Top 10 Drone News Stories in 2015

Top 10 Drone News Stories in 2015

1. Hobby drones fly onto regulators’ radar

In 2015 the number of drone related incidents sky rocketed. Most of the big news stories of this year were about mishaps related to irresponsible drone users.

With the onslaught of amateur drone operators the US government scrambled to pass legislation that would stem the tide of drone crashes, privacy threats and dangerous flying. There was a great fear that massive numbers of drones would be given as Christmas presents this year dubbed by some at the great “drone invasion”.

DroneInvasion

The FAA took responsibility for making drone users accountable by issuing a new law that all non-commercial drones need to be registered with the agency. The FAA reasoned that drone users are “aviators”

“Make no mistake: Unmanned aircraft enthusiasts are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement released by the FAA. “Registration gives us an opportunity to work with these users to operate their unmanned aircraft safely.”

The FAA drone registration website went live on December 21st which can be seen here: FAA Drone Site. Their guidelines are bit foggy and fail to define what is and isn’t a drone. They do have a list of samples though, FAA Sample Guide. The guide seems to suggest that only drones with autopilot capability (aka actual drones and not R/C models) need to be registered.  At the moment the registration system is ambiguous and poorly though out.

droneregistrationproblems

The knee jerk reaction from the FAA makes an effort to control the huge number of hobby drones taking flight this year.  Much like the long gun registration in Canada the people who are going to break the rules will not register their drones anyway.

Transport Canada jumped on the drone invasion bandwagon as well but fortunately did not enact a poorly thought out registration scheme. They launched a media campaign instead to educate users to follow existing regulations (Transport Canada Announcement)

 

2. Drones interfere with forest fire operations

There were several big news stories this year about drones interfering with forest fire fighting operations in Canada and the United States.  This summer was unusually dry and led to an increase in forest fires all over North America.  In BC there was a province wide fire ban this summer due to the dry conditions.

YouFlyWeCant

One incident near the town of Oliver, BC made headline news across the country (CBC story).  Aerial fire suppression crews were hard at work battling a fire that engulfed 1500 hectares and led to the evacuation of over 100 homes.  When a small drone was spotted the whole crew of eight helicopters and 6 water bombers was grounded for five hours.

The story spurred negative emotions from many BC residents as the fire fighting effort was desperately needed and the interruption further threatened many homes.

There were several incidents in California this summer too.  California had a rough summer with widespread drought and many forest fires.  Public reactions were fierce. The county of San Bernadino is offering a $75,000 reward for the identity of drone pilots who interfered with three separate forest fire operations (Reward Story).

3. Hobbyists create weaponized drones

Within the last year two youtube videos from the same drone enthusiast sparked much controversy (CNN Article).  In the first video he mounted a handgun to a quadcopter drone and rigged up a remote firing system.  The result was pretty intimidating.  See the video below.

In December the same enthusiast mounted a custom designed flamethrower to a larger drone and posted anouther video.  Once again the controversy spread like wildfire (Popular Science article).  The inventor says that the experiments were conducted in a controlled environment with water and fire extinguishers nearby.

Internet users were mostly outraged with many in the drone community lambasting the teenager who created these drone weapons.  There were a lot of comments from people fearing their hobby would be banned because of this young man.  Others applauded the ingenuity that it took to put these together while some were just plain scared.

It will be interesting to see what hobbyist drone weapons make the news in 2016.  Drones were originally developed as weapons systems starting with the German V1 flying bomb in WWII which was essentially a cruise missile.  With the long history of weaponized drones we shouldn’t be so surprised when kids are creating them in their backyard.

4. Delivery Drones

Everbody has heard of the Amazon delivery drone by now.  News of their plans to develop a 30 minutes or less drone delivery system called Prime Air has been splattered all over the headlines for much of the year (30 minutes or less).  Just last month they released a video with former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson showing a concept of what Prime Air might look like.

Despite the many challenges involved in drone delivery Amazon seems to be taking their plan seriously.  They have proposed a special drone delivery only airspace (BBC article).  It will be several years at least before the technology and regulations are actually ready for something like this.  Take a look at my post on 6 Misconceptions About Drones in 2015 where I explained why this won’t work.

Google (aka Alphabet) and Walmart also filed applications to test drone delivery this year (Walmart Drone Delivery).  Futuristic drone delivery remains a tantalizing possibility and will likely remain in the headlines through 2016.

5. Military drone pilots speak out

Military drone strikes were a big story in the news this year.  In October a leak was released detailing the United States use of armed drones to murder suspected terrorists and other people they don’t like in the middle east (drone leaks).  It had been assumed for years that the US was using drones in countries that it was not supposed to.  The leak exposed a massive drone assassination program that was largely unknown

Around the same time stories began to surface of military drone pilots who quit their jobs due to the emotional toll of constantly killing people on the other side of the world (NBC story)

This story from 2012 explains how a US military drone pilot from Montana killed an innocent child.  He launched a missile at a building in Afghanistan when a child walked out at the last second before the missile hit.  There is a lot of collateral damage in the US drone war campaign.  According to this article on Vice News more civilians are killed than suspects (Vice story).  Anouther article in the New York Times tells the same story (NY Times).

A huge number of drone pilots are quitting their jobs.  More people are quitting than are being trained (Drone Pilots Are Quitting In Record Numbers).  The air force in apparently offering huge bonuses to retain qualified operators (NY Post article).

6. Guys shoots down drone and gets away with it

This summer a man from Louiville, Kentucky took down his neighbour’s drone with a shotgun.  He claimed that it was spying on his daughters who were sunbathing in his yard.  Initially he was charged by police for discharging a firearm in the city.  In October a judge ruled that the drone invaded his privacy and therefore he did not break the law in shooting it (Man Shoots Drone)

The drone’s flight data was analyzed after it was shot down.  The drone was clearly above 200 feet and had only been in the air for two minutes.  It seems obvious that the shooter was acting emotionally and testified that the drone was closer than it was.

There has a been a lot of hype about drones invading privacy.  While camera equipped drones do have the capability to spy on people it is up to the operator to act responsibly.  There are existing laws regarding voyeurism and trespassing which apply to drones as much as people.

Of course this was not the only drone shooting incident.  A New Jersey man also shot a drone with a shotgun he did not have such a sympathetic judge.  He was charged with Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose and Criminal Mischief (NJ Drone Shooter).

Drone Shooter

Anouther interesting drone shooter story took place in Modesto, California (Cal Drone Shooter).  Again the shooter acted on concerns over privacy.  This case was handled by small claims court when the shooter refused to pay for the parts that he damaged.  The drone owner won the court case this time.

In some states its OK to shoot drones in others it is not.  It seems that shooting drones is a grey area as in the US the legal system (CNN Drone Shooting).

There have been several news stories of drone incidents on beaches.  In one case a man was arrested and charged for throwing his T-shirt into the propellers of a drone causing it to crash (T-shirt drone incident).

A particularly interesting incident happened in 2014 at beach in Connecticut (Woman Assults Drone Pilot).  A woman was offended that a drone pilot was flying a camera drone over the beach.  She attacked the man and was subsequently charged with assault.  The man filmed the assault on his cell phone and she now faces up to a year in prison.

DroneBeach

It is not against the law to fly or film in a public space.  If you are sunbathing on a public beach people can legally take pictures of you with a drone or otherwise.

7. White house drones

2015 saw two white house drone incidents.  The first incident happened in January (NBC, Mashable).  The drone operator lost control of his DJI phantom and it landed on the grounds of the white house in Washington, DC.  The incident was uneventful other than that fact that it landed on government property.  Nobody was hurt, no property damage, etc.  Although this story reports that the pilot was “drinking and droning” (DUI Droning).

Secret Service Handout Photo
Secret Service Handout Photo

In contrast the the January incident a man was detained for flying a small drone (Parrot Bebop) at the white house (CNN, DailyMail).  The area around the white house was put under lock down.  Secret Service agents quickly tackled the suspect and detained him.  All the surrounding roads have been cleared of people and cordoned off.  The pilot (Ryan MacDonald) was arrested and charged with violating a federal order.

The difference in handling of these two incidents is noteworthy.  In one case the perpetrator was a government employee who recklessly went to sleep with a drone in the air, and may have been drunk.  He actually crashed his drone.  In the second incident the man did not crash and was arrested and charged and the white house was put on lockdown.

8. Drones at airports

Drone incidents at airports have risen sharply in the last year.  It is inevitable that with the huge numbers of drone sales a small percentage of owners will operate in a completely reckless manor.

Once incident in May at New York’s LaGuardia Airport involved a near mid air collision between a drone and a jetliner at 2700 feet (Fox News).

IllegalDrone

According to this article from the Washington post there were in excess of 700 drone related incidents at airports in the United States in 2015 and the article was written in August.

On July 10, the pilot of an Air Force F-15 Strike Eagle said a small drone came within 50 feet of the fighter jet. Two weeks later, the pilot of a Navy T-45 Goshawk flying near Yuma, Ariz., reported that a drone buzzed 100 feet underneath.

There have been some actual mid-air collisons:

On May 9, the pilot of United Airlines Flight 863 — traveling from San Francisco to Sydney — reported that the Boeing 777 hit a drone at an altitude of 3,000 to 4,000 feet along the California coast.

Vancouver, BC has had several incidents as well (CBC News).  There was a high profile incident in October at the international airport and one in August involving a sea plane and a quadcopter (National Post).  According to the seaplane pilot the drone came within three meters of his windshield when he was landing.

These kind of incidents have been spreading rapidly and in each case you have to wonder what the person was thinking.  There are several awareness programs in place now but do you really need someone to tell you that its a stupid idea to fly a drone at an airport?

9. Drones over Paris

In February drones were spotted flying over several Paris landmarks including the Eiffel Tower, and the US embassy.  The drones were spotted two nights in a row presumably taking photos or video of the landmarks.  Flying a drone at night is illegal in France and drone flights in central Paris are also banned.

ParisDrone

The story was huge news despite how little was known.  News agencies in Europe reported the facts and that the pilots or drones had not been located (BBC News).  Here is an excerpt from a BBC article.

The security threat from these drones is minimal. Bird’s-eye images of Paris landmarks are available online in far higher quality than anything these devices could produce. And small, shop-bought drones are not strong enough to deliver a significant payload of explosives.

News in the United States took the story to a whole different level.  The CNN video below has “TERROR IN THE SKIES” as the headline for their report.  With no information to go on CNN decided to scare the pants off American viewers.

A week later three Al Jazeera journalists were detained as suspects (Al Jazeera Story).  The reporters were in fact operating their own drone as part of their coverage of the mystery drone story.  They were detained for 19 hours and questioned.

The actual perpetrators were never found.  The Paris drone flights remain a mystery.  They were likely tourists using their toy drones to capture aerial video of landmarks.

10. FAA grants over 1000 permits

In August of 2015 the FAA announced that it had issued over 1000 exemptions for commercial drone operation (Fortune Article).  Through much of the year they were issuing permits at a rate of 50 per week.  The FAA was mandated by congress to come up with commercial drone rules by 2015.  They dragged their feet and still only have an interim measure called a section 333 exemption.

droneMining

Commercial drone activity is illegal in the United States and the permit grants an exemption to the law.  The process is similar to what Transport Canada has been doing for a decade.  Without a permit there is no commercial work.  What this story really means is that the United States is finally able to have a domestic commercial drone service industry.  Prior to 2015 only a small number of permits were issued giving the holders a virtual monopoly on drone services.  With the increase in permits there is beginning to be some competition in the market.

Section 333 exemptions are not easy to get.  There is a paperwork intensive application process and all the criteria need to be met.  The FAA is moving towards an actual licencing system instead of the patchwork of regulation that they are now using.

 

Runner Up News Story:

Enrique Iglesias Slices Fingers on Drone

During a concert in Tijuana, Mexico Enrique Iglesias grabbed a drone out of the air and sliced his fingers on the propeller.  This story made headlines in May of 2015 (DailyMail Story).

EnriqueDrone

The drone was used to get crowd footage during the concert.  Enrique grabbed the drone to get a POV perspective.  He continued performing for 30 minutes and was airlifted to a hospital after the show.  He was bleeding the whole time.  You have to respect the guy for continuing the show despite some fairly serious bleeding.

 

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6 Misconceptions About Drones in 2015

6 Misconceptions About Drones in 2015

#1 Not all remote controlled aircraft are drones

The rise in popularity of consumer drones has led to a considerable amount of confusion.  The word drone has been misused by the media and manufacturers attempting to capitalize on the excitement that surrounds everything “drone”.  A drone is a robot that has the ability to operate autonomously without direct control from a human operator.
DroneNot“Drone” usually refers to unmanned aircraft which are also called UAVs (more on that later).  There are other types of drones too such as boats, submarines and ground based robots.  For an aircraft to be considered a drone it must have an autopilot and have the ability to fly without user input.  Many of the “drones” on the market right now do not meet that criteria.  For example this is not a drone, Flymemo DM007 but it is marketed as one.  This one is a drone 3DR Solo Drone Quadcopter.

There are similarities to real quadcopter drones though.  The DJI phantom is a real drone, the difference being that it has an autopilot and can operate a flight pattern autonomously.  Likewise “racing drones” are not drones at all.  They are totally cool though and look like a lot of fun.

Quadcopters have been around for a long time and offer a stable platform compared to conventional R/C helicopters.  The correct name for these non-drones is R/C quadcopter.  Adding a camera does not make an R/C aircraft a drone either.

#2 You can’t just fly wherever you want

Commercial and Hobby use of drones comes with regulations.  Like most laws it is the responsibility of the operator to learn and obey the regulations.  In Canada the regulations are in a state of flux so it is important to keep up to date with the changes.  Likewise in the United States new rules are currently being developed to register all recreational drones.

regs

Canadian recreational users can be fined up to $3000 for an infraction of the recreational rules.  Commercial operators are subject to fines up to $25,000 for flying without a permit or exemption.  Any damage caused by reckless drone usage can also be charged back to the owner.  Other laws also apply such as voyeurism and trespassing.  RCMP have been investigating unauthorized use and have issued fines to non-compliant operators (CTV article).

At the present time both Canada and the United States do not have a licencing system for commercial drone operations.  In both countries the existing laws consider commercial drone activity illegal and therefore an exemption or permit is required.  In Canada this is called an SFOC or a “Section 333 Exemption” in the US.  The Canadian laws are further ahead as there is somwhat of a streamlined system to apply with a clear set of criteria.  Exemptions have been made for small drones provided that they have insurance and operate at a safe distance from airports, and buildings. This link has flow chart for the current exemptions, TC Exemptions.

IllegalDrone

Reckless drone incidents have risen sharply in the last two years with the increase in drone sales.  There was an incident this summer where a recreational drone interfered with a forest fire fighting operation in Southern BC (news article).  A disturbing amount of drones have been spotted at airports interfering with commercial air traffic as well.

#3 Confusing Acronyms

Following up on misconception #1 there are a lot of confusing acronyms and terms for drones and drone-like aircraft.  The “proper” name for drones is actually UAVs or unmanned aerial vehicles.  Some people will say UAS or unmanned aerial systems.  These terms are a matter of debate in academic, military and regulatory circles.  Drone, UAV and UAS essentially mean the same thing.

The terminology gets a little foggy when you start talking about RPVs which stands for remotely piloted vehicle.  Many of the large military drones fall into the RPV class.  The difference is that they are actively piloted by a human although the human can be hundreds or in some cases thousands of miles away.  RPV’s are essentially big expensive R/C planes.  R/C is another acronym that is part of the mix.  As discussed in #1 R/C stands for radio control and refers to the hobby planes, helicopters and multirotors that are literally controlled by radio transmitters.

Modern drones developed from R/C aircraft and have many of the same components.  One more acronym that is related to drones is FPV which stands for first person view.  That is the technique used to fly R/C aircraft using a live video feed via radio link and video goggles.  FPV is pretty cool stuff, check out the video below (be advised that they are likely breaking the law).

#4 Drones will not be delivering packages anytime soon

There has been a lot media coverage recently about drone delivery systems.  Amazon has been leading the charge with a media frenzy around what they call “Amazon Prime Air”.  Just this week they put out a promotional video hosted by former Top Gear star Jeremy Clarkson.  See the video below,

It looks cool, even plausible, but there are several major road blocks that need to be dealt with before drones will be landing in your back yard.  First the drones require a system called Sense and Avoid.  This is arguably the holy grail of modern drone development.  Sense and avoid means that the drone can avoid collisions with unplanned obstacles, people and vehicles using onboard sensors and real time decision making.  Great strides have been made in the last two years in this field but it will be a while before it is ready for the real world.  Check out this ground breaking video from researchers at MIT,

In addition to sense and avoid systems delivery drones will also have to be reliable in all weather conditions.  There are very few drones today that are capable of flying in rain, strong wind or at night.  There are other reliability issues that need to be addressed such as battery life, and battery consistency.  Not to mention dealing with militant anti-drone activists or simply kids that might throw plastic bags or rocks at delivery drones.  Apparently it is legal to shoot down other people’s drones in the United States (see this article).

The last hurdle that needs to be cleared is regulation.  Amazon, Google and Walmart have all been lobbying for a designated altitude to be used for delivery drones above cities.  The proposal sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, and may one day part of the solution but it will take a long time.  Currently drones are not prohibited within 9km (Can) or 5 miles (US) from an airport which is where the majority of customers live.

Drone delivery is not a new concept.  In remote regions of Africa experiments are underway to deliver live organs and medicine between villages.  Check out this TED talk on the subject.  In rural Africa there is virtually nothing for the drone to hit, no conflicting traffic and so on.  In areas like that drone delivery can already take place.  Drone delivery services will be available in major cities one day but with today’s technology and regulatory climate it is nothing more than a publicity stunt.

#5 Most of the military drones are not killing machines

A widely held misconception about drones is that the US military drones are all weaponized killing machines.  Coverage in the press gravitates towards the very controversial remote killing machines that the military certainly does posses.  They have several models of weaponized drone, the main drone strike tool is the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper. The Reaper is a bigger, more powerful version of the Predator with the addition of weapons payloads.  They also have F-16 fighter jets converted to drones and unmanned bombers.  The Tomahawk cruise missiles which were made famous in Desert Storm are also basically kamikaze drones.

1970s Target Drone
1970s Target Drone

The first drone weapon was developed by the Nazis in WWII.  It was called the V-1 Flying Bomb and was essentially an early cruise missile.  The US has a long history of drone useage beginning after WWII with unmanned target drones.  Miltiary forces all over the world routinely use target drones to for target practice every day.  It is mind boggling that they build simplified drones that cost between $10,000 and $40,000 just to shoot at and destroy.  These non-weaponized drones are used daily.

The drone age really took off with reliable photography drones in the 1990s.  The most successful drone to date is the Insitu ScanEagle.  The ScanEagle was originally developed in Oregon by Insitu to map tuna schools.  They have been deployed in US military operations since 2004 and all they do is take pictures.  The AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven is a small hand launced photography drone that can be rapidly deployed to take aerial photos.  The Shadow, Blackjack and RQ-170 Sentinel are all photography drones as well.  The Canadian military uses the Israeli made Heron UAV and the ScanEagle, we do not have any weaponized drones.

Insitu Scan Eagle
Insitu Scan Eagle

The Predator and Global Hawk are extremely successful long range, high altitude drones that collect aerial imagery and do not have weapons capability.  I am not advocating in any way the use of drones for murder but the media promotes stories on the controversial killing drones in the headlines.  This disproportionate reporting give the impression that all military drones are killing machines.  In reality there are only a handful of killer drones while the overwhelming majority take photos and collect remote sensing data.

#6 Drones will not crash if their radio is jammed or lost

There has been some press lately about using radio jammers to knock out drones.  There are even some start up companies marketing radio jammer guns.  They look like some kind of futuristic weapons.

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Drone radio jammer made to look like a weapon

Radio jammers work by overloading a signal with random noise.  The jammers that are being designed for drones use directional antennas and focus on the the frequencies often used by drones (2.4 – 5.8 GHz).  Some drones operate on different frequencies such as 900 MHz which would require different antennas.

If tuned to the correct frequency range a jammer can definitely disrupt a drone’s radio link.  That will not cause it to crash though.  Just about every drone in operation today has a set of failsafe programmed features.  One of the most important is a radio signal loss failsafe.  What that means is that the drone is programmed to follow a procedure when signal is lost.  Typically the drone will return to its take off point and hover or circle in the air until signal can be re-gained.

RadioJammer
Drone radio jammer

Drone’s can lose signal for a lot of reasons and it has happened to me on numerous occasions.  They also have failsafe procedures for loss of GPS signal, battey  power, etc.  The definition of drones comes into play again here.  Radio controlled aircraft such as R/C quadcopeters which are often mis-labelled as drones will crash when signal is lost.  That is true of any non-autonomous R/C aircraft.  Without receiving commands from the pilot they will all crash.  So radio jammers are effective on R/C devices.

In recent months momentum is building for drone radio jammers to be installed in airports and other sensitive areas where reckless drone activity could be a nuisance.  First of all they would not actually be effective against drones and second the jammers would overlap with commonly used aviation frequencies.  So that is never going to happen.  If commercial jet flights are concerned about having a cell phone powered up during flight how would they like high powered radio jammers operating in the vicinity?

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Top Ten Gold Rushes of BC – Part 2

Top Ten Gold Rushes of BC – Part 2

In part one of the top ten gold rushes of BC we covered the early gold rushes primarily in the Southern regions.  As time went on gold hungry adventurers pushed further in the wild North of the Canadian West coast.  Their adventurous spirit was rewarded greatly and eventually led them into the Yukon and Alaska.

1865 Big Bend Gold Rush

KootenalMap1897_crop
1897 Map of the Big Bend Area

The Big Bend refers to the shape of the Columbia River as it makes a huge detour at the continental divide.  This region encompasses several different mountain ranges including the Selkirks, the Cariboo Mountains, the Monashees and the Rocky Mountains.  In 1865 gold was discovered on French Creek which is straight North of Revelstoke.  As in other gold rushes a town was quickly erected named French Creek City.  Within the first year the town reached a population of over 4000 people.  Nothing is left today but during the rush French Creek had a general store, saloons with cabaret shows, barber shops and of course brothels.  Other important towns of the rush were La Porte and Downie Creek.  The inhabitants came mostly from the Wild Horse area and other areas in BC.

Steamboats were a major factor during the big bend gold rush.  Many of the prospectors reached the area on steamboats via the Arrow Lakes which make up part of the Columbia River.  The lake network allowed boat passengers to travel from areas as far South as the US border.

Boat
Columbia River Steamboat, the “Rossland”

Other notable creeks in the area are Carnes Creek, Downie Creek, McCullough Creek, and the Goldstream River.  A 14 ounce nugget was reported to be found on French Creek and numerous smaller nuggets were also found.  In 1865 miners were bringing out multiple ounces per day to the man on some claims.  On McCullough Creek pay streaks averaged 1/8 of an ounce per yard for many years.  Just like other places in the late 1800s hydraulic and drift mining driven by mining companies and syndicates quickly replaced hand mining techniques.  The big bend gold rush only lasted two years but mining in the area continues to this day.  Several large projects and proposed mines are located in the big bend.

1869 Omineca Gold Rush

The Omineca is a huge region in Nortn-Central BC.  The southern boundary is marked today by the Yellowhead highway the North boundary is the Liard Mountains.  Gold was first discovered in the Omineca in 1861 but the rush didn’t take place until eight years later.  The original discoveries were made on the Finlay River.  In the early days there were very few people in the area due to a complete lack of trails, roads or maps and unforgiving terrain and weather.  Much of the area is still wild today.

Northern BC circa 1898, red symbols are known gold discoveries
Northern BC circa 1898, red symbols are known gold discoveries

One of the first claims on the Finlay called Toy’s Bar produced 4 ounces to the man each day.  Several expeditions were launched though the area searching for gold.  One such party, the Peace River Prospecting Party, found a great discovery on Vital Creek in 1869.  The creek was named after one of the party members, Vital Laforce who was also instrumental in exploring the Cariboo region.  Vital Creek produced nearly 5000 ounces in the years following the rush.

Manson Creek and the Germansen River held the best gold deposits in the Omineca.  Gold discoveries were also made on Blackjack Creek, Kildare Creek, Mosquito Creek, Slate Creek and Nugget Gulch.  In the early days of the gold rush anything less than an ounce a day was considered unworthy.  Many creeks were paying 100 ounces per week.  If the gold rush happened today that would be well over $100,000 every week.  I’d be finding my way up there any any means possible.  Travelling to the Omineca in the 1800s was a feat in itself.

The discovery of gold in the Cassiar in 1873 spelled the end of the Omineca gold rush.  As with all gold rushes those who held good ground stayed and kept mining while everyone else headed on to the next boom town.  The Omineca is one of the least explored regions in BC today and there are still gold strikes waiting to be found.

1873 Cassiar Gold Rush

Gold was discovered on the Stikine River in 1861 and a minor rush developed.  A few hundred prospectors ascended the river in search of gold.  There was an existing fur trading fort at the mouth of the river called Fort Stikine which later became Wrangell, Alaska.  Not enough gold was found to entice more adventurers to the region but the excitement was enough to prompt Britain into claiming the region as a colony in 1862.

Cassiar region circa 1893
Cassiar region circa 1893

The Cassiar gold rush really took off once the high grade gold deposits in the extreme North of BC were discovered.  This part of the country is extremely rugged with huge mountains, glaciers and a very cold winter.  The discovery was made in the summer of 1872 by Henry Thibert and Angus McCulloch on a creek that drains into Dease Lake.  The creek was named after Thibert who froze to death the following winter.  Thibert Creek was very rich, in the first year miners were getting up to three ounces to the pan.

TurnagainNugget
The 52 oz “Turnagain Nugget” from Alice Shea Creek in the Cassiar

In 1874 an even bigger discovery was made further North on Mcdame Creek.  The largest gold nugget ever found in BC was taken from Mcdame Creek tipping the scale at 73 ounces!  Another giant nugget was found on Alice Shea Creek that weighed 52 ounces.

Several towns sprung up near the gold discoveries such as Laketon, Porter Landing and Centerville.  They are all ghost towns now but in the height of the rush thousands of people were passing through the shops and saloons of the Cassiar.  Like the Omineca much of this region is just as wild today as it was 150 years ago.

The Cassiar’s rich gold reserves have not been forgotten.  There are many large mining projects under way in the region.  Due to the high grade mineral deposits the area is known as BC’s “Golden Triange”.
BCs-Golden-Triangle

1885 Granite Creek Gold Rush

Granite Creek is a tributary to the Tulameen River.  In the gold rush era of the late 1800s the Tulameen was still a remote and wild area.  Like many of the best discoveries the Granite Creek gold was found by chance.  In this case it was actually found by a cowboy named Johnny Chance.  In the summer of 1885 Chance was delivering some horses to New Westminster and took a route through the Tulameen.  True to his lazy nature he took a nap at a spot on Granite Creek on a hot day.  When he woke up he happened to notice the reflection of some gold nuggets in the water.

Granite City in 1888
Granite City in 1888

Within a year of the discovery the once vacant valley at the mouth of Granite Creek had over 2000 people living there.  At the time Granite City was the third largest town in BC.  There were over two hundred buildings, 13 of which were saloons.  The town never had a school or a mayor though.  The bars in Granite ran flat out and never closed down.  It was known as one of the wildest towns in the West.

In the early days gold nuggets weighing 5-10 ounces were commonly found.  Platinum was also prevalent on the creek.  Miners were producing equal weights of platinum and gold.  Interestingly for the first few years the Granite Creek miners had no idea what platinum was and most of them threw it back into the creek.  At today’s prices gold is going for $1077/oz and platinum is at $870/oz.

GrantieCabin4
Granite City in 2015

The Granite Creek rush brought attention to the surrounding area as well.  Other notable creeks in the Tulameen are Slate Creek, Lawless Creek, Lockie Creek and the Tulameen River.  Gold and platinum are still being produced today.  I heard from a Princeton local that the biggest nuggets to come out of the Tulameen this year were over an ounce.  I have some claims on Granite Creek and the Tulameen River myself.  Check this post from earlier this year Tulameen Prospecting Trip.

By the end of the 1890s the population of Granite City began to decline.  The easy gold was all claimed and in the process of being mined.  Those that didn’t already hold good ground headed North to try their luck in the Atlin and Klondike gold rushes that followed.

1898 Atlin Gold Rush

Atlin area map 1898
Atlin area map 1898

The Atlin gold rush was the last one to take place in BC.  It was a direct offshoot of the Klondike gold rush that took the world by storm.  The Klondike was the mother of all gold rushes, over 100,000 adventurers poured into Dawson City, YK from all over the world.  Some of the adventurous prospectors took a different route and ended up in Atlin.

The first big discovery was on Pine Creek.  A town was set up on Pine Creek aptly named Discovery.  At it’s peak there were over 10,000 people living in Discovery which was rivalled only by the infamous Dawson City.  Discovery had all the excitement of Dawson.  There were saloons, brothels, and gambling available at all hours of the day.  Discovery is a ghost town today, it was replaced by the town of Atlin.

Discovery Townsite in 1909
Discovery Townsite in 1909

The gold that was found in the Atlin area was truly legendary.  It is estimated that over 1.5 million ounces of placer gold have been produced from the creeks.  Some giant nuggets were found too.  Several creeks are known to have produced nuggets in excess of 50 ounces!  The best placer gold creeks were Pine Creek, Spruce Creek, Ruby Creek, McKee Creek, Birch Creek, Boulder Creek, Otter (Surprise) Creek, and the McDonnel River.

Atlin is a beautiful town, I had the pleasure of working up there a few years ago.  In the early 1900s it was nicknamed the “Switzerland of the North” due to the picturesque mountain setting.  In many ways Atlin is like Dawson City’s little brother.  The music festival is smaller, the gold rush was smaller, less gold was produced but the Klondike is nowhere near as scenic.

Atlin Today
Atlin Today

Gold mining in Atlin has never stopped.  Every time the gold price spikes the area receives another mini gold rush.  There are a lot of large hard rock mining prospects in the area as well.  The region is not far from the golden triangle and benefits from similar underlying geology.  Due to its remote location the area is very under explored and has outstanding potential for exploration.

The BC gold rush period lasted just 50 years.  Many of the participants experienced more than one rush in their lifetime.  It would have been an amazing time to be a prospector.  Here’s a recap of the top ten BC gold rushes:

  • 1851 Haida Gwaii Gold Rush
  • 1858 Fraser River Gold Rush
  • 1858 Rock Creek Gold Rush
  • 1859 Cariboo Gold Rush
  • 1863 Wild Horse River Gold Rush
  • 1864 Leech River Gold Rush
  • 1865 Big Bend Gold Rush
  • 1873 Cassiar Gold Rush
  • 1885 Granite Creek Gold Rush
  • 1898 Atlin Gold Rush
The history of British Columbia is the history of gold and the men who hunt for it.  It was the Fraser River gold rush that led to BC becoming a colony and later a province.  Our towns, overland trails and roads, and much of the early infrastructure was built to support gold mining activity.  Without our lust for precious metal men would not have risked their lives to explore the rugged and unforgiving wilderness of this beautiful province.
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Top Ten Gold Rushes of BC – Part 1

Top Ten Gold Rushes of BC – Part 1

Prior to the gold rushes in BC this part of the country remained almost entirely unexplored.  The Clovis people and their descendants the North American Indians were the first settlers of North America.  The Clovis crossed the Beringia Land Bridge from Siberia to present day Alaska approximately 13,500 years ago.  When Europeans began exploring the area, first by sea in the late 1700s and later by canoe, they encountered aboriginal groups covering much of the province.  Many Indians had seen gold in creeks but had little use for it.  They did not have the knowledge or motivation to mine gold until they came into contact with Europeans.  After learning the value of gold to the British they began to mine it and trade for goods.

Map of British Columbia Goldfields circa 1858
Map of British Columbia Goldfields circa 1858, click for larger image

The Spanish explorers on the other hand were completely obsessed with the yellow metal.  Spanish explorers were motivated primarily by legends of “El Dorado” in their search of the Americas.  Each Spanish explorer had the ultimate goal of returning to Spain with a ship full of gold.  Most of their attention was focussed in South America where their superior weaponry, armour and small pox allowed them to quickly decimate tribal empires and steal their gold.  There is evidence of Spanish gold exploration in BC as well.  Most of the Spanish exploration took place on Vancouver Island and other coastal areas such as Haida Gwaii.  One Spanish expedition travelled inland as far as the Okanagan and Similkameen regions.

Fur trading is what led to the first European settlement of British Colombia but the impact remained relatively small.  The first settlements were established by early explorers such as Simon Fraser, Alexander Mackenzie, and David Thompson.  Early forts were established along the river routes that these explorers used as well as along the coast.  The area became a recognized fur trading district called New Caledonia and it held that name until it became a British Colony in 1858.

Fort St. James was founded in 1806 and was the first major inland fur trading post in BC and still bears that name.  Other notable early forts are Ft. George (now Prince George), Ft. Kamloops, Ft. Langley and Ft. Victoria (1844).  During the fur trade the European population slowly grew to a few hundred people but little effort was put into exploring new ground outside of the established trade routes.

EarlyBC

1851 Haida Gwaii Gold Rush

The Haida Gwaii gold rush was the first recorded gold rush in BC but was very short lived due to hostilities with the local natives.  The rush began in 1851 when a Haida man traded a 27 ounce nugget for 1500 blankets in Fort Victoria.  A Hudson’s Bay Company ship was sent up there soon after and discovered a very high grade lode deposit.

The HBC crew began mining the lode deposit but the Haida Indians soon turned against them and prevented further mining.  In 1852 a ship with 35 adventurers from San Francisco set out for the islands.  They arrived at “Gold Harbour” in the Tasu Sound but did not have much luck finding gold.  They did however manage to trade with the Haida Indians for gold.

1857 Gold Found At the Nicoamen River

Placer gold was discovered in Nicoamen River which is a tributary to the Thompson River.  The Nicoamen enters the Thompson about 12 kilometers up stream from the confluence with the Fraser River at Lytton.  A local Indian discovered gold there by chance and soon the majority of the tribe was mining the area.  This discovery is credited with igniting the Fraser River gold rush.

1858 Fraser River Gold Rush

The Fraser River gold rush involved one of the largest populations of migrant prospectors in history.  It is estimated that around 30,000 people rushed to the lower Fraser River in 1858.  The rush began after an 800 ounce gold sample was sent from Fort Victoria to San Francisco for assay.

Yale in 1868
Yale in 1868

Soon after a shipload of 800 American prospectors from California arrived in Victoria to hunt for gold on the Fraser River.  The influx of American prospectors overwhelmed the small government that managed the territory.  HBC Governor James Douglas requested immediate help from Britain to control this massive foreign population .  The British Government responded by formally claiming BC as sovereign British Colony in 1858.  The new government quickly enacted mining laws to prevent the mayhem that took place in the California goldfields.  Along with the declaration came British military support and the Royal Engineers who went on to build several major road systems including the Cariboo Wagon road and Dewdney Trail.

The early work centred around the community of Hope where steamboats allowed for easy access.  The majority of the gold rushers were participants in the California gold rush that fizzled out a few years earlier.  As a result the population of Yale was largely american and the town was modelled after San Francisco.

Lower Fraser River Circa 1862
Lower Fraser River Circa 1862

A story in the San Francisco Bulletin is credited with igniting the rush.  According to the newspaper:

“In one month the Hudson’s Bay Company fort in Victoria had received 110 pounds of gold dust from the Indians … (prospected) without aid of anything more than … pans and willow baskets.”

Numerous bars were prospected and mined between Hope and Lytton.  Some communities along the Fraser are still named after the bars that were mined such as “Boston Bar”.  Like most gold rushes the men who arrived first snapped up the good claims and the the majority of the adventurers ended up working for them.

Cariboo Wagon Road in Fraser Canyon 1867
Cariboo Wagon Road in Fraser Canyon 1867

The British Royal engineers developed a route from Port Douglas at the head of Harrison Lake to Lillooet to accommodate the influx of miners.  Many new communities popped up and some are still settled today.

The Fraser rush brought people from all over the world but the bulk of the miners came from California.  At the peak of the rush there were over 10,000 miners operating on the section of river form Hope to Lillooet.  The bars depleted rapidly and by 1860 most of the miners continued on the other gold rushes in BC.

1858 Rock Creek Gold Rush

Gold was discovered in Rock Creek in 1858 soon after miners rushed in from the United States and the rest of the world.  The Rock Creek rush was also instrumental in the development of British Columbia.  The discovery was made by two American soldiers who were chased North of the boarder by a band of Indians.  Just 5km from the border where an unnammed creek entered the Kettle River they found gold.

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At the time of the discovery the colony of British Columbia was only a year old.  American miners tried to claim the area as part of the United States due to the high grades and the fact that it was discovered by Americans.  The Rock Creek claim issues prompted the construction of the Dewdney Trail as a means to separate the new colony from the United States.  The Dewdney Trail snaked its way from New Westminster all the way to Wild Horse in the Kootenay region staying just North of the Canada-US border.

Soon after the discovery an estimated 5,000 prospectors migrated to the newly established town of Rock Creek.  In the beginning there were two saloons, a butcher’s shop, a hotel and five stores.  Within the first year a revolt broke out due to tensions between Chinese and American miners and refusal to pay for mining licences.  The incident became known as the Rock Creek War.  The governor of British Columbia Sir James Douglas travelled there from Victoria to straighten out the miners.  He threatened to send in 500 British soldiers if they couldn’t behave themselves.  Sir Douglas was successful and soon the miners paid their claim fees and mined the creeks in peace.

There were some amazing claims on Rock Creek.  Adam Beame’s claim on Soldier’s Bar  in 1859 allegedly netted $1,000 in six weeks.  That gold would be worth $70,500 today!  Other bars such as Denver Bar and White’s Bar produced similar results.

1859 Cariboo Gold Rush

Gold was discovered on the Horsefly River in 1859 by prospectors who participated in the Fraser River rush.  They were guided by a local Indian and shown a spot on the Horsefly River with abundant gold and nuggets the size of wheat kernels.  The rush was on as more miners from the Fraser River rush migrated North to the Cariboo.  Soon a town was erected near the strike that exists today.

Cariboo Map Circa 1862
Cariboo Map Circa 1862

In 1860 gold was discovered on Keithly and Antler creeks to the North of Horsefly.  Other notable creeks of the region are Lightning, Lowhee, and Williams Creeks, the Quesnel River and Parsnip River.  Towns popped up all over the place with the most exciting being Barkerville.  That town was named after a British prospector named Billy Barker and had a popluaton of 10,000 at its peak.  His claim on Willams Creek was one of the greatest gold producers in history yielding an estimated 37,500 ounces of gold.  Barkerville was restored in 1997 as a tourist historic town that is a popular attraction in the area.

Barkerville1868
Barkerville circa 1868

The Cariboo gold rush saw 100,000 people flood into the area during 1862-70 from all over the world.  By 1864 the Cariboo Wagon Road was completed from New Westminster all the way to Barkerville.  This allowed for easy travel of people and supplies, wich substantially brought down the costs.  It also allowed for stage coaches to securely move gold from the mines.  The stagecoaches operated on this road from 1863 to 1917 carrying people, mail, express packages and of course gold.  The stagecoaches saw surprisingly few hold ups, even though they carried literally tons of gold.  There are only five hold ups on record, two of which were successful.

stagecoach11

By 1870 the gold rush had largely fizzled out.  The good claims were now owned by mining companies who could gather the money needed to undertake underground drift mining.  Those who didn’t stick around to work in underground mines spread around other parts of BC’s North and some sparked gold rushes in new areas.  Others settled in and started up cattle ranches or logging companies.  Gold mining in the Cariboo is still active today, as a matter of fact I have a couple claims near Keithly Creek.

Cariboo Drift Mine
Cariboo Drift Mine

1863 Wild Horse River Gold Rush

Gold was discovered on the Wild Horse River in the Kootenay region in 1863 once again by American prospectors.  The Wild Horse held great gold reserves and still does today.  Early in the rush huge nuggets were found with the biggest tipping the scale at 36 ounces.  The first town that was built was called Fisherville.  Apparently after one resident found a nugget under his house the size of his fist the whole town burned their houses down to dig underneath.

A town was erected named Galbraith’s Ferry, named after John Galbraith who operated a ferry across Kootenay lake.  Later the town was re-named Fort Steele after the legendary Sam Steele.  A second gold rush broke out in the same area in 1885.  Later hard rock silver rushes spread around the region.

The Wild Horse River is estimated to have produced over $7,000,000 in the initial gold rush which would be worth about $490,000,000 today.  There is a very well preserved historic town at Fort Steel that is a popular tourist spot with many actors playing the roles of old time blacksmiths, prospectors, sheriffs and so on.  It is located North of Cranbrook at the intersection between Highway 93 and 95.

The initial gold rush ended after about 6 years but soon the great silver rush would flood the region.  Places like Nelson, Kaslo, Slocan grew out of the silver rushes that blanketed the Kootenay region.

 

1864 Leech River Gold Rush

The Leech River gold rush started with a letter from Robert Brown who was Commander of the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition.  Yes that was the correct name of the VIEE expedition.  The expedition was launched by the British government in Victoria.

1880Leechtown
1880 map depicting the locaton of Leechtown

A letter from Brown published in the British Colonist newspaper on July 29, 1864 ignited the rush.  Here are some exerpts from the letter:

..the intelligence I have to communicate is of too important a nature to bear delay in forwarding to you, even for one hour…

The discovery which I have to communicate is the finding of gold on the banks of one of the Forks of the Sooke River, about 12 miles from the sea in a straight line, and in a locality never hitherto reached by white men, in all probability never even by natives. I forward anquarter eighth of an ounce (or thereabouts) of the coarse scale gold, washed out of twelve pans of dirt, in many places 20 feet above the river, and with no tools but a shovel and a gold pan. The lowest prospect obtained was 3 cents to the pan, the highest $1 to the pan, and work like that with a rocker would yield what pay you can better calculate than I can, and the development of which, with what results to the Colony you may imagine.

Leechtown - Berks Hotel
Leechtown – Berks Hotel

A town called Leechtown was built near the discovery.  By November that year there were an estimated 6 general stores, 3 hotels and over 1,200 miners at work in the area.  By 1866 an estimated 200,000 ounces of gold had been produced in the area and the gold rush had passed its peak.  It was over in a flash as the Leech and Sooke river placer deposits, although high grade, were limited in size.

In the span of one decade gold rushes turned the vast unexplored fur trading district of New Caledonia into a sovereign British Colony.  By the end of the 1860’s the new region had gone from a population of under one thousand people to a colony with several major wagon roads and towns covering much of the Southern half of BC.  The gold rushes continued and led to more development in British Columbia.  Stay tuned for part 2.

Check out part two here:

Part 2: Top 10 Gold Rushes

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7 Common Mistakes Made by New Placer Miners

7 Common Mistakes Made by New Placer Miners

Placer mining is an exciting activity.  It brings us out into the wilderness often to the road less traveled.  There is a certain charm associated with the hunt for gold.  In some ways it feels like an exclusive club where the only entry requirements are the knowledge, skills and the will to take on the challenge of finding precious metal on the earth’s surface.  For those starting out there is a lot to learn and all too often a novice miner’s decisions are influenced by greed or the infamous gold fever.  Here’s a list of some of the most common mistakes made by new gold miners.

  1. Buying too much equipment too early

    LotsOfGear
    Photo Source: www.tambang.id

    Placer miners are total gear nuts, myself included.  To run even a small operation you need a fair amount of gear.  Pans, sluices, digging tools, camping equipment, 4×4 truck, etc.  And there is plenty of gear on the market to spend your money on.

    However more equipment will not necessarily make you more money.  Often its quite the opposite.  In our fast paced consumer focused economy it is tempting to look for a quick fix.  There is no substitute for hard work though. You need to put in the time and effort to find that gold.  I have met several people who have purchased a brand new floating dredge with nowhere to use it.  Fortunately their equipment quickly finds its way onto craigslist at a discounted price.

    Prospecting starts with a gold pan, other tools that help are classifiers, snuffer bottles, and an accurate scale.  Once you have proven gold in an area you can look at moving on to something that can move more material.  The next progression would be a highbanker or a small diameter dredge (if they’re legal in your area).  If you have found enough gold and can’t move material fast enough the next steps are moving to a larger wash plant and possibly heavy equipment.  At each step along the way you need to assess the quantity of gold on your claim and the costs of getting it out.

  2. Buying the first claim that’s available

    ClaimPostIts pretty exciting to have the rights to your first claim.  You start dreaming of all the riches that are now yours for the taking.  Its tempting to snap up the first claim that is available.  Especially in areas with online staking, its a lot like buying concert tickets.  Unlike concert tickets though gold claims are usually available for a reason.  Perhaps the claim has poor access, little to no gold, or has already been mined to death.

    Do some research before you pull the trigger.  Read up on the history of the area to make sure it hasn’t been thoroughly mined already.  Make sure it has good access roads or trails.  Find info on previous production in the area and if possible sample the claim before you buy it.  Check some maps to make sure the claim is not on a park, reserve or private land.

  3. Poor or No Sampling

    SamplesApril

    Effective sampling is absolutely essential to run a profitable placer mining operation. You wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive.  It is tempting to show up at a claim and start running a highbanker on the first gravel that you see.  Even some larger operations forgo proper sampling in the rush to get mining and lose a lot of money because of it.

    Sampling is not glamorous and you won’t get a lot of nuggets to show your friends but you need to know how much an area will pay before you spend time and money to produce it.Once you have thoroughly sampled an area and have calculated the pay per yard you will know how much you can spend to produce the gold.  For example if an area pays $100 to the cubic yard and your cost is $40/yd to produce it you will certainly make a profit.  Your proven reserve is sort of like a bank account.  You don’t want to spend more money on equipment than your reserves will justify.

  4. Not digging deep enough

    IMG_2420 Almost every novice prospector will sample surface gravels and expect to see flakes of gold.  Placer prospecting and mining hinges on the fact that gold is very dense.  Being heavy, gold will settle deep as it can in a gravel bed.  When digging a test hole you basically want to dig as deep as you can.  You want to reach compacted gravel before you start sampling.  In most cases your best gold will be on the bedrock.  In some areas there are clay layers or river armour layers that will trap the gold.  It will always travel down until something prevents it from sinking any further.

    There are areas where flood gold can be found near the surface.  It is important to know the history of your area.  Even if there is surface flood gold though the real paystreak will always be deeper down.

  5. Lack of knowledge of local mining regulations

    regs Just like other laws it is your responsibility to know the mining regulations for your area.  I have heard too many stories of guys panning or running river sluices in areas that they didn’t even know were claimed.  That is called claim jumping and is illegal.  In the gold rush days it was perfectly legal and acceptable to shoot a claim jumper.  Today claim jumpers can face a criminal record and imprisonment.

    The rules are not the same everywhere.  A suction dredge might be perfectly acceptable in one area and completely outlawed in another.  Dredges and highbankers area also regulated by water intake hose diameter and type of creek that you are working on.  Other regulations to look out for are environmental rules for drawing water and working in riparian zones.

    Laws regarding exploration on private land, provincial parks or first nations land must also be obeyed.  You have certain rights by holding a claim but that does not guarantee your right to dig in every situation.

  6. Unrealistic expectations

    Nuggets These days with the recent flood of gold mining TV shows it seems so easy.  They give the impression that all you have to do is show up with an excavator and a wash plant and you’ll start pulling out nuggets.  Often these shows have some arbitrary budget that the miner needs to reach by the end of the season.  Just seeing numbers like $500,000 per season will get anyone excited.  You may be thinking if they can get that I can at least get $1000 on a random claim.  Spending an hour per night watching guys pour jars full of gold flakes on shows like Yukon Gold or Gold Rush Alaska will fuel unrealistic expectations.

    The fact is gold is valuable because it is incredibly rare.  The value is largely due to the sweat equity of prospectors and miners who have spent lifetimes searching for the yellow metal.  It will be a long road to get your first jar full of gold or even a vial for that matter.  Prospecting for gold has an incredibly poor success rate.  You will put in hard work, digging, hiking and panning for long hours and won’t see more than a color.  Some days you won’t even see that.  Gold is defiantly out there but don’t expect to see any in your first pan.

  7. Improper technique with equipment

    Indian River Yukon
    Most placer mining and prospecting equipment requires skill and knowledge to operate effectively.  That is part of the appeal to prospecting, its a skill just like any other and takes time to develop.  There are a lot of people out there who are not using their gold pans properly and washing gold right out of the pan.  Likewise with highbankers, its a common mistake to mine all day with the wrong angle on your sluice.  There is a lot of info out there on proper techniques don’t just buy equipment and try to figure it out on your own.

    The best thing to do is go out with someone who is experienced with the equipment that you want to use.  You can watch Youtube videos all day but nothing beats hands on experience.  Most placer miners will welcome an extra hand to help work the claim, in the process you will learn everything you need to know.

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