For anyone who is interested in exploring old mines, the Greenwood area is a must-see. Although most of the mines were shut down by the mid-1900's, there are a great many old buildings and shafts that await the intrepid off-road explorer.
This particular trip was inspired by some of the trip write-ups that Greg Sue had posted on his website. Greg and I had exchanged some information about mine shafts in the Hedley area and I wanted to have a look at a shaft he found earlier this year. After that, I thought I could head east to poke around the Greenwood area. Another fantastic source of information was the Ministry of Energy and Mines website (www.em.gov.bc.ca). I found this great map at their section on the Greenwood area. For company, I invited along the usual suspects as well as some people on the BC4x4 message board.
We chose a long weekend for this trip due to the distance involved (Greenwood is approximately 5 hours' driving time from Vancouver). We left Friday evening and after a leisurely meal and last minute shopping in Hope, we found ourselves switchbacking up Nickelplate Mtn close to midnight. We were heading to our "secret" campsite (we assumed all the campsites right off of Hwy 3 would be full due to long weekend traffic) where we would meet up with the Lippmanns. We were surprised to see that Hamish (aka Tuner Inside from our message board) was also waiting for us. He had driven down from Penticton to travel with us for a couple of days.
The next morning, Ryan (aka Parnelli_01 from the message board) arrived. The sky was a beautiful pale blue and the temperature was already climbing. This would be a very warm day. After breakfast, the Lippmanns packed up and headed straight to Osoyoos where they would meet up with Chris Lippmann and then meet us in Greenwood. In the meantime, we headed down to Hedley to try to find Greg's mine shaft.
I wasn't exactly sure where the shaft was. All I remembered was that it was accessible from very close to the town so I assumed it was somewhere among the ruins of the mill at the bottom of the mountain. We drove a short way along a very dusty road and parked on a short shelf just below the ruins. As we were getting our backpacks etc out of our vehicles, we heard some shouting. Looking up, we saw a guy telling us that we were kicking up dust which was getting their hanging laundry dirty. He also informed us that this was First Nations' land and that we were trespassing. I couldn't hear him particularly well so I walked up to speak with him. I explained to him our plans and that we had explored other mines in the Hedley area. Once he understood that we were not some yahoos out to cause trouble, his demeanor changed and became remarkably helpful. He introduced himself as Simon, the proprietor of The Gold House B&B which was adjacent to the mill. He suggested that we park our vehicles in his B&B's drive-way so as to avoid any problems with the local First Nations band. While we were talking, we were interrupted by the sound of falling lumber and rocks. Looking up, we saw three teen-aged kids in the process of de-constructing parts of the mill's water reservoir. While Simon went to chase them off the property, we got into our trucks and drove to The Gold House's parking lot. While some of us explored around the base of the site, the rest of us made the arduous journey up the hillside and eventually found ourselves at the top. No shafts were discovered although we did see a cool trail that headed back down into Hedley. It featured ample opportunities to plunge over a cliff. By the time we returned to the B&B, I was dripping with sweat. Simon had shown some of the others around his B&B which used to be the Gold Assay Office (built in 1904). After a brief rest, we piled into our trucks and headed off to Osoyoos.
The next stop was Greenwood. This former mining boom town has the distinction of being Canada's smallest city. Since its mining economy collapsed after World War I, it lost most of its population and only saw a small boost in the 1940's when a thousand Japanese were interned there. Like many Kootenay communities, the economic collapse had an unexpected benefit: many of the old buildings were left intact because there was no incentive or money to update the towns. The result is the preservation of many beautiful historic buildings and Greenwood certainly has its share. If you ever find yourself driving through Greenwood, be sure to stop for a stroll along the main street. It's a leisurely walk that will transport you back in time to the early 1900's.
The Lippmanns were parked on the main street, waiting for us. They were easy to spot: a bright yellow, lifted Early Bronco; a bright yellow, lifted CJ7, and one very black Hummer with a fully-loaded roof rack. We convoyed out of Greenwood on the Phoenix Road which would take us through the Phoenix Interpretive Forest. The CB conversation was unusually intelligent, as some of us provided commentary such as, "These mine tailings are located on what was once the Tremlay family homestead. The homestead was a favourite coffee stop for the crews travelling on the railway which ran along the south side of the farm." The reason for the sudden jump in our collective IQ was the presence of a series of road signs that proclaimed stops of interest and their historical information. But it was much more fun to pretend that we were coming up with that information from the dark recesses of our minds.
When we reached the Phoenix mine site, we turned left at the Cenotaph. This road would take us to Marshall Lake which was where we would camp. Marshall Lake used to be a small swamp but was built into a lake to serve as a water source during the Phoenix mining operation. According to one of the information signs, it now supports small populations of rainbow trout and sunfish.
We found a large field away from the lake where we could park and set up camp. During set up, I went to speak with some nearby campers and was relieved to hear that mosquitoes were not a problem in this area. And they were right, not a skeeter was to be found the entire time we stayed there.
The next morning we went off to find the "Lost City of Paris" while some of the women went to explore the local stores and restaurants around Greenwood. Hamish had to return to Penticton to we bid him farewell. To find the mines, we relied on GPS coordinates and maps that I downloaded from various websites. And that's how we knew to head south from Greenwood, toward the Canada-U.S.A. border. Not long after leaving Greenwood, we turned left off Highway 3 and began climbing a dirt road. We chose to find the City of Paris mine because it had an intriguing name and we heard that it was somewhat challenging to locate. We didn't have an accurate GPS coordinate for it but knew its general area (10 km southeast of Greenwood and 1.1 km north of the Canada-U.S.A. Border).
The first mine we came to was what we thought was the No. 7 mine. This was on the left side of the road, slightly below us. It was just a single shaft with some outside hoppers for loading a narrow gauge ore train. We went for a walk inside the shaft but it was a single tunnel which soon ended. About 5 minutes' driving past that mine, we encountered what we realized was the main part of the No. 7 mine. The mine before that must have been just a small part of it. This mine was 3.3 km east of the confluence of McCarren and Gidon creeks and 7.5 km southeast of Greenwood. Although a forest of trees had grown around and through it, there were still quite a few log structures left to explore. We only found a couple of shafts to explore but both had entrances at the bottom of gaping maws which were much to dangerous to descend into without a safety harness. The City of Paris mine worked the same fault as the No. 7 and based on the websites we read, lay 2.5 km to the southeast.
We continued on and when we reached a T-junction, we didn't know which way to proceed. On a hunch, we ended up following a road that took us to a summit. There wasn't much of a view because of the trees and there were clearly no mine remnants to be found, so we turned around to try another route. Eventually, we found a road that took us toward the general area of the City of Paris. But before we found it, we found a newer mine (or more likely, a newer operation on an old claim). This was a shaft that was part of the Lexington Mine. According to Greg, this was probably the Grenoble Adit. Since it was currently in operation (and was clearly marked as such), we didn't poke around. But on the other side of the road and above the Grenoble Adit we found what we were looking for: the City of Paris Mine. At first, all we found was a landing, a core sample shack, and behind it, a shaft into the mountainside. But when we continued walking off the end of the landing and down into the bush, we found an old church or school and another building.
After donning our backpacks, flashlights and helmets (always a good idea when exploring mines), we set off into the cold darkness. This was a great improvement over the No. 7. There were a few off-shoots from the main tunnel which made for some enjoyable exploration, although we found nothing really exciting. Two things did stand out, though: 1) The cart rails were made of wood. 2) There was lots of white mould growing on the rock and timbers. I'll let you guess which one made me worry about possible respiratory illness. The mine was cold enough that I was glad I brought my warm winter sweater. But as soon as we exited back into the glaring afternoon sun, I immediately stripped it off. The rest of the time was spent having lunch, exploring the other buildings, and then taking a walk up the mountain where we found scores of core samples. Bill explained to us that the samples were taken by drilling straight down to locate the veins so it was logical that all these cores would be found above the mine. The walls of the school or church (we couldn't decide what it was) were plastered with old newspapers that made for interesting reading. Stories typical for the times included one about a miner who was charged with murdering his partner.
By now, it was getting late so we gave up looking for any more mines. We headed back to Greenwood to pickup some cold beverages and then made a brief stop to explore the old smelter and slag heaps beside the town, er, "city." After that, it was back to camp for another mosquito-free evening.
After Greenwood, it was time to head home. Due to its distance from the coast, the next time I go there, I'll be sure to budget a few more days. The area is alive with history and will keep backwoods explorers busy for a very long time.
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