portland, Walla Walla, or Colville for the winter, then headed back to the diggings in the spring.   Some few would stay on the grounds all winter, building crude log cabins and taking advantage of the low water season in the rivers to test bars submerged in the summer.   The supplies brought in by the last pack train in the fall would have to last the little community of miners until the first pack train of the following  spring.  In the more remote camps, as Wild Horse and Big Bend, this could lead to near starvation conditions in March and April.   

Only the Chinese placer miners planted gardens; the Americans and British with the pride of men with gold in their purses, made a point of buying their necessities.   They would shoot game if it were available; they would buy salmon from the local Indians; they might purchase vegetables from the Chinese camp if one were near, but they thought of themselves as gold miners, not gardeners, and the gold they washed from the gravels was to spend, not to hoard.

A placer camp was an unstable community.   No matter what the gavels were yielding, every miner had a vision of a fabulous creek, somewhere back in the everlasting mountains where the gold nuggets lay on the stream bottom thick as pumpkin seeds, and a man could scoop up a thousand dollars a day.    All it took, in a placer camp, was a rumour of a rich location somewhere “over yonder” and the whole body of men would down shovels and stampede to the supposed bonanza.   Nine times out of ten they would be back in two weeks, starving and ragged, with nothing to show for it.    But let another rumour start, and they would instantly be off again.

Should the new creek show promise, the miners would stake their claims, hurry back to the old camp, dismantle everything movable: doors, windows, furniture and wheelbarrow them to the new camp.   Claims in the old camp would be sold to the Chinese who were not allowed to work virgin ground, and the place would be abandoned.    

The relatively easy availability of large amounts of gold led to a kind of “Hurrah Camp” excitability among the miners.   Fantastic and unlawful acts would be committed by excited men who normally have been peaceable and sober minded.   Reinhart provides some examples.

“I was standing on the sidewalk (at The Dalles), outside a saloon, a man rode up on a fine mule. Dismounting, he untied a long rope from his saddle, fastened one end to the mule, took the other and disappeared into the saloon.   I noticed that he jerked the rope at intervals. Presently from within came a man who cut the rope, tied it to a post, got on the mule with its silver mounted saddle and bridle and rode away.   The rope was till jerked occasionally, while the man at the other end continued,  presumably to eat and drink and be merry.   At last he came out, sized up the situation at a glance and demanded of me if I had seen anyone cut the rope and ride the mule away.   I told him what I had seen and the sheriff was soon in hot pursuit.”    

“I crossed the street to a saddle shop where a man was putting on a fine roan a new and elegantly stamped saddle.   After cinching it securely,  he said to Mr. Gordon, the proprietor, ‘I will try the saddle to see if I like it.   Gordon replied, ‘Certainly.’   The man mounted and rode towards a rock bluff which he started to descend at a good pace.   One of the bystanders remarked, ‘That man does not intend to come back.   Look out for your saddle.   Search was made for the sheriff, but he was busily engaged hunting the mule and no officer could be found to go after the saddle thief. 

“Another time I noticed a man riding up on a beautiful sorrel horse.   Old Bill Howard, proprietor of the Mt. Hood Saloon (the one I had looked in at), said to the crowd, ‘That man rides a stolen horse.   Watch me get him.’   As the rider was passing, Howard, in a voice like a trumpet, sang out, ‘That is my horse.   Get off double quick and drop the reins or the daylight goes through you!’   The man jumped and lit running, nor did he stop or look back till he was out of sight.”

As most of the placer miners were townsmen or farmers, amateurs, their knowledge of geology was but rudimentary.    In California the gold bars increased in richness as one went upstream toward the mountain slopes where the gold had originally come from.   In B.C. they expected the same situation to hold, and were frequently wrong.   The richest bar on the Fraser, was Hill’s Bar, near the downstream end of the gold district.   On the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers, the best grounds turned out to be on the tributary creeks.   The neophyte placer miner learned to identify gold and distinguish it from flakes of mica which sparkled when wet, but became dull when dry.    Fools Gold, iron pyrites, were distinguished by a brassy color and tiny striations on the always cubical crystals.   Silver was almost never found as the native metal in streams, and was not searched for.   In the Tulameen District, on Granite Creek, platinum nuggets were found, but thought to be an unknown form of silver and usually thrown away.    Deposits of sparkling black galena were often found in the Kootenays, but passed by; placer miners had no use for heavy and relatively cheap lead.

     If a miner was successful and came out of the goldfields with a sack of nuggets and grains of gold, he would take them to a bank or a store where they were weighed and paid for at the going rate for the gold of the area.    As all placer gold contained more or less silver, sometimes copper, the rate he was paid in the 1850s and 1860s depended on its purity.   Pure gold was worth $18 per ounce, gold alloyed with silver, as that from Cherry Creek which was half silver, might bring as little as $10.   The determination of purity was by the method of Pythagoras who found in the Fifth century BC, that the ratio of the weight of the gold to the amount of water it displaced, could be used to assess its purity.  The separation of gold from silver or other contaminants was done at the Mint, by metallurgical experts.

When, by shovelling and panning, a good deposit of placer gold had been located, the placer miner built or bought himself a “rocker.”    This was wooden frame work containing screens to reject the gravel and short, cleated sluices to catch the heavy gold.   While one placer

miner shovelled gravel into the top, the other poured in water from a dipper while rocking the device on curved supports to agitate the mixture of sand, gravel and the occasional nugget.   Two men could process several yards of dirt this way in a day, a considerable advance on panning.

Small scale placer mining has always attracted number of jobless men during periods of depression.    The first of these was in the 1890s with the demonization of silver in the U.S.

Thousands of displaced men were attracted to placer mining as a makeshift livelihood.   The great rush of Americans to the Klondike had much to do with the stagnant economy in the U.S. at that time.    The great depression of the Thirties as well, sent thousands into the woods of the Sierra in California in search of gold overlooked by the miners of 1848 – 1850.   And in B.C. placering was resumed in a small way on the Fraser, the Thompson and the Columbia.   Fifty cents a day was an average take, and a single man could live on that.

If a larger deposit were located, a number of men, from three to six or more, would work together to construct a long tom.    This was a sluice of rough boards on sloping ground, perhaps 20 to 100 feet long.     A constant stream of water was diverted into its upper end and men alongside shovelled in rocks, boulders and gold bearing gravel.     The water current in a long tom tumbled the rocks and gravel a considerable distance and rejected them at the lower end.   Cleats nailed to the bottom board caught to gold as the material passed through.   Many yards of dirt could be processed daily in a long tom.

In some cases, as on the Kettle River bars, the gold was very fine, a flour gold which was very difficult to save.    In these cases copper plates covered with a thin film of mercury were placed in the sluices where the fine sand and cold would pass across them.    The fine gold would amalgamate with the mercury and be saved.   By heating the amalgamation plate red hot, the mercury would be driven off as a dangerously poisonous vapour and the gold recovered. 

When stream banks  and elevated stream terraces were found above the level of the creeks, hydraulic mining was the next development of the placer miners.    A long ditch, often several miles long, would be dug to bring water from upstream.   A large diameter riveted sheet iron pile would bring this water down to the face of the gold bearing bank, and a nozzle, called a monitor, would direct the stream at the bank, washing it down into a long tom.    Once the ditch was in place, often dug by hired Chinese labour, one or two men could operate the monitor and roll large boulders to one side, while the running water did the work.   It was, until the development of gold dredges, the most efficient method of recovering placer gold, but hugely destructive to the land.

In some cases it was discovered that ancient stream channels lay buried beneath tens or hundreds of feet of barren overburden.  In these cases tunnels were dug along the bedrock to intersect these ancient channels and the gold bearing gravels removed by wheelbarrow, or in more elaborate installations, by powered scrapers pulled by underground winches powered by compressed air.

The gold dredges of the 1900s were floating barges, assembled on the spot, which dug with a dipper bucket or more commonly with an endless chain of buckets and passed the material through a perforated, revolving trommel with the gold being caught in riffles underneath and the waste elevated for disposal at the end of a long, endless belt on a movable boom.    These dredges worked the deep gravels of river and creek bottoms, constructing a pond which they continually moved up stream with them.   These enormously efficient gold dredges worked in the 20th Century in the Cariboo, in the Monashees, and in the East Kootenay with varying success.  They were, after 1905, the chief method of gold recovery in the Klondike. 

  A few small hobby operations of placer mining still continue in southern  B.C. today.

In the north, on Pine Creek east of Atlin, and in the Yukon, placer miners with bulldozers and powered trommels operate commercially.

Natural Splendour of the Arrow Lake

35

Wednesday’s Photos

Sunny January Morning at the Arrow Lake

The lake level is dropping to make room for the annual spring run-off. This means that a strip of shoreline was without snow. My wife and I took this as an invitation for a walk on the stony beach section at our favourite place, which never fails to charge up our internal batteries. A strong wind earlier in the morning had whipped up considerable surf action.  I captured the waves by lying on my belly very much to the amusement to my wife. Enjoy.

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