Second of two parts
Last week we started looking into the history of the Payne mine, whose discovery in 1891 sparked the launch of the Silvery Slocan rush and the birth of Slocan, Silverton, and New Denver, plus myriad ghost towns, chief among them Sandon.
Chris McNamara of Retallack Lodge notes the 125th anniversary of that momentous event is coming up next year and is looking for ways to commemorate it.
He was always curious about the first claim, staked on Sept. 9, 1891 by Eli Carpenter and Jack Seaton, but had trouble finding it, because it’s not at the summit of Payne Mountain, but on the mountain’s shoulder, toward Three Forks. In addition to the Payne, three other adjacent claims made up the original group: the Mountain Chief, Maid of Erin, and Two Jacks (in later years, the St. Keverne group was added).
After a “fair amount of detective work” over a couple of months that included visits to the Kootenay Lake Archives in Kaslo, Chamber of Mines in Nelson, Touchstones Nelson, and Sandon Museum, McNamara compiled a thick dossier on the Payne. He found the original survey notes from August-September 1892, and traced the mine’s convoluted chain of custody.
While there is a lot of contradictory information, going back to the primary sources — the original claim records, crown grants, and early newspaper accounts — gave him a better idea of what actually transpired.
“The Seaton-Carpenter discovery (and subsequent Slocan silver rush) was not only a significant event for the Kootenays but more broadly it was instrumental to the settlement and development of British Columbia and Western Canada,” he says. “I’ve always wondered why there are hardly any national and provincial historic sites associated with this important era.” (The building that houses the Sandon museum a designated provincial heritage site, but that’s about it.)
McNamara adds: “We must also not forget that Seaton and Carpenter were pursuing tales of rich deposits of galena (silver-lead) ore, which Carpenter had heard was used by First Nations guides and hunters in the area for thousands of years beforehand.”
In his book Window in the Rock, the late Gene Petersen wrote of visiting an old-time packer at Fort Steele in 1946, who claimed to have befriended Carpenter in the late 1880s. The packer (who went unnamed) was married to a Ktunaxa woman; her brother belonged to a party that explored the Slocan and discovered the Payne’s outcroppings. Petersen indicated Carpenter learned of if this way. (Most other accounts, however, suggest Carpenter and Seaton were prospecting on the heels of Andy Jardine, John Allen, and Jack McDonald, who staked the Beaver claim in the summer of 1891.)
McNamara says the Silvery Slocan’s story has many themes that still apply today: “Not just of rugged people carving out an existence in a harsh land but also of the co-existence and transition from resource extraction to sustainable tourism.”
Retallack Lodge itself is on the site of the old Whitewater townsite, one of many towns that flourished and died with the Slocan’s mining fortunes. McNamara says the backcountry skiing and mountain biking destination may be more sensitive to history than most since they witness everyday “the progression from mining ore to mining powder and now to mining dirt.”
“Without our mining forefathers we simply would not exist and we are constantly reminded of days gone by,” he says. “However, there are now few old timers left from this era and nature is rapidly reclaiming the surrounding old historic sites.”
In 1991, the 100th anniversary of the start of the mining rush — dubbed Discovery Day — was marked in a few ways: first, a commemorative roadside sign on the Slocan mines erected in the 1960s that disappeared was located and re-erected at Sandon. Frank Mills, an old miner from Silverton, was asked to do the unveiling.
Then nearly 100 people piled into a convoy of four-wheel-drive vehicles and proceeded to the site of the Payne, where a champagne toast was given in honour of Carpenter and Seaton. Afterward, they returned to Sandon where Mills and fellow old-timer Ted Kleim cut a cake.
McNamara says for the 125th anniversary on Sept. 9, 2016 he’d like to see at minimum another ceremony at the site, with the unveiling of a plaque that’s “christened with some good whiskey.”
“My hope, however, is that by bringing attention to this upcoming anniversary it will spur a year-long celebration and broader conversation about the rich history of the special part of the world that we now call home. Nobody can take our rich history from us, however we can let it slip away. We owe it to ourselves to not let this happen.”