While meandering along the back roads of Western Canada, you may be surprised to know that where you see empty fields or a lone building amongst the trees and rocks there was once thriving communities where people lived, worked and played.
It’s hard to believe that they were once busy, bustling cities and towns filled with comfortable homes, thriving businesses, music-filled churches, schools for the children, and elaborate hotels, only to be later abandoned and sometimes forgotten.
The 1800s was a time when gold and silver were discovered in the creeks and rugged mountains of British Columbia and word of these discoveries quickly spread around the world. Thousands upon thousands of adventurous people raced here with dreams of striking it rich.
Not all were prospectors or miners, many were entrepreneurs hoping to cash in on the bounty by building hotels, restaurants, hardware stores and any type of business these hard working people needed. They built towns at a time when getting supplies into these areas was almost impossible due to the rough terrain and lack of services. Where it was possible, railways were built, sometimes blasting into the sides of the mountains to make room for the rail bed to be laid. One of those areas was deep in the mountains between Kaslo and New Denver in British Columbia — now called Valley of the Ghosts.
Along a 30-mile stretch of a narrow, winding road in the heart of the mountainous West Kootenays is the Valley of the Ghosts, Canada ghost towns; one of Canada’s most famous areas with little or no remnants left to indicate thousands once lived here. The towns of Nashton, Retallack, Zincton, Three Forks, Cody and Sandon sprang up during the 1800s and were booming due to the local mines rich in ore. By the 1900s the price of silver dropped and by the middle of the century there was almost nothing left but the ghosts left behind in the graveyards and the abandoned buildings and mines.
Founded as a mining town in 1892, it was once known as Eldorado City and then renamed Denver after the city of Denver in Colorado. The population of New Denver is 500-plus and is known now more for it’s outdoor recreation. However in the height of the mining activity boats landed at its waterfront daily with supplies for the mining towns within the Valley of the Ghosts.
Three Forks was firmly established in the 1890s at the junction between Carpenter Creek, Seaton Creek and Kane Creek with six hotels, and a stage line with regular schedules to and from Sandon. Not only was it at the junction of the three creeks it was the junction between all of the other mining towns in this small area.
A forest fire destroyed the town in 1894, but the people were so confident they quickly rebuilt it. But, by the mid 1900s, there wasn’t much left except the odd straggler left behind, including the local bootlegger.
Rumor has it that on Friday nights during the 1950s, ore trucks lined up along the highway at Three Forks while their drivers walked over the hill to the bootleggers house to buy their weekend supply of alcohol. He even supplied candy to all the children who accompanied them.
Sandon, the most colorful and exciting of the mining towns, was known as the Monte Carlo of North America and never slept. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, things were happening here. If it wasn’t the day-to-day general business of the city, it was the deals being made in the back rooms between miners, gamblers and anyone who wanted to make their fortune by wheeling and dealing. It seemed that the roughest and toughest came here and were quickly welcomed by those who got here first.
At its peak Sandon had 23 hotels and saloons, an opera house, general stores, mining brokers offices, the Bank of British Columbia and even it’s own newspaper called the Sandon Paystreak. Its main street was actually along a creek that was boarded over so people could do business easily on either side.
This was unheard of anywhere else, but sadly in 1955, when Carpenter Creek flooded, it took out most of the town and with the ore prices being so low the town was finished.
The old city hall, a hardware store and tiny courthouse are still standing and if you use your imagination you can still feel the excitement that radiated through here in its hay day.
As the gateway to the Slivery Slocan and the Valley of the Ghosts from the east, eager prospectors arrived here on sternwheelers in anticipation of heading into the mountains with big dreams of prosperity. From Kaslo they could travel on the Kaslo-Slocan railway and be taken and into Sandon.
Kaslo was not a mining town, but the center of commerce for the whole region and was also drastically affected when the ore prices plummeted. The town is still in existence and many of the heritage buildings still stand and are being preserved.
The campground in town is the perfect place to stay while exploring the old sternwheeler and the town site since you can walk almost everywhere from there.
The glory days are gone, and those once thriving communities are in ruins and the people who resided and worked here in search of riches have almost been forgotten. But, if you listen very carefully, you may hear the ghosts left behind in these historic ghost towns of Canada’s West.
The Silvery Slocan Circle Tour Route
A self-guided trip with your RV through the Silvery Circle Tour Route will bring you through the Slocan Valley where you will find the ghost towns, old abandoned mines, heritage buildings, museums, hot springs and even caves.
The trip can be done in one to three days, but plan on staying longer, since there is so much to see. The roads are good although in some places they can be a bit winding. So, if you are at all hesitant, plan on staying in a community nearby in one of their many beautiful campgrounds or parks. As you make your way through this area think back to the struggles that the passionate prospectors had while traveling through this rugged terrain.
Nelson is the perfect place to start. It’s a thriving, busy city and strolling along it’s downtown core will make you wonder if you have stepped back into the 1960s, especially on the weekend when the people from the neighboring communities come to town for their weekly shopping trips.
From Nelson, the tour takes you into the Slocan Valley towards Slocan, a sleepy little village but once known as Slocan City, and a thriving metropolis. Following Slocan Lake north toward Silverton and New Denver, the scenery across the water toward The Valhalla Mountain Chain is breathtaking. You are now at the start of the Valley of the Ghosts and in one of Canada’s most historic mining areas.
Take your time, there is lots to see at these Canada ghost towns.
Ghost Towns of BC: http://www.ghosttownpix.com/bc/index.html
The Silvery Slocan travel route: http://www.hellobc.com/driving-routes/22/silvery-slocan-circle-route.aspx
Centennial Park Campground, New Denver: http://newdenver.ca/2014/centennial-park-campground-2014/
Silverton Campground: http://www.silverton.ca/rec/Camping.html
Kaslo Campground: http://www.kaslo.ca/content/kaslo-municipal-campground