In 1858, gold drew thousands of prospectors to British Columbia, up the Fraser Canyon and throughout the Interior. In 1898, it was also the lure of gold that enticed prospectors into another part of the province: the North Coast. This was rugged and isolated land. Although it took days of travel north of Prince Rupert to enter this rumoured place of gold, the North Coast was not unknown to Westerners. The salmon runs of the Nass River had already drawn cannery operators. At least three canneries were in production at the time a large party of 64 prospectors from Seattle trekked even further north to explore up the Portland Canal and into the Bear River valley. The men never reached gold, but they did reportt observations of copper and silver.
The first mining claims were staked the same year near the mouth of the Bear River, and word of possible riches spread. The Northwestern Mining District, as the area later became known, was host to a variety of metals, but two were dominant. One mineralized zone was high in silver. (It was here. that the well-known Premier Mine would operate, producing over one billion grams of silver.) A second zone was rich in copper.
By 1908, the rip-roaring mining town of Stewart was established at the head of the Portland Canal on the Alaska border. Several other communities sprang up at the head of the canal, including Alice Arm and nearby Silver City. But what quickly emerged as the regional centre was the company town of Anyox, located in the zone where copper was dominant. Built by the Granby Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company, it would become home to more than 3,000 residents before closing its history as a ghost town.
William Collinson, George Rudge and H. B. Fluein from Port Simpson were the first to stake the Anyox area, in 1898, at Hidden Creek near Goose Bay (later renamed Granby Bay).
The Granby Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company was British Columbia’s largest copper producer. Its smelter at Grand Forks, one of the most efficient processors of low-grade copper ore in the world, was fed by the Interior’s productive Phoenix mines. Knowing, however, these mines were not going to last forever, the company began to look for alternatives. After an extensive search throughout BC, Washington State and the rest of Western Canada. the company, in1910, decided their best prospect was the North Coast, and acquired the Hidden Creek ore deposit.
Between 1914 and 1936, the Granby Consolidated Mining And Smelting Company mined 23,941,500 tons of copper ore which produced 708,880,800 pounds of copper, 6,633,ooo ounces of silver, and 121,300 ounces of gold.
In its early days, Granby was fortunate. While blasting an island from the entrance to Granby Bay, the workers had discovered a gold seam worth $3 million, which largely paid for the smelter. .As well, while laying sewers for the town site, workers located the type of special blue clay used to line the furnaces so it no longer had to be shipped in from the eastern United States.
But not everything continued as smoothly. There were labour disputes in1916; the company blamed the strikes on foreign agitators and enemy aliens. Then in the early 1930’s, the low price of copper led to wage reductions, the backlash of a bitter strike involving the provincial police and a violent confrontation. With continuing low prices and the cancellation of a contract to sell copper concentrate to Japan, the Granby Board of Directors decided to close the operation in 1906. The site was sold to Cominco (owners of the Trail Smelter) which retains it still. The old slag piles are being mined as an abrasive.
As for Anyox, the town was abandoned following its closure in 1942, a fire sweeping through the area destroyed the last homes. Today, concrete rubble and the story of those who lived and worked there are the last remnants of its history.