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Comstock Mountain:
And the Yreka Copper Mine of Quatsino

by Lindsay Elms

The mountains on the northern end of Vancouver Island gradually begin to diminish in height when compared to their southern and central counterparts, however, open alpine vegetation can still be found on their summits considering their lower elevations. Unfortunately, many of the significant mountains up north usually have had some mining associated with it. Picturesque Merry Widow Mountain located east of Victoria Lake with an elevation of 1,402m (4,600 ft) has a large open pit quarry on its eastern slopes and numerous mining claims around its base. Across the Neroutsos Inlet from Juene Landing and at the northern end of the range that includes Mount Wolfenden is the 1,097m (3,600 ft) Comstock Mountain.

Yreka Mine, Quatsino-Mine BuildingsAlthough the mountain was only officially designated Comstock Mountain in 1959 it has been known by that name since around 1900. The name comes from its association with two groups of mineral claims located on its slopes: The New Comstock Group and the Superior Group. Local prospectors located the ore, which is copper pyrites carrying small gold and silver values in largely mineralized garnetite, on the mountain in 1898 but no development was undertaken for a couple of years until more surveys were undertaken.

In 1902 the Yreka Copper Company was set up and around $300,000 was spent to develop the mine site. The Yreka Camp, or townsite, was located at the 1,050 foot elevation and was reached by a wagon road that zigzagged up the mountain. The camp employed sixty men and consisted of a store, a small sawmill, a blacksmith shop, a bunkhouse, a cookhouse, a post office and the Quatsino mining recorders office.

The mine boasted an aerial tramway from the beach to the mine site and two baby trams ran a further 200 feet to the workings. There were two large ore bunkers each with a capacity of 2,500 tons plus substantial trestles for running the ore from the bunkers to the ore carrying ships.

The mine consisted of an open quarry and three tunnels, one of which was around 800 feet deep. A sixteen foot water driven Pelton wheel under a head of 400 feet was installed at the 1,050 foot level to run the mine's ten-drill compressor. For most of the year there was sufficient water to operate the Pelton wheel, however, in August 1903 the operations were suspended due to the lack of runoff water but it began again in October when the heavy fall rain commenced.

In 1903 the North-Western Smelting and Refining Company assumed control of the property under a tonnage contract but by the end of the year they were unable to make payment due to low-grade ore. The mine then remained idle until the fall of 1916 when N.S Clarke and Associates bonded the mine and resumed work. Unfortunately, the ore shipped out in the spring of 1917 proved again to be of low grade and the mine was once more closed down.

Yreka Mine, Quatsino Wharf and Lower TerminalThe Yreka Mine lay abandoned until it was again examined in 1928 but no further work was undertaken until 1951. The Noranda Mining Company of Canada made an extensive preliminary mineral survey of the Yreka property by surface diamond drilling and their reports looked promising. By 1954 fourteen men were employed full time. In 1955 the road was reconstructed and a slack-line tramway built, however, in 1956 underground development was stopped temporarily when a rockslide destroyed the tramway serving the upper camp and workings. Production again ceased at the end of 1956.

Finally, in 1964 the Yreka Mine again went into production and the following year work underground commenced. Surface construction included building a concentrate-loading dock with a loading capacity of 200 tons per day, a 4,000 ton capacity concentrate storage shed and a camp recreation hall, unfortunately, by the end of September 1967 the main body of copper ore had been exhausted and the mine again ceased production.

Over the years over 3,752 tons of ore were removed from the Yreka Mine on Comstock Mountain. Out of that ore came 59 troy ounces of gold, 4,254 troy ounces of silver and 174,642 pounds of copper and there is a reported estimate of 350,000 tons of ore in reserve that potentially contains 2.5% in copper, 1.3 g/t of gold and 34 g/t of silver.

Today the Yreka Mine sits abandoned like a ghost town on the eastern slopes of Comstock Mountain but who is to say that in the future another mining company won't attempt to profit once again from the copper found within the mountain. However, in the meantime, the old roads and trails give access to the summit of the mountain for the hiker where, on a clear day, spectacular views are obtained over northern Vancouver Island.

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