The West Kootenay Power and Light Company was incorporated in 1897 to supply power to the booming mines of Rossland. A hydro electric generating plant was built at Lower Bonnington Falls on the Kootenay River.
Power was delivered to Rossland over a 20,000 volt transmission line 32 miles (52kms) – the longest and highest voltage transmission line in the world at the time.
One of the early customers of W.K.P. & L was the struggling little smelter at Trail. At one stage the W.K.P. & L threatened to terminate service to the smelter because of an overdue account. The same smelter ultimately grew into the world wide Cominco complex of today and in 1916 the W.K.P & L Co. became its wholly owned subsidiary.
Abundant low cost power from the subsequent W.K.P. & L hydro plants on the Kootenay River made possible the future growth of the largest base metal plant in the world at Trail.
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 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.