Around the time the Britannia Mine was barely a glint in the eye of early investors, another mine was being developed in eastern BC - a mine that was to become one of the greatest lead-zinc mines in the world, the Sullivan Mine at Kimberley.
Like Britannia's early years, before the mine there was no settlement there. First came four prospectors in 1892 who discovered ore on what is now known as Sullivan Mountain. The mountain was named after Pat Sullivan who was one of the prospectors. It was actually a nearby mine which had attracted them, but they were the ones who got lucky, discovering an ore body which produced almost 10 million tons of lead, 9 million tons of zinc and 337 ounces of silver. It became clear early on that the Mine had potential. It was this that led to the renaming of the settlement to Kimberley, after the famed diamond mine in South Africa.
We have a large chunk of Sullivan ore on display at the Museum. It is by far the biggest ore piece we have on site, a monster piece you might call it. Now rock is heavy, but our piece of Sullivan ore is far heavier, owing to the lead content in particular. Lead is a very dense - or heavy - metal. Its most common ore, galena (lead sulphide) contains about 80% lead. When present in a rock it dramatically increases the overall weight of the rock. Our Sullivan ore weighs about 6.5 tonnes, which makes it roughly one and a half times heavier than a 'normal' rock of the same size. It contains enough lead to make 250 car batteries.
The ore of the Sullivan Mine was deposited around 1.4 billion years ago. As sediments were being laid down at the bottom of a shallow sea, heat from a magma source deep below ground was circulating metal rich muds and waters through the sediment layers above. Galena (lead sulphide), sphalerite (zinc sulphide), pyrite and pyrrhotite (iron sulphides) and silver all accumulated in between the sediment layers. Over time, everything was buried deep in the earth's crust where the sediments became rock. Geological forces buried these layered rocks so deep (3 to 5 km) that they became ductile and folded under pressure. Yet more time and crustal movements brought the rock sequence back to the surface where Pat Sullivan and his prospecting buddies eventually discovered the ore....which brings us back to the Mine. Looking closely at our ore piece, you can see the folds in the darker layers of ore.
The Sullivan Mine operated until 2001, an impressive 92 years after production first started. Ore was sent to the Trail smelter. During World War I when demand for lead and zinc were high, the smelter was relying on the Sullivan Mine for survival. Looking for a more profitable recovery, they developed the process of refining zinc through electrolysis. This process is still used today to turn zinc ore into high grade zinc.
We recently had to move our piece of Sullivan ore. No small feat given its size and weight. We would like to sincerely thank the crew of Miller Capilano for donating their time and equipment in moving it for us. It now looks great in its new home.
Sullivan Geological Formation
Header image: zinc, Alchemist-hp