Yreka is located on Quatsino Sound, across Neurotsis Inlet from Port Alice. It is in the traditional territory of the Quatsino First Nation, and in the 1800s was home to the Koskimo tribe.
In the late 1800s, local prospectors combed the area around Quatsino Sound looking for precious metals. During this era it was not uncommon for a group of men to venture out and forge through the bush for days, collecting ore samples. At the time the B.C. Government would provide free assay services (analysis) and tell the prospectors what their samples contained.
Local prospectors first discovered copper and gold in the area in 1898.
The Yreka Copper Company was established in 1902, and registered 16 mining claims. It is not clear why the company chose the name Yreka, but perhaps it was to capitalize on some of the good luck associated with the gold rush in Yreka, California, where miners had struck it rich in 1851.
The initial Yreka mine on the North Island saw a camp built at 1,050 ft elevation. Approximately $300,000 was initially invested in the operation. In addition to bunkhouses and a cookhouse/dining hall, the company built a store, blacksmith shop, sawmill, post office, and mining office for the 60 or so men who worked at the mine. The mining operation included ore bunkers and a wharf. The mine itself had both a surface quarry and three shafts, the deepest of which approached 800 ft. Arial trams ran up and down the steep mountainside from the mine to the beach. A winding road with numerous switchbacks also allowed vehicles to access the site.
Electricity for the drills was generated by a water wheel, and operations would shut down when the creek went dry in the summer.
The initial mine operated until 1904, and then closed.
In 1916/17, following a rise in copper prices, entrepreneurs Clark and Silverman optioned the claim, and a new tram system was installed. From 1902 to 1917 the mine produced 3,752 tons of ore, containing 59 oz of gold, 4,245 oz of silver, and 174,642 pounds of copper. During the war, the ore was not considered to be of high value, and the company defaulted. It tried to resume activities in 1919, however the option was surrendered in 1929.
In 1951 a new owner, the Noranda Mining Co. began construction of a new mine site. They completed over 30,000 ft of drilling, but in 1956 a landslide destroyed much of their work and efforts ceased temporarily.
Comstock Mountain was only officially given its name in 1959, although the mountain had been known by this name to locals for many years, as this was the name of one of the Yreka Copper Company’s mining claims.
Mining briefly resumed from 1964 to 1967 by a partnership of Noranda and the Mitsubishi Co. Production during this period was 156,586 tons, which included 1,545 oz gold, 141,629 oz silver, and 8,502,517 pounds of copper.
In the 1970s a string of successive owners continued to map, drill, and survey the claim.
In 1980 there were rumours in the North Island Gazette that the mining would reopen on the mountain, and an adjacent claim was listed for sale recently on B.C. mining websites.
Despite (or perhaps due to) extensive analysis of the area, some geologists believe the claims explored to date are only offshoots of a more valuable seam in the area which has not yet been discovered.
Brenda McCorquodale is a Port Hardy resident and North Island history enthusiast. If you have any stories or local lore you’d like to share, email her at email@example.com. A collection of her past articles is available on her blog at http://undiscoveredcoast.blogspot.ca/.