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BC Archive image of the Zeballos docks
Special thanks to Kathie Woodley for the four colour images - Town of Zeballos http://www.zeballos.com

Zeballos downtown
Zeballos from the water
Zeballos from up on Brians Bluff
Zeballos from the water front
Zeballos from the bay
Zeballos from on the water

Zeballos

Western Vancouver Island

In 1934, after similar findings in Leechtown and other places on Vancouver Island, a sizeable gold vein was found in Zeballos, on the west coast of the Island. Aided by the recent advent of reliable float planes, the village sprung up in just a few years, growing to over 1500 people, with three hotels, a hospital, and many homes. Some of the purest gold in the world was taken out of the hills behind Zeballos, containing up to 40 ounces per ton of ore. With the onset of WWII, many men left to fight, and upon return, the low price of gold made the Zeballos mines unprofitable. By 1945 the local economy had shifted to forestry, and it largely remains that way to this day, with only about 190 people remaining year round.


Settlement

Coordinates: 49°58’53”N 126°50’45”W


By the 1930s, Vancouver Island was already known for its unpredictable gold strikes. Gold fever had gripped the Island, and many prospectors were out exploring, trying their luck at finding the next big deposit. A small, difficult to process gold vein was found in Zeballos in 1924, and the fruitless attempts at exploring it soon ended. After the initial gold rush had calmed down, it was a visitor to the area, Albert Bird, who discovered the major vein in 1934. He staked his claim, and subsequently sold the rights to the area to a Victoria mining company in order to continue prospecting elsewhere. This decision turned out to be a foolish one, as the vein he discovered would turn out to ship more than half of the total gold to come out of the entire Zeballos area. As the so called Privateer Mine was established, people flocked to the area, and established the initial settlements, mostly tents and muddy trails.


The Rush Continues


Men flooded in to Zeballos and by 1938, more than 400 were in the village. The pace of growth at the village site matched the pace of mining development, and in the period of only a year, houses, three hotels, a general store, a local newspaper, and even a brothel were erected in Zeballos. As the rush continued, larger companies began to take notice, sending in huge ore-crushers to speed extraction, and the deep-water anchorage in Zeballos Harbour became filled with departing ore ships, float planes, and steamliners. World War Two saw many of the men leave to join the war effort, and by the mid-war period, the mines had all but halted production due to a reduction in the size of the available workforce.

As the war ended, many of the men came back to Zeballos to restart the mines, as there was still a good amount of gold in the ground, but the war had severely depressed the price to a mere 35 dollars an ounce, and the operation was no longer profitable. In 1948, the mines essentially halted production. The vast majority of the prospectors left, leaving behind only those who took up logging as a trade in the area.
The logging activity sustained the community until 1962, when skyrocketing iron prices made extraction economically feasible, and once again, Zeballos became a mining village. Iron ore mining continued for seven years on the shores opposite from the gold fields, and once again, as demand dropped off, Zeballos mining came to a halt in 1969.


Present Day


Though Zeballos at one time had up to 1500 people living in it, now the village is a fragment of what it once was, and only 190 people currently make it their home. Though small, the community is an important gateway to the west coast of Vancouver Island, and many ecotourism companies depart from Zeballos, particularly to kayak Esperanza Inlet. Forestry and fisheries remain the primary industry, like many of the small west coast towns, and the deep water port serves various functions for mariners.

 

Web site ©: The Institute for Coastal and Oceans Research (ICOR) at the University of Victoria, British Columbia Canada.