Have you ever visited a ghost town? The Slocan Valley has a number of them, but the biggest and easiest to get to is Sandon. We normally associate ghost towns with the Wild West, and boy, does Sandon fit the bill!
In years gone by, Sandon was called the Monte Carlo of North America. It was the capital of the Silvery Slocan. In the late 1800’s over 5,000 people made this boomtown their home. And just like in old movie boomtowns, there were hotels (29), saloons (28), houses of ill-repute (85)!, breweries (3), a handful of churches (obviously not as popular as the saloons and brothels), sawmills, a school, a hospital, 2 newspapers, theatres and operas houses, a bowling alley and curling rink, and even a cigar factory. Providing electricity for all this development was the first hydroelectric utility in British Columbia.
If this gives you the picture of a rollicking frontier town fuelled by gold fever, you’re close. Silver was the metal, and like any boomtown, Sandon drew its share of prostitutes and prospectors, miners and millionaires, con artists, land speculators, and those servicing the greedy and the good.
Pictures from the turn of the last century show aerial tramways strung between the town and the hundreds of mines way up on the mountains. Railways stand perched on precarious-looking trellises, and horses and buggies vie for space with pedestrians dressed in their finery.
Located in a narrow valley and built right over Carpenter Creek, Sandon was doomed from the start. Wooden buildings packed close together provided fuel for the devastating fire of 1900. After partly re-building in brick, two major floods in 1925 and 1955 further devastated the town. The wooden flume that contained Carpenter Creek held for a while, but the laws of physics had it bursting through. You can still see flume remnants in the creek today. But by the 1920’s Sandon’s heyday was over anyway, and the town was bankrupt. During the Second World War it was used as an internment camp for Japanese-Canadians and scavengers and treasure seekers looted the remains of Sandon during the 50’s and 60’s.
Today, a handful of intrepid souls live in Sandon, but visitors from around the world come to see what remains. The Sandon Museum and Visitor’s Centre is one of the finest of its kind anywhere, with thousands of pictures and artefacts. A 1908 CPR steam train rests on a siding across from the old City Hall. Molly Brown’s Brothel still stands, beautifully restored, but not for its original purpose. Many other old buildings still stand, some in use as residences and others stolidly withstanding the ravishes of time.
Once you have explored Sandon and had a snack or light meal, it is the perfect base from which to explore the surrounding area. Behind the museum starts an incredible ride to the access to Idaho Peak. A 12 km (8 mile) wilderness drive, you’ll see old mine sites, crystal clear lakes and incredible flora before reaching the Idaho Peak parking lot. One of the most incredible views in the Western world awaits those who hike the 2 km to 2,224 metres (7,479 feet) Idaho Peak. Because of the stunning view and meadows overflowing with wildflowers in late summer, hardy wedding parties frequently use this area. To learn more about this hike and others in the area, consult our Valley Directory under Outdoor Adventure.
Sandon: a ghost town worth visiting.