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Mining in the Kootenays

Bill Barlee

Accession Number Interviewer BCHF conference Nelson
Date Location Nelson BC
Media tape cassette Audio CD mp3 √
ID 95 Topic




John Eric Neville - 17.03.2024

Mining in the Kootenays - Bill Barlee
BCHF Conference Nelson
Nelson BC

Bill Barlee talking throughout about ghost towns Kootenay-Boundary Area. This was a presentation to the BCHF (BC Historical Federation) Conference in Nelson BC 1997, the centennial year for Nelson. The proofreader John Neville was a City Councillor in Nelson at that time.

I think it's most appropriate that the British Columbia historical Federation meets in Nelson, which is, of course, the Queen City of the Kootenays. (:38) Nelson has a certain great ambience that very few other towns have anywhere in the province, by the way. And when I looked around the audience, some of you I don't know, some of you are old friends of mine. And of course, Mr. Sales, who comes from Nanaimo, the old bastard city, they have a marvelous museum with a very prominent Historical Society, which has done a marvelous job in Nanaimo. And I looked down the front table, the Parents from Nakusp, Al Wright from Sandon and Ron Greene from Victoria, Dick Cannings from Penticton and the Athlicks from Vancouver. (1:14) So I do know some of you, and I made acquaintance with some of the others tonight. And what I'm going to talk about basically is a little bit of the past. And, you know, when I think about the past, a lot of characters walk down the main street or Baker Street. I have, by the way, a kind of a treasure chest I will be sending around. Al Wright will be kind of keeper of that. Unintelligible- I did lose the 100 ounce silver bar somewhere in the past. (1:49) We forgot all about it at the end of the night on the table, and somebody picked it up. So I'll be passing around some parts of the Canada West collection. I think you'll enjoy some of those things. I want to be talking basically about the Old West, about ghost towns, and a little bit about mining. (2:03) I was lucky and I am going to be an old age pensioner. I came in at the tail end of the Old West. When I was a kid, many of those towns were still standing. (2:31) Certainly Sandon was still standing, which was the original Silver City of the Kootenays, by the way. The great town of Phoenix was still there. And places like Slocan city were prominent. Greenwood was still inching along, also Cascade city. There were about 63 or 64 ghost towns or ghost camps in the Kootenay-Boundary area. When I was a kid, most of those have disappeared. Unintelligible. So I'm going to pass around first some of these objects which I think you will like. I am passing around three photographs by the way, which are just typical of the collection. Two of them are from my own collection and one is from the University of Alaska. My photographs by the way Frank Kennedy will recognize this. I'm giving all my collection to the to the provincial archives. There are some quite nice ones and I think you'll like them. I’ll put this on the table and show you very briefly a few of these items. Unintelligible-

Bill Barlee speaker (4:09)
Now, first of all, this is a picture of Cornell Florence? which is the only Chinese Gold Rush town in the world. There are 17 buildings. If you haven't been you should go there. Don't go in mosquito time, you won't get back. It's quite marvelous. We were restoring this slowly but the restoration project has been cancelled unfortunately. This is a classic photograph, which the Archives does not have, of the historic town of Phoenix which had fifteen hotels, two railroads, an opera house which seated 800 people, an arena with artificial ice that seated 1000 people. The team challenged the Stanley Cup. The town disappeared virtually overnight. It was abandoned. And it was marvelous because when I was a kid, at eight years old, I started wandering through the ghost towns and it was an indelible experience. I wandered up the streets of places like Sandon and Slocan City, which wasn’t really a ghost town, but Phoenix and Cascade City certainly was, with the exception of my grandfather's general store. And it

was very memorable. The boardwalks were still there. And we would wander up the boardwalk. In those mountain towns like Sandon and Phoenix the wind invariably came down at night, down the boardwalk. No one was there. Few people in Sandon. Nobody in Phoenix except old man Banbury. We would look inside the windows of the vacant stores. In many of the stores, everything was still there. Because, when the town was abandoned, everyone went broke virtually overnight. They couldn’t afford to take their goods out. In Phoenix many things were still there. And they certainly were at Slocan city, and they were at Sandon until 1949. And we look inside and we see the picture of Asus? that's in the rolltop desk. And virtually everything else. And it was all covered with dust and cobwebs. And that's probably interested me in my lifelong interest in the ghost city flow mainly in British Columbia. So I have about 2000 photographs going to the archives. And that's where they should be. And I lost five of them. I decided then and there that they really weren't, shouldn't be under my care, they should be under the care of the experts in the in the archives of British Columbia. So some of these objects are interesting. This one I won’t pass around until the end. This is typical. They are not handcuffs. And when you were incarcerated in the early years of British Columbia quite often you were cuffed and leg ironed as well. These are 1872 unintelligible?. I'll pass those around starting here. Don't try them on, I haven’t got a key! (7:24) This is a pound of gold and I have taped the to not because I don't trust you but I just don’t want it to spill. This was from one of my claims, which I gave up on when I became Minister. These ladies will be very interested in, are brass knuckles only for women. The bar girls in one of the hotels in Slocan City, and they won’t me. If they do I won’t admit it. If somebody got too amorous especially one of the hardrock miners from the Slocan Slope, they would cool them off and the hotel owner saved it for me all these years and sold to me about 20 years ago. And by the way, if you have any pins they should go to the Nelson Museum. Otherwise collectors will take them or collect them. This is a pin of the Coronation of Edward the Seventh, 1901. That's worth about $300-400 now, if it is in good condition. The museum in Victoria has quite a few, I'm pleased to say, but they're getting more difficult to get.

Now, Nelson of course, had some marvelous early individuals and I think probably J O Batna, Ron is more knowledgeable about Batna than I am. But he is definitely one of the heroes of Nelson. He was the only man in Nelson who was allowed to counter-punch the Canadian silver dollar and they are very difficult to get. So if you have a 1935 or 1936, perhaps later, certainly 35 and 36, you will see three little initials under the canoe, J O B, that is Joseph Oliver Batna. He was a jeweler and watchmaker, really an artist. He was a marvelous man. I'll pass this around in a gold pan. This is by the way a piece from the Klondike, 176 nuggets on a chain and was given to a dancehall girl in the Floradora Saloon for friendship sake. Laughter (9:47) At the bottom of this interesting piece, this is a match safe, it looks like a lighter. Unintelligible. I said no, no, I think first of all, I said that isn't a piece of glass there. That's a rose coloured back. And I said this is gold. And she said “Oh, how do you know that?”. Well I read quite well and it says 14k (10:14) unintelligible

Bill Barlee (10:22)
You heard about perhaps one man whom I'm really quite enamoured with? And this was a man called Big Jack Kirkup. He was painted by Frederic Remington (1861-1909), the great American artist and he called him the mountain sheriff. The family, years ago saved me all of his stuff and then proceeded to sell it to me for $750, which is fine. And he called himself the provincial government police 1886 and his name is on the back. And he served all the tough towns Yale, Salmon Arm (10:59) and up into Revelstoke and down into Rossland, the Old Golden City and then into Phoenix, finally ending up in Nanaimo, Mr Sales, and he died there in 1916 of an advanced case of diabetes. And when he left

Revelstoke, he hated politicians, so he comes close to my heart. The people of Revelstoke liked Kirkup. He was 65 inches tall and weighed 270 pounds. And when he walked into the Alec Hotel, it was like Christ amongst the multitude, nobody said a word. A very interesting guy. Presented to Mr. John Kirkup, as a mark of esteem and goodwill by his friends in Revelstoke British Columbia, APR 1891, so that was 106 years ago. So these are a few of the items I'll send around. And I'll tell you briefly, very briefly, and I see that I'm about halfway through. (12:06) Unintelligible

(12:30) So on TV, what you do is you attempt to get through a story in 24 minutes with six minutes of advertising. And in the background is the producer and he's always going five minutes or seven minutes whatever. So you don't really get the time to tell a story. And storytelling is almost a lost art.

And I've been interested in the ghost towns of the province since was eight, so that’s 56 years, over half a century. Once in a while you meet people who are old subscribers, when I had my Canada West (TV) program, a number of you were old subscribers. Sometimes you don’t heed their advice which was usually very sound. And I'll tell you the story that I partially told on TV, that'll take about 10 minutes and we'll have three minutes at the end.

In 1971, I was in Victoria, so that’s 26 years ago, and I was working at one of the tables in the archives looking over some newspaper reports and some other records. I had just launched Canada West two years prior to that and had 3000 subscribers at that time. I knew most of my subscribers, which was quite surprising! And as I was concentrating on this work, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, an elderly man approaching me rather hesitantly a few steps towards the table, then stop again. Finally he looked up (14:23) and he said “Are you Mr. Barlee?” and I said “Yes I am”. “Well my name is Fred Ethridge”. Now I knew Mr. Ethridge and he had been a subscriber from Rossland which is the Old Golden City. He knew Rossland extremely well. He was knowledgeable, self effacing and inclined to be taciturn. He was an excellent historian and I knew all this. I still had to make a judgement. He said “I was going to send you a letter, but I decided, it might be more appropriate if I approached you at the archives. So I thought I'd interrupt you. May I sit down?” I said, “by all means”. So Mr. Etheridge, who was probably in his early 80s. There, I'm guessing a little bit. He sat down opposite me and this is the story. (15:17)

He said (Etheridge)“Do you remember Black Jack MacDonald?” And we had lived in Rossland for about seven years and left in 1943. So we came here during the depression and came back later on. Yes, I remember vaguely he was a prospector but I can't remember a lot more as that was almost thirty years ago. He said he was a very strange man. First of all, he was the co-discoverer of the recent MacDonald Mine on the Pend d’Oreille River and most people don't know that. And secondly he hated banks and that's not unusual for the prospecting fraternity. In fact the public thinks so still. In fact he never walked down the main street in Rossland, Columbia Ave. (16:02) And he says another thing that was interesting, he lived next door to me. He said, when I was a kid, “Freddie come over here and I’ll show you something real funny”. So being eight years old, I wandered over to Black Jack MacDonald’s house, right next door and he said “Fred sit down at the kitchen table” and Black Jack brought out a big handled wash basin and then he disappeared into some other part of the house somewhere and came back several minutes later literally staggering, carrying two large cigar boxes, which were very heavy obviously. He opened them up and they were full of gold coins. He tipped them into the basin. And then he went back and got two more, and two more until we had in the basin somewhere between three and four thousand gold coins-Double Eagles and Eagles. These are some of the gold coins that we are passing around. Unintelligible (17:17)

So anyway, the fun of the day, of course, to amuse the kid, the old man would pick up the coins and rattle them in the tin basin, make all sorts of noise. They made a marvelous sound by the way. This was entertainment for Rossland in the dirty thirties or just before that. So we did that several times over the years and I said to Mr. Ethridge, well what are you telling me? He said, “Well Black Jack MacDonald died and when he did die I was named executor of the will. I was executor because there were no heirs. In the will there was no mention of any gold coins or of any portable cash at all.” I said was he a booser, amourist, gambler or chaser? And Etheridge said “No he wasn’t, he was very steady indeed”. How come the lawyer didn’t anything? “The lawyer was part of the will, he was very straight, he was.” How about the government agent?, I asked being of suspicious of nature. “I knew the government agent very well and he didn’t get them.” So I said, my major mistake, “Mr. Etheridge, if the lawyer didn’t get the coins and the government agent didn’t get them, and Black Jack MacDonald didn’t get them, where are they?” And he looked at me without batting an eye and said “I think they are still in the house”.(18:48). That was in 1971 by the way.

And I said, “Well, Mr Ethridge if you think they are still in the house, why don't you go and get them?” And then he said again without deviating at all, “Mr. Barlee, I enjoy your magazine. I am not an adventurous man. I've enough money to last me my days. And I think you would be very wise to take a trip into Rossland. Take a look at Black Jack MacDonald’s house, which is up for sale, and start from there.” So this was the fall of 1971. (19:36)

This was late fall and I didn’t want to tackle the old road. So I wasn’t too keen on that and waited till the spring of 1972. Late May or early June, it was a Sunday I think, I travelled over to Rossland; drove up Columbia Avenue; the street had changed. When I was a kid the boardwalks were still there and the old Rossland Mine. All the buildings were still there and the odd hotel. Mines were still abandoned in the hills. Unintelligible. And I was enjoying my trip. I stopped to ask the government office and of course it was closed on Sunday. I went passed the Anglican Church to the top of the hill because I knew that Black Jack McDonald lived up there somewhere. So I stopped next to the Catholic Church, which was a step down from the Anglican Church, of course! and out came an old, old priest, Father Mac, MacIntosh, (20:48). I didn't know well, even he had been there since about 1916 or 1917. This is now the 1973. He had been there are over half a century. He arrived when he was 18 years old and he was now in his late 70s, early 80s.(21:00)

I stopped and I said, “Father Mac, can I talk to you for a few minutes.” He said, “Oh, certainly my boy”. “My name is Bill Barlee”. Father Mac says, “Oh, your father was Chip Barlee, you had two brothers” and he named my brothers and mentioned we we're Anglicans. This guy was really quite sharp. He knew everybody in town. And he did know everybody in town.(21:28) So I passed the time of day with him and finally asked him where Black Jack MacDonald used to live. “Oh, certainly, just down that street there”. He pointed to a nearby street towards the south. And he said, “that second house from the end” he said, “green roof.” So I walked down the street, and had under my arm one of my Canada West magazines, which at that time had my photograph in it, which is a kind of introduction. When you are treasure hunting, the rule of thumb is if you find a treasure in someone

else’s house, you give them 50%. And most ethical treasure hunters will do that, by the way. They may not inform the Income Tax department, but they will give the owner half. I walked down the street and I knocked on the door. A woman came to the door who was about 35, dressed in a nurse’s or nurse’s aide uniform. I said my name is Bill Barlee and I'm researching a treasure and it may be here. “Well by all means come in” she said. So I walked in the door. And as I walked into the hallway, I noticed that it had been freshly renovated. I mean thats’ my luck, the living room and everything also renovated. I looked in the kitchen and it had been renovated. So I thought, I don't want to waste your time but has someone done a renovation job on your house and she said, “Yes, Mister (22:59), well we’ll call him Mr. M...... She said, “He did pretty much all the house.” Right from the basement to the attic? “Yes completely”, she said. Then I may not be back. (23:17)

So I walked down the street about another 50 yards, down the flight of stairs, pretty steep and walked up to the person who really knew Rossland very well. Her name was Alice Martin. She was a fountain of knowledge about Rossland. we talked about all the mines, old Jess, and the people who had been in Rossland. And then I brought the subject around to Mr. M and she said “You know something Bill”. Alice was not a critical person. She was practical and she was in her eighties or nineties. She said, “Well I don't think much of that Mr M. Bill”. I said why is that Alice? (23:55) “I think he is lazy.” What do you mean? “My veranda needed work. I thought I would get him to work on my veranda and I decided to watch him at Black Jack MacDonald’s house a couple of months ago. And you know something Bill he’s lazy. He spent 5 weeks in the basement!”. I said gosh Alice. Well she said “I couldn’t probably get him to work anyway, he’s retired now.” (24:33)

So I made one last stop and that was just down the street. Below LeRoy Ave the Dermitt Hotel was still standing there. I went down to see a guy called Jimmy Hite who still lives in Rossland. I knocked on the door and said, Jim do you know a man called Mr M.? “Oh, sure, you mean the coin collector.”(24:58) I said, What do you mean, the coin collector? Well Jim said, “He came to me a few months ago and said Jim, what if a relative left you a bunch of gold coins, how would you get rid of them?” and Jim replied, “You can take them down to the states and get rid of them nine or ten at a time in Spokane.” He further asked “Jim, how many dealers are there in Spokane?” and Jim replied “Oh, at least 10. Then he took 16 trips to Spokane.” We think he took about 1600 to 2000 coins to Spokane with lots left over. So I went up to see the redoubtable Mr. M. and as I walked in the door of his place, which he was selling, he said, “Are you Mr. Barlee?(25:54) If you publish that story I will sue you!” So I published the story, very, very briefly in about ten lines, leaving his name blank, but everybody knew who it was anyway, except the Income Tax Department! He sold some of the coins in Rossland at face value. He recovered about 1/4 of a million ($250,000)dollars. If he had waited until 1980 he would have recovered about 2 1/2million. So here are some of the coins coming around. Basically that’s what you do on TV but you you don’t get the time to tell the story, you get about 7 minutes, and I have taken about 28. So thank you very much, you have been a great audience and I am glad you have enjoyed it and its great to be in this city again you are very fortunate.

Bill Barlee (26:54) questions about anything

Unintelligible end 31:14

left over AI

Unknown Speaker 27:07
hotel along with their the two most prominent token collectors in the province of British Columbia and token value dramatically I'd rather than have to worry about that. And I don't know what you're going to have to think about it but he will not let it out of his hand probably I don't have any other questions we were talking about. There's another batch I picked up the other day with all the dealers and as I say $1,500 or whatever 1500 today with the dealers because I came up and one of the points not silver is nickel plated over brass and see the brass and just touching

Unknown Speaker 28:19
all the as we know we want to get the

Unknown Speaker 28:30
universe anyone's word he was quite surprised to get more than I'll turn that around as well. How can I send that around? Is there something going

Unknown Speaker 28:55
on you want to take this around if you want to look at any other questions we have two minutes long

Unknown Speaker 29:14
I should tell you that the historic projects that I integrated as Minister has been cancelled. I will try to get them on board. We had seven around the province. Salmon was high priority had the mascot.

Unknown Speaker 29:29
Alexandra bridge, camel Valley railway line and two other smaller well known airports. I thought they would serve as well in the long run but they have been cancelled. I've tried to get those back on track.

Unknown Speaker 29:45
Well thank you very much and I'll let anyone else Did I or did I have to have the gold with you? Okay that's

Unknown Speaker 30:07
what happened some years ago there's about one minute story I was talking to the to the historical society in the old in the old upstairs places and I have very high here's a piano all about that far away and a whole bunch of stuff

Unknown Speaker 30:27
quite unique came over we had some treatments or 1500 at the time and at the end of the talk we have a lot of discussion

Unknown Speaker 30:35
and a great it was okay but he didn't even have one okay

Unknown Speaker 30:49
and I can't and I was about 50 We came to collusion. We heard of becoming extremely well dressed like this