Chameleonfire Editions

Slocan History Series: Overview

It’s every historian’s dream to stumble across vivid first-hand reports of a newly developing community. So when Cole Harris, Professor Emeritus of Historical Geography at UBC, was alerted to the existence of his grandfather’s papers in the BC Provincial Archives, he realized he had a historical goldmine on his hands. Joseph Colebrook Harris, born into a prominent Wiltshire family of some wealth, had emigrated to Canada from England looking to make a new start for himself. His first attempt was a homestead in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island in the early 1890s, but after visiting the Slocan Valley in 1896, he was seduced by its beauty and settled there permanently the following year. Like many young Englishmen of the period, he envisioned a bucolic Canadian existence earning a living from an orchard, garden and livestock. The mining boom in the Slocan Valley was underway, providing Harris with a ready-made market supplying local mines with fresh fruit and vegetables. A man of progressive politics and great generosity of spirit, he became a well-liked benefactor to the local communities of Silverton and New Denver. When the internment of Japanese-Canadians began during World War II, the Harris family offered their farm for internees, primarily aged men. They were treated as guests, not prisoners. The Harris family retains the original farm property today.

Professor Harris approached Chameleonfire Editions to publish his grandfather’s memoirs in a series that would also include his own historical writing on the history of the Slocan Valley. The concept was to produce short, inexpensive booklets that would appeal to both tourists and local history buffs looking to collect the series. Author Sean Arthur Joyce, who established Chameleonfire Editions in 1990 to produce limited editions of poetry—often handmade—offered his training and experience as publication designer for the Slocan History Series.

During its 30-year existence, Chameleonfire Editions has published the work of poets Chad Norman, Timothy Shay, Margaret Hornby, Catherine Owen, Sean Arthur Joyce, and others. Most recently, Chameleonfire Editions published Joyce’s newest book, Dead Crow & the Spirit Engine. (See Author Publications page.)

In a review of the first four booklets of the series, Duff Sutherland wrote for BC Studies: “These well-written, well-illustrated, and accessible booklets provide lively introductions to two distinctive moments in the modern history of the Slocan Valley. Taken together, the booklets also allow for reflection on the colonial and industrial history of British Columbia, about which Harris has written extensively.”

All Slocan History Series booklets retail for only $8 each (Cdn). Shipping charges apply: $3.25 per individual copy or $5 per 3 booklets. Pay via Paypal.

Mist & Green Leaves: Japanese Canadians on Harris Ranch

This is a tale about the Harris family’s and the New Denver community’s connection with people of Japanese origin relocated from the west coast during World War II. It is focused primarily on the Harris or Bosun Ranch, which for several years became an internment camp, but also, more briefly, on another internment camp, this one in Yangchow, China, where Harris cousins spent the same years. It offers what can be said, from the perspective of the Harris family, about the camps in and around New Denver and, much more briefly, about the camp in Yangchow. A final section reflects on the interactions of prior residents and Japanese Canadians during their years together in and around New Denver.

Beginnings of the Bosun Ranch

J.C. Harris, a young Englishman who had been living in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, came to the Slocan in 1896 to look for farmland. He planned to supply the mines with fresh fruit and vegetables. As no one else was interested in farming, he had his choice of land. This account, which he wrote in 1944, treats his arrival in New Denver, his search for land, his encounters with some of the valley’s most colourful characters, and his purchase of land—the Bosun Ranch—on a terrace between New Denver and Silverton. He then describes his first two years of pioneering, and the discovery, development, and decline of the Bosun Mine.

Boom Days in the Slocan

For a few years after the discovery of silver-lead ore in the summer of 1891, the Slocan was the North American focus of speculative hard rock mining. Before the end of 1897, as Klondike excitement grew, the boom was over, but its brief energy had transformed the Slocan. J.C. Harris, who in 1944 wrote the account in this booklet, arrived in New Denver in 1896, participated in the last two years of the rush and remained in the Slocan for the rest of his life. His memory was sharp, his eye for detail and odd characters keen, his writing vivid. His is the fullest first-hand account of the Slocan’s turbulent modern beginnings from which, some would say, it has yet to recover.

Newspapers & the Slocan in the 1890s

Newspapers appeared almost as quickly as townsites in the early Slocan. By 1900 there had been 17 newspapers, most of them short-lived, in the wedge of land between Nakusp, Kaslo, and Slocan City. In a pre-electronic age, they provided essential information, and, when the geography of settlement had yet to be established, each of them boosted the fortunes of its particular townsite. This booklet, composed of excerpts from the early newspapers, reveals both the newspapers and a corner of B.C. in the process of formation.

Early New Denver

New Denver, on the delta of Carpenter Creek and a portal to the mines behind, was one of the few townsites that survived the early days of the Slocan mining rush. Its promoters had anticipated another Denver, Colorado; instead, after its ten first years only 343 people lived there. New Denver had become a small Kootenay village. But the rough early townsite, a place of boulders and stumps, had been mellowed by human use. There were several good-sized hotels, also houses and gardens. New Denver was largely composed of families, the great majority of them from Eastern Canada or Britain. Yet in a new place, transplanted lives were being recontextualized; a distinctive local society was beginning to emerge.

Martin Fry, Frontiersman

Martin Fry grew up in the Willamette Valley, Oregon, and spent much of his life in the vast, thinly populated watershed of the Columbia River. In the fall of 1891–92 he participated in the rush to the Slocan, and early the following spring staked a claim that became the Slocan’s first shipping mine. He was interviewed in 1927 by J.C. Harris, who wrote an account of his life. Now, almost a century later, this account offers a glimpse of a vanished frontier where Indigenous people were still the principal population, the regulatory apparatus of modern societies was weakly in place, and ingenious individuals like Martin Fry created livelihoods out of an astonishing variety of practical occupations. It is also the most detailed surviving eyewitness account of the early days of the Slocan mining rush.

Industry and the Good Life Around Idaho Peak

A well-developed industrial mining complex, worked out in the hard-rock mining camps of the American West, poured into the Slocan Valley in the 1890s. With it came a mixture of peoples, technologies of mining and transportation adapted to mountainous terrain, services, and the institutions of class conflict in industrial societies. This booklet, based on an article in the Canadian Historical Review in 1985, describes how these peoples, technologies, services, and institutions arranged themselves around Idaho Peak. It also describes the societies left behind when the boom was over, and what is now known of the Sinixt people in the Slocan during the century before the miners arrived.