Today we get to visit an especially interesting place, the remains of the extensive St Eugene Mine in the East Kootenays of British Columbia. We’ve received special permission to explore all the upper workings, level after level each higher than the last, ascending up and up and up for hundreds and hundreds of metres. It was one BIG operation!
We’ll have to do it all on foot, but like that’s a deal breaker for us? Come on, we climb mountains all the time. It’s a dangerous place too, but we’re no stranger to that. We understand what were up against. Our job means we’re often in places like this. Where’s that release to sign? We wanna explore!
As we climb we’ll be rewarded with some amazing views, that of the picturesque town of Moyie BC below and its quaint little church, Moyie Lake a lovely blue, and forested ridges all around, with the Larch trees resplendent in the wonderful colours of fall. Add to that a nice blue sky, all that bright yellow and orange waste rock and it was all simply spectacular! Mine exploration, a good hike and stunning scenery…does it get any better? By the way, we did not add saturation to our photos, in fact we toned most of them down in post. The light and colours were that spectacular this day.
Reminder, we were here with permission. These workings are not publicly accessible.
The St Eugene dates back to 1893. A local Ktunaxa (Kootenai) tribe member made the discovery and brought it to the attention of a Catholic Priest based out of a nearby Mission (The St Eugene Mission, and now you know how the mine got its name). This was no accident and that priest had actually encouraged natives to keep an eye open for unique or special rocks, knowing very well the mineral potential of the area. Finds would be used to fiance mission activities.
A group consisting of the the native fellow, the priest, on behalf of the mission, and a mine engineer together had the discovery registered and its potential surveyed. The following year the priest sold his share to a third fellow (nothing is mentioned what the other two partners did) and some limited mining took place. In 1899 a syndicate, the St Eugene Mining Company Limited, took over the property and soon expanded the amount of work being done.
Meanwhile, ground around the St Eugene was snapped up by competing groups and firms, All these properties were soon amalgamated into the St Eugene operation, and with that a name change took place. They were now the St Eugene Consolidated Mining Company Limited. The firm built a mill on site in 1900, to process and concentrate the ore.
In the late 1890s the CPR’s Crowsnest/Kettle Valley railway line was built, conveniently passing right below the mine. A siding was put in allowing concentrates to be shipped out to the huge smelter in Trail BC for final processing into metal.
In 1905 the St Eugene Mine, another in nearby Kimberley (the mighty Sullivan), and the smelter mentioned in the previous paragraph, and some other properties and operations, were all joined together to form the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company (later Cominco, now Teck-Cominco).
In the period 1905-1908 competing firms explored ground extending under Moyie Lake and did some limited work. These claims were soon added to the St Eugene inventory.
The output of the mine dropped considerably after 1911. From that point forward until 1924 when all underground mining ended completely, work was intermittent, small scale and mostly exploratory in nature. Most of the stuff we see today is likely from that earlier busy period.
The St Eugene ore body consisted primarily of Lead, Silver, Zinc, with some limited Gold, derived from Galena, Sphalerite and Pyrite sulphide minerals jumbled together in a polymetric (mixed metal) formation. There was also some limited Copper ore, contained within the suphide Chalcopyrite, and some other minor minerals, but none is present in economical quantities. Ore was contained within an extensive and dense network of intrusive veins, or sometimes in larger concentrated masses and was typically associated with quartz.
Initially only Lead and Silver ores were processed. Material with a high level of Zinc was unceremoniously dumped into Moyie Lake. Environmental rules sure were lax back then! In the late 1920s much of that ore was dredged up, milled, concentrated and sent off to Trail. That was the last real work to take place at the St Eugene. Since then the ground has been reevaluated and tested many, many times, by a good number of firms in association with lease holder Cominco or that company itself, but either the ore body is too far depleted or metal values too low for mining to return. They keep coming back to it though.
In total over a million and half tonnes of materiel were mined here, of which was derived 182 000 000 (yes million) grams of Silver, 78 000 grams of Gold, 113 000 000 kilograms of Lead, and over 14 000 000 kilograms of Zinc. That’s a lot of metal. At today’s prices, that output would be valued at close to half a billion dollars! Not bad.
Mining here, as was the norm with any large scale operations like this, took place on many levels. This allowed them to work multiple faces, increasing output and productivity. There were at well over a dozen levels above the lake, explored either by adits or a few large scale open trenches, extending a good distance up the ridge. These, plus the former surface plant, is what we’ll be exploring. There were also some workings under the lake accessed via a now sealed shaft, but these won’t really be touched on here. In the upper working there was, by estimate, around one to to two hundred kilometres worth of tunneling done and under the lake, another some thirty clicks more. The ground here is Swiss Cheese!
All mine entries, by the way, have been backfilled with only the huge tailings piles (a good number of them where waste rock was discarded) and some other bits and pieces left behind to remind one of their exact location. So much material was moved that dumped material from one level often spilled over and encroached on the entry below it. Some levels are perhaps twenty metres in elevation above each other, but in places there is a some larger gaps where I guess there was no ore, or so little that it was not worth taking. Looking up, the yellow tailings in places look like a cascading rock waterfall.
The waste rock is sterile and devoid of vegetation. Even after all these years, little grows here. It’s completely lifeless moonscape. In spite of that, it’s strangely photogenic. In addition to the tailings, by far the most obvious remains, other things can be found if you look hard. There is log cribbing, mine rails, structure ruins, bits of machinery, expertly made rock walls, pipes sticking out from the ground, loading docks, cabin or shed remnants, broken bottles, discarded boots, and other junk. Nothing really big, but all very interesting.
We first explored the main level, which we’ve been to before. This was where the mill and concentrator were located and those remains cover a huge area. Also seen is the sealed lower workings. Below that cap is a shaft extending down some 250 metres. Yikes, that’s one heck of a drop! We stood on the cap but then I got creeped out known what’s below. All those under-the-lake workings would likely be flooded now. Pumps where needed when the mine operated. Until the 1960s, the head frame (essentially a big elevator) stood over the opening.
The waste dump continue down to the lake and even into it. The highway and train tracks run below on a narrow shelf between the mine site and the dark waters (Moyie is a deep lake). The mill remains continue on for a good kilometre or so paralleling the lakeshore/highway/train tracks. All that’s left is their cement foundations. We visit them briefly, but that’s not the main scope of this article since we’ve documented them before for BIGDoer.com. We came to get to get high!
A crazy maze of interconnecting, zig-zagging mine roads and pathways tie all the upper workings together. For our assent we often bypassed them, tackling wooded slopes to the side of the tailings dump direct on, which helped shave off some the distance covered. Some of the roads were overgrown. There is so many of them, it’d be easy to get turned around here.
Sometimes we’d find strange little sheds in the oddest of places. A couple buildings remains were found higher up and based on the junk seen lying about, they were living quarters. Worker’s bunks perhaps? Remains of what looks to be a tramway or chute type system could be found now and then – that would be how they got the ore down to the surface plant I guess. Some tailings dumps, where the ground was especially steep, were shored up with cribbing.
As height is gained the grade lessens somewhat. The upper most workings are the most widely separated. Some of the highest levels were trenched (a small scale pit mine if you will). By this point we are very close to topping out on the ridge – we thought of doing this for the fun but since it’d be in the trees, soon gave up that notion. Better views here. Lots of exploratory roads lead off into the forest in various directions here, but all soon dead-ended without warning.
We picked a particularly nice location for lunch. We enjoyed the views and soaked up the history and toasted the miner’s of old. From our lofty position we could see the remains of the smaller Aurora Mine across the lake, which clearly exploited the same ore body as the St Eugene. Our decent was mostly via the main switchback mine road. It’s always in the woods and was sort of a dull and rather anticlimactic compared what we saw on the trip up. But it was easy on the knees, which were still burning from the accent.
On this adventure, we gained about five hundred metres of elevation, visited every upper level, and explored some eighteen kilometres of mine roads. And by no means did we see them all. Again, this was a big operation.
The town of Moyie dates back to the 1890s. As came the mine so did the town and it’s located on a small shelf of land beside the mine diggings (space it tight here). It’s a picturesque place, otherwise sleepy and quiet if it were not bisected by a busy highway and railway line. The later came through in the late 1890s, so around the time the mine opened, and runs from Alberta, with a line spitting away to the US border just west of Moyie and another heading up to the Trail smelter. It sees a good number of trains per day. We photographed a few and heard a couple more when we were higher up but could not see them.
St Eugene was a Roman Priest dating back to the early days of Christianity and was known for his charitable work.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: October, 2015.
Article references: BC Ministry of Energy and Mines records, Cominco and Teck-Cominco archives.
The mine site is private property.