Located in a gorgeous setting on the shores of Moyie Lake, the town of Moyie BC was once famous for the huge St. Eugene Mine, the remains of which can still be seen today. Gone is the hustle and bustle of days past and all that’s left is a sleepy little village. Only the mining scars, easily seen from the highway, and some old buildings remain, to remind one of the town’s glorious past.
The town owes its existence to the mine. Period. It was once one of the most important producers in the entire province.
In the 1890s a valuable deposit of Lead and Silver ore was discovered on the slopes above the south end of the lake. Soon a mine and not long after a town was established at this location. The ore was discovered by a native fellow, who was encouraged to search for this type of material by a local Catholic Priest (from the St. Eugene Mission – hence the mine’s name). The claims here were staked by and were owned by the church for a short time before the property was sold to a mining syndicate under the name St. Eugene Consolidated Mining Company Limited. Later the giant Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company (Cominco – now called Teck) bought the property.
Once the mine was established a town needed to be laid out. Located on a narrow bench above the lake, just north of the mine, houses and business were built. At the time the town could boast all the amenities needed – a hotel, churches, numerous stores and the like. At the peak, there were over a thousand residents, with hundreds of them being employed at the mine.
The CPR Crowsnest Line came through Moyie in the late 1890s, which allowed the mine easy access to markets. Most of the ore travelled west to the giant smelter in Trail BC.
As the mine declined so did the town and by the time it closed in the late 1920s Moyie was a sleepy little place. There was talk of reopening to the mine at various times, but that never happened. Most of the ore was played out I am told.
Today, the village is home to perhaps several dozen souls. The highway passes right through town, although few people stop. The railway is also a busy place.
Parking near the store, one of the town’s few businesses (another is a pub) we set out on foot. The first thing we notice is a phone booth, partially smashed, perhaps hit by a car. These once common sights are becoming rare. Even rarer now as this one is unlikely to be replaced.
Making our way north, we arrive at St. Peter’s Catholic Church. Built in 1904, it was renovated in the 1990s and today the occasional services are held here. It’s a beautiful building, simple and elegant, in a gorgeous setting of trees. We have a fun time shooting this wonderful structure.
We next checked out the closed Moyie Museum, housed in a cute little building. Behind, a sign marks the Dewdney Trail, a long distance route built in the 1860s, travelling from the west coast to the nearby Wildhorse goldfields. Sections of it can still be found all over southern BC.
Just down from the church we find a boarded up building. It’s clearly maintained and has a sign saying “Glencairn”. This may be in reference to Glencairn Campbell who helped establish the town in the 1890s. Just a guess.
Heading down to the lake, we pass Moyie’s most photographed building, the quaint little fire hall built in 1907. Situated right on the highway, it’s hard if not downright dangerous, to get a good shot of it if traffic is busy. In the 1980s I lived in Cranbrook and at that time, the building was abandoned, with equipment still inside. At some point after that, it was restored to the condition we see today.
Making our way to the lake, we cross over the CPR line (watch for trains). The water was so still this day, acting like a mirror. Heading back, we cross paths with a cat, who sits still long enough for us to snap a good photo of him.
On to the mine site, we walk along a tailings dump just above the highway and train tracks, past a number of foundations, before making our way up to a higher level via an old road. This was only a quick visit and we hope to explore the entire site in the future, which means a bit of a climb (no problem). There are many levels to this mine extending far above us.
Established in the late 1890s the mine operated on an off over the next thirty years. The highest production was in the early days, 1900-1911 and again 1926-1929. In between it was worked sporadically with only small amount of material extracted. During it’s entire life the output was around 1.5 million tons! It was a large operation and at times was the biggest of it’s type in all BC or even Canada.
In addition to Silver and Lead, the ore also contained considerable Zinc. In early years it was uneconomical to process that component and that material was simply tossed aside, some of it into the lake! You can see the tailings extending down into the deep waters. In the 1920s a new process allowed the Zinc to be economically extracted and so some of the dumped material was reclaimed. At that time the mine itself was also reactivated temporarily, but most output was from the processing of that former waste material.
In the last few years it was worked, the mine also produced a small amount of gold.
Like most mines, this one operated on several levels and every 50-100 vertical metres up the slope a new entry would be driven. This allowed the company to economically exploit as much of the ore body as possible. These adits (mine openings) as I understand have all been blasted shut. Each opening would have it’s own mine dump, and these cascade down the slope, looking much like a rock waterfall. The workings are so extensive that they extend almost to the top of the ridge above, all the way down and into the lake. Paying ore would have been brought down by a tramway system to the processing plant below.
It’s our intention to explore the upper workings and we hope to return next year to tackle that. Old mine roads make their way up the hills beside the dumps.
At the site we also found a sealed shaft (vertical entry). It was capped with concrete and some faint lettering scratched onto it reads: “840 deep – Foster and Fisher – St. Eugene Mine shaft”. It’s assumed that means it was 840 feet deep – if so wowzers, that’s a long way down! I heard they did actually mine under the lake and perhaps this was the entry for that section of the mine.
In support of the operation there would be a number of buildings here, like a concentrator, a power house and the like. We find a number of foundations to the south of the mine dump, but it’s hard to tell the exact purpose of each and when they exactly date from. One has a “My little Pony” symbol painted in it. Odd! At one time, a siding came in from the nearby by CPR line. The current highway sits almost in front of the buildings and some can even been seen by those driving by.
While exploring near the buildings, we find a number of old railway ties. These would have been for the captive mine train that would transport the ore to the processing plants or waste material to the dumps.
Almost directly across the lake form the St. Eugene mine is the Aurora workings. This mine, a much smaller, shorter lived operation, worked what must have been a continuation of the same ore body or vein system as St. Eugene Mine. We visited that operation and will do a report on it soon.
Not visited on this trip was the Moyie cemetery – we have plans view it at a later date however.
To see the Aurora Mine across the lake, follow this link…
Aurora Mine Moyie BC.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: October, 2013.
Location: Moyie BC.