In Castle Mountain's Shadow: The Story of Silver City
Updated: Oct 25
Discover the rise, fall, and tumultuous legacy of Silver City, a once-booming mining town nestled in Castle Mountain's shadow.
By Kayla Cazes, Librarian/Reference Archivist
Most people admire the towering fortress known as Castle Mountain along the eastern edge of the Trans-Canada Highway as they drive north towards Lake Louise. Originally named by Sir James Hector in 1858, this well-known landmark is a place with a tumultuous past.
Before the railway was built through the Rocky Mountains the access to the region was either by foot or horse. In 1881, John Healy was shown a sample of copper ore collected from the base of Castle Mountain by a local Stoney Nakoda member. After having the ore tested, it was determined to contain high levels of copper and lead. In the same year, Canadian Pacific Railway surveyors were determining a route through the mountains.
With the coming of the railway, the race was on to stake a prospect claim over an area. Healy returned to the area in 1882 and originally named it Copper Mine. It is uncertain how the name changed to Silver City, since no silver was ever mined there.
Soon after, the railway would reach Siding 29—the original site of Banff. By November 1883, the railway had reached the site of Silver City and with it came a flood of prospectors. Shortly after, the town was booming with over 3000 residents. At its height there were at least five mines in operation. Hotels, pool halls, stores and homes seemed to spring to life overnight. The town would perish just as quickly.
The beginning of the end seemed to come with the fraud of stakeholders of the Homestake Mine. It was rumoured that the owners Patton and Pettigrew planted gold dust on their prospected land in order to entice shareholders. They sold shares in the company for $5.00 per share and sold over 2000 shares. After collecting this money, the pair promptly left the country. With this drama, the town showed the first signs of slowing down and finally grinding to a halt by the end of 1885.
In 1885, Silver City was officially surveyed and registered as Silverton. By 1888, there was no sign of life other than permanent resident, Joe Smith. A visiting English minister described the town as, "...[the] empty log houses were empty shells, the streets were grass grown and the station had little more than the water tower to supply locomotives. Two section men and their wives had a house they used, but of the prospectors and miners there were no signs."
From 1886 to 1888 the towns structures were slowly torn down, moved or redistributed. Many were used to build C. P. R. section houses along the railway. Some of the materials also went into building hotels in Banff such as the Upper Hot Springs Hotel and the Grand Villa Hotel.
During World War One those deemed enemy aliens were forced into internment camps. Near the old town site, a camp was constructed. These men were tasked to complete labour projects such as timbering, bridge building, quarrying, constructing fireguards and more. These men were responsible for the construction of the 1917 ice palace at the Banff Winter Carnival (see below).
In 1924, Paramount Pictures produced and released the silent black and white adventure film, The Alaskan. Based on James Oliver Curwood's novel, the film was based heavily in the Banff area in particular at the old site of Silver City. The crew partially rebuilt the town in order to have an authentic set.
The last resident, Joe Smith was forced to move into Calgary due to blindness in 1937. After Mr. Smith's death, Parks Canada burned the remaining buildings including Joe's home. Today, nothing but an informational plaque marks the spot of this boom and bust town.
Over the years, there has been infrequent attention given to this old mining town. Through commemorations through local business like the Silver City Food and Beverage Company to interpretive brochures given out by Parks Canada. The history of Silver City was and continues to be a fascinating part of the local heritage of the Bow Valley.