The legacy of almost 40 years of mining is a vast honeycomb beneath the City of Rossland consisting of a total of 128km (80 miles) of tunnels and drifts on 22 levels to a depth of 730 m (2200 ft) – or practically down to the Columbia River. In their heyday, the mines employed a work force of approximately 1200 men; with the value of ore produced during this period worth approximately $3.3 billion at 2010 prices.
The mines in Rossland operated from 1890 to 1929 and consisted of the Le Roi Mine, Josie Mine, War Eagle Mine, Centre Star Mine and the Black Bear Mine to name a few.
The Rossland Historical Museum is at the site of the former Black Bear Mine.
The Chinese made their first appearance in this district in 1865 – 22 years before the first claim in Rossland was staked. They were the bulk of the labour force on the construction of the Dewdney Trail. They deserted Dewdney when they reached the Columbia River, to try their luck at gold panning. Their camp was set up at the mouth of what is now called China Creek. They probably drifted back to the coast from the China Creek camps.
It is quite likely the Chinese filtered back to Rossland with the first rush of the miners, shortly after the camp sprang into existence in 1890. An issue of the “Rossland Miner” – September 23, 1897 reports that there were 200 male and one female Chinese residing here at that time. They were employed as cooks or house boys, several ran wash houses, cultivated truck gardens or raised pigs. A few were merchants and at least one was a fan tan expert. Another issue of the local “Rossland Miner” of 1897 reported the arrest of a Chinese man for the selling of opium without a license – the fee for such a license being $250.00.
Though the Chinese did drink, partake of opium and gamble, they contributed much to Rossland’s history particularly with their agricultural efforts known as the” Chinese Gardens”.
These truck gardens supplied Rosslander’s with fresh produce for over 50 years. This area has now mostly given way to the Rossland – Trail County Club.
They were kind to their non-Chinese friends at Christmas and their New Year, bringing gifts of handkerchiefs and other articles made of China silk, lily bulbs, candied ginger, lychee nuts, and firecrackers.
On October 12, 1903 the Chinese Masonic lodge, with a membership of 100 was opened with great ceremony, and celebrations which lasted for two days.
Chinatown in Rossland occupied a distinct area most of which was destroyed by fire in the early 1920’s. The buildings that survived the fire gradually fell into disuse and eventually disappeared. The last landmark was the Chinese Masonic Temple which was torn down about 1950. All traces of Chinatown have now disappeared and the site is now a residential area.
Written by: James Heidt
The Le Roi Company had initially contracted with F. Augustus Heinze to supply ore to his smelter in Trail. In 1897, however, at the urging of D.C. Corbin of the Red Mountain Railway, the Le Roi Company broke with Heinze and established the Le Roi smelter at Northport, Washington. The Northport smelter was short-lived.
Washington state law forbade foreign ownership of property, and when the Le Roi Company was sold to the British-America Corporation in 1898, the smelter operated for only a few years longer on customs ore.
Power for the Northport smelter and the town of Northport was supplied via Rossland from the transmission lines of the West Kootenay Power and Light Company.
Of the five claims staked on Red Mountain in July 1890 by Moris and Bourgeois, the Le Roi was destined to become the most famous. In return for putting up the $12.50 recording fee for the group, “Colonel” Topping, the gold recorder at Nelson, was offered his choice of the claims. Topping chose the Le Roi. He then sold the Le Roi to a Spokane syndicate for $30,000. When the mine was developed, the American owners sold it to Whittaker Wright’s British-America Corp. of London for three million dollars. The Le Roi ultimately produced 30 million dollars of wealth.
The sale of the Le Roi to the British-America Corp. triggered an exciting litigation case that culminated in the signing of the “million dollar cheque” at Rossland.
In 1897 the Le Roi mining company built a smelter at Northport. Washington, but this was closed down a few years after the sale of the mine to the B-A Corp.
Heavy trading in Le Roi stock through the distant London exchange prompted the establishment of the Toronto Stock Exchange.
The fortunes of the Le Roi suffered a setback in 1901 with the collapse of Whittaker Wright’s infamous financial empire, but the mine continued to produce until 1910 when the affairs of the company were wound up in London. In 1911, the assets of the Le Roi were acquired by Cominco and the Le Roi was operated as part of the consolidated mine workings until the Rossland properties were closed down in 1929.