The rugged mountains of northwest BC have cast the dream of riches for prospectors and miners for over 120 years. The dramatic terrain has posed opportunities and challenges for transients and residents of Stewart, exploring for and extracting precious and base metals, while coping with tremendous amounts snowfall and rain.
The border town of Stewart B.C., and its friendly neighbour of Hyder, Alaska, sit at the head of the Portland Canal on the Pacific Ocean, and is Canada’s northernmost ice-free port. Stewart has seen multiple cycles of boom and bust, tied to the common fluctuations in the mining industry. Prior to settlement by European colonists, the head of the Portland Canal was seasonally used by Aboriginal peoples. It was seen as a place of refuge during summer months, but abandoned during winter months when the heavy snows would come.
The first gold seekers arrived in the Stewart in 1898, with the first claims staked for placer gold on Bitter Creek, within the drainage that hosts the Red Mountain deposit. Some gold was extracted, but thick gravel, large boulders, and fast water made primitive alluvial mining operations uneconomic and the claims were abandoned. Lode prospectors had more success in the first decade of the twentieth century; the Portland Canal Mining Company operated a small mine for several years in the Bear Valley, and in 1910 the Red Cliff mine commenced production, complete with a 25 km long narrow gauge railway to Stewart. In 1910, several thousand fortune seekers called Stewart home. During World War I, most had left and by 1917, the population of Stewart was only 52.
Boom times returned in 1919 with the discovery of rich gold-silver veins at the Premier mine. This operation eventually produced over 2 million ounces of gold and was the mainstay of the Stewart economy through the great depression. Operations continued off and on at Premier until 1999, with successful exploration continuing to this day. Numerous other small mines were built in the first half of the 20th century, including the Dunwell and Prosperity-Porter Idaho gold-silver-lead-zinc mines.
Boom times returned in the 1960s with the development of the large Granduc underground copper mine, which was in operations until 1983 and employed hundreds. It was the mainstay of the local economy during the 60’s to the 1980s. During this era, Stewart was connected by the BC highway network, and connected to the BC Hydro grid in 1988.
The late 1980s saw another boom, with the discovery of the Eskay Creek deposit, considered to be one of the world’s richest gold-silver mines, which operated until 2007. This prompted an exploration and staking rush to northwest BC, which included the discovery of Red Mountain. In 1989, Bond Gold sampled the Marc Zone at the Red Mountain property. Subsequent drilling success prompted a large underground exploration program by Lac Minerals, which bought Bond Gold with the intention of bringing the project to production. Lac’s plans were halted when it the Company was purchased by Barrick Gold. The project was idled from almost two decades by later owners.
In the mid mid-2000s, the cycle of exploration and development began again in the Stewart area. Seabridge Gold, which optioned the Red Mountain property to IDM Mining, has steadily advanced its massive KSM Project, turning it into one of the world’s largest deposits of gold, copper and molybdenum. Pretium’s adjacent Valley of the Kings Deposit has received all federal and provincial permits, and has commenced construction of a high-grade underground gold mine.
IDM has relied on the extensive geological, engineering and environmental data compiled by previous operators, as well as new information in its vision to develop a modern, underground gold mine at Red Mountain. More importantly, IDM is both inspired by and values the deep mining history and traditions of Stewart residents, past and present, and of the traditional knowledge and land uses of the land of the local Aboriginal peoples.