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Ministry of Energy Mines and Responsible for Core Review

Major Silver Deposits in British Columbia


BCMEMPR Open File 1998-10

by L.D. Jones (P. Geo.), D.V. Lefebure (P. Geo.), G. Owsiacki (P. Geo.) and T.G. Schroeter (P. Eng.)

 

View Open File 1998-10 (PDF, 4.8 MB) 38-page report and map at 1:3,571,428 scale


Download Silver Tables (XLS, 623 KB)

 

See also: British Columbia's World Class Silver Mines Brochure Information Circular 1998-10

Table of Contents

Introduction

Silver
Figure 1. Silver prices for the Period 1970 to 1998 from Natural Resources Canada
Figure 2. Global silver production for the period 1970 to 1997

British Columbia’s Database

Producers - Past and Present
Table 1. Major Silver Producers of British Columbia
Table 2. The types of deposits mined for silver in British Columbia
Figure 3. Distribution of British Columbia’s silver resources by deposit type for the major producers and mining camps

Undeveloped Deposits with Significant Silver Reserves

Conclusions
Table 3. Major silver deposits of British Columbia with no production

Selected Bibliography

Appendix - Detailed Production and Reserve Data for Major Silver Deposits of British Columbia
Inventory Category Definitions
Table 4. Name index to silver deposits listed in Open File 1998-10
Table 5. Production data for major silver mines of British Columbia
Table 6. Reserve data for major silver mines and significant deposits of British Columbia

 

Map:  Major Silver Deposits of British Columbia

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click map to view

 

 

Introduction

Silver is currently attracting considerable attention because the price has increased to the highest values since 1989 (Figure 1). This contrasts sharply with some other metals, most notably gold and copper which are trading at prices well below recent highs. The climbing price of silver has led to renewed interest in deposits which contain this precious metal. Many of the world’s richest silver mines are found along the chain of mountains along the western margins of North and South America that extend from Chile to Alaska. These mountains, known as the Cordillera, are one of the principal silver-producing regions of the world.

 

British Columbia encompasses a major portion of the northern Cordillera and has produced silver since the late 19th century. The province has a large number of undeveloped deposits and excellent opportunities for new discoveries. Virtually all of these deposits are polymetallic (Au, Cu, Pb and/or Zn). This brief report reviews the abundance and diversity of silver lode deposits in British Columbia.

 

Silver

The first use of silver predates recorded history - ornaments and jewelry made of silver have been recovered from tombs that were sealed more than four thousand years ago. It is generally believed that by 1000 BC, silver coins, like gold ones, were in common use throughout most of the civilized world. The discovery during the 18th and 19th centuries of large silver deposits in the New World, however, resulted in the conversion of most monetary systems to the gold standard. Despite the loss of its status as the basis for the world’s monetary systems, the belief in the value of silver remained.

 

Silver is a brilliant grey-white metal, quite soft and malleable, which takes a fine finish and is resistant to corrosion. Of all the metals, it is the best conductor of electricity. Because of these qualities as well as its relative scarcity, silver is classed with gold and platinum as a precious metal. The photographic industry is the greatest user of silver today, accounting for over 40 per cent of total industrial consumption. Silver is used extensively for contacts, conductors and other electronic equipment components. Altogether, more than 25 per cent of all industrial silver is incorporated into electronic and electrical equipment.  About 20 per cent of the annual industrial consumption of silver goes into sterling, plate, jewelry, mirrors, and dental and medical supplies.

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Figure 1. Silver prices for the Period 1970 to 1998 from Natural Resources Canada. Average price for year.
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Approximately two-thirds of the world silver resources are associated with copper, lead and zinc deposits. The remaining one-third is in vein deposits in which silver is the most valuable metallic component. Although most recent discoveries have been primarily gold and silver deposits, significant future reserves and resources are expected from major base metal discoveries that contain byproduct silver. In 1996 the top ten producing countries were:
 

1. Mexico 6. Chile
2. Peru 7. Australia
3. United States 8. Poland
4. Russia (C.I.S. countries) 9. China
5. Canada 10. Bolivia

World production of silver has been generally climbing for the last 25 years due to the increasing demand (Figure 2). Annual Canadian silver production has been over a million kilograms for a number of years with a total of 1.220 million kg. in 1997. British Columbia produces approximately a third of Canada’s silver. The major producers in 1997 were Eskay Creek (368 498 kg), Highland Valley (56 148 kg), Sullivan (18 775 kg) and Myra Falls (16 908 kg). The total production of silver and gold in British Columbia between 1887 and 1997 is approximately 24.2 million kilograms (776.6 million ounces) and 967.8 kilograms (31.1 million ounces) respectively.

 

Figure 2. Global silver production for the period 1970 to 1997. Figures from Mineral Yearbook for years 1970 to 1983 and from Natural Resources Canada for remaining years. Production for 1997 estimated.
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British Columbia’s Database

The British Columbia Geological Survey has built up a comprehensive, mineral inventory of over 12,000 metallic, industrial mineral and coal occurrences in British Columbia. Called MINFILE, this computer database contains a unique record for each documented mineral occurrence in the province, including operating mines. Each record includes location, mineralogy, alteration, geology, host rocks, bibliography, assay data, reserves/resources, production and a text description (capsule geology) of the mineral deposit.

 

MINFILE data were previously sold on 1.44 MB diskettes, CD-ROM, hard copy printouts and maps with occurrences plotted on geological and topographic bases. The database can also be searched on, or down loaded free over the Internet using the Ministry site (http://www.em.gov.bc.ca/Mining/Geoscience/MINFILE/Pages/default.aspx).

MINFILE reports, mineral occurrence maps, CD-ROM and data diskettes are now available digitally, free of charge, from this website.

 

This database was used to identify more than 300 silver-rich mines and deposits in British Columbia. A complete listing of the deposits is given in the Appendix. All the data summarized in this report is available digitally.

 

Producers - Past and Present

The first miners in British Columbia worked placer gold deposits which also contained some byproduct silver. Lode silver production in British Columbia, the focus of this report, dates back to the 1890s when the first mines in the southern part of the province were exploiting polymetallic veins and the manto deposits at the Bluebell mine for their high silver and lead contents. Over the next thirty years many new silver mines were developed on polymetallic veins forming a number of mining camps, including Slocan, Slocan City, Beaverdell, Ymir, Trout Lake and Salmo. These areas continued to produce significant amounts of silver through much of the 20th century,

 

although their importance was gradually supplanted by deposits more amenable to producing larger tonnages and to using mechanized mining methods, such as sediment-hosted massive sulphide (sedex), volcanogenic massive sulphide (VMS) and porphyry deposits (McMillan et al., 1991).

 

In 1900 the Sullivan mine, a sedex deposit located near Kimberley, opened. This prolific ore body will have produced over 9 200 grams (295 million ounces) of silver (plus lead, zinc, tin, copper, gold, iron, sulphur, antimony, cadmium, bismuth, indium and tungsten) when it closes in 2001. It is the single largest silver producer in the province (Table 1). The first VMS deposits to be mined were the Lenora and Tyee on Vancouver Island near Duncan just before the turn of the century. As with many subsequent VMS discoveries in British Columbia, their high precious metal contents made these deposits more attractive. In the latter part of the 20th century, porphyry

 

deposits became important mines utilizing large trucks, shovels and mill circuits to achieve economies of scale which allowed recovery of low-grade copper and gold with byproduct silver from large open pits.

 

There are more than 50 silver lode mines and mining camps in British Columbia each of which have produced, or might eventually recover over 42 million grams (~1.3 million ounces) of silver (Table 1). For those mines where silver content is reported only for the ore mined, such as Similco, Silver Butte and Hidden Creek, the silver content of the reserves has been estimated based on production recoveries. For more detailed information regarding production and reserve figures, refer to Tables 5 and 6 respectively. All these deposits are polymetallic with gold, copper, lead and/or zinc occurring with the silver; frequently silver is only produced as a byproduct. The location of these deposits, their current status with respect to production, and deposit type are shown on the accompanying map.

 

Sullivan, Eskay Creek, Valley Copper and Equity Silver mines have, or will have, produced more silver by the time they close than the largest silver mining camp in British Columbia, the Slocan. The highest grade producers were polymetallic veins which frequently grade over 500 g/t Ag, such as those in the Slocan and Beaverdell camps. Massive sulphide deposits, like Sullivan, Myra Falls and Tulsequah Chief, also have attractive silver values which exceed 40 g/t Ag.

 

The list of major silver producers presented in Table 1 includes fifteen different types of deposits (Table 2). However, virtually all the production is derived from sediment-hosted, VMS, polymetallic and epithermal veins, porphyry and skarn deposits (Figure 2). Limited production from polymetallic mantos, like the Bluebell Mine, and intrusion-related Au pyrrhotite veins in the Rossland Camp comprise the remaining 1% of production.

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Table 1. Major Silver Producers of British Columbia (370KB)
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Table 2. The types of deposits mined for silver in British Columbia

Deposit Type

Profile Code
Sedex  
Irish-type carbonate-hosted Zn-Pb E13
Sedimentary exhalative Zn-Pb-Ag E14
Volcanogenic Massive Sulphide  
Besshi massive sulphide Cu-Zn G04
Cyprus massive sulphide Cu (Zn) G05
Noranda / Kuroko massive sulphide Cu-Pb-Zn G06
Subaqueous hot spring Au-Ag G07
Epithermal  
Epithermal Au-Ag; low sulphidation H05
Vein  
Intrusion-related Au pyrrhotite veins I02
Polymetallic veins Ag-Pb-Zn±Au I05
Manto  
Polymetallic mantos Ag-Pb-Zn J01
Skarn  
Cu skarns K01
Fe skarns K03
Porphyry and Porphyry-related  
Subvolcanic Cu-Au-Ag (As-Sb) L01
Porphyry Cu-Au: alkalic L03
Porphyry Cu ± Mo ± Au

 L04

 

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While the importance of sediment-hosted deposits to British Columbia’s silver resources largely reflects the contribution of the Sullivan mine, there are other deposits like Cirque and Akie (Table 3) which show the potential of deposits of this type to contribute to future silver production. These deposits also have attractive combined lead and zinc grades of 10 % or better.

 

Higher precious metal contents of some volcanogenic massive sulphide deposits can make them particularly attractive exploration targets. For example, the Myra Falls deposits average 42 and 1.7 grams per tonne silver and gold respectively. The discovery of the precious metal-rich Eskay Creek deposit in 1988 highlighted the potential to find high-grade silver and gold VMS deposits in the province. This mine, currently the fifth largest silver producer in the world, will be the second largest silver producer in the province when it closes.

 

For the first sixty years of the 20th century much of the province’s silver came from polymetallic veins. Typically

 

these veins also produced lead and, following the introduction of a zinc circuit at Trail in 1916, zinc. Some deposits also contain important copper and/or gold values. In recent years these veins have produced a relatively small proportion of the province’s silver, although their high silver grades continue to attract exploration interest.

As a region with numerous porphyry deposits, British Columbia produces significant byproduct silver from mines of this type. These deposits often grade from several to more than 10 grams per tonne of silver, although recoveries can be significantly lower. The large tonnages processed result in important contributions to the province’s total production of silver. However, it is the style of mineralization exemplified by the Equity Silver deposit which is the most attractive porphyry-related silver target. Equity Silver, which operated between 1981 and 1994, is the fourth largest silver deposit in the province with production of 2.2 billion grams of silver as well as 84 086 kilograms of copper and 15.80 million grams of gold (Table 5). Panteleyev (1995) has classified it as a subvolcanic Cu-Au-Ag porphyry-related deposit.

 

Figure 3. Distribution of British Columbia’s silver resources by deposit type for the major producers and mining camps listed in Table 1.

 

Undeveloped Deposits with Significant Silver Reserves

Sedex, VMS, polymetallic and epithermal veins, porphyry and skarn deposits have been the important past producers (Figure 2). There are deposits of these types that have not been developed, such as the Cirque, Capoose, Kutcho Creek, Copper Canyon, Schaft Creek, and many others (Tables 3 and 6). A number of these deposits are currently undeveloped because their location would require the construction of expensive infrastructure which is not warranted by the known reserves, while others have been thought to be too small, low grade or difficult to process. Shifting commodity prices suggest that these deposits may warrant investigation, particularly since some have good potential for defining an expanded resource through more exploration and others occur in regions with improving infrastructure.

 

Conclusions

As part of the northern Cordillera, British Columbia is a silver-rich region. It has three major mines, Sullivan, Eskay Creek, and Equity Silver, which have produced, or will have produced by closure, more than 1.5 billion grams (50 million ounces) of silver. There are more than 50 silver lode mines and mining camps in British Columbia that have produced, or might eventually recover over 42 million grams (~1.3 million ounces) of silver. These mines are typically polymetallic; many extract silver as a byproduct of their operation. Virtually all the province’s silver production is derived from sediment-hosted, vein, VMS, porphyry-related and skarn deposits. Manto deposits and epithermal veins are more important in other parts of the Cordillera and deserve more investigation in British Columbia.

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Table 3. Significant silver deposits of British Columbia with no production (267KB)
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Numerous deposits with significant silver resources have not been developed because of a variety of factors including remote location, size, grade or metallurgical problems. These include the Cirque, Capoose, Kutcho Creek, Copper Canyon, Schaft Creek and Silvertip (Midway) deposits. The recent climb in silver prices may warrant reviewing the inventory of deposits containing significant silver, particularly since more exploration could identify a larger resource.

 

British Columbia continues to have excellent potential for finding new deposits. This is exemplified by the 1988 discovery of the rich Eskay Creek deposit. This mine, currently the fifth largest silver producer in the world, will be the second largest silver producer in the province when it closes. The British Columbia Geological Survey maintains a mineral occurrence database called MINFILE that can be used in conjunction with geological maps, regional geochemical data, published reports and assessment reports to identify occurrences and regions prospective for silver warranting further exploration.

 

Selected Bibliography

Höy, T. (1991): Volcanic Massive Sulphide (VMS) Deposits in British Columbia; in Ore Deposits, Tectonics and Metallogeny of the Canadian Cordillera, McMillan, W.J., Höy, T., MacIntyre, D.G., Nelson, J.L., Nixon, G.T., Hammock, J.L., Panteleyev, A., Ray, G.E. and Webster, I.C.L., B. C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, Paper 1991-4, pages 89-123.

MacIntyre, D.G. (1991): SEDEX - Sedimentary Exhalative Deposits; in Ore Deposits, Tectonics and Metallogeny of the Canadian Cordillera, McMillan, W.J., Höy, T., MacIntyre, D.G., Nelson, J.L., Nixon, G.T., Hammock, J.L., Panteleyev, A., Ray, G.E. and Webster, I.C.L., B. C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, Paper 1991-4, pages 25-70.

McMillan, W.J., Höy, T., MacIntyre, D.G., Nelson, J.L., Nixon, G.T., Hammock, J.L., Panteleyev, A., Ray, G.E. and Webster, I.C.L. (1991): Ore Deposits, Tectonics and Metallogeny of the Canadian Cordillera; B. C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, Paper 1991-4, 276 pages.

MINFILE Team (Compilers) (1998): MINFILE Reserves/Resources Inventory in British Columbia; B.C Ministry of Employment and Investment, Open File 1998-4, 102 pages.

Nelson, J.L. (1991): Carbonate-hosted Lead-Zinc (± Silver, Gold) Deposits; in Ore Deposits, Tectonics and Metallogeny of the Canadian Cordillera, McMillan, W.J., Höy, T., MacIntyre, D.G., Nelson, J.L., Nixon, G.T., Hammock, J.L., Panteleyev, A., Ray, G.E. and Webster, I.C.L., B. C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, Paper 1991-4, pages 71-88.

Nelson, J.L. (1995): Polymetallic Mantos Ag-Pb-Zn; in Selected British Columbia Mineral Deposit Profiles, Volume 2, B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, Open File 1996-13, pages 101-103.

Panteleyev, A. (1995): Subvolcanic Cu-Au-Ag (As-Sb); in Selected British Columbia Mineral Deposit Profiles, Lefebure, D.V. and Ray, G.E., Editors, B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, Open File 1995-20, pages 79-82.

Appendix

Detailed Production and Reserve Data for Major Silver Deposits of British Columbia

 

Inventory Category Definitions

 

Reserves and resources are not calculated by Ministry of Energy and Mines personnel but are quoted from referenced industry sources and/or publications. Industry reporting of deposit inventories has not been standardized and can vary due to company policy, varying definitions, changing economic conditions and other factors. The reader should refer to the original data sources quoted in Table 6 to ensure the figures and inventory categories are accurate. The following are the mineral inventory definitions used for the MINFILE database.

 

Reserve

The Reserve category is used only for a mineral and/or substance inventory in an operating mine or mine near production. Sufficient information is available to form the basis of a preliminary mine production plan. Factors that affect ore reserve estimates are geological, economic, mining, metallurgical, marketing, environmental, social and governmental conditions. Ore reserves are reported as Proven, Probable and Possible.

Proven (PV): Ore reserves are stated in terms of mineable tonnes and grades in which the identified substance has been defined using sufficient metallurgical, mine method, geoscientific, infrastructure, operating and capital cost data. Other applicable reserve adjectives may include measured recoverable, diluted, mineable, ore, or in situ.

Probable (PB): Ore reserves are stated in terms of mineable tonnes and grades where sufficient information is available about the thickness, grade, grade distribution, mineable shape and extent of the deposit. Continuity of mineralization should be clearly established. Other applicable reserve adjectives may include measured geological, drill indicated, or indicated.

Possible (PS): Ore reserves are stated in terms of mineable tonnes and grades computed on the basis of limited geoscientific data, but with a reasonable understanding of the distribution and correlation of the substance in relation to this data. Other applicable reserve adjectives may include inferred, geological, mineral inventory, or potential.

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Resource

The Resource category is used for a mineral and/or substance inventory other than an operating mine. Valuable or useful material is quantified on the basis of geoscientific data and expected economic merit. Mine, metallurgical, price and cost data are not necessarily available. In reporting a resource, there is an implication that there are reasonable prospects for eventual economic exploitation. Resources are reported as Measured, Indicated and Inferred.

Measured (MG): Sufficient information is available about the thickness, grade, distribution, mineable shape and extent of the deposit to give defined grade and tonnage figures. Continuity of mineralization should be clearly established. Other applicable resource adjectives may include proven, measured recoverable, diluted, mineable, or in situ.

 

Indicated (IN): Tonnage and grade are computed partly from detailed sampling procedures and partly from projection for a measurable distance, based on geoscientific data. Sampling procedures are too widely spaced to ensure continuity but close enough to give a reasonable indication of continuity. Other applicable resource adjectives may include probable, measured geological, or drill indicated.

 

Inferred (IF): An estimate of tonnage and grade computed from geoscientific data or other sampling procedures, but before testing and sampling information is sufficient to allow a more reliable and systematic estimation. Other applicable resource adjectives may include possible, geological, mineral inventory, or potential.

 

Combined Reserve and Resource

Combined (CB): This designation is used when an inventory figure is reported to be a combination of categories (e.g.) PV + PB (Proven and Probable) reserves or MG + IF (Measured and Inferred) resources. It can be applied to both the Reserve and Resource categories.

 

Unclassified

Unclassified (UN): This designation indicates that the criteria for qualifying the inventory figures are not available. The Unclassified category can be applied to both the Reserve and Resource categories. For example, a tonnage figure is given with grades of commodities, but the category is not stated.

Table 4. Name Index to Silver Deposits Listed in Open File 1998-10 (818KB)
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Table 5. Production Data for Major Silver Mines of British Columbia (619KB)
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Table 6. Reserves Data for Major Silver Mines and Significant Deposits of British Columbia (1019KB)
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All publications of the BC Geological Survey are available digitally, free of charge, from this website.

 

For questions or more information on geology and minerals in British Columbia contact BCGS Mailbox or call toll free (BC Residents only).