Few British Columbia ghost towns have lived up to my expectations

Having grown up with American magazines and television, I’d been enthralled by images of abandoned and intact mining camps in the American Southwest.

Had an interesting chat with Mark Hume of the Globe Mail last week. He’d phoned to ask me about B.C. ghost towns.

Now there’s a subject dear to my heart. Not only were ghost towns, even the pale imitations such as we had on the Island, among my first field expeditions but they’d fascinated me from childhood. Having grown up with American magazines and television, I’d been enthralled by photos of abandoned mining camps in the American Southwest. There, preserved by the desert aridity, these camps, some of them of legendary

Wild West status, had survived the elements and, it seemed, vandalism. Why, some photos even suggested the Mary Celeste with the dishes and cutlery still in place as if their owners had just left the tables, mid-meal.

Yeah, right. That was one of the first things I learned about "ghost towns."

If you wanted to see one that was intact you had to go to Barkerville or Fort Steele. Everywhere else it was encouraged devastation. I say encouraged, because almost always there was a property owner, individual or corporate, who, likely afraid of insurance liability, didn’t want interlopers poking about their old buildings. And the easiest way to discourage visitors was demolition.

As one man who spoke from bitter experience politely explained to me in the early ’60s:

"Son, I really wouldn’t mind your looking around. But then others would see you and start poking about. Then my tools would begin disappearing and my equipment vandalized. It’s happened before. Sorry."

Sorry. I heard that more than once in my travels, never mind the no trespassing signs. But, for all that, I did manage to explore many a ghost town site on the Island and in southern B.C. One result of this was my book on Vancouver Island ghost towns that has been in continuous print now for 40 years, and still selling. And still intriguing succeeding generations of readers who, like me, find something irresistible in communities which have all but vanished.

Which brings up the point that not all ghost towns have, in fact, vanished. Many of them survive as viable if not thriving rural communities.

Yes, the economic raison d’etre for their founding and original existence has long passed, but their surviving infrastructure has attracted newcomers, many of them pensioners who accept living somewhat off the beaten track in exchange for a lower cost of living.

Or because they want to live in peace and quiet.

One of the ghost towns that Mark asked me about was Leechtown whose mini-gold rush celebrated its 150th anniversary last July. Alas, there was nothing of the original townsite even when I first visited it, about 1962 or so. Oh, there were some cabins and ruins but not of the original stampede that, for a time, had threatened to depopulate Victoria. Few of those structures still standing dated beyond the dirty ’30s when unemployed veterans supplemented their military pensions by prospecting. However, as this entire area is privately owned, all of their rustic dwellings have been demolished to discourage not just visitors but squatters.

Which isn’t to say that I haven’t had some great times scratching about some of these historic sites with the help of my metal detector, even here in the Valley, on Mount Sicker.

I began my bottle collection at Cumberland’s Chinatown, scene of a collecting frenzy in the early to mid-’60s.

I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. Wide open to exploitation – I saw licence plates from as far away as Vermont – and so many bottles, many of them of beautiful teal blues and greens and highly collectible, that at the end of a day’s digging you had to cherry-pick your finds.

Not so today, regrettably, at Cumberland or anywhere else that I’m aware of. Now, to find a site worth digging requires research and serious bushwhacking.

Even then the rewards are spotty although my museum does continue to grow ever so slowly. So I go on, seeking out abandoned town sites, mining or logging camps.

But, as I say, they’re few and far between – or on someone’s property and off-limits. Sigh.

www.twpaterson.com

Just Posted

Vetch cover crop beginning to flower. (Mary Lowther photo)
Mary Lowther column: Vetch and crimson clover to the rescue of soil fertility

I add dry organic fertilizer as plants use up what is in the soil.

Sarah Simpson
Sarah Simpson column: A shift in perspective can sometimes change everything

Have you even been forced to wake up at 5:30 on a Saturday

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

North Cowichan’s committee of the whole have rejected staff’s recommendation to limit the use of fireworks to Halloween. (File photo)
North Cowichan rejects limiting fireworks to Halloween

Municipality decides staff recommendation would be unpopular

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

New research suggests wolves can be steered away from the endangered caribou herds they prey on by making the man-made trails they use to hunt harder to move along. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Culling cutlines, not B.C. wolves, key to preserving caribou herds: researcher

The government has turned to killing hundreds of wolves in an effort to keep caribou around

Gary Abbott (left) and Louis De Jaeger were two of the organizers for the 2014 Spirit of the People Powwow in Chilliwack. Monday, June 21, 2021 is Indigenous Peoples Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 20 to 26

Indigenous Peoples Day, Take Your Dog to Work Day, Onion Rings Day all coming up this week

Gwen Spencer Hethey with her uncle and mentor Major Frederick Richardson. (Courtesy of Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame)
‘She was a killer’: The B.C. woman who pioneered female sharpshooting

Gwen Spencer Hethey made military men ‘look like turkeys’ says her son

Central Okanagan Grade 12 grads are set to get $500 each after a more than $1 million donation from a Kelowna couple. (File photo)
B.C. couple donating $500 to every Grade 12 student in the Okanagan

Anonymous donors identified as Kelowna entrepreneurs Lance and Tammy Torgerson

Rita Coolidge played the main stage at Vancouver Island Musicfest in 2017. (Black Press file photo)
This year’s Vancouver Island MusicFest to virtually showcase beauty of Comox Valley

Returning July 9 through 11 with more than 25 hours of music performances

British Columbia’s premier says he’s received a second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. (Twitter/John Horgan)
B.C. premier gets 2nd dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

John Horgan shared a photo of himself on social media Friday afternoon holding a completed vaccination card

Most Read