I was born in Grand Forks in the Boundary country of British Columbia, but spent most of my childhood and teens in Greenwood, where our family settled in 1949. The distance between the two communities is approximately 25 miles, but one can also travel between the two by going straight up the Post Office hill in Greenwood and travelling through the former site of the City of Phoenix and connecting once more with Highway #3 before continuing east to Grand Forks.
Not much is left of the grand City of Phoenix, just a large hole in the mountain where Granby Mining Company operated an open pit mine from the late 1950s to the 1970s, a cenotaph erected to honour the soldiers who gave their lives in the First World War, and the old Phoenix cemetery. Whatever remained after Phoenix was abandoned was destroyed by the open pit mining. From time to time, mining companies came into the area again, but none of those turned out to be very successful. However, in its heyday, between 1896 and 1919, Phoenix was a modern, bustling, cosmopolitan city of approximately 4,000 people, known as the San Francisco of the North. At an elevation of 4,633 feet above sea level, it was also referred to as the Mile High City. The community boasted more than 20 hotels, an opera house, its own City Hall, school, modern hospital, post office, doctors’ and lawyers’ offices, general merchandise stores, stage lines, livery stables, a ballroom, banquet hall, two railways: the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Great Northern Railway, churches, newspapers, many fine homes of frame construction but many of brick, one of which was the house our family lived in for two months in the spring of 1949 prior to our move down the mountain to Greenwood. Phoenix had its own brewery to supply beer to the more than 17 saloons which were open 24 hours a day. Gambling establishments and ladies of the night, while not exactly part of high society, were found in abundance in these early mining communities and Phoenix was no exception. There were tennis courts and a hockey arena, as well as curling and skiing venues. It’s interesting that the first professional hockey in British Columbia was apparently played in Phoenix. It was a thriving community with its own telephone and electricity services and there was no lack of fine food and high class accommodation to be had. Phoenix’s magistrate, Judge Willie Williams, who was supposedly 6’6” tall and served sixteen years from 1897 to 1913, often boasted: “I am the highest judge in the highest court in the highest city in Canada.”
Our family travelled from Greenwood up the mountain to Phoenix many times over the years for picnics and exploring amongst the ruins that were still there during the 1950s before open pit mining destroyed what was left. My father, John Kleman, was familiar with all the various mines in the area, having worked at many of them over the years, and both he and his younger sister Margaret were born in Phoenix in 1908 and 1910, respectively, during the time my grandfather was employed there. Most of the city was just rubble by this time, but there were many finds we came across in our travels, including beautiful old bottles, silver cutlery and table settings, pottery and old pots and pans. I remember Dad taking us on many tours through the residential areas and pointing out the depressions in the ground which signified where a house had once stood. We could still see the remains of the elevated board sidewalks used by the residents of Phoenix to navigate their way through the many different elevations of Phoenix. I recall Dad telling us that the mines ran right under the city of Phoenix, and areas of the city occasionally collapsed into an underground mine, leaving the sidewalk suspended in the air. It was difficult to imagine that a large city such as Phoenix with all the amenities described here once stood on this site, and during and after each trip up the hill to poke around Phoenix, I would revel in my childish day dreams of its lost grandeur and forgotten glory days.
However, this famous city did not exist for long, and after the First World War ended in 1918, the combination of a drastic drop in the price of copper and a coke miners’ strike in the Kootenays spelled the beginnings of the death of Phoenix. The last shipment of copper ore occurred in 1919 and shortly thereafter, the grand exodus began and Phoenix went from being the largest producer of copper ore in British Columbia to the largest Canadian ghost town ever seen. Wrecking crews dismantled the larger structures, took them away and re-assembled them in other communities. People abandoned their homes, leaving with only what they could get into a wagon or truck, and moved on to the next mining boom town. Some were able to sell their houses, fully furnished, for fire sale prices and many residents of Greenwood, Grand Forks and other neighbouring communities acquired a grand piano or other expensive piece of furniture for next to nothing, or, in some cases, simply helped themselves!
In between the glory years of Phoenix and the time when Granby formally commenced its mining operations in the 1950s, there was further activity at some of the old mining sites in the Phoenix area, as there has been, off and on, to the present. My mother informed me that a long-time resident of Greenwood recalls that my maternal great grandparents, Arthur Burrough Fenwick, Sr. and Elizabeth Rose Fenwick, lived in “the big house with the cupola” near the Post Office in Greenwood in 1928. Mother was able to find a couple of references in the Greenwood Ledge newspaper, including in 1929: “A.B. Fenwick and son at Phoenix working at the Brooklyn Mine”. This fact, together with the information about living in the big house, was also confirmed by the son, my great uncle Arthur Burrough Fenwick, Jr. who later lived in Bridesville and then in Vernon. Next, in a March, 1929 issue of the Ledge, she found where “a carload of ore was shipped to the smelter in Trail” by them. Lastly, Arthur Burrough Fenwick, Sr. received an official appointment as a Magistrate in Greenwood in the early 1930s. Both my older brother and my step-father worked for Granby in the 1960s and 1970s, and all of this information clearly shows that my family had a direct connection to the long-gone city of Phoenix, which never did rise again from the ashes, unlike the bird of ancient mythology!