For almost 30 years, the Kimberley Mining Railway has been in existence. Over the May long weekend, the popular tourist attraction opened for the season. An abundance of locals and tourists flocked to the train station to buy their tickets for the hour and 45 minute tour of the Mark Creek Valley.
The tour allows passengers to learn about the rich history of Kimberley and the Sullivan mine, and the miner guide describes what is involved in hard rock mining and how to use some of the mining equipment. Passengers take a tour of the powerhouse and learn how the compressors and generators, that once powered the mine, work.
According to the City of Kimberley’s website, Galena was discovered at the North Star Mine in 1891, which is now the location of the Kimberley Alpine Resort.
Four prospectors, Walter Burchett, EC Smith, John Cleaver and Pat Sullivan were drawn to the area because of the discovery of the abundant lead-zinc mine. The four realized that the entire hillside had been staked, so they crossed Mark Creek to explore what is now called Sullivan Mountain, where they found ore and staked three claims.
Six years later Burchett, Smith and Cleaver formed the Sullivan Group Mining Co. after Pat Sullivan, who died in a cave-in at a mine in Idaho.
With the mine booming, a small settlement formed and was called Mark Creek Crossing. In 1896 the settlement’s name was changed to Kimberley, in the expectation that the Sullivan Mine’s lead, silver, and zinc deposits would be as rich as the diamond mines of Kimberley, South Africa.
“The first shipments of ore to the smelters in Nelson and Trail began in 1900,” says the website. “Large-scale production of the ore started in 1923, following the takeover of the mine in 1910 by the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company Ltd, Cominco. Cominco went on to construct a Concentrator at Chapman Camp in 1922 and a Fertilizer Plant in 1951.”
In 1968, the community realized that Kimberley’s mineral resources would eventually be depleted and began to investigate new opportunities including recreational resources and tourism.
In 2001, the Sullivan Mine closed, beginning the transition for the community of Kimberley.
Part of that transition involved the creation of the Kimberley Underground Mining Railway (KUMR).
As KUMR describes online and in their tour, the railway originated with the idea of having a commuter train route from downtown Kimberley to the ski hill. In 1978 the Kimberley Steam Railway and Navigation Society was formed by a group of men who went to an abandoned mine at Salmo B.C to obtain rails for the new project.
In the Spring of 1984, the railway, named the Bavarian City Mining Railway (BCMR), was operational and had a ridership of 4,681 passengers. The route consisted of a two and a half kilometre track, which circled the Happy Hans Campground.
In 1995, the railway line was extended by five kilometres, winding down the mountainside and through the Mark Creek Valley to the Downtown Station.
By 2004, the extension to the Kimberley Alpine Resort was completed.
In 2005, the drilling a 750 foot tunnel began. This tunnel is located in the Mark Creek Valley and houses the Sullivan Mine Interpretive Centre. The tunnel project was funded by the Canada/British Columbia Infrastructure program and by Teck Cominco Ltd. The excavation was done by former Sullivan miners employed by Redding Mining of Kimberley.
In 2006, the BCMR volunteers constructed a new locomotive on three new railcars and by autumn of that year the final construction of the rail bed, laying of rails, and underground facilities were complete.
Today, the KUMR operates on weekends during May and June, and daily tours begin July 1. The tours take place at 11a.m., 1p.m., and 3p.m. and the resort express tours run at 10a.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and holiday Mondays.
Ticket prices range from free to $25, depending on your age. Groups and school groups get a discounted rate for bringing 20 or more people. The entire train is even available for rental, for special occasions such as weddings, at a rate of $750.
For more information on tours, rates, history and photos, visit the website at www.kimberleysundergroundminingrailway.ca.