What is the true value of gold?

What is the true value of gold?

There’s something about gold. It possesses us, sometimes entire nations to accumulate more and more of it. Humans have had a strong affinity for gold since the times of the ancient Egyptians and the Aztecs. Gold has been used as currency for thousands of years. Wars have been fought for it, entire civilizations slaughtered for their gold.  Pindar, the ancient Greek poet, described gold as “a child of Zeus, neither moth or rust devoureth it, but the mind of man is devoured by this supreme possession.”

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It’s hard to describe the feeling of finding your first gold nugget in an old stream bed.  It sits there in your pan shimmering, the way that only gold can.  You immediately recognize it’s power, it is intoxicating.  This is what drives prospectors past and present to take great risks in the search for gold.  There’s more than just the value of gold that attracts us to it.  The word “placer” itself comes from the Spanish word meaning “pleasure”. For some it is an addiction, for others it symbolizes wealth. You’ll be hard pressed to find a member of the human species who wouldn’t be interested in some gold.

Gold has several properties that make it desirable.  Most importantly it does not rust or tarnish.  Gold artwork discovered in the tombs of Egypt looks just as lustrous today as it did 5000 years ago.  Why is that?  Gold belongs to a group of metals called the “Noble Metals”.  They’re called noble because like nobility in old time monarchies they don’t associate with others.  It’s fancy way of saying that the metals don’t readily react.  Conversely iron will readily react with oxygen to form iron oxide (aka rust).  Gold and other noble metals, such as platinum, possess a very strong atomic structure that requires a lot of energy to disrupt.

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The ability to maintain over time is common of all valuable substances.  A diamond for example produces a characteristic glow when cut and faceted properly but what good would it be if it disintegrated a month later?  Diamonds are extremely hard and have a rock solid crystal structure.  Other valuable gemstones all share similar properties, emeralds, rubies, sapphires and garnets all sit at the high end of the hardness scale.  While gold isn’t hard in a geological sense it maintains it’s shape and luster indefinitely.

Gold is also very malleable.  Meaning that it can be hammered or pressed into various shapes without cracking or losing its consistency.  You could stretch an ounce of gold into a wire 80km long or produce a sheet of gold leaf 80 meters by 80 meters wide.  Gold is also an excellent conductor.  Not quite as good as copper but a better conductor than nickel, brass, iron, tin, and aluminium.  Gold conductive wire is used in many critical electronics applications such as computer motherboards, smart phones and satellites.

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Carajás iron mine, Brazil

What really makes gold valuable though is it’s scarcity at the earth’s surface.  Approximately 165,000 metric tons of gold have been produced in the entirety of human history.  While that may sound like a lot the amount of gold produced by mining is extremely small in comparison to other metals.  For example the Carajás Mine in Brazil produces an average of 300 million metric tons of iron per year and has a deposit estimated at 7.2 billion metric tons.  And that’s just one mine.  All the gold ever produced would fit inside one Olympic sized swimming pool.

It is often stated that you can’t eat gold.  While that’s not entirely true, (see gold covered pizza) an all gold diet wouldn’t provide much nutrition, and you’d probably have some digestive issues.  The yellow metal doesn’t appeal to our basic needs for survival but neither does money or a smartphone.  That doesn’t make any of these things less valuable.

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We typically think of value in dollar terms.  When evaluating an investment such as stocks or real estate it’s hard to think of anything else.  Dollars are not constant though, they are subject to manipulation and inflation.  For at least 6000 years gold has been used as currency and unlike modern currency is not subject to inflation.  Modern currencies are what is called “Fiat Currency”.  There is no standard on what a modern currency note can be exchanged for.  Their value relies solely on people’s faith in it.  Or more correctly their faith in the government.  Inflation rates can severely affect the spending power of a dollar.  There are countless examples, the most striking is the inflation of the German Reichsmark which rose from 4.2 marks to USD in 1914 to a peak of around 4.2 trillion marks to the US dollar by November 1923.  At that time a wheelbarrow full of German marks wouldn’t even buy a newspaper.

Historically world currencies were backed by the gold standard which meant that by law any amount of paper money could be exchanged for a specified amount of gold.  In the 1920s each US dollar was backed by 1.5 grams of gold.  The dropping of the gold standard in Germany during WWI allowed for the hyperinflation that followed.  The United States dropped the standard during the great depression to avoid the federal gold supply from being completely depleted.  Canada followed suit in 1933.  There’s much debate on the merits of dropping the gold standard.  What resulted though is the ability for the government to completely control the currency without requiring tangible assets (ie. gold) to back it up.

Gold bars
Gold bars

So if the dollar is backed by nothing and can be manipulated at will how do you gauge the value of gold.  Or anything for that matter.  True value depends on what people are willing to trade for your goods.  Money makes it easy to barter and trade goods since it’s ubiquitous and there is an agreed upon value at any given time.  For example if you want to sell your car on craigslist you’ll have an idea of how many dollars you want for it.  Lets say you have a used Honda Civic.  You could sell that easily for $4000 CAD.  That same Honda Civic could be traded for a 1 carat diamond engagement ring.  50 years from now a used car might sell for $25,000 dollars due to inflation but the exchange rate of car to diamond ring would remain the same.

The old adage that an ounce of gold will buy you a nice suit still rings true today.  In the gold rush era (1848-1900) an ounce of gold would trade for about $20 USD, and would also buy a nice suit.  A typical suit today would cost you about $450 USD.  So it would seem that today’s gold would buy you 3.5 nice suits.  You have to consider that in the 1800s nice clothing was not mass produced.  To compare accurately you’d have to look at a tailored suit.  A mid range tailored suit made in the United States costs between $1650 and $1800 today.   At present gold is trading at about $1250 USD so the suit adage falls just above the quoted dollar value of gold.

Indian River Yukon

What really gives gold it’s value is the cost of exploration and production.  Being very rare it takes a lot of effort to find gold.  Once it’s found it is expensive to produce as well.   For example Barrick’s Cortez mine in Nevada has an average grade of 2.11 grams per ton.  That means that for every ton of ore processed they average 2.11 grams of gold.  Barrick’s published production cost at the Cortez mine is about $900/oz.  It really is remarkable that they can move and process the 15 tons of rock required to obtain an ounce of gold for $900.

The cost of producing an ounce of gold varies for each mine.  In a placer operation it is a constant cat and mouse game to keep costs low enough to make production economical.  When gold commodity prices fall below production costs mines shut down and less and less gold is produced.  The production cost, driven by scarcity is the single most important factor that drives the price of gold.

RC Drill in Action

Gold exploration is also very expensive.  In the times of the North American gold rush placer and hard rock gold was discovered all over the Western part of the continent.  From the 1840s to 1900 new gold districts were popping up every year as discoveries were made.  Trending almost in sequence Northward from California to the Yukon as explorers made their way through the wilderness.  In more modern times most of the easily reachable areas have have been at least partially explored.  Exploration today mostly takes place in more and more remote areas, such as the Canadian Arctic or other places with a small human footprint.

To properly explore a claim in these areas requires a camp. helicopters and all kinds of equipment.  A typical small exploration program in the Northwest Territories can cost well over $1,000,000 per season with slim chances of success.  While advancements in exploration technology such as geophysics and aerial imagery can provide information that wasn’t available to previous explorers there is no silver bullet.

The costs of thousands of exploration ventures that didn’t amount to a mine are factored into the price of gold as well.  For the estimated 100,000 explorers that took part in the Yukon gold rush only a select few managed to recoup their costs.  Some made made great discoveries but many more spent their life savings on an adventure but returned with no gold.

Big Al Jig

Gold’s value is based on it’s unique properties, people’s desire for the very special metal and the work required to find and produce it.  The value has nothing to do with the the dollar value attached to it.  For every ounce of gold produced tons of rock had to be excavated, the deposit had to be discovered and mapped, and the ore milled and smelted to extract the gold.  As you gaze upon your gold ring and admire it’s beauty think about the story that it could tell you.

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Placer Exploration in the Yukon

Placer Exploration in the Yukon

In the spring 2016 I was hired to help on a large scale placer exploration program in the Yukon. The property is located in a part of the Yukon where very little placer activity has taken place. We had a small team of three guys and a lot of equipment.

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The Yukon, like BC and Alaska, was explored and settled by prospectors in the late 1800s.  The Klondike gold rush of 1896-1899 was the largest and most storied gold rush in history.  It is estimated that over 100,000 gold seekers migrated to the Arctic territory from places like San Fransico and Seattle.  The Yukon’s economy is still driven by mining and the local culture is completely saturated with gold rush era influences.  A great example is Yukon Gold, the flagship beer of the Yukon Brewing Company, has part the the famous poem “The Cremation of Sam Mcgee” on the label.

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The Robert Service poem is part of Canadian heritage and is part of the school curriculum across the country.  After several trips prospecting in the Yukon it takes on different meaning than a quirky poem that you have to read out loud in grade three.

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

On a Monday night in early April at 9PM I received a phone call. “Your flight leaves Vancouver in the morning for Whitehorse. We’ll fill you in on the way.” Typical for this kind of job. I had been expecting the call for a few weeks but it still caught me a little off guard.

Approximate location of the camp
Approximate location of the camp

On arrival to Whitehorse I had been advised that one of our crew would meet me there. I had never met this guy before but I knew he was an old placer miner. The Whitehorse airport is small and we were the only flight. There were several people waiting for passengers so I had to guess. I noticed a guy wearing rubber boots and looked like a placer miner to me. I introduced myself and luckily he was the right guy.

Aerial shot of the placer claims
Aerial shot of the placer claims

We spent a couple hours rounding up additional gear before catching the charter to the camp. I was crammed in a Cessna 206 with the pilot and a bunch of gear. We had all the 5 gallon pails we could buy at the Whitehorse Home Hardware, drill bits, my gear, a 45 gallon drum of diesel, and a bunch of other stuff.

Soon after leaving Whitehorse we flew over Lake Lebarge which is the location where Sam Magee was famously cremated.

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Lake Lebarge

The pilot warned me that the runway was a little rough. We took a couple passes and lined up to land. It was rough all right, made of gravel and ice, we bounced so hard that we almost took off again. My two crew members were waiting to greet me at the plane. They were excited to meet me, especially since I brought a 24 pack of Kokanee. The beer didn’t last the night.

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The two guys that I was working with had already been there for several weeks. It’s a rustic camp and there was no water available for showers or anything. I thought my team mates smelled pretty bad when I arrived but after a few days we all smelled the same. A few weeks later temperatures were high enough to rig up a pump system and a shower. This is not the first rustic camp that I’ve been to where we have satellite internet and no showers.  These are interesting times to be an explorer.
TheCamp

The camp consists of three canvas tents, a seacan and an outhouse.  The tents have “hippy killer” stoves that burn wood.  They work well most of the time but you have to chop wood every time you want heat.  Wood floors had been constructed which is certainly a luxury over dirt floors.  Our kitchen is in the same tent as the office.  There’s a propane stove/oven and plenty of food.  We used paper plates so we wouldn’t have to wash them, they worked great for starting the stoves when we were done with them.

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The main goal of this program was to carry out a sampling over the property.  The drilling and sampling will allow us to find and evaluate economic placer deposits. Our primary tool was a Nodwell mounted drill with a 12″ auger. Some areas were sampled by excavator where the ground was not suitable to drill. Material was collected with the drill and excavator and processed on site with a small wash plant. In addition to gold values we developed an understanding of bedrock depth, characteristics and the distribution of placer gold.

Our Auger Drill
Our Auger Drill

Most of the gear was brought in on the winter trail. The trail is about 100km from the closest dirt road and requires the ground to be frozen and snow covered. Our two Nodwells, Toyota track truck, quads, fuel and everything was brought in over the trail. With a light load it can be travelled by snowmobile in about 4 hours each way. With the heavy equipment it takes 3-4 days. There are impromptu camps along the way but nothing with heat and very little shelter. The guys were prepared of course.

On the trail
On the trail

Nodwells are pretty cool machines.  They were invented in the 1950s to service the oilfields of Northern Alberta and the Arctic.  These beastly machines have super wide tracks to spread their weight on soft terrain.  They have a unique drive system that uses rubber tires on the track.  Operating one is similar to driving a tank.  You pull levers to brake the track on either side.  We had two of them, a big Nodwell for the drill and a smaller one for a support vehicle.  The Nodwells have a lot of character, check out the yellow plywood interior and gun rack.  The small one is named “Picasso”.  The photos will expand when clicked.

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We located and mapped several trenches that were used for ground sluicing dating back to the 1898 Yukon gold rush. The old timers diverted the creek to flow through hand cut trenches. The water was then controlled via a series of gates to strip away overburden. Sort of like hydraulicking. There’s not much left of the old workings today but it gives us an idea of where the pay streaks are.
Old Timer's Trenches
Old Timer’s Trenches

Sampling is key to any placer operation.  Sloppy or inadequate sampling spells the death of many mining operations.  After all you wouldn’t get married without going on a date first.  We collected samples with a rugged 12″ auger drill.  Each sample had a set depth interval and a measured volume.  With accurate measurements we can extrapolate the sample data to evaluate the deposit over large areas.  For example if we sample 500mg (1/2 gram) from 10 pails of material,  that equates to just over 3 grams per cubic yard.  We did have some just like that, and better.

Fresh Drill Samples
Fresh Drill Samples

After collection by the drill our samples were run through a mini wash plant.  We were using a cool machine called “The Prospector” by Goldfield Engineering.  The Prospector uses a water driven pelton wheel to create a vibration.  That’s awesome because all it needs is a 2″ pump to run.  The wheel rotates an eccentric weight similar to the way the a cell phone vibrates but on a larger scale.  Using this machine I processed over 15 cubic yards of samples over 7 weeks.

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The Prospector really eats through material.  The shaker screen breaks it up almost as fast as you can feed it. It struggles when there is a lot of clay though.  After each sample interval is run a cleanup is necessary.  With this machine it’s a quick procedure.  The concentrates from each sample are panned out with a gold pan.  The gold is then dried out and weighed to be used in grade estimates.

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As the summer solstice approaches the days get longer in the Yukon.  In the summer the sun does not set in the Arctic it is after all the land of the midnight sun.  The lack of darkness takes a little getting used to.  In early May we had a couple of Northern lights shows that were pretty good.  At that time there was about 2 hours of darkness where the Northern lights were visible.  A week later it would no longer be dark enough.

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We encountered few animals on the trip.  This is described as a “hungry” part of the Yukon.  One bear tried to enter our camp.  It was a very large black bear, the electric fence slowed him down but it took a few bear bangers to scare him off.  A huge mangey wolf casually pranced right in front of us one night.  All the animals are big in the Yukon.  Even the mosquitoes.  They are so big that they often get up and fly away after you swat them.  Unless you are willing to really smack yourself in the face, they are not going to die.

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For some samples we had to use the excavator.  The auger drill does not work well in areas where the permafrost has melted.  We tried a few spots and the mixture of water and loose gravel would not stay on the auger flights.  The excavator does not have that problem since it scoops up a bucket full of material, water and all.  We used a huge 4″ pump to drain the holes first then sampled the bedrock and regolith with the hoe.  The samples were of course put into pails and we measured the volume before processing.

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We had a few other machines to help out as well.  A couple of bulldozers, some quads, a side by side and a ’96 Toyota pickup with tracks instead of wheels.  We took the tracks off once the snow was all gone using the hoe to lift the truck.  Why bother with jacks when you have those Tonka toys kicking around.

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The winter trail conditions rapidly deteriorated as the weather warmed up.  The ground here is like muskeg with lots of water and mud.  Just about everything got stuck at some point, except for the Nodwells.  We had to cross a few creeks, mud and sometimes straight trough the trees.

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The pursuit of gold will make men do strange things.  In our case it involved a ton of work travelling over unforgiving terrain to drill holes down to bedrock.  Our persistence and determination paid off though and we discovered a pay channel that extends over much of the drilled area.  It is going to take some more work to map out the full extent but we already have clear evidence of a great deposit.

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After 50 straight days it was time to go home.  Our ride out was a DHC-3 Turbo-Otter, an impressive aircraft designed by de Havilland, a Canadaian company, in the 1950s.  The Otter took our whole crew and all our gear without any issues.  The turbine engine gives it the STOL capabilities to takeoff and land in a rugged bush airstrip like the one in this camp.  We stopped along the way to drop off one of our guys and pick up some much needed beer before landing in Whitehorse.

I had a wild night in Whitehorse to close off the trip before heading home to BC.  It was a good time in the bush but it is nice to return to the comforts of modern civilization.

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The Search for Klondike Lode Gold

The Search for Klondike Lode Gold

In the summer of 2010 I was hired to work with a team to find hard rock gold in the Klondike.  We explored a group of claims on the Indian River.

IMG_1741My crew stayed at a camp operated by a character called Big Al.  That name might sound familiar because he has been featured on the popular TV show Yukon Gold on the History Channel.  Of course at that time we had no idea he was going to be a celebrity.  During the trip we heard a rumour that Hoffmans working a few claims over were filming for a TV show, it turned out to be the hit series Gold Rush on Discovery.  We were surrounded by gold mining TV stars but didn’t know it yet.

Klondike Tailings Piles
Klondike Tailings Piles

Indian River Yukon

The Klondike is a place that has a very storied history and was the site of the greatest gold rush of them all.  California, Oregon, and British Columbia had their gold rushes and stories but the Klondike was like no other.  Between 1896 and 1899 over 100,000 adventurers made the journey from all over the world to the largely uninhabited Yukon territory in search of gold.  What made this rush different is the long journeys and overall inexperience of the Argonauts.  At the time of discovery El Dorado and Bonanza creek were the richest creeks in the world.  Some claims on El Dorado were getting $27 to the pan once they hit the pay streak.  That is equivalent to about $750 per pan in today’s money.

My team met up in Whitehorse the capitol city of the Yukon Territory in early August 2010.  We then rounded up some remaining gear and drove in a rented truck up to Dawson City.  As you arive in Dawson City you can see the remains of over 100 years of placer gold mining. Before you reach the town you can see large tailings piles lining the sides of the highway.  When looked at from above they look like something that was produced by a giant insect.  The tailings piles were put there by humongous dredges that scoured the Klondike drainages until 1966.  It is estimated that each of the dredges were producing as much as 800 ounces of gold per day!

Aerial View of Kondike Tailings
Aerial View of Klondike Tailings

Dawson City is a cool town.  The residents have maintained the look and feel of Dawson’s heyday during the Klondike gold rush.  The streets are dirt with wood plank sidewalks.  Most of the buildings are original in the downtown area and many commercial buildings have the false front that was the norm during the gold rush era.  There is even a law that all signs have to be hand painted.

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There are no corporate stores or businesses in Dawson.  Everything is locally owned and operated.  Some of the original establishments from the 1890s are still in operation today.  Diamond Tooth Gerties is one such establishment which offers games of chance and nightly can can dancers 7 days a week.  Anouther is Bombay Peggy’s which operated as a brothel during the gold rush.  It has turned into a classy bed and breakfast now.

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My Crew posing with the Can-Can girls

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Dawson has several historic bars as well.  One such bar is the Downtown Hotel.  We stopped in there one night after visiting several other bars and took part in a local tradition.  It is called the Sourtoe Cocktail.  Only one of my crew was willing to take the shot with me.  The Sourtoe Cocktail is a shot of Yukon Jack whiskey taken with an amputated human toe in the glass.  They keep the toe in a jar of salt above the bar.  Apparently the tradition started with a bootlegger losing his toe due to frostbite.  I was informed that this was their 6th toe which makes you wonder where they new ones came from.

Bombay Peggy'sThe Toe

The Bonanza Creek Road is the main access to Indian Creek.  Along this historic route there are plenty of relics of past mining adventures.  Most notably the historic Dredge No. 4 which mined Bonanza Creek until 1959.  There are other dredges as well and plenty of old heavy equipment that was abandoned by miners of the past.  There are abandoned bulldozers, excavators, trucks and other random big machines.  There is such a surplus of iron that many bridges use large dozer shovels as retaining walls.

Dredge No. 4
Dredge No. 4

We were tasked with finding the source of the placer gold in the Indian River.  We stayed at Big Al’s camp and were exploring mineral claims that overlapped his placer claims.  His knowledge of gold bearing benches as well as historical research was very important in our search.  Likewise our findings were beneficial to Al in exploring new placer areas.  Most of our time was spent exploring old miner’s trails on quads and by foot.  I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a great time.

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We came across several old mine shafts and evidence of placer mining was everywhere.  My crew participated in some of Big Al’s cleanups too.  It was exciting to see the amount of gold that he was pulling out.  We participated in all the steps of his cleanup process from cleaning the sluice to the concentrator jig and so on.  At each stage a fair amount of rum was consumed it seemed fitting when surrounded by hundreds of ounces of gold.

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Yup, that's exactly what it looks like.
Yup, that’s exactly what it looks like.

In our hard rock exploration we employed several techniques utilizing traditional prospecting as well as soil sampling and statistical pebble counts.  The soil sampling was conducted with helicopter support which made it a lot easier.  We were bagging close to a hundred samples per day each which was more than we could carry in the bush.  At the end of the day we’d chop out a helicopter landing area and radio the chopper.  Then we’d pick up the samples that we cached during the day.  Hard work but a lot of fun too.

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We spent a total of six weeks prospecting the area.  We took a lot of samples to be sent in for assay from all over the claims.  Prospecting in the Yukon is similar to BC, there is not a lot of exposed rock around.  Unlike the barren lands of the North West Territory and Nunavut there is plenty of forest and vegetation covering the rock.  We spent a lot of time in the helicopter scoping out rock outcrops.

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There seemed to be a correlation between the garnets that were showing up in the placer operation and high grade gold.  When the placer miners hit the paystreak they got a lot of garnets with it.  We started prospecting up a creek called “Ruby Creek” assuming it was named for the abundance of garnets.  The hunch turned out be be right.  We chased the garnets up to some large outcrops near the top of the mountain.  The samples contained a lot of garnet but not a lot of gold.

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From an old mineshaft that we found near a cabin we discovered that the miners hit a layer of pure quartz conglomerate.  And it was loaded with gold.  We then knew what to look for.  The search for the source of the Klondike gold continued for several weeks.  We encountered giant moose, grizzly bears, Northern Lights and some great people.  On several occasions we thought we found the fabled mother lode but the samples returned disappointing assay results.  Some of the more random samples showed the highest grades.  They say gold is where you find it.  We did not find the source of the klondike but we did manage to have a great time and got paid for it.

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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

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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.

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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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