This Week in History: the city of Phoenix, in BC’s Southern Interior

This Week in History:  the city of Phoenix, in BC's Southern Interior

From the 1890’s until 1920, Phoenix was a mining camp and incorporated city in BC’s Southern Interior.

Sally Butterfield, an archivist with the Royal BC Museum, says “there was copper discovered in the early 1890’s, but there was no infrastructure there to begin extracting it, so mining operations didn’t begin until 1896.

“There was just a camp to begin with, and in 1899 there was a rail connection that connected the town. And the city was incorporated in 1900.”

That incorporated city grew to about 2,000 residents.

“There was an opera house” says Butterfield, “a curling rink and a skating rink, two telegraph companies…all the sort of general merchants that you would expect to find in a town like that, as well as several hotels, which also had bars, and gambling establishments.”

And a very successful hockey team, which won the BC championships in 1911.

“In 1914, approximately $100,000 dollars per month was the camp payroll” says Butterfield.  That sum equals about $2.2 million in today’s dollars.

“One of the reason that Phoenix was so profitable is because it is self-fluxing copper, which means that it only needs the addition of coke in the smelting process. So it’s a much more cost-efficient copper to mine.”

The ore was smelted at the Granby Smelter in Grand Forks.

“Which was the largest non-ferrous smelter in the British empire, and the second largest in the entire world” says Butterfield.

But a huge change occurred at the end of the first World War, when the price of copper plummeted.

“The mine still continued to operate, although of course, at a lower profit” says Butterfield.

But then, in the summer of 1919, there was a strike at a mine in Fernie which produced the coke for the smelting process.

“So when that supply ended” says Butterfield, “they were no longer able to smelt the copper at an affordable rate, and the mines just shut down.”

By 1920, the city was abandoned.

“Many people left their houses, full of furniture and personal belongings, with the belief that mining would start up again, but it never really did.”

All that’s left of Phoenix now is the town’s cemetery, and the photos and documents at the BC Archives.

Veronica CooperVeronica Cooper

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