The Notorious Mining Town of Sandon, B.C.
Updated: Sep 18
Six years ago, my wife and I spent our 10th wedding anniversary in Nelson, B.C. We are both naturalists, appreciate history, and enjoy rockhounding, and the Nelson area proved to be the perfect place for us. Our day trip up the Slocan Valley remains a highlight! There are several places worth visiting in the Slocan Valley, and a weekend trip there should be on everyone's bucket list.
Stop one should definitely be in New Denver. I had no idea about this, but there was a major World War 2 Japanese Internment Camp there, and the memorial centre is pretty amazing. The internment of Japanese Canadians during the second world war remains a dark spot in Canada's history, but the resilience of those Canadians imprisoned is impressive. Perhaps not the happiest of places to visit on your 10th wedding anniversary, but it is too late for that!
Mining near Sandon
Stop two should be Sandon and the surrounding area. Sandon was a major mining district that began with the discovery of lead and silver ore in 1891 (2). The "Silvery Slocan" attracted global attention due to the richness of the various ore bodies, and the town grew at an astounding rate. At one point it was known as the Monte Carlo of North America with 29 hotels, 28 saloons, a massive red-light district, and a population of over 5,000 people (mostly men; 3). Needless to say, the town was notorious for more than just it's mineral riches. Unfortunately, today the town of Sandon is a shell of its former self, and what remains is preserved through the hardwork and dedication of volunteers of the Sandon Historical Society (3).
The initial mining boom in Sandon took place in the 1890s, and there was a second boom during World War One. In the 1940s and 50s, legendary Mining Mogul, Viola MacMillan took over ownership and operatorship of a substantial portion of the regions mines, including her most profitable mine, Victor Mine (5). Mining in the region dwindled in the 1960s and 70s as the resource was exhausted, and mining never really recovered. In total, about 1.4 million kg of silver, 184,000 tonnes of lead, 122,000 tonnes of zinc, and 170 kg of gold were produced from mines in the area (6). Cadmium was also produced.
Geology and rockhounding around Sandon
The geology of the area is complicated. Most of the ore is contained in quartz-carbonate veins and igneous dikes that cut through slightly metamorphosed and fine grained sedimentary rocks (6, 7). The vein-hosted ore was emplaced by hydrothermal fluids that leached metals from the surrounding rock and concentrated them in the veins. The sedimentary rocks are Upper Triassic in age (237 Ma to 201.5 Ma old) and include metamorphosed mudstone, argillite, sandstone, and limestone that form a series of tight folds (6, 8).
There are over 50 old mines near Sandon and the options to look through mine tailings and look at old cores are pretty substantial. Exploring the region could occupy a dedicated rockhounder for many days! In my experience, Sphalerite (zinc ore) and Pyrite (iron sulfide) are easy to find in old tailings piles, while Galena (lead ore), Chalcopyrite (copper ore) and Tetrahedrite (also copper ore) require a bit more searching. I did not find any silver in veins, but I imagine there are pieces out there! Some easy to reach sites include the tailings pile of the Mercury Mine and the core boxes at the south portal of the Ruth-Hope Mine. Both can be reached by car and a short walk. For the Ruth-Hope Mine, it is best to go on the weekend and stop by the mine office for permission (49.979173, -117.237232), they may even offer a tour. For other sites, note that a lot of the area is claimed, so ask first before collecting.
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2) Silversmith Power & Light Corporation, 2016, Interpretative Guide: Silversmith Hydroelectric Generating Station, 40 p.
4) Sandon, B.C. | City of Vancouver Archives
6) Höy, T., 2016, Technical Report: The Slocan Silver Camp Sandon, British Columbia. Location: Selkirk Mountains NTS 082F/14 and 082K/03, 48 p.
7) Ruth-Hope | MINFILE Mineral Inventory
8) Church, B.N., 1997, Metallogeny of the Slocan City Mining Camp (82F11/14). British Columbia Geological Survey, Geological Fieldwork 1997, Paper 1998-1, p. 22-1 to 22-13.