Taylor: The decline and fall of almost everything

Once a mining boom town, Sandon reminds me of the mainline churches in the 1950s and early ’60s.

It was once the biggest city north of San Francisco, but I’ll bet you’ve never heard of it.

Sandon is a ghost town in B.C.’s Kootenay region. But during the height of the region’s silver/lead/zinc mining heyday, it had 29 hotels, 28 saloons, two breweries, two rail lines, several theatres and an opera house, a flock of churches, a cigar factory, a schoolhouse, a hospital, even a curling rink and bowling alley.

And 40 brothels—the biggest red light district in Western Canada.

Sandon was a most unlikely place to have anything, let alone a boomtown. Carpenter Creek, named after the discoverer of the silver lode in the surrounding mountains, tumbles down a narrow canyon. To create enough level space for all those buildings, the citizens had to channel the creek underground.

Sandon’s downtown core was built on top of a giant culvert.

More than 8,000 people lived in Sandon, or in its surrounding mining camps. Over 300 mines honeycombed the mountainsides. A Sandon brochure claims that those mines produced more than $35 billion (in today’s dollars) of silver, lead and zinc—worth more than the California, Cariboo and Klondike gold rushes combined!

The two railway companies fought over the rights to transport the lucrative ore to markets. One of them, the Kaslo & Slocan Railway, raided the mighty CPR in the middle of the night, destroyed its station and demolished a crucial trestle on its competitor’s line.

Sandon was so prosperous, it must have been impossible to imagine that the ore would ever run out. That people would move away. That the core of the town could be ripped out by a flash flood.

Today, Sandon consists of little more than a few houses and a museum.

Sandon reminds me of the mainline churches in the 1950s and early ’60s.

During that post-Second World War boom, my denomination alone dedicated a new church or a church addition every week of every year, somewhere across Canada. Pews were packed. Sunday schools overflowed. Money poured in. It was impossible to imagine that the good times would ever end.

But they did.

A century ago, the British Empire extended so far around the world that it could honestly be said that the sun never set on its colonies.

But the empire broke up, eventually—in part, at least, as a result of the Empire’s emphasis on educating its subjects.

Thirty years ago, few employees of Big Oil could imagine running out of conventional petroleum reserves. But today, those companies are re-branding themselves as energy companies, not oil producers.

There is, as the unknown author of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes commented 2300 years ago, a time for everything.

Like flowers, all things have their summer. They bloom, then fade in fall.

It’s futile to bewail the coming of fall. Even more futile, in the middle of winter, to pretend summer never ended.

I can’t speak for empires or oil companies. But for churches, preaching the same message, singing the same music, running the system the same way, expecting the same results, leads inevitably to ghost towns.

Like Sandon.