Historic Sandon, Ghost Town, BC, Canada

A ghost town with a story to tell, located in southern BC, Canada.

Janer B and I took a road trip through southern BC, Canada in May 2012. One of the places I always love to visit is Sandon, a historic mining town located in the Selkirk mountains, approximately 10km east of New Denver.

In 1891, vast deposits of galena ore were discovered here by Eli Carpenter and Jack Seaton. Swarms of prospectors from all over north America rushed in to the valley to stake their claims. In short order, Sandon came to be known as the Monte Carlo of the north, capital of the silvery Slocan. Upwards of five thousand people called Sandon home in the late 1800’s. Today, the population numbers but a few hardy souls.

Due to the almost instant prosperity, Sandon quickly became a community with the most modern of conveniences. There were twenty nine hotels, twenty eight saloons, theatres and stores along with the factories and mills to process the ore; there was even a bowling alley and a cigar factory along with a school, hospital, curling rink and a sawmill. A number of churches did their best to police the predominantly male population, as they frolicked amongst certain ladies who were also attracted by ready cash.

Electricity was quickly supplementing candlelight and other forms of power and with their prosperity and abundant water, Sandonites saw no reason why they should miss out on this new “state of the art” power source. Sandon was the first settlement in British Columbia to become entirely electrified. Ample water supplied from high in the mountains was directed through pipework in to Pelton wheel turbines; over the years, eight separate hydro generating stations were built. Originating in 1897 the Silversmith station (in the video) was the finest generating station built in Sandon and continues to to supply A.C. power to the north American grid. The Silversmith Power and Light Corporation, based in New Denver, has an excellent description of the powerhouse and associated equipment here: http://www.sandonbc.com/silversmithtourism.html

The danger of fire was ever present in Sandon as most of the buildings were made of wood and built back to back in the narrow valley. By 1897, countermeasures were in place to deal with fire in the event of an outbreak; a large fire hall was built and a number of fire-fighting sheds, containing hose reels, axes and buckets, etc., were erected at suitable locations in the community. The inevitable happened: on May 30th 1900, Spencer’s opera house presented “The Bitter Atonement”. Just after midnight, fire was spotted in the adjoining lot and quickly spread. Despite the townsfolk’s best efforts and that of the fire department, the downtown core was razed. Ironically, due to wind direction, the “red light” district escaped the blaze. The upper gulch was spared due to the detonation of a wagon load of dynamite, which created a fire break. Despite losses, which were estimated at $750,000, rebuilding proceeded apace. Destroyed buildings were rebuilt, although perhaps not to the original lavish standard, particularly in the case of the “new” Reco Hotel. The boom years were over however, as miners were enticed away to the Klondike and metal prices slumped; recent labour strife didn’t help and the town never regained it’s original size or vigour.

Ironically, despite the many benefits of numerous gushing mountain streams, including the new fangled hydroelectric power, it was water in combination with the giant tortuous flume, that finally undid the town. Since Sandon’s inception, Carpenter and Sandon creeks flowed through and around the town and following incorporation in 1898, the council opted to contain their path on a route directly through town. Rectangular in cross section, the flume was basically a giant wooden pipe designed to tame the two creeks. Once built, the former stream beds were filled in and levelled adding inventory to a booming real estate market. After the 1900 fire the planked over flume was designated Main street and with it’s restrictive size and plank road above, as well as a couple of twists and turns, became another accident waiting to happen. Annual spring thaw must have been an anxious time, especially if the run off was compounded with heavy rain. In 1933 a landslide upstream Sandon creek added considerably to the seasonal debris and quickly plugged the flume. Water was everywhere and when it finally subsided, left the settlement with washed out gullies and rocky debris all around. In 1955 the ageing flume plugged one more time and another major washout caused the thirty or so remaining residents to give up hope of rebuilding.

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Music clip is: Forgotten Times. Purchased from jewelbeat.com, credited and used under licence. Proof of ownership and licence agreement can be provided, if necessary.

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