I recently visited the old mining town of Hedley, British Columbia, Canada, with some friends. Visible from the highway are the remains of a gravity-fed stamp mill that was constructed in 1903. Apparently it was burned down by its owners in 1972 on the orders of BC Forest Service, who had deemed it a fire hazard. There is a fascinating article that tells the history of the area and the rich mines that brought this town into existence.

Entranced with anything relating to mining activity, I stopped to explore the ruins of the mill. A nine-year old, local boy, named Ben gave us a tour of the abandoned mill. He explained that the mill had burned down years ago, and proceeded to tell us how he saw a bunch of crows circling above, and wanted to “go see what died.” He led us up the walls and compartments on the steep hillside, at one point scrambling up a 12-inch diameter tunnel that once contained a slurry pipe. Needless to say, we found a way around and joined him on the next level of the mill.

Some ball mills remain on the site, but other than that, just rubble. An old ore car is found where it crashed off the 10,000-foot long, 3400-vertical-foot tramway leading from the mine at the top of the mountain. The original process used mercury-treated copper plates to collect free gold from the rich ore.

Is this an environmental disaster? Is there mercury residue still on the site? There is nothing preventing anyone from entering the mill ruins, and there are obvious physical hazards like metal shards and loose rock. Yet Ben runs freely through the mill, saying he has visited it dozens of times.

Who is responsible for the site? All the companies involved during the mill’s heyday are long dissolved or bankrupt. I have not been able to find any recent government documentation on the site. The Mascot gold mine up the mountain was turned into a museum in 2003. Though too little remains of the mill to have much historical value, is there a modern use for the site?

I suppose it will remain for others to discover and explore, and future generations to contemplate. After all, the town of Hedley celebrates “Stamp Mill Day” each May in celebration of this cornerstone of this region’s history.

We never did find out what died.

(Any ideas about this article please contact me mailto:tinytim@interchange.ubc.ca )