No matter where you stay in Manning Provincial Park, you will awake to mountain morning air. Fading from olfactory memory is the scent of the Lower Mainland marinating in its concoction of effluents. Up here, one can barely smell urban blight.
Between the Parks Lodge and Princeton, in the year 2004 it was chancy finding a cup of coffee, much less breakfast. Until the fire of December 1st, 1992, left nothing but a heap of twisted pipes and charred lumber surrounding a scorched brick and stone chimney, the Eastgate Lodge, some 15 kilometres east of the Park Lodge, welcomed diners. It was a big, fancy place and had a picturesque restaurant with a roofed terrace where gaudily-attired Selasphorus rufus1 hummed around the big, red plastic fake-flowerd feeders that swung from the over-hanging eves. Townsends chipmunks entertained the crowds with feats of boldness. Intending to re-build, the Lodges owners set up the Riverside Café in a trailer beside the ruins. By 1999 its windows were dusted over, the doors securely locked. The only victuals available in the neighbourhood were sold out of the Eastgate Ultra service station (1031m), opposite, and the sometime Indian snackbar within it. In February of 2008, thoughtful reader David Enoch Smith reports, the Ultras snack bar has been taken over by Mel and Dave Boucher, he late of the Manning Park Lodge Restaurant, Mr. Smith believes. Open ThursdaySunday during the winter and every day the rest of the year, they offer Ö a limited menu that tends to vary daily but the quality and quantity are to die for, quoth Mr. Smith. Im not sure that Id bite the big Kahuna over the Bouchers cuisine, but I certainly would stop in for a coffee and breakfast after a night on the ground.
Leaving the Park at Eastgate, the Highway concentrates itself back into two lanes as it continues to follow the Similkameen. Completed in the autumn of 1949, this section of road was the last link in the Highway which had optimistically been designated Interprovincial the year before. Down from Eastgate, past the abandoned sawmill on the right with its old-style conical incinerator oxidizing slowly into rusty dust, the access road to Similkameen Falls leads off to the right.
Eastbound beyond the Falls road, the No. 3 sheds its shoulders as it twists its way down into the Similkameen gorge. Chopped into the left wall of the Gorge, the narrowed Highway overlooks the Falls and the River raging at the resilient igneous rock that creates them, but offers drivers no opportunity to pull over to enjoy the view. Even the most senseless of cyclists, scrunched up against the guard-rail to capture a photo or two, will feel themselves endangered by passing vehicles.
The Gorge is short, two kilometres, and ends where the SimilkameenSalish for ashen or milky waterscollects Copper Creek donation. Herenever mind that Princeton is 500 metres below us and 45 kilometres awaygeology forces the Highway to climb. The ascent to Sunday Summit has begun.
The Sunday climb is a nasty trial for a bikie, the nine percent grades made more arduous by that intense old mountain sun beating down and convoys of cars with bikes on roof racks and camper-carrying four-bys waggling boats on trailers led by a semi-trailer unit or a labouring U-Haul, pedal-to-the-metal, blasting kilograms of spent hydro-carbons into the atmosphere. Scoring the tune for this dance, descending trucks with air-hammering jake brakes full-on and frustrated RV drivers exercising their air horns, anxious to get far away from just this sort of situation.
About halfway up the climb to Sunday, the Highways right shoulder spills onto a levelled-off hill top over looking the valley of the Similkameen, now a substantial trench. Pulled off for a breather, cyclists survey their new environment, the Intermontagne climatic region, B.C.s Interior. Directly east are the worn peaks of the Okanagan Range which, though part of the Cascade Mountain region, differ dramatically from the jagged peaks of the Skagit and Hozameen Ranges to the west. Around about, scantily underbrushed, sparse stands of spindly grey pinus contorta latifolia,2 occasionally reinforced by the majesty of a Pinus ponderosa ponderosa, rough barked and orangey, superintend beige hillside meadows of tough, dusty grass. In the trees slight shade, mats of discarded needles decompose into a thin, acidic soil which, given its slight ration of rain, is unable to support anywhere near the same mass of vegetation as its counterpart at the same elevation on the Cascades western slopes. In the alder and cottonwood choked ravines of nearly expired creeks, little herds of hardy white-faced Herefords insist that this is cattle country, their assertions backed up by the long fence lines and corrals and the occasional piece of old equipment which has long since quit trying to rust itself away in the moistureless air. In the hard light of the open countryside, observers can sharpen their eyesight watching the shadows for Mule and Blacktail deer, required now to share their habitats spartan resources with domestic bovidæ.
At Sunday Summit (1282m) there is nothing but a depredation of clearcut and a gravelled lot to the left where truckers check their brakes and tires before their descent. By now, careless cyclists will be feeling the effects of the sun. Mountain air is so nice and cool that some tend to forget that it offers little protection against ultra-violet radiation, and at these elevations the suns unmasked stare can quickly cook exposed ear tips and naked necks. Hats and sun-blocking creams are necessities.
Coming down off Sunday Summit, the Highway is wide and newly surfaced for a few carefree kilometres. However, just as the lull of false security steals a cyclists sense of self-preservation, the pavement narrows treacherously and dives into the first of the many switch-backed creek crossings that complicate the descent to Princeton. This is white knuckle country for bikies. In several places, usually deep into those dangerous switch-backs, the shoulders vanish to the point that the right-hand lane line is painted right off the edge of the pavement and down onto the pea gravel two or three inches below. Encountering a time obsessed Kenworth here, licking along as fast as it can, flicking its multiple trailers about like an alligators tail, definitely tenses ones sphincters. To give the Ministry of Transport and Highways its due, though, it is improving this section of the Highway as quickly as its straitened budget allows, but in the jagged defiles that plummeting streams have gouged into the near vertical slopes of poorly cemented conglomerates, it is a difficult, expensive, time-consuming job. The countryside is scenic, for sure, but stop to enjoy the splendour; the Highway demands all of ones attention as eight percent grades drop the patched, gravel-splashed pavement into tight, blind bends.
Between the South and North Forks of Sunday Creek, on the right one gets a close look at a clear-cut, the B.C. forest industrys favoured method of harvesting timber. Though some professional foresters beg to differ, the practice has been generally discredited as environmentally suicidal and the province has recently passed legislation requiring loggers to spare the fragile mountain stream beds from ruination. According to the sign boards apologizing for this ghastly sight, Weyerhaeuser Canada, Limited, strip-logged this area in 1993 to eradicate an infestation of Mountain Pine Beetle, those insatiable pests which have chewed their way across B.C. leaving sad tracts of reddened, dead trees in their wake. Clearcutting, unfortunately, is the only known way of defeating the beetle while salvaging at least some value from a doomed forest. A good thing, though one cant help but noticing that Weyerhaeuser cut down every tree, pine or not, and, ignoring Wisdoms dictate that bio-diversity is the foundation of a healthy forest, has replanted to pine, and pine only.
Up and down over Sunday, then Saturday, then Friday Creeks, one finally drops down onto the 1949 bridge that hairpins the Highway over Whipsaw Creek and Dewdneys trail, the latter following the former down to the Similkameen. Across the bridge cyclists strain to retain momentum as the Highway flings itself upon the nameless hill, the last obstacle before the exhilarating, brake-cable stretching descent down into Princeton.
To the right, across the Similkameens valley, is Copper Mountain and, as one tops the Hill, the results of nearly a century of demands that the Mountain live up to its name comes into view. The huge crater gouged into the Mountains core is out of sight, hidden from the Highway by a precisely furrowed bank of spoil upon which a sparse stand of yellowing wheat-grass is valiantly trying to stay alive. Little signs faded red on dingy white warn that this is and active mining area.
Slaloming down the Hill in a series of giant seven and eight percent grade switch-backs, the Highway passes the yards of the Mountains last owners, the Princeton Mining Corporation, who, when faced with a gloomy long term forecast for copper prices, suspended its Similco mine operations at the end of 1996. The small crew of local men that used maintain the idled mine and mill have been let go since the owners gave up hope of a turn-around in copper prices and decided to sell off the machinery in the late 1990s. In the early years of the new millennium most of the action on the property was associated with the washing of the coal strip-mined by the Compliance Coal Corporation and its partner, Nissho Iwai Coal Development (Canada) Limited, from their Blakeburn open pit mine at nearby Coalmont. Since the partners completed their own washhouse in December of 2002, the old Similco facilities have not been needed.
Approaching Princeton, the double-wide Highway, repaved and rebridged in 1995, rolls down onto the crest of a loaf of outwashed glacial gravel called Bromley Ridge. Ponderosa pines predominate. Westerly is the valley of the Tulameen River, and to the east, the broader Similkameen valley. From the shoulder of the Highways Hope-bound lane, opposite the refurbished Copper Mountain Bar and Steakhouse (which local entrepreneurs raised in 1992 as the Bromley Station Pub), one can peek into the Tulameen valley through a break in the trees. Below, a railway right-of-way emerges from its tunnel through the Ridge and crosses the Tulameen on three deck-plate girder spans and a brown steel through-truss bridge stiffened laterally by six over-arching I-beam cross-members. The bridge is an odd structure, installed, notes Joe Smuin in his Kettle Valley Railway Mileboards: An Historical Field Guide to the KVR (North Kildonan Publications, Winnipeg, 2003) by the CPR in 1949 to replace the structures which the Great Northern Railway (GN) completed at the site on February 7th, 1912. (which themselves replaced wooden trestling and a pair of Howe truss spans emplaced by the GN in the autumn of 1911)
Beyond the Bridge the right-of-way winds its way westward up the rivers valley past old collieries and the cliffs of auburn ochre, the result of an underground coal seam being ignited likely by vulcanism and slowly combusting with too little oxygen. Tulameen in the Similkameen dialect of the Salish tongue, the ochre has drawn people to this place since time out of mind and inspired the first Europeans to name the locale Vermilion Forks. Below the Cliffs, the right-of-way curls away to continue on up the valley past Coalmont to Brookmere and eventually Brodie where a junction either directed trains up over the Cascade divide at the Coquihalla Pass and down through the Quintette Tunnels to Hope, or shunted them off down the valley of the Coldstream to Merritt and the Nicola River connection to the CPR Mainline at Spences Bridge. The last train to rumble over the brown bridge left Penticton in the early hours of Friday, May 12th, 1989, and crossed the Tulameen here early that afternoon. It was a work train, hauled by GP9u 8219, picking up the last odd bits of equipment that previous clean-up crews had left. On June 21st of the next year the National Transportation Agency granted CP permission to abandon the entire line from Penticton westward. By the end of the summer of 1991 CP had the hardware lifted and Nature began battling with off-road vehicles to claim the railbed. In the years since, the efforts of several rails to trails groups have succeeded in upgrading long sections of the right-of-way into bikeable paths, part of the Trans-Canada Trail, affording the adventurous tourer an alternative to highway travel. It has been
Past the Copper Mountain Bar and the newish Sandman Inn on the left, the Highway begins its glide down off the Ridge. On the right a scattering of exurban businesses and the Sunshine Motel overlooking Princetons industrial area in the Similkameen Valley.
At the bottom of Bromley Ridge, snug in an Oligocene lake basin, downtown Princeton (638m) basks in the radiating heat baked into the dirt by the July sun. The No. 3 arrows across the valley-bottom flats for 200 metres of commercial frontage to leap the Similkameen on a wide, concrete-decked span with which the Ministry of Highways in 2003 replaced a sky-blue steel truss bridge which carried the Highway eastward out of town since 1948. On the left, downtown; to the right, the industrial area, built upon the yards that the Vancouver, Victoria and Eastern Railway & Navigation Company, a subsidiary of the Great Northern Railway, laid down in 1909. Beside the Highway on the old Yards, the plain little gable roofed building now painted white on smoky-rose and reworked to house a Subway Sandwich Shop is the original Great Northern depôt.
Directly opposite the depôt, Vermilion Avenue angles off north-eastward to join Bridge Streetmain streetin a wye intersection in the heart of downtown Princeton. Along Vermilion one finds much of the Towns heritage architecture. Near the Highway, acting as a partial retaining wall preventing a few metres of Bromley Ridge from spilling onto the parking lot of Billys Family Restaurant, is all that remains of the concrete walls of the Princeton Brewing Companys premises. Nearby, construction of the Highway in 1948 buried the site of Allisons (a.k.a. Vermilion) Cave in which early prospectors bivouacked on the detritus left by generations of Salish campers. Princetons first hotel was later used for storage by the local brewery and was credited with imparting that special quality to its High Life Lager.
Heading up-town on Vermilion one comes upon the Princeton Museum-slash-Library where Mrs. Stoneburg usefully passed many years relating stories of Princetons past to those inclined to listen. Come 2004 the Museum is under the direction of Nick Mills, president of the Princeton & District Museum and Archive Society, who has overseen the re-orientation of the operation. Gone is the collection of well used 19-aughts kitchen utensils and old dry-goods packages attended by a female mannequin dressed in period garments, the intriguing stacked glass pane model of Copper Mountains vast ore body, and the dusty display cases crammed with a potpourri of artefacts. In their place is presented, reports Mr. Mills, a well organised trip through the areas history featuring a contribution by the Upper Similkameen Indian Band, an outline of the Royal Engineers efforts in establishing the new-comers presence in this valley, the stories of some nearby ghost towns3 and the regions gold and coal mining industries, an archive of photographs of Princetons early days, some church and medical paraphernalia, and the old bar from the Granite Creek Hotel. For the beer aficionado there are also a fewsadly, emptybottles from the Princeton Brewing Company, Limited, remainders of a local industry whose roots extended back to a brewery founded in 1902 and called at one time the Cariboo Brewing Company. Regrettably, after more than a half-century of brewing its lager, Royal Export and Old Dublin ales, etc., the concern was acquired by the Molson-owned Canadian Breweries Limited in 1961 and promptly shut down. In the Museums basement is the towns archives where the historically-minded can find, reports Mills, [a] copy of every single newspaper ever published in Princeton [since] March 6, 1900[, e]xtensive computerised cemetery records and a timeline detailing the regions history, et cetera. Housed in a wing added to celebrate the Millennium is Joe Pollards fossil collection (one of the best and most comprehensive collection of rocks, fossils and minerals in B.C., according to Mills), and a display of local butterflies and moths collected by Ron Liseau.
Away from the Museum towards downtown Princeton is the imposing white, wood-framed courthouse, a veteran begun in 1928 and now mostly provincial government offices. Behind it, St. Pauls United opened as a Presbyterian church, according to Mrs. Stoneburg, on December 21st, 1920. Its bell, hung in 1923 and now at the Museum, was the first heard in the Similkameen valley, according to Nick Mills. The boxy addition on the back of the church is dated 1965.
Staying; and thinking Physiographically
Uptown, Princeton has few charms other than its small, mountain town ambiance and its old timber bridge over the Tulameen. On Billiter Avenue there is St. Peters Catholic church dating from 1919, and until the conflagration of Sunday, April 9th, 2006, on Bridge (Main) Street stood the 1912 two-storey Princeton Hotel with its fancy verandahs and red brick facade all meticulously restored. It wasnt really a hotel anymore: employees would only reluctantly permit you to view one of the establishments utilitarian $20-rooms, and promise a poor sleep until the pub below cleared out in the wee hours of the morning. The rooms over the in-house liquor store were reserved for six or seven permanent residents, mainly hotel employees. It was a lovely old structure.
Weary travellers wishing to pernoctate in Princeton will not much miss the old hotel. A cross-roads town, Princeton is well provisioned to accommodate every visitor. Vermilion Avenue and nearby Bridge Street support a handful of motels between them, but for my money, the best roof in town is Ms. Burkes Riverside Motel. Cozy Rustic Log Cabins says the sign on the north-east corner of Bridge and Thomas Streets. Some of the log-built cabins in this old-timey motor-court date to 1934 and, built right on the river bank, amazingly did not float away on the big spring flood of 1972. Bike security is no problem; if your steed is not dripping mud, the good Ms. has no objection to you bringing it into your cabin.
In the Chamber of Commerce tourist office situated near the Highways new bridge, the summer staff of enthusiastic trainees know where a visitor can find Princetons campgrounds. The A-OK and the Princeton RV are both east of downtown, on the River side of the Highway opposite the Evergreen Motel. Both are great if one wants to get an early start, for long before sun-up tenters are likely to be blasted out of dreamland by the bark of a Jake-braked diesel engine as the first semi of the day hurls itself into the last curve out of town, about 25 unobstructed metres from your ear.
The quietest campground in Princeton is on the other side of the River, up in a little tributary valley near the KVR right-of-way. The staff at the tourist office will tell you to head north up Bridge Street from the Highway for fifteen metres or so and branch off right onto Highway 5A. Following it, within perhaps 200 metres one rolls onto a 1964 silvery-steel through-truss bridge over the Tulameen. From the middle of the Bridge one can see the Similkameen flowing in from the right about 70 metres downstream, swallowing the Tulameen. On the same side, immediately beside the Bridge, are the concrete abutments upon which the KVR set its span in 1915 to bring its rails across to join those of the Vancouver, Victoria & Eastern at the end of Bridge Street.
The Old Cement Plant
North from the silvery bridge maybe 100 metres Old Hedley Road crosses the 5A. Leaving the latter to carry on northwards to Merritt and Kamloops, campers turn right on Old Hedley, almost immediately peel off left onto Osprey Lake Roadlocally called Summerland Road for its eventual destination on Lake Okanaganand bump up its patched pavement onto a low riparian terrace past the town dump and the Exhibition Associations fairgrounds with its Sunflower Downs racetrack. Not far beyond, Summerland dons a gravel coat as it closely follows the KVR right-of-way up Hayes Creek to a 1200-metre summit at Osprey Lake, and then down Trout Creek into the Okanagan. Before the hardtop disappears, however, one arrives at a well signed access road crossing the KVR railbed and winding a few metres among the Lodgepole pines. There, set in a fifty-foot-deep basin jewelled by mirroring little Rainbow Lake, the Princeton Castle RV Park and its companion, the log-built Rainbow Lodge. Cabins, a day area, a shower house and the 93 campsites of the Park surround the arresting remains of what looks for all the world like a mediæval fortress.
This is The British Columbia Portland Cement Companys plant, a pipe-dream of a project that never really materialized from the smoke. Sitting on a mountain of limestone and within spitting distance of hundreds of thousands of tons of coal, B.C. Cements plant was to be the foundation of an industrial park. After four years and a million dollars worth of construction, the company began producing its Elk Brand Cement in this great cut-stone edifice in 1913. The timing could not have been worse for Okanagan entrepreneur Lytton Wilmot Shatford and the rest of the companys principals. With hostilities imminent, the European money that was to have financed the plant during its first years of production never crossed the Atlantic, enticed into staying on the Continent by the high interest rates that governments were willing to pay for cash with which to buy armaments. Within weeks the plant shut its doors. In 1917 the Canada Copper Corporation rented the building for a few months to conduct experiments on using coal dust to nodulize the output of its nearby Allenby ore concentration mill, but thereafter the plant stood abandoned. Rescued from oblivion by Frank Lees in the early 1970s, the walls of the roofless relic are now artfully overgrown with roses and lilacs, a romantic ruin in the backwoods of B.C.
The KVR right-of-way from the cement plant back down to Old Hedley Road is a rough but cycleable trail down Allison Creek to East Princeton, a stillborn community nestled into a sunny nook in the Similkameens valley about half of a mile east of the Osprey Lakes Road intersection. Intended to house cement plant workers, it never amounted to much, and today it is mostly occupied by the Weyerhaeuser sawmills sprawling yards. Westward on Old Hedley Road, one recrosses the 5A and passes Riverside Elementary School. To the right, Old Merritt Road climbs a mile up past Princeton Secondary and onto the valleys bench whereon sits the Princeton Aerodrome, taken over by the Town from the Department of Transport around 2003. Princeton has long landed aircraft, having been designated, according to T.M. McGrath in his History of Canadian Airports - Second Edition (Lugus Publications, Toronto, 1992, as an airfield on the Trans-Canada Airway back in the late 20s. The Department of Transport up-graded system ten years later, fully equipping Princetons field with servicing facilities and navigational aids in 1939. Dating from the Second World War, the 1,200 metre long asphalt runway sees no scheduled flights as the facility is not certified commercially. Air cadets use it for glider training until fire season when the B.C. Forest Service assumes control of the field.
West from the airport road, Old Hedley eases itself laterally down the high left bank of the Tulameen opposite downtown Princeton and the Riverside Motel, and ends as the right half of the cross-bar at a three-way T intersection. The left half of the Ts bar is Tulameen Avenue which carries along up the River past West Princeton and on to Coalmont and Tulameen, 20 and 30 kilometres away, respectively. In the days before the Crowsnest Highway was completed, this was a leg of the old trans-provincial road which carried on up over the Cascades to Merritt and down to the Thompson River road at Spences Bridge. Turning left down the stem of the T puts visitors on one of the bridges that gives Bridge Street its name. The third span to occupy this site since the first was built in 1886, this solid old beast dates from the 30s and is made of creosote stained timber trusses hugging a deck so narrow that opposing traffic must alternate. It has a separate walkway on the up-stream side and, standing on it as the Tulameen slips silently beneath, an visitor might reflect on Princetons history and geographical location.
Beneath the Bridge lies the frontier between two regimes. In a vast arc that curves from the north down the Otter and Tulameen valleys and cuts away south-east down the Similkameen runs the boundary between the Western and Interior Physiographic Systems of B.C.s Cordillera Region. Subdivided into Areas which are themselves made up of several regions, the Western and Interior are two of only four Systems into which geophysicists have divided B.C. To the west, south and south-east is the Western Systems Cascade Mountain region of the Coast Mountain Area. To the north and east, the Interior Systems Southern Plateau and Mountain Area comprised of the Interior Plateau and the Columbia Mountain regions. Whereas, to quote H.O. Slaymaker in Physiography and Hydrology of Six River Basins (Studies in Canadian Geography; British Columbia, University of Toronto Press, 1972), the Coast Area is made up of exposed [s]trongly folded and metamorphosed sediments and volcanics and granite intrusions... where the [p]eaks ... of the Skagit and Hozameen ranges are characteristically serrate ..., the Plateau is composed of folded sedimentary, volcanic and metamorphic rock of low relief which, wrote the CPRs Development Commissioner, G.M. Hutt, in the Companys February, 1945, Agricultural and Industrial Progress in Canada, have been uplifted at least three times and finally buried under thick layer of glacial drift that has been deeply entrenched by young valleys. Of the Plateau, the Crowsnest Highway sees two regions; the Thompson Plateau between Princeton and the Okanagan, and the Okanagan Highlands, on the eastern side of the Okanagan valley.
Princes Town, Dewdney and the Allisons
In July of 1860 Edgar Dewdney and his partner, Walter Moberly, had won the colonial contract to make a pack trail out of the old foot path which climbed from Fort Hope eastward over the Hozameens. Their objective was the confluence of the Similkameen and the Tulameen, but a misunderstanding about payment that November, and a spat over alignment sent the two youngsters sulking back to Hope for the rest of the season, leaving their assistants, Sergeant William McColl and a tiny crew of Royal Engineers, to complete the job. They did, and in accordance with Governor Douglass wishes, McColl promptly laid out a townsite on what is called Allison Flats, on the Similkameens left bank some two or three miles from here, and named it Princes Town to honour Bertie, the Crown Prince of Great Britain, who that year was visiting his American possessions, and who eventually, upon the death of his imperial mother, Victoria, on January 22, 1901, would take the throne as Edward VII. Princes Town remained merely a sketch and a few stakes pounded into the soil for, though many of the R.E.s filed for homestead properties in the lovely Similkameen, only one man settled.
John Falls Allison was not an Engineer. When news reached Douglas that gold had been found in the lower Similkameen, he commissioned Allison to lead an expedition of investigation. Allison was a good choice. He was British and had panned California streams for gold before coming to the Fraser in June of 1859 to try his luck. Leaving Hope in June of 1860, Allison and party scrambled over the Brigade Trail and sluiced the Similkameen the summer long only to report no gold. Allison liked what he saw of this valley so much that he filed a homestead pre-emption and returned here in the fall. With him came a party of prospectors who were bent on finding the gold that they were sure Allison had missed. On the Similkameen near the mouth of Whipsaw Creek, at a place they called Blackfoot, the party found enough gold to keep them interested for as long as it took of them, T.J. Kruger, to bring in a few supplies and get into the mercantile business. Within a few weeks, however, Blackfoot proved a disappointment and the miners left Allison alone to get on with his homesteading.
In January of 1860, Governor Douglass Legislative Council had passed a comprehensive land ordinance. All lands within the Colonys boundaries thenceforth belonged to the Crown and would be disposed of at the Queens pleasure. Her pleasure, insisted her servants in New Westminster, was to allow her White subjects over the age of eighteen to file a pre-emption on the unoccupied quarter square mile of their choice, pay ten shillings for each of the 160 acres therein and, having proved the claim by settling on the land and cultivating a stipulated minimum acreage, obtain deeded title to it. This Allison did on September 20th, 1860, and when the ordinance was modified in January of 1861 reducing the purchase price of the home quarter and allowing settlers to buy for one shilling each an additional 480 acres to expand their homesteads to an even square mile, Allison did that, too.
Until the spring of 1861 Allison spent his time prospecting the surrounding valleys. He found reefs of coal and noted raw copper outcrops. Needing to prove up his pre-emption, he obtained some seed potatoes from local Salish and planted a few acres. Soon realizing that farming would never provide him with more than a subsistence living, Allison began ranching by buying a few cheap animals out of the herds of cattle that American cowboys were driving up into the Cariboo region to feed hungry miners. His cattle flourished on the lush Rough Fescue bunchgrass and by the mid-60s Allison was delivering beeves to Hope. There he met Susan Louisa Moir, Edgar Dewdneys sister-in-law, and the couple were married on September the 3rd, 1868, in the little parsonage of Christ Church Anglican in Hope. According to her memoirs, as collected, edited and generously annotated by M.A. Ormsby in A Pioneer Gentlewoman in British Columbia (UBC Press, Vancouver, 1976), the new Mrs. Allison could hardly wait to get to the Similkameen. She proved herself a worthy partner to Allison, bearing fourteen children, managing the ranch, garden and trading post when J.F. was away earning cash by building trails, writing her observations of the local Salish, and opening the regions first post office in her home in 1876.
With B.C. enticed into Confederation with the promise of a railroad connection to the East, the Allisons went into debt to lease 3,000 acres of Crown land and expanded their herd in anticipation of gangs of hungry railroaders soon to be busy. The gangs never materialized, and in November of 1873 the family moved their home to what is now Westbank in the Okanagan valley. When crews finally started laying rails, the Allisons returned to the Similkameen in 1881.
In 1885 the pastoral tranquillity of the upper Similkameen was shredded. A romantic version of the story goes that a little band of American cowboys encamped on Allisons property had heard the rumour that one John Bromley and his pals, Bill Briggs and Mike Sullivan, had found some colour in this area in the late fall of 1884. The Cowboys, still unemployed the following spring, decided to try their luck. One of them, J.M. Johnnie Chance, wasnt a dedicated shovel man, nor could he cook, so the rest of the party sent him hunting. Late in the afternoon of July 5th, 1885, hot and tired, Chance was cooling his feet in the chilly waters of Granite Creek where it flowed into the Tulameen some twenty kilometres upstream from Princeton. Glints in the stream bed caught his eye. Nugget gold.
Susan Allison recalled the events of the Granite Creek discovery differently. Appointed regional Justice of the Peace on June 10, 1876, in the spring of 1885, her husband found himself adjudicating a dispute between two companies of Chinese prospectors over a claim on Granite Creek. When he realized that gold had indeed been found, J.F. staked his own claim, stocked up on supplies he knew miners would require, and got himself appointed as the regional Gold Commissioner on April 9th.
The news that the outfit of Briggs and Bromley made $400 from the gravel of Granite Creek in one summer afternoons work in 1885 electrified the West. Hundreds of fortune hunters converged on the stream and by the end of October Allisons pen had recorded the names of 62 companies in the claims register. By the following January, 900 people, one third of them Chinese, resided in the settlement. Depending on who you read, any where up to fourteen hotels, most with saloons, lined the streets. With three blacksmiths shops, seven stores and all the other services demanded by miners, come the end of 1887 what some have erroneously called Granite City was the third-largest town in B.C. By the end of 1888, it was all but deserted, and on April 4th of 1907, there was no-one left to fight the fire that razed the remaining buildings.
The pay had played out as placer deposits must. The peak year turned out to be 1886 when nearly two hundred thousand dollars worth of gold is known to have been extracted from the Creek. Over the years, estimates range to a half million dollars worth of bullion being washed from the Granites gravel, much of which, unseen by Allison and his successors and therefore untaxed, stole quietly away over the Boundary or was traded directly to merchants for supplies.
The Foundation of Princeton
According to Laurie M. Currie in his Princeton, B.C.: 120 Years (Spotlight Publishing Limited, Princeton, 1990), the Allisons were joined in 1884 by J.J. Jameson, formerly in HBC employ, and his family. Jameson was always on the look-out for gold, and though he found little, in his ramblings through the countryside he did stumble across an out-crop of what he suspected was copper high on what, in that year of 1888, was not yet known as Copper Mountain.
Among the 426 patents that Thomas Alva Edison had applied for by the last day of 1882 were scores relating to the generation, distribution and application of electrical power. The Age of Electricity had begun. Within ten years the entire industrial world was generating electricity and transmitting it by wires to lights, to motors, to telephone systems, to furnaces. Anything to do with electricity required copper; hundreds of thousands of tons of it per year as the demand for the new energy spread. Anybody who had copper was going to get rich.
R.A. Brown wanted riches. Hearing stories of copper outcrops in the Similkameen, he abandoned his efforts the Boundary District where he had earned the nicknames Volcanic and Crazy, and in 1892 came to Copper Mountain where he staked his Sunset claim, becoming thereafter Sunset Brown. Within four years the peak was a patchwork of mining claims with names like Copper Bluff, the Copper Farm group, Copper King, Copper Bench, Copper Reef, and was pocked with exploration holes. But the fact remained that Copper Mountain was isolated in rugged wilderness with only crude trails connecting it to the world outside.
Nonetheless, by 1897 a saloon-hotel was in business on Princetons present townsite, and was the heart of a casual canvas community of prospectors who were frequently away trudging the hills. The property had been pre-empted by J.F. Allisons old compadre, John Marston, on September 20th, 1860, but like the several Royal Engineers who pre-empted land around here, Marston had never proved-up. The land remained Crown domain until the Allisons son-in-law, S.D. Sandes, filed claim to 331 acres of it on December 14th of 1897, the very day old J.F. died.
The Beginning of Princetons Coal Business
In 1893 an English mechanical engineer, W.J. Waterman, had come with his brother, Ernest, by way of California into the Similkameen region. After examining the area for several seasons they, like Sunset Brown, concluded that the coal and the copper would make some fortunate folks very rich. According to Margaret Stoneburg in her Princeton - Opportunity and Diversion (Princeton Writers - Short Stories and Poetry, Princeton Writers, Princeton, B.C., n.d.), in the Kootenay mining camp of Rossland the brothers eventually met one Arthur Hickling who was in B.C. seeking investment opportunities for the England-based Hammersley syndicate. Convincing the syndicate that the key to its fortune lay in Similkameen lignite, W.J. and Ernest used its money to organize the Vermilion Forks Mining and Development Company (VFM&D) with themselves as consulting engineer and the manager, respectively. On August 1st, 1898, the company acquired its first coal leases, but with no heavy transportation to haul the lignite out of the region, the company only engaged in exploratory mining for the next few years. To make some money VFM&D bought lot 706 from Sandes in 1899, subdivided it and got into the real estate development business in competition with the estimable Edgar Dewdney who had acquired lot G-1 from the Widow Allison with the intent of reviving Princes Town which the Royal Engineers had laid out thereon some 40 years before. Why Dewdneys scheme failed to attract settlers, Mrs. Stoneburg in her article doesnt say, but by 1902 VFM&D had laid out the street grid that today defines Princeton and was selling lots to eager buyers.
A Robbers Retreat
Despite all the mineral exploration, Princeton remained fairly isolated come the 1900s. Though the Dewdney Trail eastward had been widened into a rough waggon road by 1901, northward towards Kamloops, southward into the State of Washington, and westward over the Cascades to Hope, only seasonal packtrails connected Princeton to the world outside the Similkameen valley.
An inconvenience and an economic hardship for most of the settlements residents, this isolation was just what George Edwards sought. A distinguished looking gentleman of a certain age, Edwards came to visit his homesteading friend, Currie Schisler, early in the new century. He was accepted by the locals for what he claimed to be, a retired rancher. He had cash, but was frugal, liked to take off on extended prospecting forays and was interested in the comings and goings of stagecoaches and trains.
In the evening of September 10th, 1904, persons unknown waylaid a CPR transcontinental train near Mission in the Frasers valley. The express car clerks had heard stories of what damage dynamite could wreak on wooden cars such as theirs, and when assured that they would experience the effects first hand, self preservation triumphed over valour, and the robbers escaped into the night with $7,000 in cash and gold. It was the first train robbery in Canada.
Folks later recalled that George Edwards, who by then had set up housekeeping with squatter Jack Budd in a remote cabin north-east of Princeton on Mount Baldy, had been out prospecting when the Mission hold-up occurred. Too, he had been away later when a train was relieved of $30,000 just over the Boundary in Washington. As recorded by Allen Curtis in The Grey Fox (Canadian West, No. 9, Fall 1987), to the Pinkerton Detective Agency operatives in Seattle, the jobs had all the earmarks of the notorious highwayman, Bill Miner, who, having spent nearly half of his 54 years behind bars, had dropped out of sight after having been released in California in June of 1902. Back in Princeton, Edwards went about his business, lately, though, in company with two rather taciturn gents named Shorty Dunn and Lewis Calquhoun.
On May 8th, 1906, near Ducksnow Monte Creeksixteen miles east of Kamloops on the CPR Mainline, desperadoes overpowered the crew of another train. Though they ransacked the express car, they missed the big money. A posse of Mounted Police and civilians was raised and when members spotted George Edwards and companions breakfasting in the vicinity on the morning of the 14th, they came into camp to be sociable. In the middle of the conversation Shorty Dunn, drawing his pistol and firing wildly, bolted for the bush. Apprehended on the spot, Edwards was soon identified as the infamous Miner, found guilty of train robbery at his trial on June 1st in Kamloops and incarcerated in the British Columbia Penitentiary at New Westminster. Apparently unhappy with his accommodations, Bill checked himself out, writes Robert Belyk in B.C.s Most Famous Prison Escape (Canadian West, No. 10, Winter 1987), during the night of August 8th, 1907, and departed for his native land where he fell into his old ways and died in the Milledgeville State Prison in Georgia on September 2nd, 1914. An 1894 Winchester rifle reputed to have been his is, along with Allisons old HBC musket, on display in the Pioneer Museum.
The CPR, the GNR, and the Battle for B.C.
As Bill Miner was making good his departure from Canada, a railroad company had fastened its sights on Copper Mountain and was slowly building hither. That company was not the CPR, but rather CPs bitter rival, the Great Northern Railway of James Jerome Hill.
The Canadian Pacific Railway
By the terms of its confederation with Canada in 1871, British Columbia expected to be connected to the rest of the nation by a railroad within ten years. As detailed by David Cruise and Alison Griffiths in their elegant Lords of the Line (Viking Press, Markham, Ontario, 1988), the revelation of the wheeling and dealing4 involved in launching such a prodigious undertaking in the young and nepotistic Canada forced prime minister John Alexander Macdonald to resign on November 5th, 1873, in favour of the Liberals led by Alexander Mackenzie who cemented his hold on power by winning the general election of the following January 22nd. For the next five years the Liberal administration, no friend of big business and high finance, dragged its heels on the project. Mackenzie, according to E. Brian Titley in The Frontier World of Edgar Dewdney (UBC Press, Vancouver, 1999), thought that the Conservatives promise of a trans-continental railroad with in ten years was irresponsible and feared that the effort would be a financial disaster like the Union Pacific/Central Pacific road completed across American territory in 1869. Before the first spike was driven, the Liberals wanted all potential routes, especially through BCs cordillera, thoroughly evaluated and the best chosen. Patience eroding, many in B.C. began to speak openly and loudly about cutting its political ties to Canada. Mackenzie offered a deal: in exchange for BCs patience while the details of the project were finalized, Ottawa would link the Pacific province to Canada with a waggon road and a telegraph line, would finance the construction of a rail line on Vancouver island from Esquimalt and Victoria to Nanaimo, and guaranteed to annually spend $1.5 million on the construction of the BC portion of the trans-continental railroad once the project began. George Anthony Boomer Walkem and his conservative provincial cabinet were unimpressed, and by the spring of 1875 Victoria was badgering Britains Colonial Secretary, Lord Carnarvon, to get Ottawa to fulfil its obligations. To soothe the provinces angst, the governor-general, Lord Dufferin, visited Victoria in 1876 carrying Carnarvons compromise which would have Ottawa spend $2 million annually on trans-continental construction in the province, and commence building the Esquimalt & Nanaimo right away. The province, Carnarvon suggested, should allow the Dominion until the last day of 1890 to finish the trans-continental. This somewhat mollified Victoria, but by September 17th, 1878, when the Liberals were dismissed from federal power, B.C. officials were still petitioning Queen Victoria to release the province from Confederation.
When returned to power in the election of September 17th, 1878, one of Macdonalds priorities was to forestall B.C.s secession by getting the railroad built. Negotiations with various financiers dragged out over nearly three years before a syndicate comprised primarily of George Stephen and R.B. (Richard) Angus, president and general manager, respectively, of the Bank of Montréal; J.J. Hill, railroad operator; J.S. (John) Kennedy, New York financier; and D.A. (Donald) Smith, chief factor of the HBC and a principal in the Bank of Montréal, emerged as the favourites. On October 21st, 1880 they signed a contract with the government which bound them to complete a rail line from the end of the Canada Central Railway in northern Ontario to Canadas west coast. For this undertaking they were to receive $25 million, 25 million acres of land in the North-West Territories, exemptions from both import duties on construction materials and taxation on property, free leave to build across Crown lands, all government-constructed trackage in Manitoba and B.C., and the exclusion of competing railroads from all Canadian territory below the Mainline. With An Act Respecting the Canadian Pacific Railway, Victoria 41, Chapter 1 ratified by parliament on February 15th, 1881, and the federal incorporation of the Canadian Pacific Railway three days later, the task was finally under way.
The Act stipulated that the Syndicate had only until May 1, 1891, to have the enormous project completed. Little progress was made that summer, and in an effort to shock the Company out of the doldrums and get the steel on the ground, that December its board of directors engaged a successful, hard driving American railroader, W.C. Van Horne, as General Manager.
Van Horne had been recommended to his new position by another hard driver; CPR board member James Jerome Hill, a Canadian who, among his other undertakings, was forging a rail system in the northern United States. In this enterprise, Hill was the general manager of the St. Paul and Pacific Railroadsoon renamed the St. Paul, Minnesota and Manitoba (St.PM&M)and had in 1878 welcomed to its Board of Directors two other future CPR principals, George Stephen and Donald Smith. It seems today odd that these three men held common interests in competing companies, but at the time such conflicts were of little moment.
The whole idea in constructing the CPR was that it was to be an all-Canadian route, but, because the Canadian Shield north of Lake Superior appeared such a hell to build a railway through, Hill, Stephen and Smith expected that the CPR would initially build west to the Coast from Winnipeg, and conquer the Shield later, if ever. In the mean time, the rail gap between Central Canada and Winnipeg would be bridged by arranging running rights over American lines, principally the St.PM&M. With that in mind, Hill, Stephen and Smith pushed the St.PM&M to Emerson on the Manitoba boundary in 1879 to connect there with the Pembina Branch line of rail from St. Boniface in the old Red River Colony, completed by Joseph Whitehead for the Canadian government on the 5th of the preceding December. When the CPR began building, the St.PM&M dedicated its resources to hauling supplies to Winnipeg, and even lending the Canadian line equipment and rolling stock.
Initially, the arrangement was amicable, but it soon soured. Van Horne, having arrived at his post in Winnipeg on January 1st, 1882, focused his considerable energies solely on building the CPR, and in so doing, he stepped on toes without compunction, Hills included. As Van Horne cut CPs freight rates to steal business from the St.PM&M, bargained relentlessly with other shippers to pressure Hill into reducing his tariffs, held on to St.PM&M rollingstock to augment his own scant equipment, his personal relationship with Hill slid quickly from cordiality to animosity. Though he was a director of the CPR and had substantial moneys tied up in the undertaking, a nebulous suspicion of sabotage condensed around Hills advice and his fellow Board-members gradually grew deaf to his voice. The final exasperation came when the Board, at Van Hornes insistence, voted to cut out CPs reliance on American roads by building through the wilds above Lake Superior to connect Winnipeg directly to southern Ontario. Incensed at the treachery and the risk involved in spending so much of the Companys meagre resources laying hundreds of miles of track through uninhabited countryside, Hill dumped the last of his CPR shares in November of 1883 and vowed to ... get even with [Van Horne] if I have to go to hell for it and shovel coal! To wreak his revenge, he began positioning the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba for conversion into a transcontinental network which would follow as closely as possible the International Boundary and be able to challenge the CPR for every dollar of Canadian business. On September 16th, 1889, though still burdened with Smiths and Stephens partnership, Hill would incorporate his Great Northern Railway and, using the infrastructure of the St.PM&M as a base, begin to build across Montana Territory towards salt-water at Everett, Washington, just north of Seattle. Ignoring the stubborn depression which hobbled the worlds economy during the late 1880s and early 90s, Hill would ram his road through the cordillera and on January 6th, 1893, hammer home the last spike at Scenic, Washington, in the saddle of Stevens Pass, high in the Cascades. He would then be ready to thrust trackage into CPs preserve.
Van Horne pushed the CPR onward across the Prairies towards the forbidding blue barrier of the Rocky Mountains. Sanford Fleming of the Government Railway Exploration Survey, roughing out an alignment for a Canadian transcontinental railroad in early 1870s, had suggested that the Crows Nest, only about 50 miles from the International Boundary, was the best pass through which to build. With dark mutterings about manifest destiny still emanating from the United States, Ottawa thought it best to bury the Nations primary artery deeper within the country. Flemings second suggestion had been the Yellow Head Pass, west of the HBCs Fort Edmonton. With the added advantage of allowing the right-of-way to run through what explorer Henry Youle Hind had identified in 1860 as the Fertile Belt of the Prairies, that route was chosen and the Railways surveyors staked out a line thither. However, when Van Horne took over management of the CPR, he bridled at the many extra miles of trackage the northern route would require in order to end up in the very south-western corner of Canada. Citing John Macouns 1879 findings that the Wests central prairie was not the desert which previous explorers had declared it to be, Van Horne instructed his engineers to stake a right-of-way due west from Brandon and ordered his surveyor, Major Albert Bowman Rogers, to search out a complementary route through the mountains. Heading for the easy, 1812-foot high Eagle Pass through the Gold Range of the Monashees that Walter Moberly, Robert Howell and J. Turnbull had found in 1866, Rogers located an alignment and in May of 1882, Van Horne announced that CP would run its steel west up the Bow River from the North-West Mounted Police post of Fort Calgary and through the Mountains via the Kicking Horse and Rogers Passes. Disgusted, Sanford Fleming resigned as Engineer-in-Chief of the Railway.
In a photograph taken around 9:20 in the morning of November 7th, 1885, the Honourable D.A. Smith, hammer in hand, stands forever frozen on the just-laid rails of the CPRs Mainline at Craigellachie, deep in the Monashee Mountains of B.C. Surrounded by the men who got the Railway builtW.C. Van Horne, Sanford Fleming, Major RogersSmith, the Companys senior director, is about to pound home the last spike. Under the scrutiny of the navvies who handled hammers all day, every day, the elderly Smith finally drove the spike far enough into the tie for the celebrations to begin. The Dominion governments obligation to B.C. was fulfilled; twin steel rails 2893 miles long connected Montréal to Port Moody at the head of salty Burrard Inlet.
Ottawas accomplishment was CPs headache, however, for, until colonists could be dispersed onto the Prairies and begin harvesting grain in excess of their own needs, the Railways tracks rolled over endless miles of sparsely inhabited territory from which the Company could generate little revenue once the bisons bones had been collected and spirited off to fertilizer factories and sugar refiners down east. Along the right-of-way in B.C., small lumbering operations arose, but the major market for wood products lay Down East, where there was still plenty of timber. Western lumbermen, to the detriment of the CPRs bottom line, could not afford to pay high costs to ship their bulky product very far. On the western Prairies, the newly established ranches built up their herds and gradually began supplying the Railway with business. Passenger services paid well, but until the West acquired a significant population, CP would carry at the most only a few tourists, their noses pressed to the coaches windows in hopes of seeing a wild Indian or a bear, through to the Coast.
For a railroad, real money lay in carrying heavy, easily handled bulk cargo: grain or minerals. The CPR was confident that eventually it would derive profits from grain shipment, but it soon became evident that the Mainline had missed the really valuable deposits of B.C.s minerals which were, for the most part, hidden far away to the south in the Kootenay District. Further, on September 8th, 1883, Henry Villard had completed his transcontinental Northern Pacific Railroad which, at Sandpoint in Idaho Territory, and Spokane in Washington Territory, came within fifty and ninety miles of the Boundary, respectively, much closer to the Kootenays than the CPR. Working their way northward along the valleys of the Northwest in pursuit of the next mother lode, American prospectors carried their explorations across the Boundary. Bodies of ore were found and towns and industries sprung up to develop them. Because the topography of southern B.C. is oriented longitudinally, and because the Northern Pacific and, after 1893, the Great Northern, were the closest railroads by far, supplies flowed north and ores south.
This situation, of course, distressed the merchants on the Coast who saw themselves cut out of the exploitation of what they considered their rightful domain. Badgering the CPR for a connection into southern B.C. did little good. The Company, though eager to expand its network, earned little income for the first few years after the completion of its Mainline and was essentially broke. To placate the Merchants and their elected representatives, Van Horne had ordered a survey from the Fraser valley to the western Kootenays in early 1890s. It confirmed his suspicions; building the rail line would be hideously expensive.
Prime Minister Macdonald died on June 6th of 1891, leaving his Conservative government to flounder for the next five years of its mandate, unable even to formulate basic policy, much less commit moneys to a second railroad in B.C. With an improving economy and the election of a new federal government in June of 1896, an all-Canadian line into the Kootenays did get built. But it came in from the east through the Crowsnest Pass, leaving the merchants of the Lower Mainland still without direct access to the booming Kootenays.
The Vancouver, Victoria and Eastern Railway
Daniel Chase Corbin was not one to let a need go unsatisfied where potential profits were concerned. Fresh from successes in the railroad business in Idaho and intent on extending his Spokane-based Spokane Falls & Northern Railway (SF&N) across the Boundary to tap the ores of the great Silver King mine near todays Nelson, in 1892 Corbin offered to connect the Kootenays to the Coast by running a line of rail up the Kettle River from the SF&N in the Columbia, and wandering it across southern B.C. to connect perhaps with the CPR in the Frasers valley, or run right into Vancouver. Naturally the line would drive through the Boundary District where lodes of rich ores were then being discovered. Suspecting that Corbin would neglect to push what he called his Kettle River Valley Railway beyond the Boundary Districts riches, B.C.s politicos refused him a charter. Five years later, with the CPR stalling and J.J. Hill preparing to pounce, Ottawa OKd Corbins railroad, but then, according to Hal Riegger in his The Kettle Valley and its Railways (Pacific Fast Mail Press, Everett, WA, n.d.), rescinded the charter when pressed to do so by a fearful B.C.
With neither federal nor CPR help forthcoming, having rejected Dan Corbins proposals and frightened by the spectre of J.J. Hill hovering over the Boundary, B.C. looked inward for a solution to its predicament. In the spring of 1897, the government of J.H. Turner passed the Loan Act of 1897, setting aside $2.5 million for the construction of a Coast to Kootenay railroad. Encouraged by the money and undaunted by the findings of Van Hornes surveyors, a group of B.C. citizens banded around Norman McLean and his brother of Vancouver to petition Victoria to encharter the Vancouver, Victoria and Eastern Railway & Navigation Company (VV&E). The wealthy venture capitalist, Donald Mann, volunteered to arrange the financial muscle for the project. With a mandate ...to construct, equip and operate a line of railway from some point of Burrard Inlet or English Bay to New Westminster; thence eastward through the valley of the Fraser River and the southern part of British Columbia, by the most direct and feasible route, to the town of Rossland..., the VV&E was incorporated by an Act of the British Columbia legislature on that 8th of May, 1897.
Because its directors were suspected of acting on J.J. Hills behalf, the federal Board of Railway Commissioners promptly rejected the companys application for subsidization, increasing B.C.s resentment of Eastern power. Without further prospects, on September 23rd of 1897 the directors of the VV&E sold control of their charter to William Mackenzie and Donald Mann for $75,000. True-blue Canadians and supporters of Wilfrid Lauriers new Liberal government in Ottawa, Mackenzie and Mann were pleased when the governor-general assented to 61 Victoria chapter 89 granting the federal incorporation of the VV&E on the 13th of June, 1898. Two days later Turners provincial government signed contracts with Mackenzie, Mann and the rest of the VV&Es shareholders which granted them $4,000 per mile to build their railroad between Penticton and Midway and between Penticton and the Coast provided that work on the first section be initiated by that August 8th, and provided that Ottawa granted a subsidy. Ottawa didnt and, having assumed the reigns of Provincial power on that July 9th, Charles Augustus Semlins pan-party administration annulled the contracts on August 15th. Mackenzie and Mann turned from B.C. to focus their full attention on expanding their Canadian Northern trackage on the Prairies.
In April of 1901, opening another front in its invasion of southern B.C., the Great Northern announced that it had bought controlling interest in the VV&E from Mackenzie and Mann in the previous month. So deliriously happy were British Columbians that a man of determination and substance such as J.J. Hill had adopted their precious Coast-to-Kootenay dream that they ignored the fact that Hill was the incarnation very spectre which they had long sought to keep at bay; American domination. A decade of disappointments and frustrations has a way of changing a peoples priorities. That very July, Hill began hurrying his Washington and Great Northern Railway (WGN) out of the Columbia River valley towards, it looked, the Coast.
That July of 1901, too, the B.C. government commissioned its old friend and recently retired lieutenant-governor, Edgar Dewdney, to search the Cascade Mountains east of Hope for promising railroad passes. His report, issued the following spring, was anything but optimistic. He had identified three prospective routes, but could summon no enthusiasm for any of them. What ever pass a builder chose, expenses would be heavy. Despite his conclusions, several more Coast-to-Kootenay railroads were chartered in the province over the next couple of years; the Similkameen and Keremeos, the Vancouver and Grand Forks, the Midway and Vernon. None were to see a rail laid.
From the instant he won control of the VV&E, Hill began petitioning Ottawa for permission lay steel across the Boundary. He didnt, however, let a minor consideration of sovereign jurisdiction impede his progress. While Ottawa dithered, Hill built, blithely presuming that his permits would be duly forthcoming. From a terminal at Marcus, Washington, on his Spokane Falls and Northern branch in the Columbia Rivers valley, Hill envisioned his new line weaving westward back and forth across the Boundary, seeking the easiest grades, serving customers in both nations, stealing whatever business it could from the CPR.
Its hard now to say what Hills ultimate goal was. From the outset he claimed that he would complete the line into Vancouver, thus fulfilling one of Victorias fondest desires. But though he did a lot of railroad building in the lower Fraser valley, his main thrusts into B.C. were branch lines from the GN mainline in Inland Washington. Watching his activities, there always remained a lingering suspicion in the minds of British Columbians that Hill would postpone indefinitely completing the line to the Coast and happily settle for siphoning B.C.s raw riches off into the U.S.A.
By November of 1902 Hill had the VV&E to Grand Forks where the CPRs legal office halted his westward construction for nearly three years. Agreements reached, in 1905, despite a straightening economy, he began again to push the VV&E along the Boundary. That July 28th the federal cabinet had finally passed an Order in Council amending the VV&Es charter to permit Hill to connect it to the WGN at the Boundary. By early 1907, having legally and literally battled the CPR, overcome strikes and material shortages, he had extended his line through Midway and Rock Creek, across the Boundary to Molson, and finally to Oroville in Washington States Okanagan Valley. In April of that year Louis Warren Hill took over the presidency of the GN from his Dad and with the bounty of Copper Mountain and the Tulameen coal measures as his prizes and Vancouver still his stated goal, immediately began laying track up the Similkameen valley from Oroville.
Finally the citizens of the Similkameen Valley would have a railroad.
The Wall Street Panic of 1907 and its subsequent recession slowed the Hills progress up the Similkameen, but on November 9th of 1909, according to Joe Smuin in Canadian Pacifics Kettle Valley Railway (British Railway Modellers of North America, Calgary, 1997), the VV&E completed its crossing of the Similkameen at the eastern end of the Princeton yards. On December 23rd the first VV&E passenger train rolled into Princeton.
While raising their humble little gable-roofed station and building a tipple to load gondola cars full of Vermilion Forks Mining and Developments lignite, the Hills announced a change in plans. Rather than get to the Frasers valley by building up the Tulameen and Otter Creek to the top of the Cascades at Otter Creek SummitBrookmereand then down the Coquihalla to Hope, the VV&E would now punch a 7.5 mile-long tunnel from the upper Tulameen right into the Coquihallas valley. It would shorten the alignment by some 30 miles and reduce the cumulative grade gains significantly. Before that task could be tackled, however, the Hills had to get the VV&E into the Tulameens valley, no easy job because Princeton sat square in the narrow gap that the Tulameen had cut to get itself to the Similkameen. The solution was another tunnel, 324 metres straight through Bromley Ridge.
While crews chewed Tunnel No. 8 through Bromley Ridge and raised a tiny two-stall engine house in a great loop of trackage laid out on the level Similkameen Flats, others went on ahead to start the great Cascade bore on February 21, 1910. However, perhaps sensing a sea-change in Canadian sentiment, the Hills did not press either project with their usual enthusiasm. Barrie Sanford suggests in McCullochs Wonder (Whitecap Books, West Vancouver, 1977), that the Hills had counted on Canada accepting the Reciprocity Agreementfree tradewith the United States which, by 1910, had already passed the Bill through both Congress and the Senate and were waiting for Lauriers Liberal government in Ottawa to do the same. Reciprocity had been a cornerstone of the Liberals philosophy since they came to power in 1896, but by the end of the 19-aughts they had lost the publics confidence. W.C. Van Horne, himself an American and now chairman of the CPRs Board of Directors, had come out strongly against Reciprocity, raising the old Canadian bugaboo of American domination for his conservative cohorts to rally around. The great fear struck a chord and Lauriers government was swept away in the general election of September 21st, 1911. With what they considered such a mutually beneficial arrangement rejected, the Hills began to reconsider GNs investments in B.C., and Vancouver, still feeling itself helpless in the extortionate clutches of the CPR, began to fear that its reservations about the GN were true; that the American giant would not complete the VV&E through to the Coast and simply employ its already completed pieces to drain southern B.C. of its wealth.
Finally through Bromley Ridge in July of 1911, the VV&E began to push its railhead up the Tulameen towards Cardiff where Columbia Coal and Coke Company had hacked some of the best bituminous steaming coal in the West out of a mountain-side mine some 1600 feet above the stockpile that the company had established on the VV&Es right-of-way.5 So pleased were the Hills with the coal that, when their trackage finally reached the settlement in November of 1911, they contracted to buy up to 500 tons-per-day. Coalmont soon saw a new hotel builtwhich still welcomes guestsalong with the other enterprises needed by a booming community. Columbia Coal got caught in the cash-crunch of 1913 and suspended production. According to Terry Malanchuk in his above-noted Blakeburn: British Columbias Forgotten Ghost Town, the A. McEvoy Syndicate of Vancouver assumed ownership of the operation that August, changed the name to Coalmont Collieries, Limited, changed Cardiffs name to Coalmont, and under the managerial eye of J.C. McDonald, recommenced output. In 1914, while mining but 4,850 tons mainly from its propertys No. 2 mine, the Syndicate invested heavily in infrastructure, installing ventilation fans driven by a steam turbine generator powered by a 25 horsepower boiler, investigating the feasibility of laying a narrow-gauged railway to the mines, building accommodations, a cookhouse and an office at the mine site. It evidently ran itself out of money, for on June 15th of 1915, with many of its men drawn away by the antics of Mars in Europe, the Syndicate was forced to halt operations. While McEvoy was trying to raise capital in New York in 1917, his board of directors sold the outfit to Vancouver-based William John (typically, W.J., interpreted as Warden Joe by some of his workers) Blake-Wilson and his essentially silent partner, the Calgary meat-packer, Pat Burns.6 They appointed Donald McLean as their on-site manager. Capitalized to three million dollars, the operation would, depending on the season, sled or truck 50 tons of coal per day down to the Railway until an aerial tramway was completed in June of 1921.7 That year the mine output nearly 64,000 tons. The next year, on August 1st, the growing settlement by the mine was granted a post office and was officially christened Blakeburn.
In the meantime, on nearby Otter Lake, crews cut blocks of ice all winter long for rail shipment mostly to the great fruit-packing centre at Wenatchee, Washington. As the only rail line in the Similkameen, the VV&E made good money until it surrendered the Tulameen to the KVR in the late 1910s.
Princetons Coal, continued
With the coming of the VV&E, Princeton and area began to flourish. Though the local lignites were no good for locomotives due to their low caloric output and high cinder generation, they were excellent for domestic uses and the Hills bought every lump that could be hacked out and hauled off to the furnaces of the Northwest.
By the time the VV&E had arrived at Princeton in late in the Autumn of 1909, the Vermilion Forks Mining and Development Company had changed its name to the Princeton Coal and Land Company, Limited (PC&L), and was moiling into the Similkameens right bank opposite the railyards, drifting its No. 1 tunnel into a 24 foot-thick seam of coal. Because the seam was so badly contaminated with bentonite and bone partings, the companys crew of 32 concentrated on the top eight feet, and output 12,000 tons of coal in 1910. The next year, with the great mines in the Crowsnest Pass shut down from March 31st to November 20th in a labour dispute, PC&L more than doubled its workforce and shovelled some 23,500 tons into its new 700 ton per day tipple where it was sorted by a Link Belt Engineering Company screener into lump, egg, and nut sizes. As fast as it could be loaded into VV&E gondolas the coal was rolled eastward to the smelters of the Boundary district.
The smelter market was reclaimed by the Crowsnest mines in 1912, forcing most of PC&Ls produce to make its way on a circuitous 700 miles to Vancouver via the GN network. That year PC&L found that it had $77,000 invested in plant and was paying 110 men to dig coal. It also found that it had competitors. The aforementioned Columbia Coal and Coke Company, Limited, had since 1911 been developing its Mount Carbon property west up the Tulameen at what would become Coalmont. Nearer, the United Empire Mining Company quit the quest upon which it had been engaged since 1905 to find lodes of metal ores on its nine claims in the One Mile Creek valley adjacent to the B.C. Cement plant, gave up its grand plans for a local smelter and decided to mine the coal on the properties, intending to sell to the Plant. With B.C. Cement not yet operational, 400 of the 500 tons that United Empire mined made its way into the States. By 1913 the company employed 31 men, had changed its name to East Princeton Coal and Land Company, and delivered 1800 tons to the cement plant. Up the Tulameen, Columbia Coal, caught in the cash-crunch of 1913 and shut down from April to November, mined but 50 tons.
The abandonment of the cement plant drove East Princeton Coal out of business by 1917, the year in which PC&Ls 70 employees dug 47,000 tons, a third of which was sent to the United States. Fire, however, was a constant threat in PC&Ls mines. The nature of the coal made it susceptible to spontaneous combustion if a mine was improperly managed and allowed to become dirty with dust and slack. By 1919 PC&Ls mine had become dangerous to work, and the company output but 22,000 tons as much of its 67 employees time was lost fighting fire. Now capitalized to a million dollars, PC&L began prospecting for another mine.
The Great War, however, was over. The demand for metals tapered off and smelters were closing, glutting the market with coal. On December 23rd, 1920, offering PC&Ls principals a graceful exit from the industry, the companys tipple burned down. In retrospect, the directorship should have taken the insurance money and liquidated their investments, but, naÔvely believing that the economy would quickly rebound, they decided to rebuild the tipple and expand their operation. It was a decision that cost them their company.
On a showing of sub-bituminous coal about three-quarters of a mile up the Similkameen from the mainnow, No. 1mine, the company sunk its No. 3 mine on the four-foot thick Gem seam, built a tipple at the mines mouth and laid a spur from the KVR. In August of 1922, some 1500 feet south-east of the main mine, the companys engineers opened another mine, No. 2, on a seven-foot thick seam. While the No. 1 produced nearly 17,000 tons in 1923, neither of the new mines proved particularly profitable, and the expense of their development overwhelmed the company.
Ironically, by the time the company fell into trouble the bentonite which had restricted the mining of the No. 1s seam had begun to cause excitement within the scientific-industrial community because of its capacity for water absorption. In 1924 H.S. Spence of the Mines Branch in Ottawa had arrived to analyse the substance, determine that it was 90% silica, alumina and water, and find that it would expand an astounding 14 times its volume in water. The discovery did nothing to enhance PC&Ls worth.
In August of 1924 a re-organization in the head offices in London saw the demise of PC&L and the emergence of the Princeton-B.C. Colliery Company, Limited, to replace it. P-BC proceeded to develop yet another mine. At a site near what is now the intersection of Bridge Street and the Highway, the company sunk a vertical, concrete lined shaft 93 feet down to an eleven-foot thick coal seam. Miners extracted a few thousand tons over the next couple of years as seepage from the Similkameen poured into the works. That problem could not be resolved and on April 30th, 1926, P-BC slipped into receivership.
As PC&L/P-BC was sinking in debt in 1924, local rancher C.A Hunter had a crew of ten at work on an eleven foot thick seam on his property on the Tulameen Rivers left bank just beyond the western mouth of the Bromley tunnel. Appropriately he called his outfit the Tulameen Valley Coal Company. By 1925 its output warranted the laying of a 3-car spur from the KVR and building a loading dock to which motor trucks hauled coal from bunkers at the mines mouth some half mile away. That year 22 men dug 6800 tons. With the same number of workers, Tulameen Valley had more than doubled its tonnage by 1926 and was installing new plant, including air-operated post-puncher type mining machines to ensure that the coal came out in large chunks for domestic use. Vancouver money bought Hunter out in 1929, and as Tulameen Coal Mines, Limited, proceeded to erect a new tipple, extend the spur right to the mine mouth and output 37,400 tons with a 111 man crew.
By 1929 Coalmont Collieries, Limited, was by far the biggest producer in the area, mining 150,000 tons and employing 365 men that year. A hand full of Princeton companies, though, hoped to capture some of its market. In 1927 M.C. Duvall of Bellingham, Washington, had organized Lynden Coal Mines, Limited, to open a mine on Lamont Creek some ten miles south-west of Princetonon the southern edge of the same seam mined by both PC&Ls No. 1 and Tulameen Coalbuilt a camp for its 44 workers and trucked its intermittent output to bunkers that it had built on the Railway by the Bromley Tunnel. Though Lyndens 59 men output 18,000 tons in 1928, the owners were evidently disappointed by their returns and in January of 1929 they shut down the operation, leasing the works to some of its ex-employees who mined on. In October of that year some Princeton people organized the Blue Flame Collieries, Limited, to hold the mine, turning the day to day operations over to Vancouver-based Economy Coal and Supply Company, Limited.
Also in 1928, on a property just a few hundred yards upstream and across the River from Tulameen Coals works, the president of the enormous Crows Nest Pass Coal Company, W.R. Wilson, set up the operations of the Pleasant Valley Coal Mining Company, Limited. A rail spur that bridged the Tulameen from the KVR mainline in 1930 gave the company opportunity to grow and by 1933 the companys 15-man crew was loading coal from both the No. 1 (Sunrise) and the No. 2 (Diamond) mines and feeding it into the companys large, new five-track tipple.
In 1929 eight men were at work in the PC&Ls old No. 3 as the Gem Domestic Coal Company, Limited, while a little outfit called the Ashington Coal Company, Limited, used Coast money and 19 men to dig but 22 tons of poor coal from a mine sunk into the north bank of the Tulameen just on the western edge of Princeton. That same year the local advocate A.S. Black hired a nine-man crew to pick some 500 tons out of some old mines on Findlay Creek six miles up the Tulameen.
Come 1933, Tulameen Coal had 42 men underground working their way into a six foot thick seam via the companys No. 2 mine, which had been started three years earlier. Blue Flame had been taken over by W.R. Wilsons Vancouver-based Wilson Mining and Investment Company, Limited, that year and 35 men were employed improving the mines plant. The Red Triangle Coal Company was poking around on the old United Empire property on Hunteror One-MileCreek, Sunblaze Coal Company, Limited, was three guys working through the second year of their lease on PC&Ls No. 1 mine, and local entrepreneur Rudolf Haigh and some associates had formed Bromley Vale Collieries, Limited, in 1932 to open up a new mine on Bromley Creek five miles south-west of Princeton, trucking its 411 tons to town that year.
New money from Vancouver had taken over Tulameen Coal Mines by 1935, and as Tulameen Collieries, Limited, by years end it had 65 men at work. Bromley Vale was now the Black Diamond Colliery, Wilson M&I had found such good coal in the Lynden/Blue Flame that 90 men were now employed, and Oscar Lind and Associates were busy digging on what locals call Allison Flats just up the Tulameen from Princeton.
In the late 30s Granby Consolidated Mining, Smelting and Power Company returned to mine its property on Copper Mountain. With the great Coalmont Collieries reaching the end of its identified reserves and most of the companies around Princeton operating on narrow margins, to ensure a steady supply of fuel for its Princeton generating station, in 1937 Granby Consolidated got into the coal mining business on a property six miles south-west of Princeton. There it sank its No. 1 and No. 2 mines. By April of 1940, when Coalmont Collieries sealed its last producing mine, No. 5, Granby Consolidated had its No. 1 mine in full production, trucking the coal to a dump on the Similkameen whence it was aerially trammed across to the generating station on the Rivers right bank. That year another outfit, the California-owned Princeton Tulameen Coal Company, Limited, had taken over the old Lind property and was hauling coal in an 8-ton International to bunkers at the Princeton station for dispersal by rail to Vancouver and the Interior. Though fire wiped out the surface plant on September 26th, 1942, the company was soon back in business, managing to output 30,500 tons that year. Up river Tulameen Collieries, Limited, had been reduced to 14 men digging but 9,000 tons from their new No. 3 tunnel. To feed its power plant, Granby Consolidated mined 83,500 tons from its No. 1 mine, keeping No. 2 in reserve.
On December 4th, 1943, citing high costs and labour shortages, Granby Consolidated ceased mining coal and turned to Tulameen Collieries for nearly 54,000 tons in 1944. On April 29th, 1944, the Princeton Tulameen Coal Company quit mining, its tunnels squeezed to the point of catastrophe. British Lands, Limited, of Kelowna, came to the region to punch its Jackson No. 1 into a likely-looking showing, a small group of acquaintances reopened the old Black mine, while up at Coalmont a couple of guys picked around in the leavings of the big colliery. By 1946 Tulameen Collieries had taken over operation of the Pleasant Valleys surviving mine, the No. 4, and in 1948 had 49 men extracting the pillars from its old works and further developing the No. 4. In 1946 the locally-owned Taylor-Burson Coal Company, Limited, organized itself to work property adjacent British Lands, taking over the latters little mines in 1948.
In 1948, in what was the last gasp of big coal in this area, Fred Mannix and Company, Limited, of Calgary came to take over the stripping operation which the Maxwell Construction Company of Vancouver had begun on the old Black mine in 1947. While it was removing the overburden on the Black property with a 2.5 cubic yard Northwest shovel and Euclid belly-dumps, Mannix sent a crew to determine if stripping methods could be applied to the old PC&L No. 1. They couldnt, and as returns on the Black property were disappointing, Mannix pulled out in March of 1949, leaving the Tulameen Collieries, Limited, as by far the biggest miner in the region, employing a crew of 78 to extract 125 tons per day for the Granby generating plant. On April 3rd of 1950, faced with increasing volumes of methane gas seeping into the works and competition from cheap Alberta coal, Tulameen Collieries shut down. At the turn-of-the-Millennium about all the remains on the site are big, black stains on the earth and a few hunks of concrete footings.
By default, with up to 13 men digging sometimes 325 tons per month from Jackson No. 1 for local sale, the Taylor-Burson operation became Princetons leading coal producer. The next spring the outfit began working the old Lynden/Blue Flame mine which Wilson Mining and Investment had walked away from in April of 1937. In 1952 the company employed 12 men and output only 6300 tons.
According to W. George Elliott in Princeton Area Historic Buildings and Landmarks (Mungam Ventures, Princeton, B.C., 2001), to feed the voracious furnaces of the Granby generating station the old Blakeburn mine8 near Coalmont was opened up by the former Blakeburn miner, Dinney Mullin, and his brothers as a strip-mining operation in 1954,9 working into 1957 with a couple of crawler tractors, a front-end loader and small fleet of trucks, delivering 164,000 tons of thermal coal.
By 1960 all that remained of regional coal industry was 2 guys working the Lynden/Blue Flame, delivering 1200 tons to the Princeton Brewery. When the brewery shut down the following year, coal mining in the region ceased for a number of years. Come 1976, though, Cyprus Anvil Mining Corporation returned to the Blakeburn site and sunk a series of test holes over the next six years. Cyprus evidently took no further action and the Coalmont area again slipped into slumber until Pacific Western Coal Limited began test drilling on the Blakeburn in 1997. Market demands had changed and the quantities of bituminous coal that Pacific Western identified attracted the attention of Japans Nissho Iwai Coal Development (Canada) Limited. In 2002 the Japanese company formed a 35/65% joint-venture with Compliance Coal Corporation to begin stripping some 250,000 tonnes per year from the property for delivery to Japan and the greenhouses of BCs Lower Mainland. The Upper Similkameen Indian Band invested some money in the operation, mainly to ensure employment for some of its members. A washhouse capable of cleaning 400,000 tonnes per year was brought on-stream in December of 2002, and come the beginning of 2005 an order of new machines is expected to bring the mines production up to 150,000 tonnes per year. Plans for a 50 megaWatt coal/wood waste-fired generating plant to be located at the mine are in the works.
Since the success of the methane recovery from coal beds in the U.S. west, interest has risen yet again in Princetons reserves. In the spring of 2004 the Compliance/Nissho Iwai consortium formed a joint venture with the Upper Similkameen Indian Band to develop the Blakeburn measures gas potential. Closer to Princeton, Century Petrobank Energy and Resources, Limited, from Calgary, has been, to quote the The Similkameen News Leader of May 4, 2004, has been ...testing the potential for development of coalbed methane extraction with a series of 1500-metre deep test holes in the opening years of the 21st Century.
The Kettle Valley Line
The VV&E did not long keep Princeton to itself.
The CPR had laid the steel of its Columbia and Western Railway into Midway in 1900 and stopped. Though the C&Ws charter permitted its holder to build into the Okanagan valley, pushing steel through the Highlands and down into the valley would be very expensive and, besides, at Midway the C&W had already built through the metal-rich Boundary district and the Kootenays, and CPR had for nearly ten years served the Okanagan by lake boat and a rail connection to the Mainline at the north end of the valley where grain and fruit farming were becoming established.
But in 1910, realizing that it faced ejection from the region if it did not meet the Hills challenge in the Okanagan and Similkameen, CP galvanized itself into action. Forming an alliance with the Kettle Valley Lines, a young and impoverished shortline with a few miles of trackage around Grand Forks and a charter to build to the Nicola valley coalfields near Merritt, CP gifted the little outfit with money, expertise and the remainder of the C&Ws mandate to build into the Okanagan. Having pushed up the Kettle River and over the Okanagan Highlands, in October of 1914 the renamed Kettle Valley Railway completed its eastern division between Midway and Penticton, its headquarters on Lake Okanagan. With its charter modified to allow it to connect to the CP Mainline in the Fraser valley, the KVR cut a grade across the rugged Thompson Plateau roughly following J.F. Allisons old cattle trail, bridge what couldnt be filled, and sent its Pioneer track-layer to loop rails down Hayes Creek and tie them into the VV&E in the Princeton yards on April 23rd, 1915.
At the same time as it had been building across the Plateau, the KVR had also been attacking the Cascades from the west.
In the 1870s, Sanford Fleming and his associates in the Government Railway Exploration Survey had discovered that the Nicola River valley around Merritt, a hundred and twenty miles north of Princeton, was underlain by a tremendous tonnage of bituminous coal. With that find in mind, W.H. Merritt, C.E. Loss and some Ontario businessmen applied for a provincial charter for their Nicola, Kamloops and Similkameen Coal and Railway Company (NK&S) with the intention of laying rail roughly along the route that Highway 5A follows today from Kamloops on the CPR, up to Nicola Lake and down Allison Creek to Princeton. From Princeton, the NK&S would then build down the Similkameen and into the southern Okanagan valley. The charter was granted on April 20th, 1891, but the principals were unable to raise development capital in the straightened economy if the early 90s and their project languished. In 1903, Merritt prevailed upon Victoria to revive the NK&Ss charter and empower it to build down the Nicola River to Spences Bridge on the CPR. For this extension, Merritt was able to secure the standard federal railroad subsidy of $6,400 per mile built.
Since it had begun running, the CPR had fuelled its Pacific western operations with the excellent coal produced from the Dunsmuir mines near Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Shipping costs made it expensive, however, and with those costs likely to rise if the Western Federation of Miners were successful in reorganizing Dunsmuirs labour, CP bethought itself to find another source. By January of 1905 it had bought controlling interest in the NK&S, and as strikes were closing the Island mines that spring, the Company blasted the hundred-metre-long Clapperton Tunnel near Spences Bridge to get into the Nicolas valley and began grading the right-of-way up to the coal measures. On November 16th of 1905 it leased the NK&Ss charter for 99 years and started laying track in January of 1906. The line was finished through Merrittuntil then, Forksvilleand six miles onward to Nicola by November 2nd where a station, water tank and an engine shed were soon raised. The Nicola Branch was declared open for operation in the spring of 1907, and when the Nicola Valley Coal and Coke Company, Limited, brought its Middlesboro Colliery into production that year, CP had secured a reliable source of steaming coal which, though acceptable, was reviled by locomotive firemen as Bull Durham for its reluctance to burn easily.
The NK&S fit well into the CPRs plans for its Southern Mainline, and the future looked promising for the little settlement of Nicola. From there, trackage could be extended eastward into the southern Interior by any one of several routes. Thomas George Shaughnessy, who had taken over from Van Horne as CPs president on June 12th of 1899, favoured building straight east across the plateaux to the Okanagan Valley. Alternatively, several valleys headed south toward Princeton and the Similkameen. All Shaughnessy had to do was to convince the Companys board of directors, including chairman Van Horne, to finance construction.
In February of 1910, having been able to wrangle a $6,400 per mile federal subvention for 250 miles of railroad between Merritt and Midway and obtain the promise of a ten-year provincial tax exemption for the same alignmentprovided no Oriental labour was employedShaughnessy won the Board over. The CPR would challenge Hill for the possession of southern B.C. On March 10th, 1910, the B.C. Legislature ratified the KVL construction bill. Leaving Nicola to wither at the end of a seldom-used spur, on July 9th, 1910, CP directed Andrew McCulloch and his chief engineers, W.F. Tye and J.G. Sullivan, to work steel south from Merritt up the Coldwater valley to the Coquihalla Summit and survey a line down the Coquihalla valley to Hope.10 On September 29th of 1911, by which time federal legislation had created the Kettle Valley Railway from the KVL, the crews of Macdonnell, Gzowski and Company had rails laid through Brodie, fourteen miles from the Summit, and looped four miles back to arrive at Brookmere. There construction halted while management decided on its next step.
Originally, its planners had not intended that the KVR should enter the Similkameen valley, but rather stick to the easier grades in the Thompson Plateau, building from Penticton through Aspen Grove to get to Brookmere. As the vast extent of Princetons coal and copper ore reserves were being becoming evident, however, the KVR concluded that it would be folly to miss them. The VV&E, though, had staked by far the best alignment available westward from Princeton up the Tulameen, Otter Creek and Spearing Creek to the divide of the Cascades. Unsure whether it would fight GN for that alignment or build to Aspen Grove and thence down the Allison to Princeton, CP halted McCullochs progress. Awaiting the directors decision, McCulloch staked his right-of-way down the narrow Coquihallas valley to Hope.
The VV&E had begun blasting its big Cascade bore in February, 1910, but going was so slow that the Hills soon realized that they could never beat CP into the Coquihalla by tunnelling. On November 22nd the VV&E announced that it would revert to its original alignment and build up the Tulameen and Otter Creek and cross the Cascade divide into the Coldwater valley north of the Coquihalla Pass. As the KVR was heading up the Coldwater from Merritt, and there was room for only one practical alignment in the Coquihalla, it became a race for the Pass.
Both Railways had registered right-of-ways in the Coquihalla valley with the federal Board of Railway Commissioners; the VV&E in 1905, the KVR five years later. In the upper Coquihalla the lines ran on opposite sides of the valley, but some ten miles from the summit the VV&E was forced to cross over. This put its right-of-way below that of its rivals and therefore, should both lines be built, GNs line would be subject to fall-out from operations above. Practically, only one alignment could be threaded through the lower Coquihalla. A similar situation pertained to the Tulameen and Otter Creek valleys. Though the VV&E had definitely registered its alignment first, it had relinquished it in 1909 only to reclaim it two years later when it gave up on its big tunnel. Challenging the legality of that reclamation, the KVR announced on April 10th, 1912, that it, too, would build in the Tulameen and Otter valleys.
The parties submitted the question of who was to get what alignments to a meeting Calgary of the Board of Railway Commissioners in the spring of 1912, but no satisfactory decision could be reached. While the Board ruminated, however, premier glad-hand Dick McBride found enough spare cash in the provinces treasury to gift the KVR with a subsidy of $10,000 for each of the 38 miles from the Coquihalla Summit to Hope, plus a further $200,000 for the double-decked Hope bridge and a tax exemption until July 1st, 1924. Hills entire VV&E remained absolutely subsidy-free.
With no decision forthcoming from the Board, an impasse had been reached. It was time to bury the hatchet. J.J. Hill had been in semi-retirement since 1907, and Van Hornes term as president of the CPR had expired in 1899. Though both men were still influential in the affairs of their respective organizations, the old animosities had weakened. After negotiations stretching over the preceding six months, L.C. Gilman of the Great Northern and J.J. (James) Warren, president of the KVR, announced on April 9th, 1913, that an accommodation had been reached; the VV&E would complete its Princeton-Brookmere section and grant the KVR the option of using it11the Tulameen Agreementand the KVR would build from Brookmere to Hope and lease running rights on that to the VV&E for a millennium less a yearthe Coquihalla Agreement. At Brookmerestill known as Otter Creek Summitthe KVR had already laid out a small yards, sunk a turntable, and built a three-stall enginehouse12 for the helper locomotives there stationed, crews quarters, a double spouted water tank, and a coal dock. Although many claim that the VV&E raised the two-fronted station between its own and the KVRs trackage, Joe Smuin mentions in his above-mentioned Kettle Valley Railway Mileboards Ö that he possesses contemporary documentation proving that both the original Brookmere station and the one that replaced it after the fire of January 30th, 1917, were KVR structures, erected for joint use with the VV&E. On October 25th, 1914, Louis Hill, who had taken over as chairman of the GN conglomerate upon his fathers retirement two years earlier, arrived at Otter Creek Summit and drove the VV&Es official last spike, five days after the section was actually completed.13 The joint-trackage gave both companies what they wanted; the GN got its Third Mainline, CP its Southern Mainline.
Because much of the VV&Es Princeton-Brookmere section was not up to CPs standard, the KVR rebuilt parts of it as it was laying its section across the Thompson Plateau between Penticton and Princeton. On the 21st of April, 1915, the track-laying supervisor, Charles Taylor, drove the sections last spike, though the switch at Princeton that connected the two railroads wasnt installed until the 23rd. On May 31st the KVR inaugurated service on its mainline from Midway to Merritt. It wasnt until July of the next year that McCulloch had the Coquihalla section ready for use.
The Gilman-Warren agreement marked the end of GNs fight for southern B.C. Canadas rejection of Reciprocity in 1911 had made cross-Boundary traffic much less attractive to the Great Northern, and with the death of J.J. Hill on May 29th, 1916, the companys desire to discomfit the CPR vanished. On September 27th and 28th, 1916, a tour-train carrying Hill the younger and few dignitaries clattered across the VV&E from Vancouver to Spokane to dedicate the GNs long anticipated third mainline. Though it continued to pay CP roughly $150,000 a year for the option to do sooff-set somewhat by KVRs $60,000 a year to the VV&E for running rights from Brookmere to PrincetonGN never did run a commercial train across the joint-trackage. Finally, in 1944, it paid CP $4.5 million to escape its obligation.
Though the first railroad to arrive in Princeton, the GN was not long there. By the end of 1913 it had cut back its services in the Similkameen so much that locals derisively dubbed it the Great Now and Then. Having lost the competition to build a spur up to Copper Mountain and suffering in the general economic malaise of the post-Great War years, the companys directors finally accepted the fact that the CPRs deep, government-patched pockets would always be able to outspend them and that it was folly to fight the CPR on its home territory. On December 1st of 1921 the GN surrendered its Princeton agency to the KVR, sharing its station with its former rival. After ten more years of mainly hauling ice from Otter Lake and coal from the Tulameen, GN suspended regular service beyond Hedley, and when its bridge at the east end of the Princeton yards washed out on April 23rd, 1934, the company applied for permission to abandon the VV&E above Hedley. Permission was granted on September 30th, 1937, and the roadbed was cleared of hardware in September, 1939. It is the VV&Es right-of-way between Princeton and the StemwinderSterling CreekBridge which the provinces Highways Branch appropriated at the end of W.W.II for its new No. 3.
Behind and beside the Subway Station, a little industrial district of cul-de-sacs and small shops has colonized the old rail yards. Tucked back in the far western corner near the site of the bridge which carried CPs Copper Mountain spur over the Similkameen is the yards of Tri-Valley Construction, ordinarily unremarkable except for the set of ancient, wooden Michigan wheelswidely called a logging archwhich Tom Stout rescued from woods near Jura in the 1950s. A preservationist at heart, Mr. Stout had the wheels rebuilt in the early 70s and intends to present them to the Museum once a protected display pad is completed on Vermilion Street.
The property of the old rail yards became available for development when the National Transportation Agency gave CP permission to abandon the remaining sections of its KVR on June 21st, 1990. In the days of steam several locomotives were stationed at Princeton to help push trains up the grades east and west, and in these yards stood the coal and water towers, shops and servicing facilities centring upon a two-stall engine house built by the VV&E. By the end of August, 1991, crews had disposed of most of the shops and picked the site clean of steel and concrete. From the western end of block-long Granby Avenue one can see the old mainline right-of-way arrowing a kilometre westward to the base of Bromley Ridge and the VV&Es tunnel which the CPR lined with concrete and dated 1961. Though its bed is of loose, coarse ballast, people do regularly walk and cycle through the Tunnel on their way along the Trans-Canada Trail to Hope, or just out to gather blackberries, pick up some ochre and look for the traces of coal mining in the Tulameen Valley beyond.
While on the subject of berry patches and other shady places, perhaps a word about cougars.
The Cougarfelis concoloror puma, or mountain lion, cattamount, painter or, poetically, ghost walker, night screamer, is the biggest of North Americas wild cats. A very large specimen will measure eight feet nose to tail tip and may weight in at 200 pounds of mostly well-exercised muscle. Quite a few live in B.C. where deer and smaller game animals are plentiful. Though rarely seen, due largely to habitat destruction as humans spread into every nook and cranny of North America, cougars are lately hunting close to, and indeed, within, built-up areas. In doing so some of these cats have lost their natural fear of people, and this has led to increased encounters between the species, the out-come of which have occasionally been unhappy for the bipeds. Very near Princeton in the evening of August 19th, 1996, Cindy Parolin gave her life defending her children against a Cougar. Why the Cat attacked, who knows? Mad? Injured and hungry? Orphaned, confused and inexperienced?... It was subsequently killed by the man who came to Mrs. Parolins aid, and was found to be roughly half its victims weight.
Like those of the Bear, Cougar attacks upon humans are extremely rare. But cyclists, rolling along quietly, might, to a ravenous Puma, look like an easy dinner. Having consulted the authorities, in the one in a million chance that I see a tawny-grey blur streaking in my direction, all teeth and claws and brightly shining eyes focused on my throat, I hope that I wont attempt to flee. Long-legged and lithe, Pumas can spring twenty feet vertically and leap forty feet while sprinting fast enough to catch a mule deer running flat out. With presence of mind that will later astonish me, I am going to address the Cat as confidently and as forcefully as my swiftly contracting sphincters will allow, and shout that I am not some toothsome ungulate, but rather a member of a foul-tasting, vindictive race that will assuredly avenge any insult inflicted upon me. I will enlarge myself by waving my arms, billowing my coat. If possible, I will use something like a bike as a fence, and if it comes down to a scrap, I will fight ferociously, gouging at its eyes, beating on its nose, whirling and dancing to keep its disembowelling claws from gaining access to my belly. I will Not let it pull me down and I wont play dead; according to Joe Bob Tinsley in The Puma: Legendary Lion of the Americas (Texas Western Press, El Paso, 1987), Mountain Lions can drag a dead mule off into the bush and like to eat what they think theyve killed.
Mountain of Copper
These days, Bridge Street runs from the old wooden bridge across the Tulameen straight through downtown Princeton past the Backroads Bike Shop, the old Hotel, the Overwaitea store, the Post Office and several motels to dead end at the No. 3. In years past the Street continued across the railroad tracks and over the Similkameen on two or three spans of wooden Howe through-trusses to begin the climb up Copper Mountain. Just beyond the bridge, where the road began its scramble up the Rivers right bank, was the Princeton Land and Coal Companys No. 1 mine. Most of the Mine and the old road way are today buried under the slime-pond terraces of Copper Mountain tailings which cascade down to the River.
A Memorandum of Association filed with the Registrar of Companies in Victoria dated the 23rd of August, 1883, declared that The British Columbia Copper Mining Company, Limited, had been formed with a capitalization of $10,000 to acquire the mineral claims of J.F. Allison and C.G. Ferguson. One of the dozens of owners of claims on Copper Mountain, there is no indication that, before the Registrar sent out a notice of intent to dissolve the company on June 11th, 1932, the associated shareholders did much more than drink tea and imagine what it would be like to be copper barons.
Sunset Brown, on the other hand, was not satisfied with playing on the fringes of the action. In 1898 the Crown had granted him and his partner, Flora Averill of Grand Forks, B.C., the Sunset claim, and by 1900 Brown had organized the Sunset Copper Company to buy it and 20 other claims on Copper Mountain. Always full of big plans, Brown had no doubt that Big Money would beat down his door with offers of railroads and development capital when the results of his drilling program proved that his ores ran to 21% copper. He was again disappointed; the vast copper deposits that were being developed in the Boundary and Kootenay Districts father east soaked up all available finance in those years of modest copper prices.
Brown did manage to see some development work done on his claims. In 1904 he sold a bond on the properties to a group of prospectors, and the next year the South Yale Mining Company leased Browns claims and those surrounding. Likely a subsidiary of the giant New York-based British Columbia Copper Company, Limited, (BCC), South Yale Copper tunnelled into the lode to discover that the ore contained alumina in percentage high enough to complicate smelting. The bond was allowed to lapse. In 1907 the Reco group of Spokane bonded the four most promising claims and investigated for two or three seasons, but apparently reached the same conclusion as South Yale. From his camp on the north-east slope of the Mountain, alone in its thrall, Emil Voigt began collecting title to the most valuable claims as the VV&E built up the Similkameen to begin serving Princeton in the late Fall of 1909.
By the time BCC returned under its own name to Princeton in 1911, Emil Voigt was the king of Copper Mountain. Concerned that its great Mother Lode mine at Deadwood was nearing exhaustion, BCC bonded Voigts best claims and soon had crews diamond drilling into deposits of chalcopyrite and copper-carrying bornite ores which had formed along the plane of contact between the pre-existing limestones, quartzites and older igneous rock, and an up-thrusting stock of metal-rich gabbro and diorite. As well, along the contact face of subsequently-intruded dykes of quartz-porphyry and trachyte-pitchstone, the monzonite country-rock had, too, been mineralized. With New York copper prices rising to a very attractive 16.6¢/lb., in 1912 BCC decided to buy up the leases and develop a mine.
BCC survived pre-Great War the cash-crunch which crippled so many other companies, but though it best to insulate its operations on the Mountain from the rest of its B.C. affairs by organizing the Canadian Copper Corporation, Limited, in Virginia on March 23rd, 1914, and registering it in B.C. on the 26th of June. By that time enough workers were employed on the Mountain that the company had to build a little town which it called Copper Mountain right on site. On June 20th, 1916, the steam-powered 17,500 kilowatt generating plant that the company had built on the Similkameen at Princeton began transmitting electricity to the Mountain, and come the end of that year, waggons were creaking 2,000 tons of ore per day down the Mountain to be loaded on the VV&E. By the end of 1917, the company had invested $1.25 million.
Waggons, of course, were inefficient. What was needed was a rail road right to the mines mouth and electric traction in the mine itself. As the ore was destined for Canadian smelters, the recently arrived KVR won the job of snaking the 22 kilometre-long spur from the westerly end of the Princeton yards up the Mountain. While the West Kootenay Power and Light Company (WKP) strung its 63 kilovolt Line No. 10 some 235 kilometres from Trail to the concentrator that Canadian Copper was erecting at Allenby, six miles south from Princeton, the KVR built 30 wooden trestles and blasted four tunnels to hang its Spur from the precipitous walls of the Similkameen River escarpment. Labour shortages and troubles and the Spanish influenza prevented the trackage from being opened for traffic before the fall of 1920. With the sidings and a turn-table at Copper Mountain, the Spur cost, reports R.D. Turner in Steam on the Kettle Valley, $2.2 million, twice the 1917 estimate.
On October 19th, 1920, WKP connected the Mountain to its power grid. The mill, according to Hal Riegger in his aforementioned The Kootenay Valley and its Railways, began operating the following day. With reliable electricity the mine was lit up like Broadway and the four new 7-ton Baldwin - Westinghouse electric locomotives delivered trains of the famous Granby-type side-dump ore cars to the mill. However, the price of refined copper was free-falling to 13¢ per pound in the vacuum of peace by that time and CCC sent only one trainload of concentrate to CPs smelter at Trail before suspending operations on December 9th of 1920.14 It had now invested $4 million in Copper Mountain and had seen little return.
In the spring of 1923 the propertys mortgage holder, the Equitable Trust Company of New York, foreclosed and on May 21st auctioned off the Copper Mountain works to the Allenby Copper Company, Limited, an affiliate of the great Granby Consolidated Mining, Smelting and Power Company Limited, which quickly absorbed Canadian Copper. Granby Consolidated cajoled the KVR into repairing the Copper Mountain spur, a job which it couldnt complete until August 20th, 1925. Having refurbished the Mine and the Concentrator over the preceding two years, Granby Consolidated immediately started shipping concentrate by rail to the CPRs smelter at Trail and the American Smelting and Refining Companys huge plant at Tacoma, Washington, reducing 123,000 tons of ore to 5366 tons of concentrate in 1925. On October 1st, 1926, Granby Consolidated merged with Allenby Copper and passed 670,000 tons through the concentrator that year. At a concentration ratio of some 25:1, this would have seen about 26,800 tons shipped to Trail, 30,000 tons in 1927, at considerable profit. Having improved its plant with two ball-mills, in 1928 Granby significantly lifted the standard of life of its 470 employees by completing a large single mens residence and building a curling rink and a baseball diamond at Copper Mountain. All this activity required more electrical power than Granby thought economical to buy from West Kootenay Power, and so built its own coal-fired generating station on the Similkameen River close to where the Copper Mountain spur crossed the River.
Granbys enthusiasm for Copper Mountain had not gone unnoticed by other operators. In 1923 the Princeton Mining and Development Company was hard at work on another corner of Copper Mountain some four miles down the Similkameen from town. Extensive exploration was persuading the outfit that the mix of malachite, pyrite, chalcopyrite and azurite ores were rich enough in silver, copper and gold to warrant building in a 400 foot-long spur from the VV&E and setting up a steam-engine driven 75 ton per day crusher. After a couple of years of halting work, the owners could comfortably claim that the 30% copper ore they shipped in 1926 was typical of the property; the traces of gold and the 12 ounces of silver per ton of ore were just accents. By 1927 PM&D controlled 14 claims covering 780 acres, had constructed accommodations, installed a compressor to drive three machine drills and had built a 275 ton bunker on the rail spur for the ores that were now running to only 22% copper, but were yielding up to a half-ounce of gold and 52 ounces of silver to the ton. Whether or not it earned its operating costs, come 1929 PM&Ds finances were dangerously over extended.
Also busy on Copper Mountain in the 20s was the largest metals industry organization in the region, the CPRs Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company. Late in the winter of 1926 CM&S leased property owned by Emil Voigt on Copper Mountain to the northwest of Granbys operation, and proceeded to diamond-drill the Duke of York. By 1929 the exploration had been moved to the Copper Reef group of claims across the Similkameen at Kennedy Mountain Camp on the other portion of the ancient mineralized igneous stock.
Black Tuesday, October 29th, 1929, as it did for much of the worlds business, crippled both CM&S and Granby Consolidated, and wiped out PM&D. CM&S left the Copper Reef, and on November 15th, 1930, Granby shut down its Copper Mountain operation, leaving the KVR to close its Spur on December 5th.
The arrival of the Great Depression in Princeton, some say, was announced by the explosion that blew out Coalmonts Blakeburn No. 4 mine at 6:40 in the evening of August 13th, 1930. Black Wednesday. Out of 46 men at work in the mine at the time, 45 died, the survivor being hurled from the portal, injured. Despite the disaster, the Blakeburn was recovered and worked right on into World War Two, the main-stay of Princetons economy during the bad years of the 1930s.15
The Blakeburns continued production could not, of course, alone stave-off the effects of the Depression on Princeton, and the most unsavoury episode in the Towns history occurred during those desperate times. In 1932 area coal miners banded together in a union to resist a ten percent cut in pay demanded by their employers. Frightened by the coal companies into seeing the dreaded hand of Bolshevism in the miners resistance, Princeton businessmen invited local louts to form a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. With clubs and burning crosses, the KKK set about to intimidate the mainly Eastern European miners into abandoning their association. When fights broke out, Attorney General R.H. Pooley of S.F. Tolmies Conservative regime sent in the Provincial Police to assist in the suppression of the union. The Police leaned into their task with a will, apparently, beating communists at random, harassing families, framing their victims with false testimony, detaining A.H. Slim Evans, the noted United Mine Workers of America organizer. So brutal did the repression become that many of the businessmen who initiated the sordid adventure finally sided with the miners and, in a popular demonstration on December 16th, 1933, demanded the removal of the Police goons and the ejection of the KKK. The newly elected Liberal regime of T.D. Pattullo acquiesced and withdrew the most objectionable of the officers, and with their power base crumbling the hooded hooligans of the Klan slipped back into the shades. The Coalmont Collieries workers struck a deal with their employer that saw a group insurance policy purchased to give some security the employees and their families in the event of illness, injury or death on the job. However, in the aftermath of the turmoil, many of the smaller mines in the Princeton Basin shut down, unable to sell their coal even if their miners worked for free. Others hung on,16 but W.W.II only deferred the end, and with the closure of the Burson-Taylor pit in 1948, coal mining in the region ceased. Over one and a half million tons had been extracted from the Basin over the previous half-century.
Mountain of Copper, Continued
With hostilities in Iberia spreading waves of tension throughout Europe, Granby Consolidated decided to restart Copper Mountain production. After West Kootenay Power and Light ran in a second 63 kV line, No. 43, in 1936 and the KVR re-opened the Spur on May 16th, 1937, operations began. Not only did the KVR haul away concentrate, but also brought Tulameen valley coal to fire the generating station that Granby Consolidated had built near Princeton during WWI to power its mine and the Allenby concentrator. Since the arrival of WKP, the plant had been used as back-up and, through the agency of the Princeton Light and Power Company, Limitedfounded by E. Barr Hall, Ernest Waterman and Francis Glover on March 3rd, 1922to light Princeton.
The civil war in Spain leaked into World War Two which itself demanded the extravagant expenditure of copper, and the chilly geo-politics of the post-war years kept the Mine active maintaining a strategic stockpile of metals for the protection of the free world. Peak production was reached in 1947 with 5,500 tons-per-day running through the mill to fill three 50-foot gondolas with concentrates for shipment, ironically, to the great smelter at Tacoma, Washington. Despite the Mines high output, the settlement of Copper Mountain began to shrink, with 14 houses loaded onto trucks and trundled some 100 kilometres eastward down the Crowsnest highway to Okanagan Falls. In 1950, with 866 employees, Granby Consolidated milled 1.75 million tons of the 1.8 million it mined, producing 12,743 tons of copper, 173,424 ounces of silver and 8475 ounces of gold. Into the mid-50s, however, Granby Consolidated found itself making less profit each year and, figuring that it had run some 35 million tons of Copper Mountain through its concentrator to ultimately extract 613,000 tons of pure copper, 137 tons of silver and six tons of gold, the company finally shut down its workings permanently on April 30th, 1957. It was, in its time, one of the three largest copper mines in the British Empire. Wasting no time, that summer of 1957 the KVR tore up its trackage between the Mountain and Allenby, and when the concentrator had been salvaged, removed the remainder of the Spur.
Granby Consolidated reorganized itself as the Granby Mining Company Limited in March of 1959 and returned to Allenby to cast magnesium tool parts until 1964. In 1966 it began poking around on Copper Mountain again, recovering the Mine. Across the Similkameens valley, Newmont Mining Corporation of Canada, Limited, began drilling explorations on the Ingerbelle group of properties. Buying out Granby for $11 million in December of 1967, and the owners of the Ingerbelle a year later, Newmont began persuading the Ministry of Transport and Highways to re-align six kilometres of No. 3 south of Whipsaw Creek so it could rip into Friday Mountain. The convincing argument was made in June of 1970 when Newmont promised to spend $75 million on development and the construction of a 15,000 ton-per-day concentration mill whose output would be sent to Japan. Dispensing with the old, slow underground mining methods, Newmont began blowing apart Copper Mountain and shovelling the shattered stone into enormous dump trucks for delivery to the concentrator which began operations on March 29th, 1972. Canada Coppers old townsite was slowly eaten up and now can only be seen on maps like the one drawn by W.H. Miller and so thoughtfully reproduced by W. George Elliott in his Princeton Area Ghost Towns Revisited (Mungam Ventures, Princeton, B.C., 2000). Down in the valley the Allenby townsite had been mostly burned away by the time that the old concentrator was put to the torch on January 29th, 1969.
Newmont got out of the local copper mining business by selling its operation to the Cassiar Mining Corporation on June 17th, 1988. Cassiar incorporated the Princeton Mining Corporation which in turn created Similco Mines Limited as its mine operator. As the value of copper declined on the worlds markets Similco worked fewer and fewer days per year, suspending operations in 1993 and shutting down the works in 1996, keeping a small crew working on maintenance. In April of 1998 Imperial Metals Corporation purchased the properties and was soon approached by Leader Mining International Incorporated to sell. Negotiations stalled and, concluding that the price of copper was not going to recover in the foreseeable future, in the spring of 2002 Imperial was scrapping out the mill.
Along with the occasional little diamond and ruby, placer miners had long found enough platinum mixed up in the rivers black sand to make the Princeton region the premier North American source of the metal. An odd source, as well, for according to N.L. Barlee in The Lost Platinum Cache in The Best of Canada West (Stagecoach Publishing Co., Ltd. Langley, B.C., 1978), the Similkameen-Tulameen region is, but for the Amur River basin of Siberia, the only place in the World where placer deposits of the metal occur, having been eroded over the æons out of Mount Olivine farther back in the Cascades. More of a curiosity than a valuable at the end of the Nineteenth Century (only 100 ounces were sold into the Market from B.C. in 1898), by the third decade of the Twentieth Century platinum was becoming chic and climbing towards $120 per ounce in 1926, with the iridium that was typically bonded to the white metal in this region going for $450 per ounce.
On May 10, 1926, the Tulameen Gold and Platinum Recovery Company, Limited, was formed in Vancouver to mine an old channel that the Tulameen River used to take for the last mile or so of its journey to the Similkameen, just west of Princeton. It bought up 15 placer leases on the channel and worked for three years digging into them with a gasoline-electric shovel. Little was found and nothing has been heard from the little company since the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
Princetons Second Gold Rush
With the price of gold pegged at $35 an ounce by the U.S. Treasury in 1934, miners began to revisit water courses which in the past had proved rich. One method adopted was to place a dragline on a barge and dredge sands from the river bed and dump them into large, mechanized sluice boxes which washed out the gold. In 1941 A.R. Watkins, a pioneer of the method in California, assembled a Lima 101 dragline aboard a barge floating on the Similkameen above Princeton and worked for a few months prior to the United States entry into World War Two. After the War the Atkinson Dredging Company, Limited, of Vancouver applied a Lima 1201 to a similar operation. Beginning few miles above Princeton on November 7th, 1947, Atkinson worked down to town and then moved its rig by road to a site below the confluence of the Similkameen and the Tulameen where it began dredging downstream, quitting on November 8th, 1949, near the mouth of Nine-Mile Creek.
A month before Atkinson wound up, on October 10th, the Tulameen Dredging Company, Limited, began working upstream from the Confluence. Its dredge had almost reached the Bridge Street bridge when a flash flood on November 26th ripped the barge from its moorings and trashed the outfit against some river rocks. Farther up the Tulameen, near the town of the same name, dredging operations continued until meagre returns forced the companies cease operations in 1952.
Princeton: Village and Town
Though a bustling settlement from the turn of the twentieth century onward, for 50 years Princeton failed to summon the political will to incorporate. The first attempt, in 1926, fizzled, and though the subject came up repeatedly over the next couple of decades, nothing was done. Curry, in Princeton, ..., opines that a fear of taxes, a business community lacking confidence in the future, and the absence of a newspaper to light the path, conspired to keep Princeton unincorporated. The completion of the Hope-Princeton section of No. 3 seemed to inspire the citizens however, and on October 7th, 1951, lieutenant-governor Clarence Wallace signed the Letters of Patent incorporating Princeton as a Village. On October 4th, 1978, having installed a sewerage and water system, built a hospital, an arena, a fire hall, and a regional high school, the Village became a Town.
These days Princeton spends some of its time preparing to become a western flavoured tourist destination while enjoying the prospect of renewed mining activity at Coalmont. The backbone of the local economy continues to be the American-owned Weyerhaeuser Company plant in East Princeton. In the wake of crippling import duties on imposed on softwood shipments into the U.S. in the spring of 2002, many families in Princeton feared for their livelihood. According to Nick Mills of the Princeton Museum, however, the mill has profited from the situation, benefiting from the shut-down of several other company operations in BC. In 2005 the plant runs 24 hours a day using up-graded equipment to process Mountain Pine Beetle-killed trees from other areas of the province.
Old Hedley Road and Trans-Provincial Highways
Some 35 kilometres east from Princeton is Hedley. The Crowsnest Highway has commandeered the level VV&E grade to slide down the Similkameens right bank. Just out of Princeton is the Princeton Wood Preservers plant which squeezes a toxic broth of copper, chromium and arsenic into fence posts, poles and tree stakes. Beyond, the Highway crosses the front of the tiny Wolf Creek Indian Reserve17 and, after 20 kilometres or so, brushes the edge of the Bromley Rock Provincial Campground with its 17 sites strewn in a narrow strip of land sandwiched between the Highway and the River: a couple of complaining hand-pumps, no showers, some firewood. A few kilometres farther is Nendicks Campground boasting of its hot showers, and farther yet is Corals Cabins and Campground with its store over-looking the fir-clad Similkameen. A few metres east, at the old VV&E whistle-stop of Cory, the Highway crosses the River on a concrete-decked 1997 span. It is about ten Kay farther to Hedley.
As easy as the Highway is, for cyclists and other time-rich travellers there is a more appealing route down the valley: Old Hedley Road. East from the 5A, one passes again Osprey Lake Road and sees in the valley to the right the Tulameen blending into the Similkameen which, although said to mean salmon river in Salish, hasnt seen a salmon since the damming of the Columbia River at Rock Island near Wenatchee, Washington, in 1933.
Old Hedley Road is, modern modifications aside, the coach road which extended out of the Okanagan valley and reached Princeton in 1901. Roughly following the trail that Edgar Dewdney and Walter Moberly ran down this bank in the spring of 1861, the Road finally brought Welby stage coaches (an example of which stands before the Museum) and freight-waggons to Princeton, improving vastly the settlements ties to the world outside. At the eastern end of the Road on Lake Okanagan, the traveller could catch a CPR ferry to the top of the Lake at Vernon and from there take a train on CPs Shuswap and Okanagan Railway to the Mainline at Sicamous. Come 1930 the Geographic Division of the Department of Lands was producing maps that showed Hedley Road as part of the Trans-Provincial Route A. One of three Trans-ProvincialsB a crude trail running from Bella Coola up the fjords to meet up with the CPR Mainline and follow its tote road where it could over the mountains through the Kicking Horse, and C from Prince Rupert up the Skeena with the Canadian National Railways mainline through Prince George and the Yellow Head PassA began at Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, was carried by ferry from Nanaimo to the Lower Mainland, came up the Fraser and the Thompson to Spences Bridge, to Merritt and down what is now the 5A to Princeton, used Hedley Road and its eastern connections to get to Okanagan Falls and down to Osoyoos whence eastward it established the route of todays No. 3.
Barely out of Princeton, Old Hedley finds itself winding through the huge log sort and past the sawmill of Weyerhaeuser Company. The timber industry in the area goes back, of course, to the beginning of White settlement in the 1860s. A couple of fellows would take their axes into the woods and lay down a few trees which they would then whipsaw into rough construction lumber for bridges, barns, homes and railways. With the development of underground mining in the district increasing the demand for timber, A.E. Howse got into the lumbering business in a bigger way, having by 1904 built or acquired a sawmilling operation located at Princeton, leaving it to A.C. Schizler to manage. The outfit was awaiting its share, reports the author of 100 years of forest industry in the Similkameen Valley in the May 4, 2004 edition of the Similkameen Valley Leader, of the 4 million linear feet of timber that had been felled in local camps over the previous winter. How long Howse or his successors maintained their operation in Princeton is unclear, but doubtless men worked in the woods to supply the local mining and construction industries over the decades.
Granby Consolidated finally closed its Copper Mountain operations in April of 1957, Princeton hit the skids. Nearly a thousand workers were idled. Eager to get men back to work, the Social Credit government of W.A.C. Bennett helped John Nylund establish the Western Pine Lumber Company here in East Princeton. Western Pine eventually became part of Northwood Mills under the umbrella of Noranda Mining Company, and on September 27th, 1978, the giant Weyerhaeuser outfit took over the operation. Since swallowing MacMillan-Bloedel Corporation on November 1st, 1999, Weyerhaeuser is by far the largest logger in B.C. The fact that it is wholly American-owned likely facilitates its access to U.S. markets since that country imposed a crippling tariff on Canadian softwood in 2001.
Seen in old aerial photos, across the eastern edge of the log-sort runs the ghost of the VV&E spur which bridged the Similkameen in 1909 to run up Allison Creek for two miles to get to the British Columbia Portland Cement Companys plant. The plant never shipped an ounce of cement, and after thirteen years of watching its rails rust, in 1922 the VV&E finally yanked the spurs steel and removed the bridge.
Beyond Weyerhaeuser, the pavement smoothes as it passes a few rural acreages, hobby farms and fixer upper lots before zigzagging out onto meadows thick with tall July green. This is the Allison pre-emption, lot G-1, its topography much modified by F.J Coulthards hydraulic mining activities of 1895. Gone are any vestiges of the townsite Sergeant McColl and his Royal Engineers laid out in 1860. If one knew where to look, it might be possible to locate traces of the saw mill in which Edgar Dewdney took an interest in during his last few months in office as BCs lieutenant-governor in the mid-1890s. The Allisons old homestead is still occupied, however, and remains in the family. Passing paddocks of happy horses, local traffic zips right along through this idyllic setting, especially kids racing home from school to do their chores before supper. Laurie Currie in Princeton, ... writes that the Princeton Chamber of Commerce restored some of the original coaching road in 1973 and that it can be seen in places creeping along slightly up on the valleys wall.
Loping along, Hedley Road passes Bromley Rock, a big loaf of granite rooted smack in the Similkameens bed, veteran of æons of resistance to the abrading waters. Here the Road climbs up onto a higher shelf and cuts across the corner of the Nine Mile Creek Reserve which, along with the Wolf Creek Reserve on the opposite bank, makes up Vermilion Forks Indian Reserve No. 1 and is home of a few Salish families of the Upper Similkameen Indian Band. The pictographs daubed in ochre on a few Road-side rocks are modern works, done in the traditional style, reminders of the people who have lived in this valley for generations uncountable.
Curly yellowd grass liberally sprinkled with skinny Lodgepole pines studded with Ponderosa pine and blueberry bushes wraps the countryside. The talus of the mountains above occasionally creeps right across the Road, the fuchsia-pink of the newly broken rock contrasting vividly with the battle-grey of the old. Archæologists say remnants of Dewdneys old Trail can be seen along here yet, but to a casual observer, none are obvious.
Nearly 20 kilometres from Princeton one comes to camping grounds formerly maintained by the B.C. Forest Service, a double dozen of dusty little pads scraped out on the Similkameens bank. These are the true Minimalists camp sites with an outhouse or two, a pump and possibly a bear resistant garbage bin which gets emptied much more frequently since the Upper Similkameen Indian Band took over the grounds in the early 2000s.
In the evening air, rainshadow breezes warm and dry, the valley-filling racket from No. 3 reminds campers that it is working highway for most of its course. Drowning the nearby rattle and glubble of the Similkameen, the moan of eighteen wheels punctuated by the periodic blatt of an engine brake echo off the valley walls from afar.
The River has cut itself a substantial trench through the Plateau and this has for centuries been a corridor of travel. All along here, ancient Native petroglyphs and red ochre lithographs decorate the mountains toes giving directions and telling of adventures lived long before the Whites brought their alphabet and highway signs. Hidden in the spindly pines, they are not advertised, for even a tender touch from a gentle finger tip will hasten the erasure of these fragile messages from the ken of History.
Across the Similkameen and upstream from the Forest Service sites, between the Rivers south bank and the Highway beyond, Nendicks Campground squats on the old VV&E station site of Cory. Across and downstream a bit, Corals Cabins and Campground and the River House Café. Hanging 1,000 metres above, out of sight south in the bosom of the Cascades Okanagan Range, Cathedral Provincial Park, a 125 square-mile wilderness area of glacier-topped peaks and pristine alpine lakes. The poet Fergus OConnor of Keremeos says that he walks himself closer to the gods on the rugged trails up there.
Hunkered down in the wiry grass all around, cacti declare that these are the marges of the Sonora Desert, that magnificent rainshadow regime that dominates the western portion of North America. One hundred and fifty kilometres north of the sun-shattered pile of Stemwinder Mountain which here forms the valleys northern wall, in the Thompson Rivers valley near Kamloops, the Coast Mountains have done such an efficient job of pressing the moisture from the passing Pacific airs that on their eastern slopes the norther-most vestige of the Desert flourishes, complete with succulent cacti and sagebrush struggling to anchor transient sand dunes. It would be rattlesnake country if it wasnt quite so chilly. As it is, the Northern Pacific subspecies of the rattlesnake, Crotalus viridis oreganus, have acclimatized themselves as far north as the Whistle Creek Valley, that large gulch chopped into the Similkameens southern scarp just west of Hedley. The chance that a traveller will encounter one of the testy critters is not great enough to lose much sleep over, but, if you happen across a specimen squished on the Highway and are tempted to stop and take its tail rattle as a souvenir, remember that the peculiar physiology of the beast enables even one freshly dead to strike.
A couple of kilometres east of the erstwhile Forest Service campgrounds and across a Texas gate, the Old Hedley Road disappears under the asphalt of No. 3 which has just crossed the Similkameen on the new Sterling Creek bridge. Until 1996, the Highway had to S bend tightly to cross the River on an under-slung steel arch bridge that the Highways Branch installed in 1947. The new concrete-on-steel girder bridge appears to be off-set only slightly from the VV&E right-of-way down which the Highway has travelled from Princeton, and carries traffic diagonally across the River to rejoin the existing roadway a few hundred metres downstream from the old bridge site.
Past the Bridge and the showerless 23 sites of Stemwinder Provincial Park just beyond is a small community centred on the restaurant and cabins of the Corona Café and Campground is growing up with the neighbouring Riverhaven RV Park to serve travellers. Since local Natives have begun to press for their human rights in the 1990s, table talk at the Corona occasionally bends to Indian insurrections and the blockading of public highways where they cross Reserve lands. A little direct action on the part of the Natives in this valley would legitimately disrupt traffic flow on the No. 3, much to everybodys inconvenience.
The Salish in the Similkameen
The Natives of the Similkameen are of the SukwnaqinxOkanagan, head of the rivergroup of the Interior Salish, but they are special. Though never very numerousperhaps 300 souls alive at any one timethey were, judging from their grave goods and the artefacts collected at the many prehistoric village sites in the Similkameen, very wealthy. Having apparently displaced a band of Athapaskan speakers in this valley in the hazy Long Ago, it was these Okanagans who dug the ochre from the bluffs at Vermilion Forks and jasper from nearby deposits and traded these commodities for cured coastal salmon, oolican (candlefish) oil, dentalium pretosium sea-shells, and obsidian spear points from what is now Oregon. Alone of the Okanagans, they use the R sound in their native speech, a consequence, romantics hereabouts will tell you, of meeting and finally being forced to eliminate a band of lost Spanish conquistadors who supposedly wandered up this way in the golden era of Coronado. The story permits a deal of scepticism, but it must at the same time be noted that the Similkameen people are on the average unaccountably taller than other Okanagans, though the tale does not suggest hanky-panky of any kind.18
Opinion varies as to how long Indians have lived in this land. Scientific deduction concludes that they arrived with the retreat of the Wisconsinin glaciers, and in the 8,500 years since, the strong have established territories at the expense of the weak: bands and families spreading throughout the Interior as they followed salmon runs upstream to their source. The Similkameens traditions hold that they have been here forever-and-a-day, and their claim is that over the last century and a half, they have been robbed of everythingland, freedom, self-esteem, even life, itselfby the Europeans. This conception is not false. Within eight years of the 1858 stampede for gold, half of all B.C.s Indianssome 30,000 peoplewere dead from disease or abuse. Since then the survivors have seen cattle displace the wild game, the fish disappear, the trees mown down, mountains ripped apart and the very rocks carried away by shrieking steel monsters.
The Chuchuwayha Indian Reserve #2 surrounds Hedley and, blending into the Ashnola Reserve, extends the Sukwnaqinx peoples domain down the valley almost to Keremeos and beyond. Under the direction of the Colony of British Columbias commissioner of lands and public works, the unapologetically racist Joseph Trutch, Peter OReilly, one of the Colonys itinerant functionaries, laid out the Chu-Chu-ewaa reserve in 1870 with, it is said, the approval of the famous bear killer, Chief Quinisco. The reserves modern boundaries apparently date from the re-adjustments of 1886. Typically, the Sukwnaqinx were not consulted when the VV&E began building up the Similkameen in the mid-19-aughts. The company needed a riverside right-of-way, and a riverside right-of-way it got, appropriated from the Chuchuwayha Reserve without so much as a by your leave to the residents. How well or poorly the Band was compensated for the imposition of the Crowsnest Highway is still debated.