This image shows one of the old mine shafts from the Coast Copper claim on North Vancouver Island.

Early homesteaders stake claims in mining

QUATSINO—Old Sport copper mine results from early settlers' struggles to turn rainforest into agriculture centre

When many of the first non-First Nations people came to the North Island in the late 1800s, they were attracted by the offer of preemptions of land.  If a man or a family (rarely a woman) would come and clear the land, build a house and live on it, they would get title to the property.  This was the government’s way of encouraging people loyal to the British Empire to populate the hinterland of coastal B.C.

Unfortunately, homesteaders soon found that it was difficult to make a living farming in the North Island’s coastal rainforest, and in order to make money many people turned to prospecting.

In the late 1800s, the government would test mineral samples (assays) for free, and so boatloads of local men would venture off into the great unknown for days or weeks at a time, looking for evidence of precious metals.

Residents of Quatsino seemed to be particularly adept at finding these deposits.  One of these successes was the discovery of copper in an area by Elk Lake (now known as Benson Lake) in about 1897 by George Nordstrom.  A claim was laid called the “Old Sport Mine” in an area about 500m south of the river on the lake.

In the early 1900s some surface work was likely done on the claim. The mine used diamond drills to a depth of about 400 feet.  They ran a water-driven generator plant, and had a camp for about 30 employees.

In 1916 mining giant Cominco purchased Old Sport and a number of other claims in the area.  They started the work of constructing underground shafts to mine below the surface.  They changed the name of the original Old Sport Claim to Coast Copper.

To get supplies to the mine materials would be offloaded from the Coastal Steamships in Port Alice at Jeune Landing, driven to Alice Lake, boated across the lake, taken by pack horse to Kathleen Lake, boated across the lake, and then again taken by pack horse to Elk (Benson) Lake.

Many local men worked at the mine up until the 1930s, when the Great Depression halted production.

In the 1960s mining in the area was reactivated.  The main minerals produced were magnetite, chalcopyrite and local bornite.  The mine produced iron, copper, gold and silver.   During a ten year production run more than 2.5 million tonnes were mined from the site.  Many of the tailings were dumped into Benson Lake.

About every ten years a new company expresses interest in the site.  In the late 1960s it was Quatsino Copper Gold, in the 1970s Alice Lake Minerals, in the 1980s Taywin Resources, in the 1990s Noranda Inc.  The claim has been for sale again in recent years as a part of the Merry Widow Group.

 

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