Known in the 1890s at the Monte Carlo of North America, the City of Sandon lies in the Selkirk Mountain Range high in the heart of the “Silvery Slocan”. Famed for its unbelievably rich deposits of silver-lead ore, following the 1891 discovery of silver by Eli Carpenter and Jack Seaton, thousands of men soon filled the small valley almost to bursting.
In its heyday, Sandon boasted 29 hotels, 28 saloons, three breweries, one of the largest ‘red light districts’ in Western Canada, many theatres and opera houses, a soft drink plant, a cigar factory, three sawmills, three churches, two newspapers, a schoolhouse, a hospital, and even a curling rink and a bowling alley. In addition, Sandon was home to over 5,000 people, including miners and millionaires, con men and gamblers, land speculators and ‘ladies of the evening’.
As well as countless other stores and businesses, Sandon boasted two major rail lines, one of the first trade unions in the province, numerous lodges, clubs and organizations, and was the first community in British Columbia to be serviced by a hydro-electric utility. Of course, there were also hundreds of mines in the immediate vicinity, as well as towering aerial tramlines and numerous concentrator mills. In addition, Sandon was known far and wide for its unique solution to limited building space in the narrow valley – a flume was constructed over the swift waters of Carpenter Creek, and a busy downtown street was constructed right over the creek!
Over its tumultuous history, the downtown core of the city was destroyed twice – it was levelled by a disastrous fire in 1900, and suffered catastrophic damage when a washout destroyed the main street flume in 1955. During WWII the old buildings housed almost 1,000 Japanese-Canadian internees, most of whom had been relocated from the west coast under provisions of the War Measures Act. Following the war and the 1955 washout, salvagers and treasure-seekers almost succeeded in dismantling what remained of the once-thriving city, but recent years have seen a remarkable re-birth.
Since the 1970s, a group of dedicated volunteers has worked on-site to preserve and restore artifacts and buildings – including the beautifully restored Slocan Mercantile Block, which now houses the Sandon Historical Society Museum and Visitor’s Centre. Today, Sandon is recognized as a historic site of international significance, and draws over 60,000 visitors a year to enjoy its many attractions and its amazing display of authentic BC history.
This year, plan on your own time-travelling vacation, to the Silver City in the Clouds, Sandon, BC.