Fonds PR-1419 - Cominco Ltd. fonds

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Cominco Ltd. fonds

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  • textual record
  • graphic material
  • microform
  • moving images
  • cartographic material
  • multiple media
  • sound recording

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on the contents of the fonds.

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  • [ca. 1884-1985] (Creation)
    Cominco Ltd.

Physical description area

Physical description

ca. 57 m of textual records and other material

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Administrative history

Cominco Ltd. was one of Canada's major companies engaged in mining, mineral exploration and smelting, primarily of lead and zinc, and a major producer of chemicals and fertilizers. For most of its history, the company name was The Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada Limited. On May 16, 1966 the name was changed to Cominco Ltd. In 2001 Cominco was fully amalgamated into Teck Corporation.

By the end of the life of the company, it was the world's largest producer of zinc concentrate and the fourth-largest zinc metal refiner. It also produced lead, iron, copper, silver, gold, cadmium, bismuth, indium, coal, coke, natural gas and hydro-electric power. While Cominco’s operations and interests were primarily in Canada, the company also operated in the United States, South America, Greenland, Asia and Australia. Cominco’s head office was in Montreal until 1971-1972 when it was moved to Vancouver. For most of its history Cominco’s general office and research centre was located at Trail. Sales offices and exploration offices were located in various Canadian and international locations.

Cominco’s origins can be traced to the period 1890 to 1905, in the Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia, when small operators began mining, smelting and refining, and constructed the first railways and power plants. In 1898 the Canadian Pacific Railway Company purchased local railway holdings and acquired the British Columbia Smelting and Refining Company, and formed the subsidiary Canadian Smelting Works. In 1906, the CPR amalgamated their interests with the Centre Star and War Eagle companies of Rossland, the Rossland Power Company, and the St. Eugene Company of Moyie. The new company, dating from January 9, 1906, was Canadian Consolidated Mines Limited, and the CPR held the controlling interest. The name was changed on February 14, 1906 to The Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada Limited.

Between 1909 and 1913, the company acquired complete ownership of the Sullivan mine at Kimberley, B.C. from the Federal Mining and Smelting Company. The Sullivan mine would operate for more than 90 years until its ore reserves were exhausted in 2001.

In 1916, with the smelter in Trail expanding and using huge amounts of power, Cominco acquired a controlling interest in West Kootenay Power and Light Company Ltd. to ensure an adequate power supply for war-time demands. The WKPL/Cominco integrated system grew to include numerous hydro-electric generation plants: Lower Bonnington, Upper Bonnington, South Slocan, Corra Linn, Brilliant and Waneta. In 1986-1987, Cominco sold WKPL to UtiliCorp United lnc., based in Kansas City, Missouri.

ln October 1986 Canadian Pacific Limited sold its 52.5 per cent interest in Cominco. A consortium headed by Teck Corporation acquired 31 per cent of the outstanding Cominco shares and an underwriting group headed by Dominion Securities acquired 21.5 per cent for subsequent resale to the public. The consortium, of which Teck controlled 50 per cent comprised Teck Corporation, Metallgesellschaft Canada Limited, and M.l.M. (Canada) lnc. Thus, effective control of Cominco passed from Canadian Pacific Limited to Teck Corporation. On July 19, 2001, Cominco was merged with Teck Corporation.

Custodial history

Scope and content

The fonds consists of the records of Cominco Ltd., including those created under its previous name, the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada Limited. Most of the records were selected by Cominco from its offices in Vancouver and Trail, B.C.

The fonds includes textual records, approximately 8700 photographs, maps, films and sound recordings which include oral histories with former employees. The records document the industrial activities, personnel, and the social history of the communities where the company was active.

Documentary forms include but are not limited to: correspondence; photographs; annual reports; news clippings and scrapbooks; lab reports; payroll records; journals, ledgers, cash books and other financial records; sound recordings of interviews, oral histories and radio broadcasts; transcripts connected with the Cominco oral history project; films (including those of mining operations); maps; informational publications, pamphlets and brochures about the company; engineering and geological reports; subdivision plans and city plans; property/lot plans; and the president's files.

Subject matter includes topics such as mineral exploration, mining, smelting, fertilizer production, research and development, legal matters, finance, personnel and labour relations, public relations and advertising, company history and environmental pollution.

Topics and locations reflected in the records include but are not limited to: Trail area operations at Warfield and Tadanac; the Sullivan mine at Kimberley; the Bluebell mine and concentrator at Riondel, B.C.; the Con mine in Yellowknife, N.W.T.; the H.B. mine and concentrator at Salmo, B.C.; Calgary facilities for production of ammonia, ammonium nitrate and urea; Benson Lake (Vancouver Island) mine and concentrator; the mercury mine at Pinchi Lake, B.C.; the Box mine at Goldfields (Athabaska Lake) Saskatchewan; Wedge copper mine at Newcastle, New Brunswick; Pacific Coast Terminals Limited operations in warehousing, docking, loading and shipping at New Westminster and Port Moody, B.C.

The records document Cominco’s operations in fields such as zinc die casting through the purchase of National Hardware Specialties Limited and its plant in Dresden, Ontario. The records reflect the continuing research and development carried out at Trail, and, after the mid-1960s, at the new research centre built at Sheridan Park, Ontario.

Records of subsidiaries and affiliates include those of operations in the United States and overseas. These include but are not limited to: Cominco Products, Inc. a wholly-owned subsidiary created to carry out fertilizer warehousing, liquid fertilizer conversion and product marketing at Spokane, Washington; the development of phosphate rock mining interests in Montana; the Magmont lead mine and concentrator at Bixby, Missouri; Rubiales mine, Lugo Province, Spain; the Black Angel mine and concentrator, Marmorilik Fjord, Greenland; and Cominco Binani Zinc Limited (CBZL) in India.

Photographs and textual records document the important role played by Cominco, beginning in the 1920s, in exploring the northern regions of the four western provinces and the Northwest Territories. The company pioneered aircraft prospecting which led to the discovery of gold, uranium, oil and copper. Exploration by Cominco influenced settlement patterns and laid the foundation for the creation of an aviation service in northern Canada.

The fonds also consists of records of Cominco’s participation in the Manhattan Project's heavy water production program during World War II. Textual records are contained in series MS-2500. Photographs are contained in series MS-3176, consisting of images which include: primary plant and secondary cell plant, (including construction of, starting in November 1942); the oxygen stripper tower, booster room, cooling tower, boiler plant, and evaporator building. See the files referring to Project 9, Heavy Water, No. 9 Project, or P-9 Project.

Other notable records include those concerning the international dispute between Canada and the United States over pollution from the Trail smelter and its effects on the agricultural lands in the U.S. Cominco was involved in an international tribunal in 1932 (Trail smelter dispute) as a consequence of sulphur-bearing smoke damage to crops. See file of negative filmstrips titled Smoke Control – Mathews films Tribunal Case 1932 [photographs]. Among other topics the photographs appear to include images of areas in Idaho and Washington State. They are possibly connected with MS-2500, box 457, file 1, “Survey of agricultural conditions (Mathews) - appendix D8”, dated 1935.

The fonds also consists of records of subsidiaries, affiliates, and predecessor companies, including the West Kootenay Power and Light Company Ltd. and the Canadian North-eastern Railway Company (previously Portland Canal Short Line Railway).

The fonds consists of the following six series: MS-2500 Cominco selected records; MS-3176 Cominco photographs; AAAA1498 Cominco films; AAAA1499 Cominco sound recordings; MS-0888 Summary of the history of Cominco; MS-0015 Cominco papers.

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

The records were acquired from Cominco in numerous accessions in the 1970s and 1980s; most came from their offices in Vancouver and Trail between 1985 and 1987.


BC Archives has imposed an arrangement upon the records. Original file titles have been retained.

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Restrictions on access

Some records are restricted, see series level descriptions for restriction information.

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

See series level descriptions for any use, reproduction and publication information.

Finding aids

Files lists are available.

Associated materials

Associated materials available at Trail City Archives, the Rossland Historical Museum, and Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History.

Related materials


General note

Archives code(s): MS-0015; P/A/F87; MS-0888; MS-2500; MS-3176; MS-3499; MS-3502; MS-3525.

General note

Accession number(s): P/A/F87; 73-015; 76-074; 85-100; 85-137; 85-159; 86-012; 86-023; 87-042; 90-1985; 199105-001; M89-033; M89-034; M90-012; F1988:17; T3135; T3136; T3137; T3138; T3139; T3140; T3141; T3142; T3143; T3144; T3145; T3146; T3147; T4217; T4245; T4350.


Negatives, transparencies, sound recording and moving image originals are in cold storage and are inaccessible. Contact staff for specific details.

Physical description

Includes ca. 8700 photographs, ca. 180 maps, 208 sound cassettes, 27 sound tape reels, 16 film reels, and 120 microfilm reels.

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