Historic Mining that Shaped a Town and, Now, Maybe the World

Updated on May 17, 2017
Angelique Moss profile image

Angelique is a London-based entrepreneur, writer, and traveller. Her cup of tea includes business, finance, health, media, art and politics.

It was the end of an era when the Sullivan Mine closed in 2001, after about a hundred years in operation. For the entire 20th century, it had been known as one of the world’s largest deposits of zinc, silver and lead.

The history of the City of Kimberley in British Columbia, Canada—where the mine is located—is inseparable from that of the world-famous mine. The mine was discovered in 1892 by prospectors Walter Burchett, EC Smith, John Cleaver, and Pat Sullivan, who had crossed Mark Creek and ended up in what’s now known as Sullivan Mountain. The group staked three claims.

Sullivan would later die in a mine cave-in in Idaho. To honour his memory, his three business partners founded the Sullivan Group Mining Co. in 1896 and eventually began commercial mining in 1902.

City of Kimberley
City of Kimberley | Source

The city began as a small settlement called Mark Creek Crossing that grew alongside the mine. Eventually, as the success of the Sullivan mine grew, the settlement of Mark Creek Crossing was renamed as Kimberley. This was in reference to the rich diamond mines of Kimberley, South Africa. It was hoped that the yield of zinc, silver, and lead from Sullivan would be as generous as the one in South Africa.

Residents of the City of Kimberley are proud of their heritage of resourcefulness and resilience—qualities that are deeply rooted in their communities, even years after the Sullivan Mine was closed. The impact of mining not only on Kimberley, but on the world, cannot be overstated.

Mining and civilization

Mining, in general, has historical value not only for settlements or cities that develop around mining operations. In fact, human civilization itself would not be what it is today if not for mining. Nearly every single tool or instrument—for manufacturing, industry, medicine, communications, travel, and recreation—owes its existence to mining operations.

Your computer, mobile phone, car, airplanes, pacemakers, dialysis machines, scalpels and needles, even pots and pans—all these tools and machines we need for our way of life are made from valuable minerals and metals extracted from the earth. It’s not surprising then, that old mines are preserved and protected for posterity.

The Lion Cavern

Located in Swaziland in South Africa, the Lion Cavern is known as the oldest mine in the world. Scientists have found that men began mining the iron-ore way back 43,000 years ago. The Lion Cavern is located on a mountain called Ngwenya. In the local language, the word means “crocodile” and refers to the mountain's shape resembling the reptile, massive and basking in the sun.

Today, the Lion Cavern is a tourist attraction, along with another old mine in the area, the Ngwenya Iron Ore mine that operated in more modern times, from 1958 to 1979. Visitors to Swaziland are encouraged to make a trip to these sites. For more information, check out the official website of the Kingdom of Swaziland.

Cornish Mining World Heritage Sites

Another historic mining landscape is found in Cornwall and West Devon in Southwest England in the United Kingdom. The area was declared a World Heritage Site in 2006 by UNESCO. The mines in the area began operating during the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, mainly extracting tin and copper. At one point, Cornwall and West Devon supplied two-thirds of the world's copper and half the world's demand for arsenic. Mining operations in the site finally ended in 1998.

A visit to the Cornish Mining Heritage site is an eye-opener. Besides the mines themselves, there’s also a museum that preserves artifacts used by miners and the community for the past centuries. There are also a few old houses preserved for visitors to tour. All these give insights into the way of life in these mining settlements and into the technologies that were adapted to mining operations—that brought operations to the industrial level.

Mining Tech and the World

Technologies used in mining from hundreds of years ago, such as the steam engine, underground railways, lighting, ventilation, etc., paved the way for other technologies in use today. Two examples of technologies that began in the mining industry but had wider use in the world are a) dynamite and b) the steam engine. These two inventions, initially used in mining, have shaped the world as we know it.

By Chianti via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY SA 3.0
By Chianti via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY SA 3.0 | Source

The steam engine was invented in the 17th century, and its creation was spurred by the need to drain groundwater from the mine caverns and tunnels at a faster rate. The steam engine was able to power much better air and water pumps. Eventually, it was used in other industries, including in textile and glass manufacturing. Of course, it became standard in locomotives and steamships that changed the way the world conducts trade and transportation.

Dynamite, of course, despite its fearsome reputation and destructive effects, was crucial not only in mining but also in construction and demolition. Many of the world’s historic structures, such as bridges, trade passageways like the Panama Canal, etc., exist because of dynamite. Today, however, there are more modern explosives that are preferred—but dynamite is still used at times in bottom and underwater blasting.

Potential for New Historic Find

With the world dependent on resources for its survival and progress, any new mining discovery is welcomed with excitement—especially if it is an important one. Presently, the Sully Project, is now being explored near Kimberley, British Columbia, Canada.

The Sully Project, owned by Kootenay Zinc Corporation (CSE: ZNK.CN / OTCQB: KTNNF) is just 30 kilometers from the historic Sullivan Mine, and geologists have preliminary data to suggest that the two properties have similar geologic features and characteristics.

To get some perspective, let’s look at how much of these valuable metals were produced at the Sullivan mine. Throughout the mine’s one hundred years of operations, it produced 17 million metric tons of lead and zinc and 337 million ounces of silver from 150 million metric tons of feed. The value of production, when calculated at current prices, amounted to US$20 billion.

What makes Kootenay Zinc’s Sully project even more important today, is that there’s already a global shortage of this metal. Zinc is one of the primary materials used in manufacturing corrosion-resistant steel for buildings, used for battery storage , transportation, medical applications and the wide use in automotive exterior coatings for corrosion protection.

China, alone, now that it is in a massive industrialization and construction phase, will drive demand for zinc for years to come.

The Sully Project, much like Sullivan, the Lion Cavern, and the Cornish mining sites, could once again change our world.

Centuries of mining experience have produced sustainable methods of extracting ore and metal, so that the area surrounding mining sites can be protected. When a mine is shut down, operators can clean up and neutralize the waste left behind. This was the case during closure of the Sullivan mine in 2001. The massive effort for its closure and reclamation received International Awards.

Any future zinc find at Sully will ultimately benefit investors who want to take advantage of the expected high demand for zinc in the coming years—as well as the towns, people and consumers who use the products created from important resources.

The Kootenay Zinc Corp.
The Kootenay Zinc Corp. | Source

© 2017 Angelique Moss

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