Galena with quartz, from the Bluebell Mine.

Galena is the main ore mineral for lead. Because of its relatively low melting temperature it can be easily smelted and has been used as a source of lead since ancient times. Galena has a cubic crystal system and can often be found as cubes or octahedra. Its shiny grey metallic lustre and heavy, dense nature make it easy to recognize. Galena often contains small amounts of silver, which add to its economic value.

This sample is from the Bluebell mine near Riondell, on the eastern shore of Kootenay Lake in southeastern BC.

Three ore bodies have been identified at the Bluebell Mine: Comfort, Bluebell and Kootenay Chief. The main ore minerals are galena and sphalerite with smaller amounts of pyrrhotite, pyrite and chalcopyrite. Gangue (waste) minerals include coarse quartz crystals, as seen in this sample, and carbonate. The ore bodies follow fractures in marble and limestone host rocks that are about 510 to 545 million years old.

Galena was first discovered in the Riondell area in 1825 and, according to some accounts, used throughout the mid 1800s by Hudsons Bay Company traders to make bullets. The first mineral claims were staked by American Robert Sproule, and included the area around the Bluebell Mine. He didn’t keep them for long though. When he left to register his claims, his claims were restaked by an Englishman, Thomas Hammill. A dispute followed and ended with Sproule shooting Hammill dead. Not long after, Sproule was also dead, executed by hanging as punishment for his crime.

The Bluebell mine went into production in the 1880s and changed hands several times throughout its history, with active mining operations from 1888 to 1929 and again from around 1950 to 1972. Ore was processed at a concentrator built by Cominco in Riondel in the 1950s. Cominco also built power lines across Kootenay Bay for the first time, bringing power to the east shore communities. A smelter at Pilot Bay to the south further refined the ore to extract lead and zinc, which were then transported further afield for use in industry.

Just how much ore was produced at Bluebell mine is uncertain, but it was enough to generate over 500,000 tons of mill tailings, which ended up mainly at the bottom of Kootenay Lake.

The town of Riondell grew and shrank with the mine. At its peak in the 1950s, the population exceeded 300. Since the closure of the mine in the early 1970s, the population has declined and the community is now mainly a small retirement community.

Specimen Information

Store: Pacific Museum of the Earth, University of British Columbia

Collection: UBC Collection

Accession #: 1038

Primary Mineral: Galena

Secondary Mineral: Quartz

Site Locality: Bluebell Mine

Location: Illecillewaet, British Columbia

Special Features: n/a

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