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Kamloops History: A claim to a rich mining legacy

The claims in the area passed through many hands over the years. The names were numerous and imaginative, reflecting the optimistic nature of the mining business and need to attract new speculators.

Lode mining, also known as hard rock mining, has been an important part of Kamloops’ economy since it overtook ranching as the main industry in the 1890s.

The Kamloops Mining Camp, also called the Coal Hill Mining Camp — including Coal Hill, Iron Mask Hill, Dufferin Hill and Sugar Loaf Hill — involved digging underground and making a large capital investment.

Coal was found in 1888 on the hill that bears its name three miles (five kilometres) south of Kamloops but by 1896 was mined not just for coal but lucrative deposits of copper, gold, and silver.

The term “mining camp” refers to a number of claims centred on a mineral belt.

In the Kamloops area, the Iron Mask batholith or pluton, a volcanic belt south and west of Kamloops, was the focus for early exploration. One of the original producers resulting from this exploration was the Iron Mask mine located on the northern edge of the batholith.

The claims in the area passed through many hands over the years. The names were numerous and imaginative, reflecting the optimistic nature of the mining business and need to attract new speculators.

Over 200 claims, most never developed, went by such names as the Evening Star, Prospect, Golden Tip, Tom Thumb, Smuggler Boy, Lucky Strike, Shamrock, Eureka, and Cleopatra.

The Python and Noonday claims were the first staked on Coal Hill southwest of Kamloops in August 1896 by Robert Buchanan of Kamloops, and work was begun sinking a 12-foot shaft.

Assays made of the copper ore showed a value of $79 per ton. Gold and silver were also found.

The shaft was extended to 55 feet with drifts constructed at 15 and 35 feet. The Pothook claim later became the site of Afton Mine.

Ownership of the property in 1897 passed to Wentworth F. Wood and associates who formed the Python Mining Company Limited, incorporated in 1899.

A group of claims on Sugar Loaf Hill revealed high-grade copper-gold ore. Dufferin Hill was the site of the Kamloops Bonanza mine, also exhibiting rich ore. The Iron Mask Mine, about four miles (over six kilometres) from Kamloops along the old road to Jacko Lake, like the Python, was also staked in 1896.

The first batch of ore was sent to a smelter in Swansea, Wales — 20 tons for a profit of $200 — although there was talk of building a smelter in Kamloops. Only 100 tons had been extracted by the time the mine closed in 1900. It reopened in 1902 employing between 15 and 35 men and, by 1903, 100 tons a day were being produced.

The shafts were timbered and the hoisting of the ore was done by a 12 horse-power gasoline engine.

History mining map
Part of map of the Coal Hill Mining Camp, drawn by R.H. Lee, a well-known Kamloops surveyor.

The mine comprised two shafts — the Iron Mask shaft inclined at 68 degrees was sunk to 780 feet and the Erin shaft inclined at 70 degrees to 330 feet.

By 1909 Iron Mask Mine was a large operation with 16 claims and a new owner, incorporated as the Kamloops Copper Company by a group from Duluth, Minn. The mine was reopened in 1910 and, after suffering a fire in 1914, a 150-ton per day mill was built in 1917, expanding to 300 tons per day in 1918.

At its peak, the Iron Mask employed 75 men. There was a large hotel, several family homes and even a school. But the operation gradually became unprofitable and the mine closed in 1920.

By that time, shipments of copper concentrate were transported to the smelter in Trail.

Two years later, the Iron Mask reopened, but it closed again in 1924.

During its intermittent operation from the years 1904 to 1928, the Iron Mask and adjacent Erin ore bodies produced 165,557 metric tonnes of copper, gold and silver ore.

Ken Favrholdt is a freelance writer, historical geographer, and former curator/archivist of the Kamloops Museum and Archives.