Idaho Peak And Silver Ridge
(Guest essay by Rick Tegeler)
Almost no white men had ever set foot in what is known as the 'Slocan' of SE British Columbia before September 1, 1891 when two aspiring but down-on-their-luck miners literally stumbled upon an outcrop of high grade galena' (silver/lead/zinc ore) atop a ridge of the Kootenay Mountains overlooking what is now Slocan Lake.
News of their rich strike galvanized treasure seekers from all over North America and by November of that year charters for two railroads were already let in addition to the founding of New Denver, Silverton and Sandon - towns that were to become the nexus of the rush.
The strike was so incredibly rich that from its establishment, New Denver was commonly referred to as 'El Dorado'.
The Slocan discoveries spawned two competing railroads to serve the huge amounts of ore to be carried -- the Great Northern's narrow-gauge Kaslo and Slocan Railway, and the Canadian Pacific Railway's Naskup and Slocan Railway.
By December of 1891 mining interests from Spokane and Victoria were already in the area infusing capital, infrastructure and supplies to the burgeoning region. Reports of these rich discoveries generated an excitement that gripped the world--and so began the 'Silvery Slocan' mining boom.
At its height, in the early 1900's, over 300 mines operated in the town of Sandon alone, with another 200 within 10 kilometers. In the early 1900s, the original Payne Mine was British Columbia's highest dividend paying business, producing over 1 million ounces (more than 28 million grams) of silver-lead a year. Since 1892, Slocan mines have produced well over $35 billion of silver, lead and zinc (in today's dollars) --_more than the value of the California, Cariboo and Klondike gold rushes combined!
This unprecedented wealth cemented the foundation for the cities of Victoria in British Columbia and Spokane, Washington in much the same manner that the California Gold Rush became the genesis for San Francisco. By mid-1897 the mine workers in Sandon had a combined payroll of $25,000 per week--a purchasing power of well over a million in today's dollars!
In addition to its two, competing railroads, during its heyday (1895-1910) Sandon boasted 39 hotels, 40 bars, countless 'red light' establishments, an opera house, bowling alley, hospital and all manner of businesses to support and entertain the miners in their frenetic activities. After all, booms come to sudden ends, and the participants must make their wealth while they can.
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