Greenwood BC has an rip-roaring past and is home to a huge number of historically significant buildings. Known as Canada’s “smallest city” it’s a great place for a history buffs to explore and in this trip we take a brief look at the remains of the giant BC Copper Company smelter on the west side of town. The site can be easily seen from the highway and the huge stack and deep slag piles stand out like nothing else.
The pictures seen here date from early 1990 and were scanned from 35mm prints.
The first thing one notices on entering the site is the stack, the massive looming stack. It’s just huge and stands guard over the site and the town further east. It’s connected by a draft tunnel that came in from the furnaces at the smelter buildings below (now gone). On standing next to it only then can one appreciate the sheer size of the structure. I’ve been told that it took some quarter million bricks to construct it. Unbelievable!
At the time of my visit the stack appeared to be in pretty good shape but the draft tunnel had collapsed in places. Recent pictures I have seen show not much has changed since – good I guess. That the stack stands so high and proud after all these years is a testament to the builders. They did a quality job.
Outside of the stack the only structure still standing from the operation was an out building located just to the east. I am not sure its purpose and for some reason I did not photograph it (or maybe I did and lost them). There were however some foundations and such to be seen, nothing terribly interesting though.
Just south of the stack is the slag pile. Of course there is no missing it and it’s huge extending down from and west of the smelter location for quite a distance. A deep black colour, the dump reminds one of a moonscape and even after all these years nothing grows there. It’s that sterile and inhospitable.
You instantly of course notice the bell shaped masses that litter the dump. Known as “Hell’s Bells”, some are partially open and remind me of Darth Vader’s helmet from Star Wars. These are slag that had partially solidified in the rail cars that carried them, prior to being dumped. Small trains of these “slag pots” shuttled back and forth between the smelter and the ever expanding dump. Some of the slag is almost glass-like, shiny and smooth, but most of it is a rough and gritty sand like material. Looking over the edge of the dump it’s easily tens of metres thick at its extreme edge.
It must have been quite a sight seeing see the molten slag being dumped, especially at night. The oozing material would have looked much like a lava flow from a volcano and the sheer size of the dump tells you this was a large and important operation.
The Greenwood smelter was “blown in” in 1901 by the BC Copper Company. Most of the ore processed was initially supplied by the nearby Deadwood mine, located a few kilometres up a valley from the smelter and served by a CPR spur. The plant operated 24hrs a day and was a beehive of activity.
Over time a number of improvements were made to the machinery and processes, making the resultant metal of a higher purity. In addition to copper, the supplied ore also contained gold and silver.
As is with anything associated with mining, there is always boom and bust cycles and the Greenwood smelter was not immune to this. For a time in late 1907 to mid 1908 the smelter was shut down due to low metal prices. These fluctuating prices and the ever rising operating costs would come back to haunt the operation time and time again. In its later years, it could be seen running at full capacity, at reduced capacity or shut down completely for periods, depending on demand and prices. Coal supplies were sometime intermittent too, further hampering things.
By 1910 the ore at the Deadwood mine was beginning to play out, although it would remain in production for a number of year after, just not as the only source of ore for the smelter. Other mines in the Phoenix area just south of Greenwood now supplied ore as well, brought in by train.
The coming of World War One lead to high metal prices and the Greenwood smelter took advantage of this. However by the end of he war prices collapsed and the plant was shut for good. In fact this collapse was so great that most mines in the area completely closed and it would be a long time before any resumed operations – even then never at the levels established when the smelter was open. Many towns associated with the mines died too – Deadwood, Eholt and Phoenix being examples of this.
Technically the smelter stands in a town called Anaconda, just west of Greenwood. There is nothing really to indicate a border and for the sake of simplicity, the two can be considered one.
While the grounds are now a historical site, I am not sure what is going to happen to them. One thing is for certain, it’s a very significant place that harkens back to BC’s mining boom.
The Kettle Valley multi-use rail trail passes beneath the smelter site. This former CPR rail line once extended from Castlegar in the east to Midway and beyond in the west and this branch line was abandoned about the time of my visit. Boundary creek sits between the rail trail and smelter site and the slag sometimes extends right to the bank of the creek.
Greenwood was established in the late 1890s, and owes its existence to the mines that pockmarked the region. With the opening of the smelter, the town boomed and much of what you see in town today dates from this period. Later after the smelter and mines closed, the town quickly shrunk in population and settled into becoming the sleepy little village you see today. In spite of that, the town has retained its city status and today is the smallest so named in Canada. What you see today is quite a contrast from its booming past.
Further west down the valley is the remains of another smelter. This one, at Boundary Falls, was smaller and did not operate for long. The slag dump can be seen from the highway, if you know where to look.
My intentions are to revisit the place, it’s been so long after all, and I am pretty sure I could spend many days exploring the place. Lookout Greenwood!
To see a more recent report we did on the nearby Jewel Lake area, follow this link…
Jewel Lake BC Mine.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date: Spring 1990?
Location: Greenwood BC.