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The Sheep Creek boulder

Updated: Dec 30, 2022

One day, in the mining town of Sheep Creek, southeast of Salmo, a giant boulder came crashing down the mountainside, flattening the front end of a car and hitting a house.

The Salmo Museum has some amazing photos of the incident, seen here.

(From top, Salmo Museum 87.14.2; 87.14.3; no accession number; and 87.14.4)

But when exactly did it take place and what else might be known of the circumstances?

According to the catalogue card, the photos were donated by Chris Hansen in 1988 and came with this caption:

Big rock at Kootenay Belle mine, summer 1932. Rock fell and bounced off hillside. Car was owned by the engineer at Kootenay Belle. Car was a Ford. Whole family were in car. When the rock fell it drove the engine of the car three feet into the road-bed. The house belonged to Carl McDonna (tenants).

However, when the Nelson Daily News was recently digitized through the 1930s, I was perplexed there was no sign of the incident. Surely it would have made the news. Was the date wrong or was I not using the right search terms?

Turns out it was the former. I had to wait a little longer for the digitization project to get to 1941, for the incident actually occurred on May 13 of that year, in the late afternoon.

The Daily News ran a story three days later, reporting that the boulder was 12 feet (3.5 metres) in diameter. The coupe was parked. Damage to the home, near the Kootenay Belle office, was “slight,” and a second much smaller boulder (“about the size of an office desk”) struck another car, doing about $200 damage (about $3,500 today).

A woman was in the house at the time and the second car was occupied, but nobody was injured. It was estimated the boulders rolled 400 feet (120 metres), but there was no indication what triggered them.

“The half of the coupe poking from under the rock was said not to be worth the cost of salvaging,” the newspaper reported.

Nelson Daily News, May 16, 1941

Three days later, the newspaper ran two photos of the crushed car taken by P.H. Russell, although the microfilm versions here reproduced very badly. The caption added that guesses about the boulder’s weight reached 100 tons.

At the time, a weekly newspaper also existed serving Salmo and Sheep Creek called the South Kootenay News. Their account was mostly similar to what appeared in the Daily News.

South Kootenay News, May 21, 1941

However, they ran no pictures. While they only occasionally published local photos, you would think this would have been one of those times.

A brief follow-up item in the May 28, 1941 edition of the South Kootenay News confirmed some of the details in the Salmo Museum caption, namely that the home was a duplex, occupied by T. McDonough and Boyce York and their wives. It said Mrs. McDonough saw the rock sliding down. It struck the side of the house the Yorks lived in. The coupe belonged to Stan Bruce, while a Mr. Cooper owned the other car.

“The rock broke the Kootenay Belle pipe line, damaged the power line and telephone line,” the paper added.

There was no information I could find in either newspaper about how the boulder was removed. As a mining community, I’m sure it was completely within their wheelhouse. Still, it would have been a delicate task given the proximity to the home, so I’m curious how they accomplished it.

Sheep Creek became a ghost town after gold prices dropped in the 1950s. There are some surviving ruins, but the giant boulder is not among them.

UPDATE: Stan Bruce was a brother-in-law to Gray Creek sage Tom Lymbery, who explains: “He was frustrated as he had parked his car for the winter and discontinued the insurance.”

Tom also discussed the boulder with his niece, Janet Bruce, who is Stan’s granddaughter. She provided the clipping seen below, from an unknown source. It contains some contradictory information, including the wrong year, but the final paragraph answers my question.

It took local miners three weeks to blast the boulder small enough to clean up the mess — chiefly because they didn’t want to damage any of the homes surrounding it.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Boyce and Mona York’s youngest daughter, Ellen Bryden of Genelle, provided still more pictures of the incident and the following account.

My parents met at the Kootenay Belle mine townsite and married on Dec. 9, 1939. My father was working there as a mechanic and my mother was helping to care for Mrs. McDonnough, who was unwell at the time.

When the boulder came crashing down,

My mother was in the company of Mrs. McDonnaugh. My mother’s greatest memory of the incident was the road of the rock coming down the mountain and then the resounding crash when it struck the car. On venturing outside, they discovered that the car had been severely damaged … [T]he owner of the car, which was brand new, had only intended to park the car in front of the house for a short period!
… Sometime after the boulder incident, and not because of it, our parents moved to property in Nelway where they were living when their first daughter Patricia was born.

Updated on Oct. 13, 2022 with the first addendum and Dec. 30, 2022 with the second addendum.

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Rex Benda
Rex Benda
Nov 06, 2022

Greg: The Sheep Creek boulder story, the Ford car is a 1949 Ford coupe. If he bought it new the time period could be September 1939 -1940 or even 1941. Love your website and the history of southeast BC.


Reginald Garnett
Reginald Garnett
Sep 26, 2022

Thanks, Greg, was there also another mine at sheep creek? The HB mine owned by Cominco? I was driven to it in 1950 or 1951 by a Cominco shop steward to see if the mine would give me a job (they) didn't. I saw the mine portal, and the waste dump, an assay office, and a series of settling tanks so there must have also been a crusher and concentrator. Reg Garnett. P. S. I was 20 or 21 at the time.

Reginald Garnett
Reginald Garnett
Sep 26, 2022
Replying to

I am now 91

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