Christopher Moore

From min­ing to ski­ing, the past looms large at Red Moun­tain, Bri­tish Columbia.

Canada's History - - CONTENTS - by Hans Tam­memagi

On­line data min­ing of­fers a moth­er­lode of in­for­ma­tion for his­to­ri­ans.

RED MOUN­TAIN, ALTHOUGH SMALL IN stature — its sum­mit is only 2,027 me­tres — can lay claim to be­ing one of Canada’s most his­toric peaks … not once, but twice.

Tucked away in south­east­ern Bri­tish Columbia, about 120 kilo­me­tres south­east of Kelowna, Red Moun­tain gained ini­tial fame from the in­cred­i­bly rich net­work of gold and cop­per veins it con­tained. On July 2, 1890, Joe Moris and Joe Bour­geois staked the first suc­cess­ful gold claim. A fren­zied rush en­sued, for the yel­low metal cast a mag­i­cal spell lur­ing thou­sands of prospec­tors.

A rois­ter­ing camp, chris­tened Sour­dough Al­ley, sprang up be­side the moun­tain. The camp grew from a jerry-built col­lec­tion of shacks into the town of Ross­land, named af­ter Ross Thomp­son, a prospec­tor who pur­chased 160 acres of pub­lic land in 1892 that he turned into the town­site. At its peak, Ross­land boast- ed forty-nine saloons, seven news­pa­pers, and an opera house. At the end of 1893 99 claims had been staked, and by 1895 the num­ber had soared to 1,997. The rush was in full swing, and huge for­tunes were scrab­bled from the moun­tain. Ross­land be­came known as the “Golden City,” and in 1895 its pop­u­la­tion was three thou­sand, mak­ing it the fifth-largest com­mu­nity in Bri­tish Columbia. By 1897, seven thou­sand res­i­dents were listed.

The rich­est mine was Le Roi (pro­nounced like the name Leroy). Other mines on Red Moun­tain in­cluded Cen­tre Star, War Ea­gle, and Josie. The shafts, the first un­der­ground mines in Bri­tish Columbia, in­cluded the deep­est shaft in Canada at that time, which pen­e­trated to a depth of 670 me­tres.

Fritz Heinze, a bril­liant young Amer­i­can min­ing engi­neer and en­tre­pre­neur who made a for­tune in Mon­tana, was lured by Ross­land’s gold. Since ship­ping ore to dis­tant smelters was not cost-ef­fec­tive, he built a smelter in nearby Trail and also a rail­road to trans­port the ore. The new smelter poured its first gold brick in Au­gust 1897. With so much at stake, com­pe­ti­tion was fierce, and con­tro­versy and feuds were fre­quent. In par­tic­u­lar, the Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail­way did not take kindly to its cross-Canada mo­nop­oly be­ing chal­lenged by Heinze, whose char­ter gave him rail­way rights in much of south­ern Bri­tish Columbia.

The CPR wanted those rights, and a long, some­times bit­ter ne­go­ti­a­tion en­sued. The flam­boy­ant Heinze felt CPR’s of­fer was too low and sug­gested a game of poker to de­cide the price.

Fi­nally, af­ter rous­ing Ross­land’s Bank of Mon­treal man­ager in the mid­dle of the night to act as ar­bi­tra­tor, the CPR in 1898 bought Heinze’s rail­way and smelter for $800,000. Heinze left shortly af­ter for Mon­tana, where he achieved even greater tri­umphs. Un­for­tu­nately, he later lost his for­tune on the stock mar­ket and died broke at the age of forty-two.

Mines, of course, need en­ergy to op-

er­ate. Head­quar­tered in Ross­land, the West Koote­nay Power & Light Com­pany har­nessed the wa­ters of Bon­ning­ton Falls and de­liv­ered elec­tric­ity over the first long-dis­tance (51.5-kilo­me­tre) high-volt­age trans­mis­sion line in North Amer­ica. On July 15, 1898, elec­tric lights be­gan to shine in Ross­land. Need­less to say, the in­flux of pop­u­la­tion and the build­ing of in­fra­struc­ture had an enor­mous im­pact on the de­vel­op­ment of the West Koote­nay district.

In 1906, sev­eral mines amal­ga­mated to form the Con­sol­i­dated Min­ing and Smelt­ing Com­pany of Canada (Com­inco), now named Teck Re­sources. Thus, Red Moun­tain was the birth­place of a ma­jor min­ing con­glom­er­ate that to­day has op­er­a­tions around the world.

Mines, how­ever, are ephemeral. The ex­trac­tion of gold and cop­per lasted from 1894 to 1929 with mi­nor work con­tin­u­ing dur­ing the De­pres­sion. In 1927 and in 1929, Ross­land was struck by ma­jor fires.

Although min­ing in Red Moun­tain be­came a mem­ory, Com­inco’s smelter in nearby Trail con­tin­ued to pros­per with lead and zinc ores from the Sul­li­van Mine in Kim­ber­ley. Ross­land, although di­min­ished, con­tin­ued as a bed­room com­mu­nity for Trail.

Red Moun­tain also gained fame, and made his­tory, with a com­pletely dif­fer­ent com­mod­ity: snow, or “white gold.” The northerly cli­mate and steep moun­tain slopes, com­bined with an in­flux of Scan­di­na­vian min­ers, cre­ated the per­fect con­di­tions for the in­tro­duc­tion and growth of win­ter sports. In 1896, Olaus Jeld­ness, a Nor­we­gian min­ing engi­neer, formed the Nor­we­gian Ski Club, in­tro­duc­ing ski­ing and ski jump­ing to the area.

The first down­hill ski cham­pi­onship in Canada was held on Red Moun­tain in 1898. Jeld­ness won the event and re­peated as cham­pion the fol­low­ing two years.

Ski­ing’s rep­u­ta­tion for par­ty­ing re­ceived an early boost in 1898 when Jeld­ness hosted his leg­endary “tea party” on Red Moun­tain. Twenty-five guests climbed to the sum­mit, where a bon­fire and boun­ti­ful al­co­holic re­fresh­ments awaited. The dif­fi­culty came in re­turn­ing on skis in the dark. Ac­cord­ing to folk­lore, a doc­tor and an am­bu­lance were wait­ing at the bot- tom, and few es­caped with­out in­jury.

Ski­ing’s pop­u­lar­ity con­tin­ued to grow in the re­gion, and in the mid-1940s Canada’s sec­ond chair­lift was built there (the first was at Mont Trem­blant, Que­bec) us­ing equip­ment from old min­ing tram­lines and knowl­edge gained from build­ing ore tramways. The first ride up the moun­tain took place on De­cem­ber 16, 1947.

In 1968, Red Moun­tain hosted the first World Cup ski com­pe­ti­tion to be held in Canada. Ross­land’s Nancy Greene, fresh off a gold medal in the gi­ant slalom at the Greno­ble Win­ter Olympics, won the same event at Red Moun­tain.

In 1988, Red Moun­tain again hosted World Cup ski events. The Red Moun­tain Ski Club has placed more rac­ers on the national ski team than any other Cana­dian club. Ker­rin Lee-Gart­ner, another Ross­lan­der, won the down­hill gold medal in the 1992 Olympics.

To­day, many skiers slalom down Red Moun­tain un­aware of the enor­mous net­work of aban­doned tun­nels and shafts that lie be­low, or of how sig­nif­i­cantly the steep lit­tle moun­tain has im­pacted Canada’s min­ing and ski­ing his­tory.

Down­town Ross­land, Bri­tish Columbia.

Above: An as­sort­ment of min­ing tools on dis­play at the Ross­land Mu­seum and Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre.

Right: A statue in Ross­land cel­e­brates Olaus Jeld­ness, the Nor­we­gian min­ing engi­neer who in­tro­duced ski­ing and ski jump­ing to the area.

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