Phoenix, British Columbia: Ghost Town Reclaimed by Nature

February 5, 2012 § 10 Comments

Continuing in the vein of the Hawley Town Commons in Western Massachusetts and the changing rural landscape of Saint-Sylvestre, Québec, I present now to you the ghost town of Phoenix, British Columbia.  Phoenix is located in the Kootenay Mountains of eastern BC, not far north of the American border.

Phoenix, BC, 1912

About a century ago, Phoenix was a thriving copper mining town. It boasted modern amenities such as electricity and phone lines, there was a ballroom and an opera house. it had a stop on the stage lines that ran through the Boundary Region of the Kootenays, there was a post office and around 1900, both the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Great Northern Railway arrived in Phoenix.  In short, the town had made it. It was thriving.  But as was often the case in the mining regions of the North American west, the boom years were short.  At the end of the First World War, the price of copper dropped dramatically and the Phoenix Mine was shut down.  And the town of Phoenix died.

 

Phoenix Cenotaph, 1937

Phoenix First World War Cenotaph, 1937

In the 1920s, the homes and buildings were torn down or buried and there was nothing left of Phoenix, except for its First World War cenotaph, which is still there today.  Otherwise, nature has reclaimed the old town site of Phoenix, despite the operation of an open-pit mine in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.  When I visited Phoenix about 15 years ago, I was floored by the site.  I had seen other ghost towns in BC, most notably Barkerville, a tourist site.  But many other sites I had seen were maintained to at least some degree.  Phoenix was a smallish clearing in the dense forest, and the forest was rapidly moving back in, re-claiming its territory.  The grave yard was the most fascinating location on the old Phoenix townsite.  Most of the head stones were long gone.  Many of the graves no doubt never had a proper head stone in the first place, graves marked by wooden crosses, wooden heads, or whatever was handy.  One grave, otherwise unmarked, had a furniture cabinet as a marker.

But otherwise, the grave yard had 80 year old pine trees reclaiming their territory, encouraged by the heavy fertiliser in the soil in the form of decomposing human bodies.  (Since my visit, residents of nearby towns have sought to restore the graveyard some, restoring the headstones that do exist).  What struck me the most about standing in the Phoenix cemetery, though, was not so much the dilapidated headstones, the cenotaph in the distance, or the trees.  It was the black bear about 500 metres away, happily munching away on some berries.  It was also the bear that convinced us to get back in the car, slowly and quietly, and get the hell out of there.

 

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§ 10 Responses to Phoenix, British Columbia: Ghost Town Reclaimed by Nature

  • E A M Harris says:

    Fascinating. I feel for the people who lost their jobs and their homes, but they are long gone and it’s nice to hear about nature making a comeback.

  • John Matthew Barlow says:

    Well, if it makes you feel any better, it was the nature of the frontier economy of British Columbia at the time, and just as easily as the people breezed into Phoenix, they just as easily moved onto the next boom town. It was a booming time in general on the mining frontier of BC, plus there was also a robust forestry industry, so no one really suffered all that long in that sense, at least not until everything crashed in the early 30s. Thanks for reading.

    • Herb says:

      The open pit mine is now a pretty, deep lake but harbors no life.From the top of the mine is a fabulous view and the lake looks almost tropical going from aqua blue to deep blue with 1 or 2 blast ledges visible down thru the pristine clear water.As the lake ,for the most part,is dead the waters remain incredibly clear.There is 1 small corner where rushes grow and I’m sure, some sort of bug life in this small “oasis”.I wish I could send you some pictures that my grandson took this past thursday.

      • I haven’t been there since somewhere around 1996 or so. I was so haunted by the scene. I’d love to see those photos. My email address is on the About Me page, I believe.

  • Nancy Wyler says:

    My mother was born there, August 14, 1900 to an American mother and father.

    • John Matthew Barlow says:

      Really? That’s wild. It was such an eery place to stand and explore, I still remember it vividly some 20 years later. It was just such a random boomtown and then it all disappeared. Do you know where your grandparents went after Phoenix?

  • […] I have written before on the changing rural landscape in North America (Hawley, Massachusetts, Phoenix, British Columbia, and Sainte-Sylvestre, Québec), but in talking with Sam I began to think about […]

  • Valerie Roberts says:

    My great grandfather worked there and was killed in a mining accident. His grave can be seen in the reclaimed cemetery

  • Sally Kempston says:

    Where is the cemetery in relation to the cenotaph? My grandfather was born in Phoenix, and my great grandfather’s name is on the cenotaph. Was just there yesterday, but unaware that the cemetery still existed. Thanks!

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