Eastward from its Similkameen crossing near Stemwinder Provincial Park, the Crowsnest Highway passes by the restaurant and cabins of the Corona Café and Campground and the neighbouring Riverhaven RV Park. This is the ghost of Similkameen City, a townsite which Frank Bailey had R.H. Parkinson survey in 1900 as a permanent base for the prospectors who were scouring the neighbourhood of Nickel Plate Mountain. The City was still-born, killed by the rise of Camp Hedley at the very base of the Mountain. Past the Riverhaven, the Highway enters Chuchuwayha Indian Reserve #2 and breaks out onto the humpy hursts of a sandy glacial moraine through which the River has scoured its course. The Similkameen did much to modify its valley, but nothing compared to the work done by the last glacier to pass this way; a classic U-shaped valley, this.
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. Peter OReilly, one of the Colony of British Columbias 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.
Approaching Hedley Famous for Gold from the west, the most arresting feature seen from the Highway is the blade-straight scar slashing down Nickel Plate Mountains face. Snagging the scar, looping roils of barely rusting cable are all that is left of the two-stage tramway that shifted ore gondolas between the stamp mill and the minehead of the celebrated Nickel Plate mine some 500 vertical metres above. Completed in 1903, the tramway, 10,000 feet of skinny rails, was at the time, according to Murray Brown in his self-published monograph, The Nickel Plate Mine Story (Richmond, B.C., 1995), the longest in the world.
From a sunny pocket in the mouth of Twenty Mile canyon, broken Stemwinder Mountain to its west, the dramatic crag of Nickel Plate to the east, Hedley (534m) ambushes the Highway with its 1939 white stuccod two storey elementary school on the right and the blue on white board-sided 1991 Chuchuwayha Community Hall opposite. Since about 2003, the school has housed the interpretive centre for the Mascot mine tours. Hedley isnt big and it shows very little of itself to the Highway, but a quick application of brake should slow a traveller enough to make the quick left into the village on Scott Avenue at the corner occupied by the converted Esso service station known now as the Nickel Plate Restaurant, Gift Shop and Gas Bar. The Hedley Heritage Museum and Tea Room stands at the corner of Haynes and Daly, only about a half of a block behind the restaurant.
The Nickel Plate Mine
Hedley lies about midway between Hope and Rock Creek on the extension of the original Dewdney Trail and, though the area saw a little prospecting when the Trail first came through in 1860, it wasnt until the early 1890s that Nickel Plates secret was revealed. In his Early History of Hedley Camp (Canadian West, No. 28, June, 1992), H.D. Barnes states that in 1894 a rancher from Keremeos, J.L. (J.O. Ossie?) Coulthard, formed an association with the sitting lieutenant-governor of B.C., the Honourable Edgar Dewdney, and sent a couple of local men, rancher James Riordan of Olalla and J.F. Allisons son, Charles, to the top of what is now Nickel Plate Mountain to stake three claims which the associates then registered with the regional Gold Commissioner at Granite City. Apparently losing interest, Coulthard and Dewdney allowed these claims to lapse, and when Peter Scott, C. Johnston and Albert Jacobsen climbed up on the peak to poke around in 1897, all rights had reverted to the Crown. In the zone of contact between the old limestone and the invading diorite and gabbroic rock, the prospectors found ores intriguing enough that Johnston and Jacobsen staked the Copper Cleft and the Mound for their sponsor, W.Y. Williams, manager of the Granby mine at Phnix. Scott staked the Rollo for Robert R. Hedley, manager of the Hall Mines smelter at Nelson. The next year Scott returned to work on the Rollo and stake, pens Doug Cox in Mines of the Eagle Country : Nickel Plate & Mascot (Skookum Publications, Penticton, 1997), the Princeton, the Warhorse and the Kingston, among others. While thus engaged Scott met on the Mountain two independent prospectors, Constantine H. Arundel and Frances E.R. Woolaston. Arundel and Woolaston found surface traces of gold ore in a combination of sulphides in a gangue of ancient limestone which had been metamorphosed along the face of contact with intruding sheets of white gabbro. They quickly registered the Bulldog, the Sunnyside, the Copperfield, the Iron Duke, the Horsefly, the Exchange Fraction, and the Nickel Plate. Their discoveries touched off a rush upon the Mountain which, by the end of 1898, saw nearly every square foot claimed and registered with C. Lambly, the gold commissioner at Fairview.
That Fall of 1898, Arundel and Woolaston apparently betook themselves to the Coast. Attempting to raise a little development capital they submitted samples from their claims to the Copper Baron of Butte, Montana, Marcus Daly. Impressed with what he was shown, Dalys local manager, John R. Tool, arranged a meeting between the prospectors and M.K Rodgers, Dalys itinerant field man, who happened to be in Victoria awaiting transportation to the Cassiar district. Writes Murray Brown in The Nickel Plate Mine Story, Rodgers took an immediate shine to the Nickel Plate samples and in June of 1899, having personally verified the apparent worth of the property, paid Arundel and Woolaston $60,000 for a bond on it along with the Bulldog, the Sunnyside, and the Copperfield. Wasting no time, Rodgers assembled a crew of 18 and had them hacking a nine foot-deep trench into the high, hard rock of the Nickel Plate by the middle of January, 1899. Speckles of pure gold glittered from the trench walls.
By that time, sheltered in the Twenty Mile Creek valley at the base of the Mountain, a tent town named after Peter Scotts boss had sprung up. Camp Hedley was isolated. In developing his claims, Rodgers first concern was to lay in a winters worth of supplies for his crew. With Dalys fat wallet in his pocket, he hired George Cahill to organize a packtrain of thirty-five horses and bring in necessities from the areas only sizeable town, Fairview. Though only about 40 kilometres east south-east from the Camp, Fairview was in the Okanagan Valley, across the range of mountains separating the Valley from the rest of the Thompson Plateau. To get to the Camp, the packtrain had to thread its way some three times that distance through the creek canyons of the Plateau.
For a year or so packtrains sufficed to bring in what Rodgers and the other miners needed to develop their claims. By the Summer of 1900, however, Rodgers concluded that he needed better transport. Tunnelling on the Nickel Plate had revealed the fabulous wealth of the claim, but heavy machinery would be needed to make mining profitable. Horses could not carry such equipment, nor pack out the weight of ore the Mine would soon produce. With $4,000 in provincial money to add to Dalys, in August, 1900, Rodgers contracted Lenard [sic] A. Clark to push a waggon road 30 miles across the Plateau to the Nickel Plate mine from Penticton with its connection via the CPRs Aberdeen and the Shuswap & Okanagan Railway to the Railways Mainline at Sicamous. Clark completed what he called the Green Mountain Road by Christmas, winding it up Shingle Creek and its tributary, Shatford Creek, past Apex Mountain to approach Nickel Plate from the northern side. By 1900, too, Rodgers had formed the Yale Mining Company to buy and consolidate all claims on Nickel Plate Mountain under the Nickel Plate banner. While building the little settlement of Nickel Plate on top of the Mountain to house its miners and their families, the company began large-scale mining. Among the first items waggoned in was an Ingersol-Rand air compressor and a small steam engine and boiler to power it. These were set up below what came to be called the No. 3 tunnel on the Nickel Plate.
Working into the Sunnyside claims, Yale soon discovered that it was dealing with a variety of ores. On Sunnyside No. 2 and No. 3 shallow deposits of soft ore easily gave up $2 millions in gold. On the Nickel Plate, six lenses of hard arsenopyritic ores running to eight ounces of gold to the ton would eventually be found stacked one below the other in a diagonal trend deep into the Mountain.
As the end of 1902 approached, Rodgers calculated that the average ton of rock his men dug out of Nickel Plate Mountain contained a third of an ounce of gold: rich enough by far to warrant continuing development, but prohibitively expensive to waggon to Penticton. To significantly increase profits, what Yale had to do was expand its operation dramatically and reduce the amount of waste in the ore that it shipped.
Marcus Daly had died on November 12th, 1900, but his estate carried on his business as usual. Yale Minings mining-only charter prevented it from further processing Nickel Plates ore, so Rodgers and the Estate organized and obtained a provincial charter for the Daly Reduction Company, Limited, (DRC) in early 1903 to build and operate a concentration mill, generate power, install and operate a tramway and a mining railway, and mine ore. The Yale Mining Company was reduced to a holding company whose chief asset was DRC.
With its legal standing recognized, DRC initiated its the expansion of its Nickel Plate operation. It was an enormous undertaking and the company decided to break the it down into individual jobs.
Judging Twenty Mile Creek capable of supplying its power needs, DRC hired a Mr. Munson of Grand Forks to throw a dam across the stream near the Golden Zone mine and sub-contract J.K. Fraser to construct a three mile-long flume capable of delivering around 50,000 litres per minute from the dam 420 vertical feet above. Building the flume was no mean task: it had to be threaded through three tunnels hacked through the tough rock of the creeks convolution gorge and pinned to shear cliff here and there to maintain the grade.
While Munson and Fraser were busy on their projects, James McNulty was raising Dalys 200-ton-per-day mill at the south-eastern edge of Hedley Camp, almost directly beneath the Nickel Plates main portal. On the concrete and stone piles and foundation walls still visible at the base of the Mountain, McNulty built a cascade of buildings which permitted gravity to advance the concentration process. The structures were largely complete by the autumn of 1903 and the installation of the machinery began. Furthest up the slope of the Mountain was a tipple into which the tram cars dumped raw ore. From the tipple the ore was trammed to bins from which it was dropped into a pair of Farrel jaw crushers. These reduced the rock to a size manageable by the batteries of 40 half-ton stamps that pulverized their charges in water and fed the resultant slurry onto mercury-coated copper plates to which the free gold adhered. The slurry then dropped onto vanners which separated the fine grindings from the rougher tailings and send the former to a drying floor where they would be eventually double sackedcotton in jutefor shipment to the Tacoma Smelter and Refining Company in Washington state. The tailings were distributed among twenty huge California redwood vats where they were sequentially soaked in solutions of cyanide. Zinc was shaved into the process to attract the gold. The resultant precipitate was rinsed with sulphuric acid and sent to the Mills refinery where it was roasted in a little reverberatory furnace. Roasted, the precipitate was smelted in a retort to recover the gold. The whole operation was powered by Pelton impact water wheels spun by the out-pour of Frasers flume. By winters end, 1904, the machinery had been installed and on May the 4th, testing began.
Adjacent to the Mill a powerhouse had been erected to share the flumes out-pour. Here a Pelton wheel used the weight of the water to actuate a Canadian Rand cross-compound compressor which pumped air 3300 vertical feet up to the Mine via six-inch piping. Most of it was used to power tools. A Cassel water wheel drove a 90 Kw Westinghouse alternating current generator to feed the Mines electric locomotives. Bolted as well to the powerhouses floor was a steam engine which could drive the generator and compressor should Winter or a rockslide interrupt the flow of the flume. In a separate boiler house a cordwood-fired Mumford boiler supplied steam to the engine while a Vancouver Engineering Works boiler provided steam to heat the mill.
Concurrent with all this activity in the Twenty Mile Creeks valley, in the Nickel Plate mine what the company called the Dickson Incline was following the trend of the ore bodies down into the Mountain. Ore in two-ton cars was hauled up the Incline to the surface by an air-operated hoist and dumped into the twelve-ton gondolas of a narrow-gauged, electrically-motivated railway which had been laid out 1½ miles across the face of the Mountain to a 200 ton storage hopper. From the hopper the ore was lowered to the mill by the tramway whose path still scars the Mountains face. The tramway was a wonder of ingenuity and efficiency. Because the manufacturers of the day could not supply a one inch diameter steel cable greater than one mile in length, the tramway had to be two-staged. Taking advantage of this restriction, engineers dog-legged the line 20º at the junction of the stages, thereby fitting the line to the terrain. On each cable were fixed two cars arranged to move in opposite directions down three 20-pound rails, the centre of which was common and was twinned for a few metres at the half-way point to enable the cars to pass. At the junction cars hitches were manually transferred from one cable to the other. Entirely self-powered by the five-ton loaded weight of the descending gondolas, the system eased loads 3400 vertical feet down grades to 69% on the 10,000 feet of rail between the ore bin and the mill.
Come the summer of 1904 testing in the Mill was complete and production began: the twenty-four-hours-a-day-din of the forty stamps each rising 7.5 inches to drop on crunching pebbles 108 times each minute dominated the valley for the next 50 years.
For a number of months prior to the commencement of crushing, Rodgers had been petitioning the Department of Indian Affairs in Ottawa to release lands included in Chuchuwayha Indian Reserve #2 laying adjacent to the mill. His argument that he needed land upon which to build a tailings pond finally won over a Liberal cabinet searching for support in the face of an election slated for November 3rd, 1904, and the Reserve was trimmed.
Perhaps reflecting instability in the DRCs board of directors in New York, Rodgers was replaced as the Hedley operations manager by R.B. Lamb in September of 1905. Lamb lasted a year and was relieved by F.A. Ross. Ross was able to maintain the confidence of his employers, and by the summer of 1907 the Daly mill was crushing an average of 115 tons of ore per day. Reports Murray Brown in The Nickel Plate Mine Story, free gold would be scraped periodically from the bars of the crushing stamps and the mercury-washed copper plates and added to that recovered by the plants vat-leach cyanidation process. Enough pure gold was accumulated and poured into bricks every month that armed guards were needed to escort it to Penticton whence Dominion Express delivered it to the U.S Assay Office in Seattle, Washington. The concentrate, in one hundred-pound sacks, was waggoned to Penticton in the first stage of a long, circuitous journey to the American Smelting and Refining Companys plant at Everett, Washington. With the arrival of the VV&E at Keremeos on July 10th, 1907, the length of this journey was halved.
Concluding that the Nickel Plate had given up the best of its ore to earn its $1.15 million in cumulative profit, Dalys estate sold the operation to the Exploration Syndicate of New York, a subsidiary of U.S. Steel headed by I.L. Merrill, for $760,000 plus lingering interests on August 12th, 1909.
It was a mistake, and Gomer Phillip Jones, the Mines manager, knew it. When the Syndicate organized the Hedley Gold Mining Company, Limited, (HGM) to work the site, Jones hired on as General Superintendent. His satisfaction must have been immense when a geological survey of the Mountains lode located much more ore.
To increase production the new owners decided to electrify the mill. Instructing their new mill manager, Roscoe Wheeler, to leave the mill only enough water to effect concentration, they had him direct most of the flumes flow via a penstock into the powerhouse and against a Doebel water wheel to which was harnessed a Canadian Westinghouse 350kV. A.C. generator. With cheap coal beginning to arrive from Princeton on the VV&E, HGM installed three new Jenckes Machine Company boilers to power a large Goldie and McCulloch condensing engine which ensured continued generation during periods of inadequate water flow. Judged inefficient, the practice of collecting gold on the mercury-treated copper plates suspended. In the Mountain the works were greatly expanded and the equipment modernized.
By 1912 HGM was crushing well over 200 tons per day, rewarding its investors with a 30% dividend that year. In 1914 larger crushers were installed and two years later, reports Doug Cox in Mines of the Eagle Country, four fine-grinding Allis-Chalmers tube mills were introduced to the process along with five Dorr duplex rake classifiers, a big Traylor swing-jaw crusher and sundry items of new equipment. The addition of the Traylor meant that larger chunks of ore could be accepted and progressively reduced by the series of crushers to a size that could be handled by the stamps. In 1917 the leaching process was abandoned, the sodium cyanide from then on being put into the stamping slurry. The stamps output was played onto the Dorr classifiers which separated the fines from the coarse particles and sent the former to the slime tanks. In the tube mills charged with chunks of raw ore the coarse was ground till they, too, could pass through a 200-mesh screen on their way to the slime tanks. There the slurry was settled and the liquid decanted for re-use. The sludge was then washed, agitated and settled a couple of times, filtered, pressed and subjected to a fine winnowing on Deister concentrating tables and Frue vanners. The valuable concentrate was then dried and sacked for shipment while the tailings were ejected from the mill and ponded. The excess liquid from the processes was subjected to the patented Merrill zinc dust method and the resultant precipitate was, to quote Rosco Wheeler in Coxs Mines of the Eagle Country, ...treated with sulphuric acid [to remove the zinc], washed, dried, roasted, melted ... with the free gold that was found clinging to the stamps and sent to the refiners in Everett. These processes extracted about 90% of the gold from the ore.
HGM, early in its tenure concluding that Twenty Mile Creek was an unreliable partner, resolved to dam the Similkameen just below Twenty Miles mouth and flume River water two miles downstream to a hydro-generating station. Work started in January of 1914 and, despite a labour force reduced by the demands of the Great War, was completed one year later. While one crew began raising the power house, another laid the pre-fabricated 9x7-foot flume. Meanwhile, workers built a coffer dam half way across the Rivers bed and pumped it dry. Four long piers with a vertical groove on each face toward the upstream edge were poured in concrete. The coffer dam was then moved to the other side of the stream bed and four more piers were poured. A bridge deck was laid across the top of the piers and thick wooden drop-gates were inserted into the grooves and lowered by a winch to block the Rivers flow. More properly a weir, the dam impounded about five feet of water with the excess merely pouring over the gates. When the twin 1,000 hp Frances turbines had been installed in the powerhouse and connected to the Canadian Westinghouse generator, water was diverted into the flume and the $192,000 considered well spent. The River, however, proved as fickle as the creek. Occasionally it froze over completely and starved the flume of water, more often it satisfied itself with sending great chunks of ice crashing down upon the dam, choking it and sending water around the ends, seeking to undermine the abutments and wash out the flume. Despite HGMs investments, Winter continued to rob the company of power, forcing it to suspend operations completely during the frozen months of 1920, and again five years later. Because its operation was barely able to make ends meet, Hedley Gold could not justify tying to West Kootenay Power and Light Company reliable 63 kilovolt Second No.1 powerline that the company had strung up the Similkameen to Copper Mountain and Allenby in 1920. WKP electricity was simply unaffordable even if it meant that HGM must periodically shut down operations.
Cumulative profit from the mine reached $2 million in June of 1919. The rich years were past, however, as poorer ore and taxation yearly diminished the bottom line. In 1922 1621 tons of concentrate were dispatched to Tacoma. HGM mined and milled a substantial 45,000 tons in 1927, but by then it was evident that the easy ore was running out. From 1929 a two-year-long program of diamond drilling failed to reveal more of the Nickel Plates treasure. Out of money and unable to raise more as the Depression tightened its grip on the Worlds economies, HGM and Jones called it quits in 1931, offering to sell the property to anyone with a spare $65,000.
Duncan Woods and the Mascot Fraction
From the front veranda of the Museum, the reason why the Sukwnaqinx people of the Similkameen called Hedleys location sna'za'ist, the place of the striped rock, is startlingly evident. In the afternoon sun the face of Nickel Plate Mountain glows save for the stripes where the light cant penetrate the deep, vertical clefts in the cliffs. Clinging to the crest of the cliffs some 3,000 feet above the town is a tiny collection of buildings, Walt Disneyesque in their fantastic location. These are the remains of the Mascot Fraction.
As previously noted, by 1898 almost every square foot of the top of Nickel Plate Mountain had been staked and that by 1900 the Yale Mining Company nearly owned it all. Nearly, but not quite all.
In The Mascot Mine Story (self-published in Richmond, B.C. in 1997 and available in the Museum), Murray Brown relates that almost 100 separate claims were staked on the Nickel Plate during the years 1898 and 1899. Most people looking at the survey map of the area at that time would have concluded that every inch of ground was spoken for. Not Duncan Woods, a hard-luck prospector with little to show for his years of searching. One thing that the notably eccentric Woods had learned in his school of hard knocks was that prospectors tended not to bother pounding claim-stakes on terrain inclined toward the vertical. Scrutinizing the map of Nickel Plate, Woods identified an unclaimed sliver, and in the summer of 1899, hired a local packer, George Cahill, to go up and take a look. Cahill did and staked a claim for Woods on the very edge of the precipice which plunges some 2900 feet down into the Twenty Miles defile. When everything was legally plotted on the map, Woods was pleased to find that, as long as he paid the taxes on it, he controlled in perpetuity nearly 40 acres on Nickel Plate Mountain. He called his claim the Mascot.
However, isolated among the Daly holdings and having only a cliff face as a working surface, the Mascot appeared to be worth little. Though he tried for several years, Woods was unsuccessful in subscribing development money. Come 1904, though, while investigating the Mountains lode preparatory to expanding its operation, the Daly Reduction Company discovered that the main ore body angled from one of its claims to another right through the heart of the Mascot. In the person of the Nickel Plates superintendent, G.P. Jones, the DRC approached Woods with a proposition to mine the Mascot and make Woods a wealthy man. The wrong man for the job, whatever Jones said angered Woods so deeply that he swore he would eat road apples and old shirts rather than let DRC dig a shovel-full of Mascot ore as long as Jones had anything to do with the operation. Miffed, DRC had the properties resurveyed and, to Woods eternal wrath, the Mascot shrunk to only seventeen acres, a fraction of a regulation-sized claim; twenty and two-thirds acres.
Woods continued to pay annual taxes on the now Mascot Fraction for more than thirty years, and never one ounce of gold did he mine from it. With gold pegged at $20 an ounce, venture capitalists figured that the Mascot was just not worth the expense of development. Nor would Woods let the DRCor, after 1909, HGMdig across his property lines; to his thinking the big company had finagled the theft of more than half his claim. In the 1920s, producing proof that the Mountains main vein ran through the Mascot, HGM prevailed upon a sympathetic provincial mining official to permit it to go ahead and extend a tunnel 200 feet through a 200-foot-wide pie-point of the Mascot to get to an adjacent claim. In lieu of the gold in the ore that HGM mined out of his fraction, Woods was given not one nickel. finally, when HGM ran out of ore and shut down the Nickel Plates operation in 1931, Woods, satisfied that he had outlived his hated neighbour, proved receptive to overtures from a group of energetic businessmen from The Coast. He drove a hard bargain, insisting, reveals Doug Cox in Mines of the Eagle Country, on a pair of key provisions: that the Mascot Fraction would never be sold to some remote mining giant; that a company be provincially incorporated to acquire Woods several holdings on the Mountain and immediately begin developing the Fraction and building a concentrating mill in Hedley. Papers were signed and for $150,000largely in escrowed stock which could only be sold back to the companyand a directors chair at the board table of Hedley Mascot Gold Mines (HMG), Woods surrendered all his claims on Nickel Plate Mountain and retired to a company-supplied suite in the Three Gables Hotel in Penticton.
Mining the Mountain
Nineteen thirty-three was an election year in the United States, and the Democratic candidate, F.D. Roosevelt, bruited his ideas from a platform he called the New Deal. One of the planks in this platform was the elevation of the price that America would pay for gold from $20/ to $35/ounce. Betting that Roosevelt would win, HMG offered three million dollars worth of shares to the market and began developing the Mascot Fraction. Roosevelt did win, and on January 31st, 1934, signed into law the new rate at which the U.S. Department of the Treasury would buy its gold.
Though Hedley Mascot Gold picked up 31 claims in the neighbourhood of the Fraction, it still had little suitable surface on which to build plant. The structures that can be seen from the Museum are dormitories, a cookhouse and machine sheds, all wedged by Frank Jamieson Construction into the only crevices on the property capable of supporting construction. Using the very tunnel that Hedley Gold Mining had punched through the Mascot Fraction, HMG crews began drilling exploratory holes into the hard, curly rock of the Fractions lode. The drill cores were exciting and quickly, in the Twenty Mile Creek valley directly below the claim and just up-stream from Hedley, HMG bought a property upon which it began hurrying its concentration plant to completion, contracting West Kootenay Power to electrify it. Sheltered in the complex was a 190 ton/day crusher and a 150 ton/day floatation mill to separate the valuable ore from the trash. The concentrate would be trucked to the VV&E yards south of Hedley and sent by Great Northern rail to Tacoma for refining. The mill site is some 930 metres below the mine mouth. To connect the two HMG installed a mile-long aerial tramway consisting of two pairs of precisely parallel cables upon which danced a pair of three-ton bottom-dump carsplain rectangular gondolas hanging from two tandem-wheeled axels. Like the Nickel Plates surface tramway, HMGs used the loaded weight of the descending car to power the system, controlling the speed with a huge brake. Whatever needed to get to the Mineshift changes, cookhouse suppliesrode to the top in the ascending empty car. In addition to the tramway, HGM had the Hatfields Interior Contracting Limited assist others in building a road up to the Mine from farther up in the Creeks valley. To move the ore from the Mine to the tramways loading bins HMG laid an 18-inch gauge rail line upon which a pair of 3½-ton Atlas battery powered locies laboured.
The mill became operational on May 5, 1936 and the Mascot Fraction began giving up its gold; in 1941, with the addition of a cyanide plant and a boost in the floatation mills capacity to 200 tons/day, HMG yielded nearly a million dollars in dividends, part of that derived from custom-milling ores from the neighbouring Canty and Good Hope mines.
Meanwhile, the Nickel Plate had changed hands. In 1933, after some exploratory drilling by its associate, the Mercer Exploration Company, the Kelowna Exploration Company Limited, a subsidiary of the J.W. Mercers international South American Development Company, bought the Mine and proceeded to make a quarter million dollars worth of capital investment in the property. The old works were cleaned out and miners prepared to extract the Mines richest remaining ore. Thirty pound rails were laid on the mountainside tramway and stouter draw-cables were installed to handle new 5-ton capacity skips. To insure against interruptions to its processes, KelEx replaced Frasers flume to the mill with a pipeline and tied into West Kootenay Powers Second No.1 line, feeding its excess generation into the WKPs grid until the Winter of 1935 ruined the headworks of the old dam. Having added a community hall to the little town of Nickel Plate, Kelowna commenced mining in 1935.
Co-operation between Kelowna and HMG benefited both companies. Connection of shafts promoted cross-ventilation and better drainage, enabling miners to reach more of the lode. When KelEx finally completed the current road up to Nickel Plate in 1937, it shared its use with HMG whose own road was proving dangerous to drive and expensive to maintain. Extensive branch-tunnelling during W.W.II, however, produced dwindling profits for both companies. Seeing its yield decline from 0.5 to 0.39 ounces of gold per ton of ore, in 1949 HMG called it quits, having mined nearly 1.75 million tons of ore to extract eight tons of gold.
In 1951 Kelowna Exploration reorganized itself as Kelowna Mines Hedley Limited, and continued working the Nickel Plate until September 23rd, 1955. During the first phase of its life, all up, the Mine output 46 tons of gold in a little over 3.25 million tons of ore.
The Hedley Museum owns a fine collection of antique photos and, as time, money and energy permit, are presenting more and more of its artefacts from a century of European occupation. Of particular interest to energetic visitors is a map available at the Museum book and gift shop which will walk them along the streets that R.H. Parkinson laid out for M.K. Rodgers and the Hedley City Townsite Company during the summer and fall of 1900. Until that time, Hedley had been mostly a tent town, but that year the Nickel Plate got its waggon road built and Hedley took on an air of permanence as canvas gave way to wood. Among the first to build was the merchant Walter Tyrrel Shatford and his brother, Lytton Wilmot Shatford. Communications with the world outside were improved in 1902 when W.E. Welby extended his stage service to Hedley from Penticton in the Okanagan. With the stage came regular mail and the Schuberts made room for a Post Office in their general store in June of 1903. That September Miss M.L. Whillams inaugurated school classes in the four-month-old Grace Methodist Church. On December 5th the Electric Age came to Hedley when a little steam-engine powered generator was fired up to illuminate a few light bulbs scattered about the town.
Come 1904 there was at least one lumber mill operating in the area, the Similkameen Sawmill Company managed by Angus Stewart who looked forward to milling his share of the some 4 million lineal feet of logs that fallers had cut out of the woods that winter past. Unsubstantiated remains the rumour that another outfit, run by J.J. Macdonald, was contemporarily whining logs into lumber in the near neighbourhood, as well.
Beginning a twelve-year run of spreading the news and boosting the communitys image, The Hedley Gazette issued its first edition on January 19th, 1905. On the 20th of April the same year, G.H. Winters brought development capital to the settlement when he opened the first bank in the Similkameens valley, a branch of the Bank of British Columbia. Under the baton of H.A. Wright, the Hedley Orchestra began, an in 1906 the Great Northern Hotel joined the New Zealand and four others in accommodating the weary. The Daly Reduction Company built and maintained a little hospital to which the ill of the entire Similkameen valley came. When engineer Arthur King eased the first VV&E passenger train into town in the evening of December 23rd, 1909, Hedley was ready to boom.
Little remains of those times. Fire is always the nemesis of a community built of woodespecially in a climate as dry as Hedleys. In 1911 the New Zealand Hotel went up in flames, and five years later it was the Similkameen Hotels turn. Small fires during the 30s and 40s scorched the settlement, but the retirement of Hedley Mascot Gold, the retraction of the VV&Es steel in 1954 and the failure of the Nickel Plate a year later plunged Hedley into an inferno of self-destruction. On August 12th of 1956 the Commercial Hotel and a couple of its neighbours on Scott Avenue near Irene Street burned. Four months later, on December the 6th, the Hedley Hotel, directly across Daly from the Museum, vanished in smoke and a month later, on January 15th, fire consumed the block of buildings kitty-corner from the Museum. It has not been proved that these fires were anything more than bad luck, but whatever their cause, together they razed much of the towns original business district, sparing only enough of the old edifices so as to hint at the Hedleys former substance.
Today, Hedley is a quiet, pleasant little town with a sprinkling of heritage houses and, on Ellis Avenue, the oldest structure in town, Grace Methodist, which celebrated its first service on May 3rd, 1903. On Scott Avenue several old-tyme buildings survive: the building which hosts The Hitching Post Restaurant is a contemporary of Grace Methodist, nearby the Motherlode Store and the postal bureau shelter in a two-storeyd verandahd structure dating from 1905. The Hedley Volunteer Fire Department shelters in a 1912 building. Secreted in the lanes somewhere is an ancient log-build shack once used by a blacksmith. There was a brewery, but towards the end of the 1920s its assets were acquired by the owner of the Princeton brewery, one J.J. Malone, who forthwith removed Hedleys equipment thither. The odd great boulder lying around the village are souvenirs of the night of January 23rd, 1939, when Stemwinder Mountain suddenly tired of carrying a snow-weighted pinnacle of rock and heaved a couple thousand tons of it down onto Hedley some 2,000 feet below. Two died.
Return to Nickel Plate
For nearly 30 years Nickel Plate Mountain sat silent, the haunt of adventurous amateurs whiling away a few hours. Occasionally some company would option the Nickel Plate from Kelowna Mines Hedley and send up a geologist or two to poke around. According to Doug Coxs timeline in Mines of the Eagle Country, in 1964 Dundee Mines, Limited, chipped a few rocks, followed three years later by Giant Mascot Mines, Limited, looking for copper. In 1971 Giant Mascot and Kelowna Mines Hedley merged themselves into Mascot Nickel Plate Mines, Limited, consolidating the entire Mountain under one owner. Contenting itself with inactivity, Mascot Nickel Plate ignored the Mountain until 1978 when, with the price of gold rising from its mid-1978 low of $100/ounce, it began to re-assess the properties. Golds heady high of US$840 per ounce in February of 1980 saw Mascot Nickel Plate re-organized into the publicly traded Mascot Gold Mines, Limited, and send teams roaring up the Mountain. HGMs 1937 Camp Rest Trail road was reworked to haul in heavy equipment and a battalion of diamond drillers and geologists began probing the properties. They identified an estimated 3.69 million tons of ore which, they calculated, should run to 0.14 ounces of gold each. With The Metal rapidly distancing itself from its $300/oz. lows of 1984, in July of 1986 MGM was finally able to convince the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and its associates that, if costs of production could be kept to the estimated $125 per ounce of gold, the Mountains reserves warranted investing $70,000 in development. Its financing secured and the Environment and Land Use Committee agreeing to issue a permit for a 2700 ton/day permit for an open pit mine, MGM began erecting a 1700 ton per day mill near the old Nickel Plate townsite to grind the ore, concentrate it by floatation, leach it using the Inco Cyanide Destruction Process and pour doré bricks of bullion containing silver, gold and copper. A trio of used P&H 1600 shovels and a P&H 1900 were bought, transported to the Mountain and rebuilt. Meanwhile, a squad of Gardner-Denver down-hole hammer drills bored patterns of holes into the Mountain. Powdermen loaded the holes with explosives and blasted the tough rock into rubble which the shovels would be able to scoop into the fleet of 65 and 90 ton Caterpillar dump trucks which the company was acquiring. On Monday, August 17th of 1987, with gold reaching US$440/oz., MGM president Henry G. Ewamchuk and his staff gathered at the Mine with B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm and a few bureaucrats and politicians to officially kick off the project. The Nickel Plate was noisy again and gradually, what little remained of the community of Nickel Plate with its school, bunkhouses, wood-decked tennis courts, community hall and skating rink, disappeared into the shovels buckets.
In the fist 90 days of 1988 MGMs operation produced over a ton of pure gold. During that period geologists determined that the Nickel Plates reserves actually contained 8.3 million tons of economically mineable ore. To recover it, however, refinements to the plant were necessary. Needed were a large gyratory crusher, a pre-treatment process and new filters to clean the effluent. To finance the 10 million dollar modification and expand its interests beyond the Nickel Plate, MGM amalgamated with several smaller mining companies and re-incorporated itself as the Corona Corporation. The foray into new interests quickly floundered and in 1991 the company was restructured as the International Corona Corp. with its energies dedicated to recovering Nickel Plates gold. One year later, the California-based Homestake Mining Company absorbed International Corona and formed Homestake Canada, Incorporated, to run the Nickel Plate. Production soared to 4000 tons per day. By July of 1996 the Mine was deemed exhausted and mining halted. On October 9th the last of the ore was processed and on the 14th the last gold brick was poured. In the years since, the properties owner has sold off all the machinery and under the scrutiny of the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Resources has been spending a budgeted $20 million to reclaim the old pit by filling it with rubble, contouring the site, sprinkling it with topsoil and planting grasses. It is assumed that trees will eventually invade the property and all traces of Mans industry will disappear.
Not so on the top of Nickel Plate Mountain. With the boom in the off-road 4-wheelin culture in the 1990s, the insurers of the Mascot Fractions buildings began to worry that proceedings arising from some crime or accident would find them liable. Plans were laid to burn the buildings down. Their obvious heritage value, however, won them stay after stay as Bill Barlee, the Minister of Tourism for B.C. at the time, helped organize a coalition to preserve the structures. In 1995 the Upper Similkameen Indian Band re-roofed several key buildings to slow down deterioration. On Barlees recommendation, the province ponyd up $740,000 and bought the site. The Hedley Heritage Museum Society added its voice to the chorus imploring to have MGMs concentration plant preserved as a historical resource, helping the Similkameens stabilize the Mascotss buildings to prevent them from tumbling down into the Twenty Miles canyon. In June of 2003, according to an article posted on July 21st of 2004 by CBC British Columbia, the Similkameens obtained a provincial grant of $300,000 ...to retrofit the abandoned [Mine] and make it a site for adventure tourism [by] developing an interpretive program that not only complements the view but also gives people a feel for what happened here 50 or 60 years ago.1 Plans are advancing to convert one of the old buildings into a hotel affording guests what has to be one of the most spectacular views in North America, the Similkameen and Hedley so far below.
In 1987, as Mascot Gold Mines ripped into the rocks of the Nickel Plate, Candorado Mines, Limited, came to Hedley to strike it rich. It was well known that the old concentration plant was, by modern standards, not very efficient at processing Nickel Plates ore, missing up to 50% of the gold. With the price of The Metal having hit $500 per ounce the previous Christmas, Candorados corporate eye was fixed upon the hundreds of thousands of tons of tailings ejected by the old mill. With permission obtained and financing arranged with German investors, in 1988 the company dug a seven hectare battery of pits into the Similkameens northern bench just east of Hedley and lined them with heavy-duty plastic. Out on the flats of the tailings ponds south of the settlement Candorado erected a dragline which was soon scooping out the sandy tailings, dumping it into a hopper with cement to pelletize the material and sending up to 36,000 tonnes per month of it by high-speed conveyor beneath the Highway to the leachpits into which the articulated arm of the conveyor piled the pellets. A precious metal-dissolving cyanide solution was then sprinkled on the piles and allowed to seep through to be collected from the bottom of the pit. Though 480 kilograms of gold and 11.8 of silver were recovered to the end of 1993, the process was not entirely successful and Candorado operated in fits and starts, 1995 being the high point when 94 kilograms of gold and 10 of silver were leached from 78,000 tons of tailings. After nearly a decade of operation which saw gold trend ever lower on the World markets, Candorado ran out of operating capital and halted production. Somewhere along the way the operation got turned over to Cantrell Capital Corporations Candorado Operating Company, Limited, which has been saddled with cleaning up the sites.
Down the Similkameen
The Highway crosses Twenty Mile Creek on a 1949 bridge, and travellers glancing up to their left get a closer look at the hypocaustal footings which supported the old mill until the B.C. Forest Service, deeming it a fire hazard, ordered the owners to remove it. The structure was burned on January 29th, 1972. Powerful spring floods in 1948 and 1972 wiped away most evidence of Twenty Miles dam and Frasers flume.
Up out of the shallow trench of the Twenty Mile, in a sparse stand of pines on the left is Kelowna Explorations circa 1935 guest house which enterprising individuals have lately converted into the Colonial Inn. Its neighbour is the Gold House B&B.
Out of Hedley and bound for Keremeos some 30 kilometres away, the Highway crosses the fading VV&E right-of-way which has leaped the River on a the ghost of a high trestle bridge just below the mouth of Twenty Mile Creek. Leading southerly from the No. 3, a small road wanders off across the dusty flat to Hedley Pub in a grand house of 1905 vintage overlooking the Similkameen and the remains of Hedley Gold Minings old dam thereon. Across the River the towering peaks of the Okanagan Range conceal the secret of the Gold Mountain mine which excited a few months of intense interest in the 30s after the president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, raised the price of gold by 75%.
Along Highway a few hundred metres east, the withered lawn of Hedleys cemetery covers its populace. Next to it Candorado Operating struggles to erase all sign of its seventeen acre leachpit. Across the Highway, the residents of the Chuchuwayha Reserve have restored the tinned-plate interior of the turn-of-the-century Ste. Annes Church as an archæological project. Nearby, out of sight below the edge of the Valleys bench, is the original Oblate mission church which dates, writes Cheryl Coull in A Travellers Guide to Aboriginal B.C., from the 1880s.
Near Eighteen Mile Creek, Kelowna Explorations dusty 1937 road to Nickel Plate winds away northward from the Highway, crossing the stripped VV&E right-of-way before it begins its hair-raising climb. For its part, the right-of-way is content to cut and fill its grade along the valley side, just above the Highway to the left. About seven kilometres eastward from Hedley, tiring of the effort, it jumps the Highway on the ghost of an overpass to reclaim its riverside alignment, crossing on a phantom bridge to the Rivers far bank. Come the end of 2007, with the price of gold dancing in a 50-dollar range centred on US$800 per ounce, Goldcliff Resource Corporation is analysing the results of a 2006 drilling program up on Panorama Ridge, just east of Nickel Plate.
It is about 30 kilometres from Hedley to Keremeos, and where the No. 3 is not on Reserve lands, it swells to generously-shouldered four-laned width, smooth and clean. What criteria, exactly, the Ministry of Transport and Highways used to decide that any of the Highway in this valley warranted such expansion is probably buried in the annals of back-slapping political camaraderie in Victoria, but for a cyclist these stretches are a relief from the gut-clenching sections that wind absolutely shoulderless around corners screened by poplars and pines and fully occupied when a transport truck and a motor home pass each other. Cyclists beware.
Hotter and bleaker looks the countryside, and here and there along the River, corrals and fields attest to the tenacity of the hardy ranching families who wrest a living from this desiccated defile. On the valley flats, shoulder deep in sage and clumps of stunted willows, tough little Herefords and wiry saddle horses nibble an existence from the coarse pasturage. Where land-owners dont beat it back with farm implements and irrigation, tough desert scrub, roots sunk deep, claws at passers-by. The Sonoran bio-regime has spread its more vicious vegetation into Canada only since cattle were introduced into this region beginning in the 1860s. The nutritious bunchgrass which carpeted the soil and seemed to grow so luxuriantly had only a tenuous hold on the landscape, and a few years of careless over-grazing all but exterminated it. Were it not for constant irrigation, the delicate domestic grasses upon which valley ranchers rely for pasturage these days would be quickly supplanted by sage and prickles.
Ninety-nine days out of a hundred, Cyclists enjoy the breezy favours of Favonius as they cruise eastward down the Similkameen valley. That one day, however, when Æolus, keeper of the winds, drives his charges up-valley to replace the air warmed and rising above the desert in the Thompsons valley, it can be a hard ride down to Keremeos.
A little more than halfway to Keremeos the Highway slips past the Lucky R and Suncatchers restricted mobile home parks, climbs up onto a little patch of bumpy moraine and after a few miles grows a pull-off on its southerly side overlooking the River. The signs tell summer travellers not to waste too much time scanning the crags to the north for Mountain Goats as they come to lower elevations only in the winter. A bit beyond the pull-off, on the south bank of the Highway runs a fine example of an old time wooden flume, now twisted and broken, its duties taken over by a gas engine-driven pump lifting water from the River.
About five Kay from Keremeos, a narrow, ugly stretch of the Highway brushes by Standing Rock, a menhir of cyclopean proportions, revered by generations of local Salish, now an irresistible slate for practitioners of the graffitic arts. Opposite, on the south side of the Highway, noted raconteurs Henri and Barb Allison maintain the Native Art Gallery wherein they sell traditional handicrafts.
Nearing Keremeos, the Highway again swollen to four lanes, a rest stop has been paved upon the Rivers bank to the right. Hidden from the cottonwood-dappled RV-sized parking lot behind a screen of pine and poplar, the three spans of the VV&Es Similkameen River Bridge Six now carries Ashnola Road across the stream to begin its 25-gravelled-mile trek up Ashnola Creek to the twenty-room Cathedral Lakes Resort in the heights above the valley. This old through-truss covered timber span, oxide-red and creaky, is typical of the GNs handiwork in this valley, and is the sole sound survivor, the others now merely fragments lingering at the Rivers indulgence. Not far up Ashnola Road is the new pow-wow arbour of the Okanagan Band, a venue which attracts participants and spectators from far and wide to the annual dance and discussion held on the Victoria Day long weekend in May.