Crofton, Vancouver Island

Crofton, Vancouver Island

by | Aug 13, 2021

Crofton is a small coastal community at Osborne Bay on the southeast coast of Vancouver Island, about 34 miles (55 km) north-northwest of Victoria and 26 miles (42 km) southeast of Nanaimo, British Columbia. The area is the traditional territory of the Halalt First Nation, although the area was reputedly inhabited by a band called Tliyamen, meaning “people of the mountain”, they disappeared before the arrival of European colonists. The Oregon Treaty between Britain and the United States was signed on June 15, 1846, to end the Oregon boundary dispute and settle competing American and British claims to the Oregon Country, an area jointly occupied since the Treaty of 1818. Between 1846 and 1849, the British were anxious to establish a permanent presence on the Pacific Northwest and were resolved to establish a colony on Vancouver Island. High-level negotiations occurred in London regarding the fate of British Oregon, and the Colonial Office eventually accepted a proposal by the Hudson’s Bay Company to colonize the island. In 1849, the company was awarded the island for the advancement of colonization and development of trade and commerce. The main condition was that the company establish settlements of British colonists on the island by 1854 or forfeit the grant. Land suitable for agriculture is limited on Vancouver Island and the best available was along a coastal fringe extending north from Victoria on the eastern shore. The land adjacent to Osborne Bay was ideal and soon was cleared and settled by several homesteaders who cut timber and established farms. Henry Croft became involved in mining on Mount Sicker, about 5 miles (8 km) west of Osborne Bay, and in 1902, founded the town of Crofton.

In 1895, prospectors Thomas L. Sullins, T. McKay, and Henry Buzzard discovered traces of copper, gold, and silver on Mount Sicker and staked their mining claims. In spring 1896, Harry Smith became the new partner following the death of McKay, and the group worked the claim but found no promising ore. In August, a forest fire swept through the western face of the mountain, destroying their cabin and gear, and the miners were forced to abandon the shaft being dug and flee. In spring 1897, when Smith returned, the burned area revealed a mineral outcrop 30 feet (9 m) wide at an elevation of 1400 feet (430 m). Within weeks of the discovery, prospectors had staked the entire mountain. Harry Smith named the new strike Lenora, after his daughter. In fall 1897, Harry Smith established the Lenora, Mount Sicker and BC Development Company which built a wagon road from the mine to a company siding on the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway. But the wagon teams could not keep pace with the mine output, so the company then built a narrow-gauge railway that ran for 3 miles (5 km) using horse-drawn railway wagons. The wagon road and railway allowed the company to transport 200 tons of ore per week but this was much less than the 150 tons per day the mine produced. In 1898, Henry Croft provided the company with investment capital and became a majority shareholder and manager. He reorganized the company as Lenora, Mount Sicker Copper Mining Company. In 1900, the Leonora and Mount Sicker Railway was built that operated a locomotive and two 10-ton ore cars. Henry Croft also purchased land at Osborne Bay for a smelter, shipping terminal, and townsite. In 1901, the Northwestern Smelting and Refining Company began construction. In 1902, the village was established, the smelter opened, and the company extended the railway line to Crofton. Mining ceased in late 1902 when the company went into receivership. Having exhausted other ore supplies, the smelter closed in 1903. In 1906, the Britannia Mining & Smelting Company bought the smelter. Following plummeting copper prices during the Panic of 1907, the smelter closed in January 1908, and the town population quickly declined. Several other mines also worked the Mount Sicker deposit including the Tyee and Richard 111 claims. Between 1898-1964, a cumulative total of 305,787 tons of ore was extracted. From this ore, 37,666 ounces (1,068 kg) of gold, 802,795 ounces (22,759 kg) of silver, 8,880 tons of copper, 162 tons of lead, 1,896 tons of zinc, and 9,853 pounds (4,469 kg) of cadmium were recovered.

The Westholme Lumber Company was formed in 1907 by Solomon Cameron and partners as contractors and lumber manufacturers. They leased the defunct Leonora and Mt. Sicker Railway to transport logs to a sawmill established at the Mount Sicker Siding of the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway. The Westholme Lumber Company Logging Railroad used the old mining equipment and operated from 1908 to 1912. They logged around Mount Sicker, using 15 miles (24 km) of tracks, two Shays, four rail trucks, and one logging engine. The sawmill had a capacity of 30,000 board feet per day and the lumber output was used almost entirely by the company’s contracting work. The Westholme Lumber Company failed financially in 1919. By the mid-1920s, the Crofton spur of the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway was used to transport logs to the Osborne Bay wharf. Logging trains brought raw logs out of the forest to Osborne Bay where they were debarked in the water and loaded onto ships for export. Lumber was also shipped from Osborne Bay by Industrial Timbers Ltd., Western Forest Industries, and MacMillan Bloedel Lumber Co. In 1955, the smelter wharf was converted to a ferry dock to service Salt Spring Island. In 1957, British Columbia Forest Products established a pulp and paper mill called the Crofton Mill. In 2019, the Crofton Mill was purchased by Catalyst Paper and continues to operate. Read more here and here. Explore more of Crofton here:

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