May 2006

Teck Cominco's Trail Operations

Steeped in triumphant history

By H. Ednie

 Hand sorting ore at Sullivan Mine

Teck Cominco is celebrating the centennial of its Cominco operations, and in particular, the Trail metallurgical complex in British Columbia. With a long and rich history of operation in the area, the Trail Operations are an integral part of the regional economy and community.

The formation of the Trail operations date back to the discovery of copper-gold ore at Red Mountain in 1890. A number of claims were staked, and the mining camp of Rossland was founded. Over the next few years, ore was shipped from the developing camp via Trail Creek Landing on the Columbia River to U.S.-based smelters.

In 1895, recognizing the potential in the area, F. Augustus Heinze began to build a small copper-gold smelter at Trail Creek Landing, and the first smelter furnace was fired early the next year. Heinze then built railways from Trail to Rossland and further to Robson. The Canadian Pacific Railway, interested in the railways, purchased Heinze’s smelter and railway holdings in 1898, and formed a subsidiary, Canadian Smelting Works.

By 1901, the small city of Trail was incorporated. Five years later, the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada Limited was formed through the amalgamation of the St. Eugene, Centre Star, and War Eagle mines, the Rossland Power Company, and the Canadian Smelting Works, and CPR held the controlling interest.

The Sullivan Mine at Kimberley entered the picture in 1909 and by 1913 was completely owned. Regular shipments of Sullivan lead ore began making the journey to Trail in 1910. By 1919, the company was successful in the development of the differential flotation process, making possible the separation of the lead, zinc, and iron minerals as highgrade concentrates. This was a significant development in the history of both the company and the mining industry in general.

The roaring 20s and subsequent 30s were a period of rapid growth in metal production, including large increases in lead and zinc plants and the first Trail production of by-product cadmium and bismuth. The communities of Trail and Kimberley expanded at an equal pace to the industrial growth.

Alleged damage to farms in Washington State by Trail smelter fumes was referred to an international tribunal in 1927. The company responded quickly, imposing its own regime of maximum gas content for air in the area, which was well below that of the tribunal. As well, they began to make sulphuric acid from the low concentration of sulphur dioxide gas in the smelter smoke.

Throughout the decades, the company brought a number of mines into production and developed many new product lines, including fertilizers. Between 1939 and 1945, the metal and fertilizer production expanded to meet the needs of the Allied Nations. New mines produced mercury, tungsten, and tin. Ordnance ammonium nitrate plants were constructed at Trail and Calgary for the government, and later converted for fertilizer production. About 2,500 employees joined the Armed Forces, of which 104 died in active service. Back in Trail, many women were employed in the plants.

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