Hiking Through History: Lyle Creek to Mount Brennan By A. Terry Turner
I’ve always been fascinated with the history of old mining sites, trails and abandoned cabins. Unfortunately, there seems to be an absence of this sort of information in most of the hiking books I’ve examined. When I brought this to the attention of an author, the abrupt answer was, “history is boring”. During research for a local history book a couple of years ago, I found an interesting reference to one of my favourite hiking areas, the Lyle Creek basin. More recently, this led to an exhaustive research project on the area. Anyway, here is brief summary of one of the “boring” trails that I’m sure many members of the KMC have trekked on over the years.
The Ibex crown granted mineral claim is located about 5 kilometres north of the ghost town of Retallack between Kaslo and New Denver. The Lyle Creek basin-Mount Brennan trail passes through this claim. The claim was located on August 8, 1891 by William Brennard and James Pringle. The owners explored a narrow high-grade vein of lead and silver over the next few years.
In 1896 Frederick Steele represented Samuel B. Steele and others in the purchase of the Ibex property. Frederick Steele was a photographer from Winnipeg who took literally hundreds of photographs of people and places in southern Alberta and British Columbia. Samuel Benfield Steele, with the Northwest Mounted Police in Fort MacLeod Alberta, is best known for his involvement in the Klondike Gold rush and the founding of Fort Steele. The Ibex Mining and Development Company was incorporated to explore the lead-silver deposits in this area. Sam Steele was the President and Fred Steele was the Treasurer. The company’s Secretary was David King, the publisher of the Kootenian newspaper. Mr. King was responsible for keeping the public informed about the exciting events while Fred traveled between Kaslo and Winnipeg to promote and sell company stock. Large samples of massive galena (lead-silver ore) were commonly displayed in Whitewater (later Retallack) and Kaslo to attract investors. Before the winter of 1896, a proper access trail and two cabins were constructed. The narrow vein of high-grade lead-silver was mined by open cut and underground methods.
During January 1897, a massive avalanche swept down the steep slopes of Mount Brennan and killed a miner Jim Gillis while his son worked underground in the mine. Gillis’ body was found in a small lake in the basin the following June. During the summer, seven packhorses carried 300 pound sacks to the company’s ore storage hose in Whitewater prior to shipment to a smelter in Pueblo, Colorado. Without notice, the financial status of the company deteriorated and by early November the Supreme Court appointed a liquidator to sell the assets and pay off the creditors. Reasons for the company’s collapse include the fluctuating price of silver, high transportation costs and adverse mining conditions.
Very limited work has ever been carried out on this property since but the claim is still held by Art Bennett, a prospector from Kaslo. Today, there is little to remind us of this historical mining venture except the rusting cans, the cabin remains and the three amazing photographs taken by Frederick Steele in 1896.