Notes on the Violet Mine by Jeff Ross
Like so many of the trails in Kokanee Glacier Park, the one leading to Silver Spray basin in the Park’s N/E corner, was originally constructed to service a high altitude, (8,000′ plus), silver mining operation, known as The Violet Mine. Though the steep climb up to the basin offers many scenic rewards along it’s entire length, Silver Spray Basin is also a repository for what is essentially a living, high altitude mining museum.
The first evidence of the Violet Mine operation, (circa 1921), is abruptly encountered after rounding the last bend in the trail, as the bunkhouse and stonework-bound, water-supply-pond come into view.
Less than a kilometre above, at around 8,000′, is the old mineshaft building and blacksmith’s shop. Seeing the old building with its collection of mining artifacts for the first time has quite an impact, especially if one is alone on their first visit as was the case for me. Visions of old hard rock miners wandering through the neighbouring peaks abound, and I found myself wandering, loosing track of time, nearly oblivious to all else but the images in the viewfinder of my camera. Among the long weathered treasures, a faded blue can caught my eye. On closer inspection I noticed a barely legible enamel label which read Orange Marmelade, Nelson Jam Factory.
Soon after my trip to the area, I wanted to learn more about the old silver mine, so I visited the Nelson Mining Museum, (the one next to the community aquatic centre), to peruse some old record books, specifically, several volumes of the Annual Report of the Minister of Mines (B.C.), spanning the period from 1921 to 1931. I found the first reference to the mine, and the most complete, in the 1921 volume.
It detailed the original excavation of some 240 feet of tunnelling, including a 60 foot vertical shaft, and “drifts” along the ore bearing body. As to results that first season, “At the time of the writer’s visit in September, four tons of high grade ore (lead-silver), had been extracted and was awaiting shipment”. In addition, the report included references to the unusually high remote location of the mine. “Wood for fuel has to be brought up from over a mile away to the camp, but fortunately the ground in the workings requires scarcely any support.”
Also, “The ore is carefully sorted for shipment as packing charges to Kootenay Lake are $35.00 a ton!’ This was a lot for transportation in those days, but the high grade ore made the mine a paying proposition. No doubt the packhorses doing the actual hauling along the arduous route would have demanded more payment in oats, granted the power of speech.
After a five year period during which time there was no mention of the mine in the annual reports, the 1926 volume noted a change of ownership from a Mr. J.M. Currie of Ainsworth, to Messers. J.Henry, W.G. Mc Landers, and Dan McLennan, also of Ainsworth. In addition, it contained the following, “The vein is a small fissure in granite carrying high silver values. The results of the season’s work are said to have been highly satisfactory, and it is anticipated that shipments will be made next year.” In the 1927 report, “At the Violet Mine on Woodbury Creek, the results obtained by further development of the vein are said to have proved highly satisfactory. New cabins have been erected, and everything is in readiness for next season’s work.” But the 1928 report began to chronicle diminishing activity at the site. “A small amount of work is reported to have been done on the Violet Mine on Woodbury Creek.” The 1929 and 1930 reports were simply references to past activity. The 1931 report stated no doubt much too optimistically given the disasterous economic times, “Some work is expected at the Violet Mine in which J. Henry of Ainsworth is interested.”
The rest is history as the saying goes, for the Great Depression, the remoteness of the site, and other factors conspired to leave the Violet Mine little more than a faded memory on the yellowing pages of a few old books. A faded memory for some, but an enduring historical footnote for present day visitors to this notable corner of Kokanee Glacier Park.
See the Kootenay Karabiner Volume 28 for photos of old cabin and the mine. I personally placed the photo of the cabin in the present Silver Spray cabin. The photo is by a friend, Cris Cristiansen.