“Beautiful British Columbia” - simple and to the point. The province is home to some of the most beautiful scenery Canada has to offer, and the innumerable outdoor enthusiasts who flock there year after year are a testament to the motto’s accuracy. However, amidst this natural wonder is some harsh terrain and challenging environmental conditions that the mining industry has faced. Unfortunately, the operators and workers of the Granduc mine in the 1950s and 1960s found out just how extreme the conditions could get.
Nestled in the Pacific Cordillera in British Columbia, just south of the Alaskan border, is Granduc mine. It is located almost 40 kilometres inland from the ice-free port of Stewart, a town near the head of the Portland Canal, where the winters are long and cold, and about 800 to 900 inches of snow fall each season.
The first group of prospectors arrived in Portland Canal on May 4, 1898, from Seattle; the first gold stakes were claimed the following year. To accommodate the sudden influx of prospectors, the town of Stewart was built at the head of Portland Canal. Following the Klondike gold rush in the late 1890s, Stewart’s population reached 10,000.
In 1906, gold properties were discovered and a 75-ton-per-day mill was quickly built. As prospecting efforts increased along with mining for gold, copper, and silver-lead-zinc, it became necessary to create a second and third town site—the Portland Canal District and Hyder. The site of the future Premier mine was staked in 1916 by Pat Daly. Suffering the same fate as other mining boom towns, Stewart’s population dipped to a mere 17 residents by the 1920s. In 1927, the Premier mine employed about 800 men working in 27 kilometres of tunnels.
In 1951, while working for Helicopter Explorations Co. Ltd., BC prospectors Tom McQuillan and Einar Kvale staked claims on outcrops and adjoining areas. The property was optioned to Granby Consolidated Mining, Smelting and Power Co. the following year; exploration and development began. And, in 1953, Newmont Mining Corporation joined in the underground work. The mine was leased to Newmont and American Smelting and Refining Company, and Granduc Operating Company was the operator. Development began in September of 1964 when the company began driving an almost 18-kilometre tunnel from the Leduc area to the future concentrator facilities at Tide Lake. Camps were erected at both ends.
A region used to heavy snow falls, 16 feet of snow fell on the area in the second week of February in 1965. Shortly after, on February 18, 1965, at 10:16 a.m., an avalanche ripped down a mountain side above the Portal camp of the Granduc mine. The mine’s radio operator had just enough time to send out a short ‘mayday’ message before he lost connection. Within hours, civilian, military, and police rescue teams from across Canada and the United States braved 50 to 70 mile-an-hour winds to get to Granduc. The slide had split in two; on the heavier side, the Portal camp was wiped out, but on the other side, the impact was less. Workers were able to dig themselves out of the snow. One of them, a carpenter named Eino Myllyla, was buried for almost 80 hours until a bulldozer uncovered the snow and ice that trapped him. Apparently, he could hear helicopters landing above him. In total, 26 men died that day.
When mining resumed, the crews advanced work in the tunnel at an unprecedented rate. A permanent camp and a concentrator were built at Tide Lake and a 51-kilometre road was built to Stewart. The town was growing - accommodations, schools, a community centre, etc. were built. By November 1970, work was completed, in the end costing $115 million. Three months later, the first load of copper concentrates was shipped to Japan, and by June production had reached 5,000 tons per day.
The mine continued operating until 1978, but was forced to shut down temporarily due to low copper prices; work picked back up in 1980. However, in 1984, it closed for good. During the 13 years of operation, the mine’s production totaled 15.2 million tonnes of ore.
A second wind
Granduc mine has rejoined the land of the living. In 2004, Bell Resources purchased Granduc with the intention of bringing it back into production, and an underground drilling program is currently underway.