Olalla’s history – Part 2 of a series describing Olalla’s proud links to the past and its significance to the development of the Similkameen
It’s hard to imagine, passing through present day Olalla, that the quiet community was once the site of one of British Columbia’s many gold rushes.
In 1902, the Vancouver Province newspaper reported that “some of the famous Olalla promoters were passing through Vancouver, en route to Victoria to meet with the B.C. Mines Minister.”
The promoters were from the eastern U.S. – William Brewer of New York, Frank Auger, William Gaed and John Tylee of New Jersey, and Senator Charles Boyce of Vermont.
They believed the mines in the “Princeton region” would make the valley one of the richest regions in the world, and declared to the Vancouver press that if outside interests didn’t build a railway to Olalla by the following year, they would. They also stated that work would begin immediately on the construction of a smelter in Olalla.
Interest in mining properties on Elkhorn Mountain, west of Olalla, and Boullion Mountain, to the east, spawned a boom in Oalla, the short distance to Keremeos notwithstanding. Prospectors fanned north and west of Olalla, staking claims on Green, Apex, Summit and Iron Mountains.
By 1905, development work on the many prospects had slowed down considerably, as the bold statements of the eastern developers had failed to materialize. Further work was being impeded by the lack of transportation services in the Similkameen. By 1906, the most highly developed property, the Bullion, had developed a 700 foot long tunnel – the longest underground effort to date in the entire Similkameen.
An aerial tramway, 1,050 feet long, transported ore from the Dolphin claims located a mile south of Olalla to the valley floor, but the tramline was small, with a capacity of only 400 pounds.
Shipping proved to be a major factor in mine development in the early years of the Olalla camp. Good grades of ore were discovered, but by 1922 a mining report for the Olalla camps stated, “The history of this camp, which embraces both sides of the valley, has been insignificant when based on production, only a few tons having been shipped. This fact in no way belittles the future possibilites of the area, because the geological conditions are such that the deposition of ore seems probable.”
Only small test tonages were shipped in the early years to the Northport smelter at Northport, Washington, the Grandby smelter in Grand Forks, and later on, to the Trail smelter.
Olalla, at the time, was still accesible only by wagon road, although the Great Northern Railroad, and a high power electric line was available only seven kilometres away in Keremeos. There simply was no captial available to develop the valley any further.
By the start of the Great Depression, a number of important metals had been identified in the Olalla camp, including gold, copper, moybdenum, nickel and silver. The discovery of nickel prompted yet another report to state that “The whole area adjacent to Olalla appears to be an interesting one geologcially, and although very little ore has been shipped from the locality, a close study of mineral deposits is well worth while.”
The optimistic appraisal was never justified by development, however. The last major attempt to extract riches from the mountains surrounding Olalla took place in the late 1940s, when Hedley Monarch Mines established a tent camp and employed nine men at the minesite. From this activity, 225 tons of ore was shipped, grading 137 ounces of gold and 128 ounces of silver. The 1950s and 60s saw some grass roots interest in tungsten, molybdenum and manganese deposits recently discovered in the area, but no development work was ever done.
Today, Similkameen prospectors continue to stake mining claims in the Olalla area, but it appears – for the time being at least – that a major investment in Olalla’s mineral potential continues to remain elusive.