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  • Writer's pictureHeather Comeault

Greenwood, BC : Canada's smallest city

Greenwood, BC is a small city located in the southernmost part of the province along Highway #3, just west of Grand Forks, and about 2 hours south from Kelowna. The latest census report shows a total land area of 2.42 square kilometers, and a population of only 700 people.

Greenwood, BC Map Location

So, you're probably wondering how a place with a population of only 700 can even be considered a city - especially when so many bigger towns have been dying for such a designation for decades. The truth is, once a town becomes proclaimed as a city, the designation can never be removed. Even if the population declines - and becomes known more as a ghost town, than the city it once was - the designation still stands.

The history of Greenwood goes back over 125 years - and through all of its uncertainties - the city remained resilient in the face of adversity. What stands today is a hidden gem among BC's best and brightest cities and towns. Canada's smallest city has some of its own secrets and stories to tell.

It all began in the 1890's, when mining prospectors began claiming stakes in the Boundary Country of British Columbia looking for their next big break. This big break came in 1891 with the discovery of "The Great Mother Lode Mine" in Deadwood, located 3 kilometers west of the town. This mine loaded with gold, silver, and copper was the promise of a bright future for the town of Greenwood.

Reclaimed Mother Lode Mine near Greenwood, BC
Mother Lode Open Pit Mine Reclaimed

In 1895, a merchant by the name of Robert Wood named the town Greenwood after the Greenwood Mining Camp in Colorado, and shortly after, the town began to boom. By 1896, the town had established over a dozen businesses including 3 hotels, an opera house, and a general store.

Officially incorporated as a city on July 12, 1897, Greenwood was well on it's way to becoming the mining hub of the Boundary Country. In 1901 the British Columbia Copper Company built the smelter to process all the ore coming from the Mother Lode Mine. The smelter was running 24 hours a day, employed by a crew of 47 men the first year. Over the years, the mine and the smelter would employ up to 450 men.

Greenwood, BC Abandoned Smelter
The Copper Company Smelter

Greenwood had become a prospering city, reaching an ultimate population of 3,000 people. The city grew to include over a hundred businesses and homes and even built a post office, courthouse, and city hall. Greenwood had also become the elected seat of government for the Boundary Country. The city was thriving with success.

Unfortunately, Greenwood's prosperity was short lived. In 1912, the Mother Lode Mine began to see shortages of ore, and this was beginning to affect production at the smelter. While the first World War had begun in 1914, the smelter was working intermittently at a reduced rate to keep up with production demands. However, after the first World War had ended, the price of copper plummeted, and the smelter was forced to close it's doors on November 26, 1918.

Ruins of the Abandoned Smelter in Greenwood, BC
Ruins of the Abandoned Smelter

With most of the residents of Greenwood packing up and moving away, the city dwindled in population down to just 171 people, and was at risk of becoming just another forgotten ghost town. Somehow the city managed to stay standing despite its losses, and would see a resurgence in population during the second World War.

In 1941, Greenwood became the first internment camp to house Japanese Canadians who were systematically uprooted and relocated from protected areas off the coast of BC. As many as 1,200 Nikkei people were housed in abandoned buildings, hotels, and houses.

When the order came to shut down the internment camp in 1945, many residents chose to remain in Greenwood. Over time, a large percentage of Japanese residents had moved away but a significant portion of descendants still call Greenwood home today. What began as one of Canada's most notorious human rights violations, turned into the revival of Greenwood itself.

Today, Greenwood, BC is a bustling city, with its 700 residents quite content to call it home. With museums, tours, and more than 60 heritage buildings still standing, this hidden gem is one of BC's best to explore. Welcoming visitors from all over the province and country, this secret tourist destination invites guests to take in its beauty, learn more of its history - and as always - respect the land.

Photos of Greenwood, BC and the Abandoned Smelter:

Note: The Smelter is currently undergoing restoration and rehabilitation, and is off-limits to the public at this time

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