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The rival cities of Grand Forks and Columbia

The early history of Grand Forks, British Columbia, was in fact a "tale of two cities" ... between the original townsite of Grand Forks at the fork of the two Kettle Rivers, originally incorporated in 1897, and the smaller neighbouring settlement of Columbia which was incorporated in 1899, and is now occasionally referred to as West Grand Forks.

The two cities were competitors. Their city councils competed for small businesses and lobbied mining interests and railways to take advantage of the unique benefits offered them by their respective communities. The two rivals ultimately settled their differences by amalgamation in 1899 although the newly amalgamated city was only later incorporated as the City of Grand Forks by an Act of BC Parliament in 1903 (Link).

As it turned out, both communities were poised to receive great economic benefits and considerable prestige from the mining and railroad boom of the next two decades.

Rival Railroads

Phoenix Granby mining officials, Spokane entrepreneur J.P. Graves and Quebec investor S.H.C. Miner, were eager to build a smelter somewhere near Grand Forks for their low-grade copper ores, but they first needed assurance that rail transport would be conveniently available. They began exploring a relationship with two potential competing railways, James Hill's anticipated Washington & Great Northern (W&GN) and Victoria Vancouver & Eastern (VV&E) that would follow the Kettle River from Marcus via Cascade to Midway, and Thomas Shaughnessy's (W.C. Van Horne's) Columbia & Western (C&W), which looked more immediately promising as it had already acquired Frederick Heinze's railway charter for a new railway between West Robson and Midway. While discussions continued, the Granby mines began pre-emptively stockpiling their copper ores and Graves and Miner pre-empted land for the Phoenix townsite. The town lots virtually sold over-night, and with sufficient funds for a down payment on a new smelter, the two proceeded to search for a suitable location. They chose a site just outside the Grand Forks north-east city boundary on the North Fork of the Kettle, now the Granby River, on Fritz Panzlaff's District Lot 495, formerly granted in 1893. Preliminary design work and construction of the smelter would have presumably begun by 1898 although the heavy lifting would need to wait for rail transport. Somewhat frustrated as they awaited a commitment from the railways, Granby delivered its first load of copper ore to the Grand Forks smelter by wagon on April 11, 1900. A grand opening ceremony of sorts was held at the smelter on August 13, 1900, and this wagon-load of ore was likely used for the inaugural burn.

Perhaps more by luck than good timing, the Columbia and Western (C&W-CPR) finally did arrive in Grand Forks in 1899, and continued on to Midway, just in time to fulfill the terms of its charter. As a result of a disagreement with Grand Forks city officials, the CPR chose to build its main yard, roundhouse and station at Columbia instead, adding to the confusion and dismay of Columbia residents, by naming its passenger depot, the "Grand Forks" station". A branch line was then soon extended uphill from Eholt to Phoenix, and Granby officials, with accessible rail transport at hand, acted quickly to complete the construction of their smelter. CPR ore cars delivered their first load of Phoenix ore to the Granby smelter in July 1900 and it finally began production on August 21, 1900. Dan Corbin's railway, however, was not forgotten. James J. Hill, another formidable CPR competitor, took charge of the Kettle River route to complete his own Great Northern (VV&E) railway to Phoenix in 1905.

The Granby Smelter under construction

Mr. Charles A. Bramble, a practising assayer and metallurgist, was a resident of Columbia in the late 1890s. He was also a correspondent for the widely respected Mining Record trade journal of that time when he penned an excellent first-hand account of the new Granby Smelter then under construction. His illustrated article and detailed description of the smelter appeared on page 207 of the 1900 January copy of the Mining Record. Aside from a number of rare early photographs of the smelter, the article also included the above conceptual drawing and two somewhat more technical drawings: a general top-down site plan of the smelter works and a drawing of the water-driven electrical power plant. (Link to article) (Link to text only transcription).

His account of the smelter also appeared in the earlier New York Mining and Engineering Journal of 1899 in the form of two detailed articles. The first of these articles, dated December 9, 1999 (Link), was a comprehensive account of the Boundary Mining District in general; the second, dated December 16, 1999 (Link), was a version of the forementioned article. This article included the same two drawings.

As these articles were published in print, Mr. Bramble was overseas with a Canadian Military Contingent in South Africa where the Canadians assisted the Brits in their war with the Boers. We don't know what ever happened to Mr. Bramble after then, but we do know that the Phoenix Spion Kop hillside was named in honour of a famous battle in that war that did not turn out well for the British.


The 1905 issue of the Phoenix Pioneer's Phoenix and Boundary Mining Journal previously posted here in its entirety, also included an excellent article on the Granby Consolidated Mining Company as it existed at that time. It details the historic origins of the company, its principal managers and superintendents, its Phoenix mineral claims and workings, and a brief description of the Grand Forks Granby Smelter as it systematically expanded its machinery and production. This may well be the best first-hand comprehensive account of the company's operations in the Phoenix and Grand Forks area at the time and it is no wonder that many accomplished historians and writers have drawn considerable detailed information from it and other articles in the Mining Journal. (Link to Granby article)

And another excellent later first hand personal account of the smelter by Mining and Scientific Press writer, T.A. Rickard who visited the smelter in 1917, is available online at the public Internet Archive and can also be viewed here: (Link)

Grand Forks Granby Smelter 1912

Granby Smelter online photographs

A simple search on the B.C. Provincial Archive website reveals dozens of excellent Phoenix, Grand Forks and Granby smelter photos, and there are likewise a number of historical societies and many individual enthusiasts posting images on social media and public gallery platforms. A number of Granby smelter photos have been selected from these sources and reposted here as a set, with original photographers acknowledged when known. All photos have been cropped and resized for uniformity and most have been retouched somewhat to bring out shadow detail, and remove blemishes, scratches and creases.

View Photos: (Link)

The Three Boundary Smelter Photographs by W.J. Carpenter

The Grand Forks Granby Consolidated Miining, Smelting And Power Company Smelter - Click to view
Read about the Grand Forks smelter

The Greenwood Dominion - British Columbia Copper Company Smelter - Click to view
Read about the Greenwood smelter


The Boundary Falls Montreal & Boston Consolidated Company Smelter - Click to view
Read about the Boundary Falls smelter

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