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Mysteries of the Chamber of Mines

Updated: Feb 21

There are two peculiar things about the Chamber of Mines of Eastern BC’s research centre and mineral museum at 215 Hall St. in Nelson.

First, we don’t really know how old the building is (at least its original section) or what it was originally used for.

Was it built in 1910? Or 1914? Or 1961? I have found all three dates cited, despite the fact that the first and last mentioned are more than 50 years apart.

The 1914 estimate comes from BC Assessment, which is not always accurate, but usually not off by decades.

However, the building does not appear in the civic directories from 1913 or 1914, which contain street-by-street listings. Nothing is shown at all on the east side of the 200 block of Hall Street. Touchstones Nelson archivist J.P. Stienne could not find a plumbing permit for it nor any mention of it on the tax assessments.

The building does, however, show up on the 1948 fire insurance map. It is shaded in blue, denoting a concrete building. Two wooden buildings are shown adjacent to it on either side, one of them quite small.

Curiously, there’s a “D” on the concrete building for “dwelling.” Yet there’s no listing for it in the civic directories of 1950-51, 1953, or 1955. I haven’t been able to spot the building in any old photos.

However, according to longtime Chamber of Mines member Jack Denny, by the 1950s the building belonged to Central Truck and Equipment, whose main complex was at the corner of Hall and Front (the former Nelson Iron Works), seen at top left. They used the other building to store parts and scrap metal.

After Central Truck shut down in the 1970s, the City of Nelson acquired both properties and briefly moved their shop into the main building on the corner. They did not, however, use the future Chamber of Mines building.

As for how its present use was established, a story in the Nelson Daily News of Nov. 1, 1977 explained the Chamber of Mines was on the verge of folding that year when it was forced to move from its longtime home in the Oddfellows Block at 302 Baker.

But two members said “they would fight to the death, either theirs or the chamber’s, to keep it alive.” Fritz Farenholtz and Dave Norcross went looking for a new home for the chamber and soon found one in the building on Hall Street.

Jack Denny says the building was in “a very derelict state but would have been expensive to remove due to the thick cement walls inside and out. It was full of old equipment parts and scrap metal which the chamber disposed of.”

Nelson Daily News, Nov. 1, 1977

Denny says at the time there were at least three thick concrete walls separating different rooms. Jerry Iwanik drilled and blasted them before remodeling began.

“The chamber had a successful fundraising for the construction and we used Jimmy Sawada who did a great job at a reasonable cost,” Denny says. “I am not sure if there was a roof at all when the process started. It was in very poor shape.”

Until that point, the building had no plumbing, which explains the lack of a plumbing permit.

The Daily News story mentioned above gave no indication of the building’s previous uses, but stated, without providing a source: “The building itself was poured in 1910, the first to be made of concrete mixed in an automatic mixer.” (I assume they meant the first in Nelson.)

Despite this apparent distinction, a search of the digitized Daily News for that era finds no mention of its construction. Then again, I’m not sure what to look for besides “automatic mixer.”

I also asked the late Alan Ramsden about the building. He believed it was “Nelson’s first concrete block” but wasn’t sure what it was originally. I thought perhaps it was built as a storage facility associated with the recreation grounds/Civic Field, but Alan didn’t think so.

The City of Nelson still owns the building and leases it to the Chamber of Mines. An “asset detail report” from 2017 claimed it was built in 1961, but I have no idea where that date came from.

When the chamber moved in, the building was only about half the size it is now. An addition was constructed on the southeast side in 1991 and so closely mirrored the original that you’d be hard pressed to tell the old from the new.

A land title search of the property would sort out its ownership over the years, and might contain some hints about when it was constructed, but would not necessarily tell us anything about its use.

The second mystery concerns something found embedded in the sidewalk in front of the door: the letters “CM” and “1921.”

At first I wondered if this concrete slab used to sit outside the old chamber office on Baker Street and was somehow lugged down to Hall Street. But now I think it’s more likely to have been created when the chamber moved there in 1977.

Why? Because the Chamber of Mines was founded in 1925, not 1921. It stands to reason that the error was made long after the fact.

With thanks to J.P. Stienne, Jack Denny, Brad Gretchev, and Alan Ramsden

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George Manson
George Manson

Very interesting article .Thsnkyou!

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