YOU ASKED: What is the history behind the Iron Mask Mine? Are the mineral rights maintained? What ore was mined? I learned about the mine in 1980 when I moved to Kamloops but have never run into anybody who knows its history.
OUR ANSWER: First off, John, thanks for sending us this question because it gave our Readers' Reporter a chance to visit one of her favourite places, the Mary Balf Archives at the Kamloops Museum.
The archive collection contains a small but extensive history on the Iron Mask Mine, including photos of workers and the old mine's surface structures and buildings.
The mine's history is fascinating.
It was among scores of copper claims in the Kamloops area in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but it was the most famous and the only one that achieved steady production.
Iron Mask was located along an old road to Jocko Lake and was staked in 1896 by George Breeden, William Ford and Robert Lyons, who sunk the first shaft on the north side of Iron Mask Hill.
During that first year, the claim passed through many hands before being deeded to the Cole Hill Gold, Silver and Copper Mining Company, which continued tunneling throughout the property.
And here's something interesting: the first batch of ore that was extracted from Iron Mask was sent to a copper smelter in Wales - 20 or so tons for a profit of about $200. Not a lot of copper ore was produced in those early years, only about 100 tons by the time the property was closed in 1900.
The property was bought by the B.C. Exploring Syndicate, which owned a nearby claim and, by 1903, 100 tons per day were coming out of the mine.
"The shafts were timbered; the hoisting of the ore was done by a 12-h.p. engine operating a one-ton skip dumping automatically into the surface cars," wrote former Kamloops archivist Ken Favrholdt in a 1987 article for the archives.
By 1904, the Cole Hill company was reorganized and back on the scene as Kamloops Mines, Ltd., pulling 200 tons a day out of the various shafts until 1908.
At one point, there was talk of building a smelter in Kamloops (the nearest one was in Tacoma), but that facility never materialized.
By 1909, Iron Mask Mine was a massive operation with 16 claims and a new owner, Kamloops Copper Company, which expanded the copper ore production over the next several years to 300 tons per day.
The mine eventually became unprofitable, though, likely because the company had to dig deeper and deeper to uncover new veins of ore. That was costly and the mine was shut down in 1920 as a result.
It opened briefly, between 1922 and 1924, before closing again due to financial difficulties.
Kamloops Copper Company was reorganized a year later under the name Continental Copper Co. Ltd., which spent the next three years mining small ore bodies, but the mining operation would never return to its glory days of production.
In the years after the Second World War, ownership of the land and claims to the ore would change hands many more times, with several geotechnical surveys and drillings in the decades to follow.
Recent history is more challenging to uncover. In fact, we haven't been able to find out who was the last person or company to hold claims to the area. We've asked the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum to look into that, but haven't heard back.
We'll let you know what we find out.