Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Cominco Photo Collection - Kimberley, BC

Just one of the several boxes of Cominco photos gathered by their Kimberley Operations

Starting in ca 1910, shortly after the Sullivan Mine was opened here in Kimberley, BC,  the mine owners began collecting photos of the whole operation.  These photos were used for such things as advertizing, personnel and community relations, communications about machinery repair, and much more.

By the time the mine closed in December 2001, a vast collection of official company photos had been amassed.  Most were stored at Cominco’s Kimberley Office on Howard Street and some were kept in Trail and various other company locations.  When the Kimberley Office was closed, Teck Cominco kindly donated the older photos to the BC Archives and the more recent photos to the Kimberley Heritage Museum.

The Museum received 5,217 photos of Kimberley Operations, making this the largest photo collection from a single donor archived here at the Museum.

Organizing these thousands of photos required a person with intimate knowledge of the mine’s layout, it’s workings, it’s employees, their daily activities and special events. Who are the people in the photos? Where exactly in the mine was this photo taken? What is that machine? Which part of the Kimberley Operations does this depict – the mine itself, the mill, the fertilizer plant, the tin plant ... ?  What special or community event is this? And so on. 

Brian Crowe, miner and historian, holding an original photo depicting the workings deep in the Sullivan Mine

The task of describing, categorizing, and registering a photo in the Museum’s catalogue fell to a person most qualified to do the job, Museum Director Brian Crowe – himself a miner in the Sullivan for 32 years, and the son of George Crowe who served as a mine foreman for 37 years.

As a technician in the Geology Department, Mr. Crowe visited every corner of the mine. One of their jobs was to determine the fate of the recently blasted ore (called ‘muck’) now lying in a heap on the tunnel floor. If the muck had high enough concentrations of sought-after minerals to make it worth processing, it went to the Mill to be broken up in smaller pieces then shipped by rail to the Smelter in Trail, BC.  If not, it went to the ‘waste rock’ pile or was used to back-fill tunnels and raises (vertical tunnels). They could tell if the ore was economical usually by just looking at it!

Mr. Crowe worked on describing and organizing the thousands of photos every work day for 7 months.

Galena - Sullivan ore, on sale at the Museum

The Museum’s collection of Cominco photos is now easily searchable!

Now we can easily tell if we have a photo of a certain subject or person, for example, by looking at the digital or the printed copy of the finding aid.

Summer student, Allanah, compiling the descriptions to create a 'finding aid' - July 2012

Some of the subjects in the collection are as follows:

Community areas and buildings
Community events and organizations
Retirees and events
Sports teams and events
Local landscapes
Mining and processing locations

If you are searching for a photo that may be in this collection, the Museum advises that you first check the website of The Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History, which has some of the photos and an online ordering system for prints.

If you would like the Museum to search the collection for a specific subject, please phone 250.427.7510 to make an appointment or email to  Be advised there is a fee for researching and providing copies of the photo on a cash/cheque-only basis (see tab “Fees” on the above menu bar).

D. Cooper, volunteer - photos and article