In 1966, after a day of diamond drilling at the Silver Queen site south of Houston, George Stewart wrote in his diary:
“I’m so close to porphyry I can taste it.”
As a young geologist fresh out of Dalhousie University, Stewart was drawn to B.C.—the whole province is an enticing series of land belts that drifted over the Pacific and smashed together.
He joined Kenco Exploration as it reviewed several promising sites in the northwest.
That’s how he came to work at Silver Queen, a site east of Owen Lake and about 40 km south of Houston, just along the edge of the Buck Basin calderra.
First staked by prospectors in 1912, Silver Queen is laced with mineral veins.
But Kennco wanted to find a porphyry—a much larger body that makes for bigger, longer-life mines.
On the day he wrote his diary entry, Stewart hit Kennco’s limit.
If he drilled deeper than 250 feet, Stewart was told, he’d get fired—250 was the breaking point for an economic mine.
Stewart hit 277, then stopped.
Later, having missed the porphyry at Silver Queen, Kenco moved on.
Three years and some 80 km south, the team did find another porphyry—the copper-moly-gold deposit that led to Huckleberry Mine.
Ellen Clements, Stewart’s wife of 30 years, was raised in a mining family.
“I threw away dolls at five and got a rock hammer,” she says, laughing.
Growing up in Greenwood B.C., where her father was a prospector and leasehold miner, Clements lived the financial highs and lows of a mineral explorer.
“At some point, everything you have goes back into the ground,” she said.
“There’s always a bigger and better discovery.”
In her own career, Clements banked on a steadier venture—accounting.
She worked at local sawmills, a bank, then launched her own business. It grew to 12 staff and gave her the kind of big-picture managing role she enjoys.
But in falling for Gordon Stewart, who she met while came to Greenwood to explore the old Anatonia mine, Clements struck a love that was right in her element.
The two prospected together, often back at Silver Queen. Stewart kept an interest there with New Nadina—a company named for the great view of Nadina Mountain from Silver Queen camp.
Clements remembers hammering out rocks with promising minerals and showing them to George.
“They don’t run,” he would tell her after taking a closer look and explaining the rocks’ geology.
Still, along with several other mining ventures, including some in the Northwest Territories and Kettle River, Stewart and Clements kept looking back to Silver Queen.
Bradina, a joint venture, actually mined a vein from 1970 to 1973. In the 1980s, Houston Metals Corp. led a flurry of exploration, pushing further south along that vein and finding higher gold grades before going bankrupt in 1989.So did several other exploration companies.
By the mid-1990s, Stewart was president of New Nadina and had got the company ready to seriously revisit Kenco’s “Dream project” of 1969—finding the Silver Queen porphyry.
But in the spring of 2005, Stewart’s efforts were suddenly cut short.
Just after arriving home in Greenwood from Toronto, where he presented Silver Queen’s latest geophysics studies, Stewart died of a heart attack.
“I don’t know how I functioned,” Clement says. She found her husband collapsed on the driveway, less than an hour since they’d spoken on the phone.
Today, Clement can’t remember a lot of the things she did in the next three months.
But she does remember the smell of fresh-cut flowers when she finally got into the house that night—a bouquet her husband had left on the table.
She also remembers the “literally hundreds of calls” from friends of hers and Stewart’s, many of them mining people.
If she stayed in the industry, they told her, she could count on their help.
In 2007, Clement drove to Terrace to see Bill McCrae, a former president of New Nadina, for advice.
She’d done well in the Territories and at Kettle River. But the Silver Queen property, with its now 400 drill holes, still had one big question overhead—was the porphyry even there?
“Bill said to me, ‘You don’t need to do it. You should just find yourself a boyfriend, go off into the sunset, and enjoy your life,” she said.
Clement told McCrae she’d decide on the drive home.
“Well, I was 10 minutes down the road and I phoned him back and said, ‘Bill, I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to do it.'”
Clement played to her strengths.
Accountant-style, she sifted through a half century of Silver Queen geology reports, ran their findings through a spreadsheet, and came up with a long list of to-do’s.
But even with a good plan, drilling could be frustrating. In 2009, 26 holes only turned up more veins.
“You find me another vein,” she told a friend on site, “And I’m going to give you a higher-pitched voice.”
Other times, things just fell into place.
At a 2010 mining workshop, Clement sat by a prospector who nudged her while geologists with B.C.’s Quest West survey flashed airborne imaging from the Silver Queen site.
“Isn’t that your property?” he asked.
Clement realized it was, and given how the discussion was going, she realized it had to be bigger.
Still in the room, she sent her long-time assistant a BlackBerry message—go online and stake claims north, south and east of the property.
And in the spring 2011, after relentlessly badgering the people at Geotech over a disputed bill from her diamond site up north, Clement got a deal on some new airborne imaging that totally changed the Silver Queen ground program.
Finally, in late September, they drilled a hole that struck porphyry—just 20 feet below the hole Stewart drilled in 1966.
Clement called the discovery ITSIT, in honour of a very excited phone call.
“I always had a gut feeling that George in 1966 and Kenco couldn’t be wrong,” she says. “They had the best people.”
Even now, Silver Queen faces long odds—only 20 of every 4,000 discoveries actually becomes a mine.
But whatever happens, Clement says, “I had no choice.”
“It’s not about me. It’s the mission I’ve been destined to do.”