Well over a century and counting
Brian Mills continues a family legacy of mining in Silverton, B.C.
“The past is a long line of mining, and the future looks good for us.” That’s how Brian Mills sums up the trajectory of his career, his company and the generations of his family.
Mills is the president of Genex Mining Co. Ltd., a small underground contract mining company based in the village of Silverton in British Columbia’s West Kootenay. And when he says “long line of mining,” he’s not kidding. Almost 120 years ago, in 1897, his great-grandfather arrived in Silverton and started in the industry. His grandfather also went into the Silverton mines, starting at age 16. His own father followed suit and today works alongside Mills as the director of Genex. Even Mills’ four children have worked with Genex at various times.
So it’s not surprising that Mills is also a miner. What is surprising is that this line of work wasn’t his initial choice. “I was headed for a career with the RCMP,” he said. He did a criminology diploma in Vancouver, successfully completed the Auxiliary/Reserve Constable Training Program and was headed toward becoming a regular member. That all changed “when my dad asked me if I wanted to work with him to start a small contracting company for a small contract job in Rossland,” he said. “From then on, it was say ‘goodbye’ to everything else. It was a natural fit.”
Not only did Mills enjoy the fulfillment of getting a good day’s work done for good pay, but also appreciated “the camaraderie between the older miners and myself. And it was outside work. Every day was different,” he said.
That was in 1994 and marked the birth of Genex. Since then, Mills has continued to be a hands-on boss. “Our office is underground,” he said, “and that’s what we like.” Most of the contracts involve surface or underground rehabilitation to ensure old mines are safe to enter. The company offers a long list of services, from mine development to ore extraction, to diamond drill support and supervision. In-between contracts, Genex also has a small silver-lead-zinc mine of its own in the hills behind Silverton.
The company’s proudest achievement stretched from 2006 to 2011, when it worked on the Max Molybdenum Mine near Trout Lake, B.C., owned by Roca Mines Inc. It was a $3.5-millon contract for Genex, which was able to employ up to 40 people. “That’s what really put us on the map as a decent-sized contractor,” said Mills.
Since then, the work has been slower, creating a challenge when it comes to finding the employees the company needs. “Because contracts are usually short in duration, it’s hard to get qualified people unless they’re quitting other jobs,” he said. “We try to train as best we can and try to retain those employees by keeping them working, but it’s tough. And I think we lost a generation of trained miners, especially around my age. When mining was poor in the early ’90s/late ’80s, no one was getting into it. So that’s a big challenge.”
Now the future is looking good. Genex has several clients with prospective projects within five hours of Silverton. One of these involves working on the properties owned by Golden Dawn Minerals Inc., located near Greenwood, B.C. Together, these opportunities will hopefully allow Genex to offer long-term employment and provide local jobs, not only to miners but also to mechanics, surveyors, bookkeepers and more.
With contracts throughout the province—and even up in Yukon—Mills can be away on site for months at a time, with a break every few weeks to come home. Despite the distances, however, he has no plans to leave his Silverton base. He’s proud to be a part of the community, and the company has contributed to local services and events like the search and rescue boat, July 1 celebrations and the nearby minor hockey team. Genex is also an annual supporter of Variety–The Children's Charity.
Most significantly, Silverton is where his history is. Although the village itself has gone from a mining boom in the 1890s to a current population of less than 200, this is where Mills’ family has found nearly 120 years of success. Through dedication and effort, Mills and his father are working to ensure there are many more years to come.