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History of Mines Kimberley's Mines - Part 1

by Betty Oliver (1979)

Kimberley's fame over the years has been as the home of the great Sullivan Mine, but the Sullivan not only highlighted the economy of the East Kootenay, but that of Western Canada.

The area first came into prominence in the summer of 1892, when Joe Bourgeois, discoverer of many of Rossland's famous mines, arrived in the East Kootenay.

Huckleberries and Galena

While prospecting in the vicinity of today's Kimberley, Bourgeois and his party met a group of Indians returning to the Indian Mission from a huckleberry picking trip. An Indian woman reported picking up some heavy, bright stones, which might be chicamon or "money-rock" that Father Coccola was forever urging them to look for. The rocks had been thrown away when she found another good patch of berries.

Bourgeois located the discarded rock and then followed outcroppings to a rich mineral ledge. Thus the North Star Mine, one of the first silver-lead mines in the Kootenays, was staked.

 Townsite at Top Mine, 1912

The North Star Company was formed to work this mine. In order to get the ore to the Kootenay River for shipment by riverboat to Montana smelters, the twenty mile McGinty Trail was built. This connected the base of North Star Mountain with North Star Landing on the Kootenay across from Bummer's Flats just north of Fort Steele. The ore was hauled down the mountain in two hundred pound jute bags, then four-horse teams transported it to the Kootenay by wagon in summer and horse-drawn sleighs did the job in winter. A very steep grade leading to today's Selkirk High School forced the teamsters to unload part of their load until storage bins were installed at the top of the hill, allowing the drivers to top off their loads once the hill was climbed.

Once the ore reached the river, it was loaded on riverboats which carried it to Jennings, Montana. From there it was taken to the smelter at Great Falls.

The discovery of the North Star Mine led to the riverboat era, which in turn halved the cost of living in the East Kootenay. The discovery also brought men into the area from other places, including the United States.

With the completion of the branch railway line from Cranbrook in 1901, the ore was sent by C.P.R. to the Hall Mines Smelter at Nelson or to the smelter at Trail, thus bringing an end to the steamboat era on the Kootenay River. Also by this time a wire rope tramline carried the ore down the mountain to storage bins alongside the railway. This much cheaper method of conveyance, plus the cutting out of the McGinty Trail haul and the steamer freight charges to Jennings, made the shipping of low grade ore profitable.

By 1905 the known ore bodies of the North Star Mine had neared exhaustion and extensive exploration had failed to discover any further body of ore. Clean-up operations continued until 1910 when the mine ceased to operate. However, in 1918 Mr. 0. C. Thompson and associates took a lease on the North Star property and shipped ore from the dumps and shallow surface diggings for two years, which proved successful. Again in 1929, Mike Kinella and associates leased the property and shipped some ore derived from jigging the dumps.

The Mighty Sullivan

Also in 1892 four prospectors came to the East Kootenay to discover one of the greatest lead-zinc mines in the world.

Walter Burchett, a farmer from Colbert, Washington, and Ed Smith, an experienced miner, teamed up with German immigrant John Cleaver and an old friend, Pat Sullivan, a red-headed Irishman, for a prospecting trip to the area of Bourgeois' discovery.

They came the hard way, from Kaslo across the rugged mountains into the St. Marys' country. The trip took thirty-seven days and almost ended in disaster. Lost and exhausted and starving, the men finally met some Kootenai Indians who fed them and guided them to the St. Eugene Mission. Here the talk was all of Bourgeois' North Star Mine, so the four decided to see this incredible find for themselves.

A $9.00 Compass Plays a Role

Arriving at the base of North Star Mountain, the four noting that the entire hillside was staked, crossed Mark Creek to explore the now Sullivan Mountain. Some ore was picked up and three claims, the Shylock, the Hope and the Hamlet, were staked.

The ore did not appear to be too rich and they left, only to return a week later, with a grubstake borrowed from Father Coccola, to search for a $9.00 compass left at their claim by Smith. A ledge of rather low grade ore was uncovered and for four years the men took turns working in various areas to keep one of their party at the discovery. It was during this period that Sullivan was killed in a cave-in at a mine in Idaho.

In 1896, the three remaining partners sold their mine for $24,000 to the Spokane syndicate that was operating Rossland's famous Le Roi Mine. The money was divided four ways, Sullivan's share going to relatives in Ireland, and the Mine was named in his honor. Burchett returned to farming and Cleaver to his native Germany. Smith went farming on St. Mary's Prairie and in 1900 was elected to the provincial legislature. He died at his farm home in 1924.

The American owners, the Sullivan Mining Company, sank some small shafts and did some surface stripping. Then McKenzie and Mann, who held the controlling interest in the North Star, persuaded the C.P.R. to build a spur line from Cranbrook, and in 1900 the first shipments of ore were made by rail to the Hall Mines Smelter in Nelson and to the Canadian Smelting Works at Trail. This led to the demise of river-boat traffic on the Kootenay River.

North Star Mine Tram Line Tower

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