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iN VIDEO: All you ever wanted to know about abandoned mines in B.C.

Ron Barkwill has documented hundreds of mines in B.C. This is at a site near Okanagan Falls.
Image Credit: Submitted/Ron Barkwill

When the dinner conversation turns to mining in B.C., the Okanagan is not likely to come up.

Kamloops may make the cut with its New Afton Mine and nearby Highland Valley Copper but all that comes readily to most minds in the Okanagan is the old Brenda Mine copper-molybdenum mine above Peachland that closed in 1990.

In reality, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of abandoned mines in the Okanagan. It’s just that most, but not all, didn’t amount to much.

“The Dankoe Mine between Keremeos and Osoyoos ran for 80 years,” Peachland resident Ron Barkwill told “It’s huge. I was in there two days and never saw it all. Frank (Schlichting) was in there for five and he got most of it.”

In fact Schlichting, who has posted about 350 videos on his Exploring Abandoned Mines YouTube channel and is about to open a mine museum near Grand Forks, shot half a dozen videos of the Dankoe mine alone.

That mine was first staked in 1901 and called the Horn Silver Mine. As with many B.C. mines, it ran for many years under different names, including Santos Silver Mines and Utica Mines.

In 1967, a 272-tonne per day mill was built and expanded to 363 tonnes per day later that year.

It became the Dankoe Mine in 1974 and closed 10 years later.

According to Government of B.C. records, from 1915 to 1984, it produced more than 127 million grams of silver, 332,992 grams of gold, 30,034 kg of copper, 328,458 kg of lead and 371,863 kg of zinc.

There is still lots of equipment down in that mine, including three locomotives.

While the two men share a love of abandoned mines, they approach their passion in very different ways.

Put simply, Barkwill is a researcher while Schlichting is an explorer.

Barkwill combs through a “swack” of government websites and searches things like Google Earth to find abandoned mines large and small.

Then he hunts them down.

“There’s a lot of people interested in it and want to know where they are so I provide information to them,” Barkwill said. “Once I’ve fully documented a mine and visited it and taken pictures and I’ve got accurate GPS locations, then I send that information to the B.C. Geological Survey for them to update their records.

“They didn’t have GPS back then, so they can be out by miles. There was one I found a couple of years ago that was two kilometres away from where it was supposed to be.”

Barkwill retired at the age of 52 and devotes himself to his two great joys – tracking down old mines and helping out at the Peachland Legion.

Exploring these old mines can be tricky.

“I’ve almost been killed a couple of times,” Barkwill said. “It was very, very close.”

One was in a mine near Sandon whose entrance was on a cliff and a wall of water came rushing in.

“We had to back out, grab our gear, run for the entrance and swing up there or we would have been washed right over the edge and into the canyon,” Barkwill said. “I’m talking two seconds to spare.”

Another time he was digging into a mine.

“My whole body was up inside this thing and I’m digging away and dirt started coming down so I pulled out really fast,” Barkwill said. “All of a sudden, about 10 tonnes of dirt just came flying down and I would have been crushed with maybe a second to spare.”

He admits that he was “pushing it” on those occasions and usually the exploration is much less exciting.

“A lot of these mines are quite safe because they’re solid rock,” Barkwill said. “If you go into a timbered mine, you know the ground is unstable. If it’s solid rock, then it’s a bomb shelter.”

Never touch the timbers because of the risk of dislodging the rock, he advised.

READ MORE: There’s gold in some Okanagan hills

The other thing to worry about going 100 metres or more into a mine is “dead air” – meaning a lack of oxygen.

Barkwill has a new oxygen monitor but continues to take his trusty back up device with him. That’s a cigarette lighter.

If the flame burns longer once he’s deep in a mine compared to the entrance, that means there’s a shortage of oxygen.

Mines on Crown land are legal to explore, Barkwill said. Companies with rights to the mines may say otherwise but they only own the mineral rights so can’t keep people out. Mines on private land are another matter.

Most of the mines Barkwill explores have been visited many times before.

“These are all 100-year-old mines so people have been going in them and getting souvenirs,” he said. “I’m not a souvenir hunter. I’m just there for the facts.”

Someone who is a souvenir hunter is Schlichting, who goes deep into mines, often repelling down to places few have visited for many years.

He started exploring mines years ago, making videos he posts weekly on his YouTube channel called ‘Exploring Abandoned Mines.’

He’s explored hundreds of mines all over Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

“Mines are being filled in, demolished, and/or collapsing at an alarming rate, so it is crucial to document them and save these artifacts while it is still possible,” Schlichting posted.

“We relive the prospecting, gold rush days, going back in history with every expedition, visiting abandoned and forgotten places, climbing down mine shafts into dangerous mines, finding treasures, seeing antique heavy equipment such as ore carts, crushers, milling machines, ball mills, explosives and other mining equipment.”

One video talks about he and his girlfriend Sharon Collna learning to repel into mines.

“We were able to get way down in the mines where very few people had ever been before,” Schlichting explained in the video. “As we got deeper and deeper below the surface, we started seeing a lot of artifacts that nobody had ever seen before.

“I thought to myself, what a waste that all this history is being lost and these artifacts are being destroyed – partially from being old and just being stored in a damp environment but also because mining companies are reclaiming sites and governments were filling in mines. Basically, they were just getting old and rusty so I started bringing them home.”

He created a 4,000-square-foot museum on his 25-acre property near the Grand Forks airport.

Schlichting has just sold that site and is moving to a 27-acre property off Hardy Mountain Road west of Grand Forks.

He bought that land because it’s the site of the Yankee Boy Gold Mine. He’s in the process of restoring it back to its original condition.

It was abandoned in 1942 and Schlichting thought he could easily dig it out a bit and make it operational as a tourist attraction.

He’s now restored the first 600 feet of the 1,300-foot mine, learning to build tracks and timber structures. Schlichting is also transferring his museum to the site, some of which will be inside the mine.

It will open to the public in May.

One adventure the two men shared was exploring the Oro Denoro mine near Greenwood – by kayak.

Barkwill only makes a cameo appearance in one video, preferring to stay in the background but a separate video shows Schlichting and Collna lowering their kayaks 100 feet down the mine shaft then paddling around.

“The first time I went in there I just went on an inner tube,” Schlichting said. “I got really cold, pretty much hypothermic. It was freezing in there. It was a lot more comfortable to kayak than wading in ice cold water up to your chest.”

While Schlichting posts his videos online for all to see, getting access to the documentation Barkwill produces is not so easy.

“I’m so busy doing research I don’t have time to do a book,” he said. “That was the original goal.”

READ MORE: iN PHOTOS: Treasure trove of historical depictions of life from Kamloops to Osoyoos

At the top of his agenda for this summer is researching mines in the Kamloops area for TRU student Samantha Gidora.

She’s working on her Masters thesis on methods to record bats in abandoned mine shafts.

Barkwill will comb through records of about 100 mines to narrow the search down to about 20 for Gidora to explore before selecting a handful to monitor.

“There’s a set of regulations out now where any mining company has to find out if there’s bats in the area so they don’t disturb the bats," Barkwill said. "They have to do their exploration at a certain time or a certain distance from bat habitat. This bat research is quite important.”

That means that he will ultimately be able to connect the dots between 100-year-old abandoned mines and today's mining industry that will create a legacy for future explorers.

For government documentation of mines in B.C., go here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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