Searching for Ancient Rivers in West Africa

Searching for Ancient Rivers in West Africa

In April 2021 West Coast Placer was hired to assist in exploration for a large-scale alluvial gold project in Sierra Leone, West Africa. This program took place in the Kono region of Sierra Leone which hosts diamonds as well as gold in their placer deposits. It was a great experience and it was really cool to see how they do things in West Africa compared to the West Coast of North America.

seismic bedrock placer sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is famous for its alluvial diamonds. We were working in the Kono district which is where the plot of the movie Blood Diamond took place. The region where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character died at the end (spoiler alert) is not far from the survey area that we were exploring.

Despite extensive diamond mining taking place in the region since the 1930s very little attention had been paid to the alluvial gold deposits. There are a lot of artisanal miners active in the area but their sole focus is diamonds and they often discard the gold that they dig up. That fact surprised me because even in Canada where the average income and standard of living is much, much higher nobody would ever throw gold back into a river. That’s one of many things that’s different in Africa.

alluvial diamonds gold Africa artisanal

The placer deposits in the Kono region are much older than anything in BC or the Yukon. Much of the bedrock is Precambrian (500 million to 4 billion years old) and hasn’t ever been glaciated. By contrast, the rock in BC is less than 200 million years old and has been bulldozed by large glaciers on at least 4 occasions. Despite the differences, some things are the same in pretty much every placer environment. Over time rivers and streams move and leave their gold deposits behind in ancient paleochannels. That’s what we were looking for. Our system is designed to map bedrock depth and show the location of paleochannels.

Ancient Channel Gold Map Africa
Actual Map from a survey in Africa in 2021

Travelling internationally during the covid-19 pandemic is quite an adventure. In April 2021 the vaccines weren’t available yet and travel restrictions were very tough. We had to do lots of covid tests at each leg of the journey and there were a few hiccups. One of our team members wasn’t allowed to board the flight to Belgium from Montreal because his test was taken too far in advance. He had to get another PCR test and catch a flight the next day. On the way back I almost had to stay in a covid hotel, fortunately, the Canadian government honored my essential service exemption.

artisanal mining village sierra leone

It was interesting that Sierra Leone didn’t have a lot of covid restrictions. That’s because three years prior to the breakout of Covid -19 around the world West Africa was center stage to the worst ebola outbreak in history. When covid broke out in 2020 they knew what to do and locked the whole country down with no exceptions. By the time we arrived in 2021 the whole country had a total case count of 80 and zero deaths. With the intense screening protocols for international travellers they were able to keep infection rates to a minimum, something that wealthy western countries weren’t able to do, even with the advent of vaccines.

We spent a few nights in the capital city of Freetown and headed off to Koidu Town to begin our exploration. The bedrock mapping survey covered a large area that was chosen due to the prevalence of artisinal mining and topographic features that favoured the development of paleochannels. We had some knowledge of hard rock gold production in the area and anecdotal evidence from local artisanal placer miners.

excavator placer alluvial west africa
There’s no 6 month wait for permits in Sierra Leone

We had a crew of local laborers which included the son of the Paramount Chief. That was important for public relations since we didn’t speak the local language and it was important to explain to the villagers what we were doing. Having the chief on our side let everyone know that we were working along with local government and not just rolling in to take all the resources for ourselves.

Sierra Leone is ruled by a combination of federal government and chiefdoms. The mining claims are managed by both levels of government in a complex way. Without the support of the chief it would be hard to get the necessary permitting and support of the local community. Luckily for us, the local chief is a miner himself and we got along really well.

The artisanal miners do a lot of the work by hand. They often use gas-powered water pumps similar to what small-scale miners use in Canada. Mostly for dewatering though, they don’t have highbankers like we do back home. In Africa people carry everything on their heads, even the water pumps.

artisanal miner carrying water pump on head

Most of the washing is done by hand using gem screens or large gold pans. The larger operations use a rudimentary hydrostatic jig. There are very few operations using heavy equipment but manpower is readily available in this area.

The local miners have a method of digging shafts that works really well in the clay-rich gravels in that area. They dig a shaft about 1 meter wide and dig out foot holds on the way down. In this way they can reach bedrock in a day or two and get really good samples from the bedrock interface. The company that we were working with hired a large crew of local miners to dig shafts instead of using a drill. The samples were better and expert shaft diggers were more than willing to work for $10 US per day.

shaft made by artisanal miners sierra leone
Shaft made by artisanal miners in Kono region

Getting supplies in a third world country can be an adventure in itself. We tried to bring everything that we needed with us but we counted on procuring some supplies locally. One thing that we need lots of was flagging tape. Since this is a mining area we thought it wouldn’t be too hard to find. It turns out that there is no flagging tape available for sale in the entire city of Koidu. Despite two full-scale kimberlite mines right next to the city. We had to buy fabric ribbon in bright colours and use scissors to cut it in order to mark our lines.

It turned out that the local kids like the fabric just as much as we did since they would come right behind us and pull all the ribbon off the lines as soon as we were done. Sometimes they wouldn’t even wait till we had completed the line which made a few sections really challenging.

Some of the more high tech mining devices in Africa are really cool. The company had some really efficient gold centrifuges for testing the gravels. They’re like a gravity concentrator that you see in North America but made to be economical and easy to deploy. One machine is called the Gold Kacha and works really well.

Gold Kacha Centrifuge Africadiy sluice sierra leone

Centrifuges aren’t commonly used in placer mining in BC and the Yukon but that’s something that we should really consider. The gravity concentrators on the market are expensive in Canada but you can get a Gold Kacha out of South Africa for about the same price ad an average highbanker setup here in BC.

The local gold panning technique is quite different from what I’m used to. They use a large rounded bowl with handles on the sides. There are no riffles and the sides have a very gentle slope. My technique didn’t work to well with their pans. The local technique is to swirl the material in the pan while letting the lighter stuff wash over the sides. One of my crew members demonstrated the technique in the video below.

The bedrock mapping survey was a huge success. We identified a clear paleo-valley and an ancient river channel that spanned several kilometers. Much of the area that we identified with the seismic survey as an ancient channel had never been exploited by artisanal miners.

One great thing about working in Sierra Leone is you don’t need permits as you do in BC. We were able to start digging with an excavator right away. With a combination of bulk sampling with the excavator and teams of local shaft diggers sampling was completed in less than a month. The gold grades within the channel were excellent and alluvial diamonds were also present.

Kono Bedrock Cross Section

Exploring a new area is always a welcome experience. As explorers, we are constantly striving to search different areas and locate mineable gold deposits. This exploration program in West Africa did not disappoint. It was quite a contrast to use the latest technologies in an area where people are still living in mud huts and cooking with charcoal. Some of the ancient techniques used in Sierra Leone are very efficient, such as the shaft digging technique. If we could get hundreds of workers to dig shafts in Canada for $10 per day imagine the ground that could be explored.

We managed to locate a very rich placer deposit containing minable quantities of gold and alluvial diamonds. This project was developed with the support and mutual benefit of the local chiefdom and communities. It was a great experience to share knowledge of different mining and exploration techniques and learn a few new ones as well.

How to Lose Your Shirt in Placer Mining

How to Lose Your Shirt in Placer Mining

What makes placer mining unique is that you have control over your own destiny. The barriers to entry are low and a small group of people can have the opportunity to develop a mine and produce gold on their own terms. You don’t need a corporation and millions of dollars to succeed in placer mining. That freedom is a double-edged sword though. The majority of placer miners bite off more than they can chew and fail miserably.

This article lists some sure-fire methods to lose your shirt in placer mining that apply to large-scale mines and small hand operations alike. By knowing the mistakes that others have made you can avoid making the same mistakes yourself.

Three Placer Wash Plants

Too much equipment, Too soon

There is a lot of equipment available to placer miners these days. A lot of rookie miners will buy way too much equipment before they even get started. That’s a great way to blow your budget without even finding any gold.

The fitness industry relies on this same principle. It doesn’t take much effort to go out and buy a brand new stationary bike but just owning that machine isn’t going to give you abs of steel. Getting in shape takes hard work and dedication. Placer gold exploration works the same way. Some miners seem to think that buying a bigger wash plant, a bigger excavator, or even the latest and greatest highbanker will somehow make gold appear. It’s easy to buy equipment, finding gold is hard.

If you want to blow your whole mining venture in the first season then buy too big of equipment before you’ve even explored your claim. You’ll be part of the illustrious club of would-be miners who failed before they even got started.

We were contacted recently by a miner who wanted to hire West Coast Placer to do some bedrock mapping. The miner had recently purchased a $250,000 wash plant. We asked them where they were mining and they responded, “We’re hoping that you can help us figure that out.” They didn’t even have a claim yet. That is not a recipe for success.

Other miners have spent their money on excavators, loaders, and high-end camp setups but then had nothing left to buy a drill. At different stages of placer exploration you’ll need different equipment. Having a solid plan will help you figure out what is required at each stage.

If you want to be successful explore the claim first and get the gear that you need to work in that specific situation. You don’t need a washplant until you’ve actually mapped out a mineable gold deposit and have a mining plan figured out. Start out with basic tools and expand as needed. During exploration the trick is to gather as much information as possible while spending the least amount of money.

Get hooked on a glory hole

We can all look at other miners who spent three years digging in the same spot totally convinced that it’s going to make them rich. We shake our heads and think of how stupid they are. However, a lot of miners fall into this trap.

What is it about glory holes that suck in the imagination of placer miners? It’s sort of like gold fever. Miner’s get hooked on the belief that one specific spot holds all the gold and that if they can just dig it up they’ll be rich.

This sickness can affect rookies and even some experienced miners. Sometimes it’s driven by a story from the past, or a misinterpretation of a geological feature. Getting hooked on a glory hole is similar to being in a romantic relationship that is totally toxic. All your friends know but you don’t realize it yourself until after the breakup.

This situation can be easily avoided by proper sampling and testing. A whole season’s worth of excavating in the wrong spot ( or multiple seasons for some people) can be avoided with one drill hole. If you are convinced that there is a whole bunch of gold in one spot, and you haven’t tested to confirm, then you have fallen victim to the glory hole trap.

Drink your own Kool-aid

Every placer miner has their reasons for digging and exploring in the spots that they do. Sometimes that’s based on good test results but often it’s based on nothing more than imagination.

Many miners have developed a form of fairy tale in explaining the gold deposits on their claim. The geological, fluvial, and glacial environments that create placer pay streaks are extremely complex. There are entire fields of science that dedicate themselves to understanding these processes. Even an expert geomorphologist can’t walk up to a placer claim and tell you what material has been deposited over the last 4 glacial periods, where the ancient channels are located and what ancient streams used to flow over the mountain range. If you think you know those answers then you are heading down a dangerous path.

I’ve heard a lot of stories from placer miners who seem to know the exact play-by-play movements of glaciers during the last ice age and therefore know exactly where their gold has been accumulated. Obviously, they don’t have reliable knowledge of the geological history of their claim but they have convinced themselves that they do.

Others are convinced that there is a gold source up the mountain and it has puked out placer gold in a specific location that they’re about to mine. All without sampling and mapping out deposits.

It takes massive amounts of time and money to reliably recreate glacial movements. They are extremely complex and hard to trace. There are well-funded research projects that study these kinds of things with teams of experts and even they are not 100% certain.

If you think that you have those answers and haven’t hired expert geomorphologists, drilling companies, and performed large-scale studies to find out, then you’re just fooling yourself.

Truthfully in placer mining, you don’t need to know how the gold got there. All you have to do is test and sample the ground to find out where the gold is right now. Finding mineable placer deposits is hard and there are no shortcuts. There are techniques that work really well but believing in your own fairy tales isn’t going to make the gold appear. It’s much better to assume that you know nothing and explore in a systematic way.

Gold Legend Map BC

Put too much emphasis on stories from the past

Every creek has a success story from the past about an old-timer who pulled out some rich gold from an ambiguous location nearby. They usually go something like this:

“In the 1920’s Johnny Miner pulled out a 30-ounce nugget from somewhere up on that hill over there.”

Other stories involve drifts built by Chinese miners in the 1890s or a rich mine that was wiped out by a wildfire never to be found again. They have a lot in common with urban legends with the right mix of potential gain and just enough details to keep you interested.

There are lots of stories like this and a lot of them are true. Being a placer miner in the 21st century involves being a little bit of a historian as well as an explorer. After all, there are pretty much zero creeks in the world that haven’t had a pan dipped in them at least once before.

There are several issues with historical information that sometimes slip through our radar. We all know that clickbait stories on the internet are probably exaggerated to capture our attention. That phenomenon is not a new invention. Speculation and hype have always been part of mining. It was probably even worse during the gold rush periods of the late 1800s. Testing techniques are not standardized either. Even if a story is meant to be factual the miner might not have had a reliable technique to test his grades. You could fall victim to second-hand confirmation bias from 100 years ago and not even know it.

Whether these stories are true or not you still need to do your own testing. Reliable historical information can be an excellent starting point but it must be taken with a grain of salt. If you have truly uncovered some historical information that provides evidence for a forgotten placer deposit then start testing that area. Remain objective and if the test results don’t show what you’re expecting then move on.

Far too many miners have spent their time and budget blindly searching for a rich paystreak that was mentioned decades ago. I personally know miners who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars searching based on three sentences of historical information.

Keep an open mind and let the evidence guide you. It’s important to know when enough is enough.

Insufficient sampling

We’ve all heard the old adage that in real estate that the three most important things are location, location, location. In the world of placer mining, the three most important words are sampling, sampling, sampling.

Our Auger Drill

This is the single most important aspect of placer mining and exploration. Miners of all sizes have lost money and often their entire budget due to poor sampling. There are lots of reasons why miners forgo proper sampling. It costs money, it takes time away from mining, maybe they don’t know how to sample properly in the first place.

Sampling will make or break your placer operation. It must be done over a broad area and in a way that won’t fool the person doing it. The quality of sampling is just as important as the quantity.

For example, it is critically important to measure the volume of each sample accurately otherwise the grade calculations will be totally wrong. Say you sampled half an excavator bucket and found 3 grams of gold. Is that 3 grams per yard? Or half of that? It makes a big difference. Let’s say you’re using 5-gallon pails. Were they all full when you ran the sample? Half-full? Three quarters? Your grade calculations will change dramatically based on the volume.

Bigger samples are always better but there is a trade-off between lots of small samples and only a handful of big ones. Each situation and budget will call for variations in the sampling plan. You want to have enough locations tested to be confident that you understand the size and distribution of your pay streak while getting reliable results in each sample.

It’s important to test areas outside of the location where you think the best gold is. That means testing every depth interval from surface to bedrock as well as testing ground whether you think it’s a location that you can mine or not. Many miners have missed out on unbelievable pay because they only tested areas that they thought were favorable for mining. Here’s a tip, every spot is favorable for mining if the gold grades are high enough.

Placer exploration is a little bit like the board game Battleship, where you have to shoot missiles on a blind grid to sink your opponent’s ships. You start out knowing nothing but over time you gain evidence of where things are located, in this case gold instead of toy battleships. The same systematic approach will lead you to win Battleship as it will to mine a profitable placer deposit.

If you think you’ve done enough sampling, you haven’t. If you start washing gravels before you have sampled a broad area with verifiable tests you are guaranteed to lose your shirt.

Before you start mining make sure that you know the depth, location, and the grades of your pay gravels. There are a lot of opinions on what the proper way to sample is. The important thing is to be thorough and be consistent.

Get a Partner

Many great placer mining operations have met their demise due to disagreements between partners. It always sounds like a good idea at the time but partnerships fail for a variety of reasons. Most often financial disagreements.

Howard from the great mining classic, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre said it best,

“Ah, as long as there’s no find, the noble brotherhood will last but when the piles of gold begin to grow… that’s when the trouble starts.”

Gold does funny things to some people. Even people that you wouldn’t expect. There’s something about the yellow metal that affects us deep inside. It’s not just the financial value either. Silver, copper, uranium, platinum, and numerous other metals are mined in similar ways but people don’t get as emotionally attached to any of those things. The only other mineral that affects people in a similar way is diamonds.

Gold fever has existed as long as people have been mining. The primary reason that the Spanish explorers stumbled upon North America was the search for gold. Christopher Columbus wasn’t looking for America, his sole purpose was to find Cipangu, the island of “endless gold.” The Spanish explorers famously ravished and betrayed civilizations in the Americas to steal their gold. The betrayal met its climax in 1532 when Francisco Pizarro famously betrayed the Inca ruler Atahualpa.

Partnerships fail for many reasons but greed is often the primary factor. Sometimes personal finances fall apart, a partner gets divorced, falls behind on truck payments, anything can happen. A lot of placer mines that have done everything right and developed great gold deposits have fallen apart due to disagreements between partners.

Gold mining partnerships always start out with the best intentions but humans are complex and things can change. If you’re considering a partnership make sure the person or people that you’re going to join forces with are going to stick it out for the long haul. Make sure you have a solid contract in place that has been verified by a lawyer or notary.

They say a business partnership is like a marriage. You want to be careful who you’re going to bed with.

Mining Partner BC Gold Placer

At West Coast Placer we provide exploration services to placer miners of all sizes. We’ve seen a lot of successful operations and have helped miners develop their properties into profitable mines. We’ve also seen a lot of ventures fail miserably. There are some practices that are guaranteed to lead to failure and yet rookie and experienced miners alike make these mistakes over and over again. Hopefully these tips will help you stay successful in placer mining and keep you from losing your shirt.

Modern Laws for Claimjumping

Modern Laws for Claimjumping

Throughout mining history, there are stories of scoundrels, cheats, bandits, and liars. The gold rush towns had their share of bad actors but above everything else, there is one title that nobody wanted to have, “the claimjumper”.

claimjumper bc

In the world of mining, claimjumpers are the lowest of the low. During the gold rushes of North America miners traveled into areas where laws didn’t exist yet. In the California Gold Rush of 1849, the territory had no government, police or administration of any kind. Despite the lawlessness and disorder of the early gold rushes one thing was held sacred above everything else, the right of the miner to locate a mining claim and to hold it against all comers.

What does claimjumping mean? There are two forms of claimjumping but they both amount to the same thing:

  • Producing minerals from a claim that belongs to someone else
  • Attempting to seize the land on which another party has already made claim

Historically, stealing or mining ore from someone else’s mine was referred to as highgrading. While claim jumping referred to the actual seizure or taking over of someone else’s claim. Today the two terms are intertwined.

Claimjumping is illegal today just as it was in the mid-1800s and even before that. You can’t shoot a claimjumper anymore but the modern laws are quite powerful nonetheless. In British Columbia and throughout Canada you can face huge fines, jail time and being banned from the right to hold claims. As well as having to forfeit any ill-gotten minerals or profit. If, in the process of claimjumping, you break any environmental regulations or mining laws you will be on the hook for those penalties too. On top of that your equipment and even your vehicle can be forfeited if proven to be involved in the crime.

There are honest and dishonest forms of claimjumping in which the law does make a slight distinction. Honest being that you were unaware that you were engaging in claimjumping. The difference only applies in terms of repayment for the ore that was extracted, the fines and other penalties still apply whether you are knowingly claimjumping or not.

It’s difficult to find the information on Canadian claimjumping laws. Part of that comes from the fact that there isn’t an accepted term for the crime. In legal terminology claimjumping has been referred to by many titles including:

  • Mineral Trespass
  • Wrongful Abstraction of Ore by Trespass Workings
  • Wrongful Working of Minerals
  • Highgrading
  • Wrongful Interference with Personal Property
  • Wrongful Conversion
  • Trespass and Conversion
  • Willful Trespass

My favorite is “Wrongful Abstraction of Ore by Trespass Workings”, it has a certain ring to it. There are slight differences to some of those terms but they all point towards the same thing. Trespass and benefiting from something that doesn’t belong to you. Trespass is actually a complicated part of the legal system. There are different kinds of trespass. We are all familiar with what it means to trespass on private property but a mining claim isn’t necessarily private property. Perhaps we should clarify what a mining claim really is.

mining claim dispute

Trespass and Conversion

In Canada, and specifically in BC, mineral rights are held by the crown. The actual “Crown” in Canada is a story in itself but basically means that the mineral rights are owned by the people of British Columbia. When you are the holder of a mineral or placer claim, you lease the rights to those minerals for the duration of your tenure. From the issue date to the “good to date” of your claim the minerals in that plot of land belong to you and nobody else. Surface rights are a totally different story. Check out our post on Free Miners for more info on that.

Trespassing is defined as “the wrongful interference with one’s possessory rights in real property.” When it comes to claimjumping you are definitely interfering with the claimholder’s rights when you are extracting ore that belongs to them. The trespass itself is not listed as a crime under the Canadian criminal code, but it does allow the claimholder to sue the claimjumper for damages.

In Canadian law there are two ways to deal with the proceeds of trespass and conversion. The mild rule, and severe rule.

Under the mild rule, the guilty party has to pay the claim owner for the value of ore that was extracted. The costs of mining the ore, bringing it to market, etc are not included. This rule applies when the trespass (claimjumping) was not intentional.

The severe rule forces the guilty party to pay the realized value of stolen ore including the cost of mining.

Either way you have to pay back the claim owner for whatever gold you mined on his claim, the severe rule means that you have to pay the full value not accounting for the costs that you incurred in the process. The mild rule is quite lenient that way but you have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you commited the crime unintentionally.

There are plenty of examples of supreme court rulings where the trespasser had to pay back the claim owner for their ill-gotten gains. Here is an example from 1907 in the Yukon in which one miner produced ore an another miner’s claim and mixed the ore with his own.

Here’s some info on a more recent case in the Yukon. I actually worked with one of the miners in this story in Klondike back in 2010, I won’t say which one though.

Claimjumping supreme court cases are common in Alberta although the claimjumping takes a slightly different form. These cases are regarding mineral rights for oil instead of precious metals but the concepts are the same. In Alberta, mineral rights are divided by different sedimentary layers that contain petroleum. So different companies can own the mineral rights in the same location but at different depths. Due to the complexities of this system, companies drill into other company’s leases all the time.

AlbertaLeases

The consequences of mineral trespass vary, but the Alberta Energy Regulator introduced a penalty of $50,000 per occurrence. In addition to the penalty, compensation is owed for the value of any minerals obtained during trespass. Alberta mineral trespass is treated the same in a legal sense as gold claims in BC just with a much higher frequency of settlements.

Miner’s Meetings

During the gold rushes you couldn’t file a complaint to any governing body. Miners took justice into their own hands and had a form of democracy called Miner’s Meetings. The meetings were notorious for their swift justice but they were considered fair. In order to participate in a miner’s meeting you had to be the holder of an active claim.

A journalist named Baryard Taylor gave this account of the situation in the California Gold Fields in 1849:

In the absence of all law or available protection, the people met and adopted rules for their mutual security rules adapted to their situation, where they neither had guards nor prisons, and where the slightest license given to crime or trespass of any kind must inevitably have led to terrible disorders. Small thefts were punished by banishment from the placers, while for those of large amount or for more serious crimes, there was the single alternative of hanging.

As gold rushes progressed further North the miners took their knowledge and customs with them. During the Fraser River gold rush, the miners brought with them knowledge of mining placer gold with long toms, rocker boxes and hydraulic mining as well as their own customary law that had spontaneously developed in the California Goldfields.
During the Fraser River gold rush each bar had it’s own set of rules which were democratically chosen by the miners.

The Daily Alta California published the laws passed by a miners’ meeting held on May 12th, 1858 on Hill’s Bar, Fraser River, which included:

  • Claim sizes were defined as twenty-five feet along the river bank’s high water line for each person.
  • Miners were restricted to to one claim by preemption and one by purchase.
  • Claims were “not considered workable” between May 20th and August 20th.
  • During the non-workable period the work requirement was removed.
  • During the workable times claims must be “represented”, or worked, within three days or they were otherwise free to be jumped.
  • There was a regulation declaring that any thieves or claimjumpers would be expelled from Hills Bar and lose their claims.
  • And anybody “interfering with or molesting any Indian” would be punished as “the community shall see fit.”

miners meeting gold rush

Just up the river at Yale, the rules were slightly different:

  • There was a rule concerned with equality, limiting miners from holding more than one claim.
  • A one-day work requirement every five-days was established.
  • The office of recorder was created to keep track of claim registration.
  • Proven claimjumpers were to be banished from the placers and have their claims and gold forfeited.

All along the Fraser, mining communities drew on norms established in California to regulate society on the lower Fraser. This community didn’t legitimate itself based on an external authority. Instead, the miners assumed their own legitimacy and authority.

Miner’s meetings progressed into miner’s boards which were legislated under the Goldfields Act in 1859. The miner’s boards stayed in place until 1888.

More remote areas still used the principles of the miner’s meeting since police presence and regulations were often slow to follow the prospectors. Here’s an account of the legal landscape in the notorious Circle City which is situated just over the Alaska border from the Klondike by Arthur Walden in 1896, two years before the brunt of the Klondike Gold Rush:

Here was a town . . . which had no taxes, courthouse, or jail; no post-office, church, schools, hotels or dog pound; no rules, regulations, or written law; no sheriff, dentist, doctor, lawyer, or priest. Here there was no murder, stealing, or dishonesty, and right was right and wrong was wrong as each individual understood it. Here life, property, and honor were safe, justice was swift and sure, and punishments were made to fit the case.

Eventually communities grew, the North West Mounted Police set up outposts and federal and provincial laws began to take over. The days of frontier justice faded into the background but many of the principles that the miner’s meetings established made their way into legislation.

Current Laws

In the United States many individual states have clear laws regarding claimjumping, or as it is now referred to “mineral trespass”. They vary from state to state but almost all have similar rules on the proceeds of mineral trespass.

For example when a willful trespass occurs in Colorado, the trespasser is not entitled to set off the mining costs. In addition Colorado allows punitive damages for “Willful and Wanton” trespass claims. Punitive damages are a fancy word for additional fines to punish the defendant for outrageous conduct. That is uncommon in Canada.

US penal codes clearly list claimjumping as a crime which isn’t quite as easy to find in Canada. For example in Washington state Mineral Trespass (RCW 78.44.330) is considered a class C felony which carries a punishment of up to 5 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines

In British Columbia, claimjumping falls under our Mineral Tenure Act. There are two sections of the law that deal with claimjuping:

9(2)A person must not hand pan on a valid mineral title unless the person receives permission from the recorded holder of the mineral title.

As well as

28(1)Subject to this Act, the recorded holder of a claim is entitled to those minerals or placer minerals, as the case may be, that are held by the government and that are situated vertically downward from and inside the boundaries of the claim.
(2)The interest of a recorded holder of a claim is a chattel interest.

Punishments are listed under section 63 of the Act, which states:

63 (1) A person commits an offence who does any of the following:

(a)wilfully and without lawful excuse pulls down, defaces, alters or removes a staking or legal post, a legal corner post or other survey monument;
(b)explores for, develops or produces minerals contrary to this Act or the regulations;
(c)knowingly makes a false statement or provides false information under this Act, or in a registration;
(d)offers for sale, or sells, a mineral title for a non-mining usage.

(3) A person who is convicted of an offence is liable to a fine of not more than $25,000 or to imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or to both.

The following activities are in violation of the Mineral Tenure Act and will result in criminal charges:

  • Panning on a mineral claim or placer claim without permission
  • Producing minerals or placer minerals from an active claim by any means, pan, sluice, shovel, dredge, or even your bare hands.
  • Removing rocks or minerals from a claim, either rockhounding or for any other purpose.

In addition to a potential fine of $25,000 or 6 months in prison, anyone who is proven to be claimjumping will lose their FMC and any claims for a period determined by the Gold Commissioner. That means that you can lose your free miner rights for life and no longer be able to own claims.

A person guilty of removing minerals from a claim is guilty of theft under the Criminal Code of Canada. Section 334 of the criminal code states that theft under $5000 carries a prison term not exceeding two years. For theft over $10,000, a prison term not exceeding ten years.

The Criminal Code of Canada has provisions for selling unrefined ore and specific laws regarding fraud of unrefined ore. If you are engaged in claimjumping it will be difficult and illegal to sell your ill-gotten gold. Precious metal assayers and buyers know these laws and will not accept placer gold unless you can prove the source.

394(1) (b) of the Criminal Code, makes it an offence for anyone to sell or purchase any rock, mineral or other substance that contains precious metals “unless he establishes that he is the owner or agent of the owner or is acting under lawful authority”.

The punishment for violation of that part of the Criminal Code states:

A person who contravenes subsection (1), (2) or (3) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years

In addition to the fines and penalties for those caught in the act of claim jumping you can also be on the hook for any illegal mining or environmental practices that you conduct. The mining and environmental laws are extensive but I’ll list a couple common ones here.

There are a lot more environmental inspectors than there are mining inspectors. They are likely the ones to catch you.
The most common fine is under Environmental Management Act Section 6(3) which states:

a person must not introduce or cause or allow to be introduced into the environment, waste produced by a prescribed activity or operation.

The standard fine for a small highbanker or river sluice is $575. You can see a list of some of the most recent fines here.

In his book Poachers, Polluters and Politics: A Fishery Officer’s Career, former fisheries officer Randy Nelson recounts on an incident where he caught some claimjumpers operating an illegal dredge in the Cariboo:

It was two days before Christmas, I had just caught up with a pile of paperwork and I decided to go for an afternoon patrol North of Quesnel. I crossed the Cottonwood River on Highway 97 North and climbed the big hill from the river valley. I glanced down a side road and saw a parked pickup truck with fresh footprints leading away from it down the snow-covered road.

It could have been any number of activities but I decided to check it out. I walked through the deep snow for over a mile, climbing along the upper banks of the Cottonwood River. The tracks finally turned off and headed downhill toward the river where I could hear a small motor running. Surely no one would be dredging for gold in this salmon stream in the winter?

They were so surprised I’m not sure their wet suits remained dry. They said, “Don’t you ever take time off? We never dreamt you’d be working this time of year or walk into this spot” I took it as a compliment and made sure to to pass that information on to the judge.

There wasn’t much the two of them could say. They were caught and one had a previous conviction. I seized everything at the site, including their dredge, gold dry suits, diving gear and tools. I loaded whatever I could carry and walked out with them out to their vehicle. I told them I would give them a ride home because I was seizing their truck too. Merry Christmas!

It would have taken several days to dismantle and pack the dredge out from the river and it was two days before Christmas so I hired a helicopter to sling the gear out from the river. The two miners were convicted in court and received fines of $3,000 each plus forfeiture of $4,000 worth of gear.

That was a bad day for those two claimjumpers. In situations where you are running bigger equipment that requires a Notice of Work permit (NOW) you can get into a whole bunch of fines and penalties. In a recent Mines Act decision a mine in the Cariboo was fined $28,000 for operating without a proper permit.

How can you avoid claimjumping?

Just like any other law in Canada your ignorance of the law does not exempt you from it. That means that if you are gold panning, mining, rockhounding, or producing mineral of any kind it’s up to you to understand the laws and claims in that area.

Before you go out gold panning make sure that you’re not on someone else’s claim. The best place to check is the BC MTO website (mtonline.gov.bc.ca). That is the website run but the Mineral Titles Branch of BC’s Ministry of Energy, Mines & Petroleum Resources. The MTO maps are a bit daunting to a newcomer but all the information is there.

Local mining laws can take a bit to understand at first but you can always email or phone the MTO with any questions.

Mineral Titles Oline

Claims are rarely marked in the field since BC now has an online staking system. If you are out gold prospecting a GPS is just as important as your gold pan these days. Make sure your maps are up to date and you know how to use your GPS.

The best place to prospect is a panning reserve, your own claim, or a claim where you have permission from the owner. If you aren’t certain that you’re operating legally then don’t start digging.

In summary, these are the penalties for claimjumping in BC:

  • Repayment for full value of the ore that was stolen
  • $25,000 fine or 6 months in prison; Mineral Tenure Act
  • 2 to 10 years in prison for theft, plus summary conviction; Criminal Code of Canada
  • Loss of FMC, potentially for life; Mineral Tenure Act
  • Up to 5 years in prison for selling ore without proving the source; Criminal Code of Canada
  • Fines for violation of mining and environmental laws
  • Possible confiscation of mining gear and your vehicle

Modern-day prospectors and miners work hard to explore their claims. It takes time and money to locate a claim, stake it and begin exploration work. There are hurdles to operate a mine legally. Most miners put a lot of effort into setting everything up properly so that they can mine and reap the benefits of their hard work. Claimjumpers try to cut corners and steal resources from the people that have done the hard work. There’s a reason that nobody wants the earn the title of “claimjumper”.

You can’t be banished from the land or hung you like they did during the gold rushes but you will have to repay all the gold you steal and face penalties for your crimes.

What does it mean to be a Free Miner?

What does it mean to be a Free Miner?

In British Columbia it is necessary to hold a Free Miner’s Certificate (or FMC for short) to buy and sell mining claims. Most miners, prospectors and industry professionals hold an FMC but do they know what it stands for? The concept of the Free Miner holds historical roots dating back to medieval Europe where being a free miner meant a certain status and freedom during a time when freedom was reserved for a select few.

Free Miners Certificate

Mining law in BC dates back to before British Columbia even existed. Few British Columbians actually know the history and genesis of this beautiful province. We talk about the fur traders and explorers like Simon Fraser, Sir Alexander Mackenzie, and David Thompson. To this day they are credited with “discovering” BC. Their names are on our streets, our rivers, and countless monuments around the province.

The early explorers definitely laid the groundwork for things to come but it wasn’t until word got out about a peculiar yellow metal that things really got rolling. Once word reached California about gold in the Fraser Canyon the rush was on. Modern-day BC consisted of a disputed territory called New Caledonia during the time of the gold rush.

The mining law in BC was modeled after regulations in other British colonies such as Australia and New Zealand. The underlying principles of our mining laws date back to medieval Europe with a history dating all the way to the Roman Empire.

Beginnings of the Free Miner

medieval miner

Work in mines during the time of the Greek and Roman empires was primarily conducted by slaves and prisoners. The Romans were producing gold and silver coins used as currency and required more precious metals than were being produced by traditional mines. During the reign of Emperor Charlemagne (768-814) the demand for gold and silver increased. The easily exploitable deposits were beginning to run out and there was a need for specialized mining skills and knowledge.

The Romans recognized the prospecting skills that miners possessed and began to allow slaves and peasants the freedom to explore. The Romans created the right to ownership based on discovery where if a man discovered a mineral deposit he could claim ownership. It was required that he pay a royalty or tribute to the emperor. Through this process, the miner ceased to be a serf and became a free man.

The incentive of freedom drove men to the farthest reaches of the Roman empire in search of metals and subsequently their own freedom. The adventurers taking part in the gold rushes of the 1800s in North America were driven by the same force, to find freedom and wealth on their own terms. The right to discovery has always been one of the core tenents of the free miner system.

Medieval Europe

mining in medieval europe

During the middle ages land was owned outright by lords. Lords were subject to the king but they decided what would and wouldn’t happen on their land. The land was worked by peasants who owed a certain amount of workdays to the lord. In exchange, peasants could use small portions of land to produce their own food. Peasants were subject to the rules and taxes of the lord whose land they occupied.

A peasant couldn’t just take off and go looking around the mountains for gold. He would have to cross into different lands that are owned by different lords. Not to mention he was obligated to work for his lord and nobody else. It would be hard to prospect for minerals if you are tied to a very small plot of land.

Across much of central Europe, free miners were allowed to roam freely across land boundaries of land-holding lords and claim and work the deposits that they found. Since miners possessed the necessary skills and knowledge to exploit subsurface mineral deposits they were always welcomed by local authorities.

The free miner who made a discovery would be awarded a double-sized discovery claim along the vein. Later miners would only be allotted a single claim. In medieval Europe, a claim was called a “meer”. The head meer belonged to the miner who discovered the vein and all other meers were measured off of the head one. This practice continued well into the gold rushes of North America. A medieval free miner would typically not be required to pay for the registration of a claim, the royalty was enough.

Free miners in Germany and Austria developed a system of democracy that was independent of the king, government or lords of their time. In each mining district, the miners got together and elected a “Bergmeister”. The Bergmeister acted much like the gold commissioner in more modern times. He would determine the size of a claim that is to be awarded upon discovery, settle disputes about claims and so on. If the miners weren’t happy with the Bergmeister they would replace him with a more competent one. There is a ton of information of the systems and techniques of mining in the middle ages in an old book called “De Re Metallica”, published in 1556. The title is Latin for “On the Nature of Metals”.

The rules, laws, and practices of free mining communities were brought to England before the invasion by the Normans in 1066. There were several distinct free mining districts in medieval England. Districts were built around a specific commodity such as tin, coal, lead, zinc, and gold. A miner could explore anywhere in his claim regardless of land ownership. A claim was permanent, transferable and heritable as long as he kept up the required work obligations and paid the required royalty.

One of the first written laws regarding free miner’s rights was passed by the Bishop of Trent (modern-day Italy) in 1185. Under that law, the state held all mineral rights. Miners were permitted to freely enter the land to explore and mine provided that they shared the wealth with the state.

Miner’s Law

miners meeting

Free miners typically had immunity from the jurisdiction of the surface owner’s courts and had immunity to common-law. Different lords had different laws, different taxes and so on. Since free miners could roam freely, crossing different land boundaries they needed their own set of laws to provide some sense of continuity. Free mining districts had free miners’ courts which were controlled by the mining community. The concept of miner’s law lasted for centuries and even played a role in the gold rushes of Western North America from California to the Yukon.

Across medieval Europe, there were two main types of free miners. In more populated areas such as Southern England, the free miner system was community-based. Free mining communities existed where miners belonged to a self-governing community outside of the feudal hierarchy. In these areas, miners would work a claim in close proximity to other miners for decades and sometimes even passing on their claim to their descendants.

In the mountainous areas such as Northern England, Scotland, Germany, and Austria claims were spread out and miners would act more individually. In these areas, it was important for a free miner to be able to explore vast areas without being bound by individual landowners.

Both systems influenced the development of mining rights during the gold rush periods and many of the concepts still exist today. A free miner today in BC still has the right to roam freely in search of untapped mineral deposits, although there are a few limitations.

A free miner’s claim was not a standard amount of surface areas such as an acre, hectare or anything like that. The area that a miner was given depended on the strike and dip of their vein. A standard claim was 100 feet along the vein and a width of half the length. The strike of the claim was measured from the apex (outcrop) and could slope downward or lie flat with the land.

A steeper dipping vein would provide a smaller surface area for the claim. Free miners measured claims this way since a steeper dipping vein provided more ore per the same amount of area.

Since the amount of ore was the whole point, this system was considered fairer among free mining communities. This concept followed European settlers into the New World. During the homestead period of Western Canada and the United States settlers were given a predetermined amount of land while miners were given more freedom depending on the geology.

Property during medieval Europe was controlled by feudal lords. Many landowners had large swaths of land under their control and needed information about the geology and mineral deposits on their lands. Free miners were able to develop knowledge of geology due to their right to wander without concern for legal boundaries with large districts.

Medieval Lords commonly permitted free miners to operate on their lands in exchange for mining and geological information. Much as we do today with work and assessment reports as part of the upkeep of modern claims.

The California Gold Rush

california gold rush

At the onset of the California Gold Rush in 1848, the territory of California was only recently transferred to the United States from Mexico. Congress had not yet set up any kind of local government and there were no laws in place to govern the practice of mining. The 49ers were literally left to their own devices.

Each camp developed its own set of rules. Across all districts, miners asserted a universal right to free prospecting and mining on previously unclaimed lands. They developed systems for dealing with staking, noticing, acquiring and abandonment of claims. They dealt swiftly with proven claim jumpers. There were no royalties paid to any government but fees were collected to fund the local miner’s collective. They imposed a rule of one claim per man and work requirements. They also had a rule that allowed no more than one-week absence or your claim would be forfeited.

As discoveries slowed down in the California gold fields prospectors moved to other areas such as Australia, Colorado, Oregon, the Fraser River, Cariboo, and the Yukon. The principles developed in the California camp laws carried with them but had to be adjusted since the new districts actually had governments and laws while California didn’t enact actual public laws until two years after the first gold miners arrived.

The Australian Gold Rush

When the gold rush broke out in Australia in 1851 miners were shocked to find that New South Wales already had a government, property law, courts, military and police. That was a big difference from the wild west of the lawless California gold fields. There were some major conflicts as Australia tried to impose land restrictions, fees and various other rules on the miners.

In the end, a compromise was made and Australia’s Gold Fields Act was passed in 1854. That piece of legislation was based on the European principles of free mining and the lessons learned in the California gold fields. The act protected the miner’s right to free entry, the right to discovery, a personal right to the minerals in place, the right to occupy the claim and a right to participate in the making of local mining rules.

The Fraser River Gold Rush

Fraser river gold rush

With the influx of 30,000 prospectors, mostly American, the British population of 100-200 people was completely overwhelmed. Britain’s claim to present-day BC was under threat.

With the madness of the California gold rush fresh in people’s minds, the young government had to act quickly. HBC Governor James Douglas stationed a gunboat on the Fraser River to intercept gold rush miners to collect mining licenses and lay down the law. Great Britain acted quickly to make BC a crown colony on August 2, 1858.

It was the gold rush, not fur trading that really made BC part of the British Empire and subsequently part of Canada. Our mining laws were imported from Great Britain. Much of our current mining law in BC came from the passage of the Gold Fields Act in 1859.

The Gold Fields Act was strongly based on the legislation passed in Australia three years prior with the same name. The three principles of the free miner were paramount: the right to discovery, the right of entry to explore and the right to miner’s law. Under the new act, any person 16 years of age or over could obtain a Free Miner Certificate for the cost of one pound. An FMC gave its holder (the “free miner”) the right to freely enter onto, and stake a claim, on any un-staked area of Crown land – including private property and First Nations’ territories.

Governor Douglas’ law differed from the Australian law in that it allowed more freedom for miner’s boards. The rules for claim size and the ins and outs of staking a claim varied between mining districts. The government was small and the territory was vast.

The BC government didn’t have the means or the manpower to police all details of mining. They set the ground rules, issued a free miner’s license and let the miners boards police themselves. The large geographical areas and differences among deposits necessitated that claim size, rules and laws be different across the province. The local miner’s boards were able to rule by consensus.

Vigilante justice and decisions by majority vote prevailed in the camps. In time the North West Mounted Police (the predecessor to the RCMP) took on a larger role and established itself in most of the gold rush towns. By the time of the Klondike Gold Rush, there was a substantial NWMP presence in the gold mining areas.

Changes in Legislation

In 1891, provincial legislation formally recognized locations in which free miners could not enter onto and prospect for mineral claims. This included towns, private homes and Indian reserve lands. Today, areas that do not carry the automatic right of entry include land occupied by a building, the 75m of land directly surrounding a private residence (if that area is lawns, gardens etc.) and crop lands.

During the gold rush era (1850s to 1910s) most of the areas being prospected and mined took place on unoccupied frontier land. There were very few people around. On top of that, the techniques of placer mining consisted of pans and rocker boxes. In later years when miners employed more capital-intensive techniques like damming and hydraulicking, water licenses and land use started to become an issue.

In 1911 the Mineral Easements Act was passed. This new act established rules for right of way access to mineral and placer claims over private land. These rights of way included the right to construct the infrastructure required for mining and the right to use existing roads in aid of their mining activities

Under this act, only thirty days’ notice (including an advertisement published in the British Columbia Gazette and in a local newspaper for one month) was required for the establishment of a right of way that could last over an area of land for generations and permit the construction of a pipeline, tramway, and movement of heavy machinery.

Today, the ability for free miners to secure a right of way over private land, without the consent of the landowner, is preserved under section 2 of the Mining Right of Way Act – a legislative successor of the Mineral Easements Act of 1911.

Modern Laws on Free Miners in BC

Claim Post Cariboo

Much of the free miner system remained the same until the 1990s. In 1995 the Mineral Tenure Amendment Act was passed, which added some limitations to mineral rights and activities on private lands. The act prohibited free miners from “interfering with any operation, activity or work on private land”. That was the first major restriction on the free entry system since 1891.

In 2002 amendments to the Mineral Tenure Act, removed the prohibition against free miners and recorded holders from interfering with any operation, activity or work on private land. The amendment provided that interfering with privately held land was permissible, so long as it was minimal and the private owner was compensated.

On January 12, 2005, the whole game changed. BC initiated the online staking system that we know today. Prospectors were no longer required to physically drive claim stakes into the ground, staking could now be done with the click of a mouse. This opened the door to a whole new level of speculation. The number of staked claims grew exponentially. Free miner rights remained intact.

In 2008 the Mineral Tenure Act and Mineral Tenure Act Regulation were amended once again to require that any person beginning mining activities on private land had to give notice at least eight days prior to beginning any mining activity. That law stands to this day. A free miner still has the right to occupy private property but must give a minimum of 8 days’ notice prior to occupation. It is important to note that notice does not require consent. A free miner must notify private landowners but does not need their permission to occupy private land for the purposes of mining.

The current law is specified in the Mineral Tenure Act of British Columbia.

The restrictions on land are broken into two categories. Free miners who hold a title and those who don’t.

As specified in section 11 of the act, the current restrictions on private land where a free miner doesn’t hold a claim include:

  • land occupied by a building
  • the curtilage of a dwelling house,
  • orchard land
  • land under cultivation
  • land lawfully occupied for mining purposes
  • protected heritage property, except as authorized by the local government
    land in a park

Free miners without mineral tenure have rights to explore and search for minerals on most land. In BC a free miner can access any private property as long as proper notice is served and none of the above restrictions apply. That means that as long as you serve notice, you can explore freely on pretty much any private property in BC. The main exceptions are farms and land with a house on it.

If a free miner holds a claim overlapping private property there are less restrictions on access:

  • There is a mining prohibition in that area under the Environment and Land Use Act
  • The area is a designated park under the Local Government Act
  • The area is a designated park or ecological reserve under the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act
  • The area is an ecological reserve under the Ecological Reserve Act
  • The area is a protected heritage property.

When a free miner holds an active tenure the rules change slightly. Access to private land is much less restrictive. Not only does a free miner have access to the land, an active tenure give the right to use the land for all operations related to the exploration and development or production of minerals or placer minerals.

Section 14 of the Mineral Tenure Act which states:

Subject to this Act, a recorded holder may use, enter and occupy the surface of a claim or lease for the exploration and development or production of minerals or placer minerals, including the treatment of ore and concentrates, and all operations related to the exploration and development or production of minerals or placer minerals and the business of mining.

The concept of the “Free Miner” has deep historical roots and much of the free entry system and principles of the free miner are still present in BC laws and practices. The three core tenents of the free miner The right to discovery, Freedom to roam and self-government are built into our current laws. The miner’s meetings and self-government are no longer necessary as we now have strong governments with actual mining laws in place.

The free entry system is often misunderstood by people who aren’t familiar with the intent and history of the system. Private landowners are often surprised to learn that they have to allow miners onto their property. As a result, the free entry system is under threat by people outside of the mining community. Ontario, Quebec and the Northwest Territories have abandoned free miner’s rights due to public pressure.

The same principles that created free entry in Roman and medieval Europe are true today. In order to explore for minerals, it is necessary to have access to the land. If we lose the free entry rights then it will become harder and harder to discover and produce the minerals that our society needs.

When you hold a Free Miner’s Certificate you belong to a long history of free miners. It’s not just a piece of paper. The FMC represents freedom in the true sense of the word. A free miner means belonging to a community that built its own rules and paved the way for modern society. We might have modern tools, advanced technology, and modern government but a discovery today is no different than a discovery in medieval Bavaria. All miners strive for independence and to feed their sense of adventure.

Introducing WCP Placer Mining Club

Introducing WCP Placer Mining Club

Hey guys, I am pleased to announce that West Coast Placer is starting a mining club.  There have been a number of inquiries from people who want to prospect and mine on WCP claims.  So we’re starting a club that will provide the opportunity for members to use our claims.

DSC01355DSC01356
Club members will have access to all of West Coast Placer’s claims.  Currently that includes 12 placer claims and two mineral claims in BC.  Access to some of my partner’s claims is also available.  We have claims all over BC including the Tulameen, Similkameen, Fraser River, Cariboo and Kootenays.
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Members will be able to work the claims as if they own them.  You can run a sluice, pans or whatever you want.  Of course members can keep all the gold that they find.
You will be able to camp on the claims in tents or with an RV (where accessible).  Family members are automatically included in your membership.  Gold panning is a great activity for the whole family, kids love it.  You can bring your friends too, the more the merrier.
DCIM100GOPRO

There are a few obligations that will have to be met.

  • The first rule of prospecting club is you do not talk about prospecting club.  Just kidding I had to throw that in there.
  • Members must follow all the regulations regarding placer mining in BC.  If you don’t know all the regs don’t worry, information will be provided.
  • Activities will have to be recorded.  This will help with our reports to the MTO.  It’s not much work, just keep some notes on the work that you do.  Keep track of things like, hours spent working, size and location of holes, and take pictures.  This information will also be shared with the group.
  • If you plan on running a sluice or highbanker you will need to have a Free Miner’s Certificate.  If you need help getting one, just ask.

There will be an annual fee of $50.  Why a fee?  That is required to limit club membership to people who are truly interested.  $50 is pretty much free compared to similar clubs.  The others are looking for $300 and up.  We’re not interested in making money off of memberships.

As a member you will also have the opportunity for instruction in the art of gold prospecting.  This is great for novice miners.  You can join myself and more experienced members on prospecting trips.  That is the best way to learn, you can watch youtube videos and read books all day but nothing beats hands on training.

The Map Lies

Members will have support from experienced miners.  You can even get help with your own MTO reports for your own personal claims.  You can ask advice at any time and we’ll try our best to get back to you as soon as possible.

As a member you will be entitled to a discount on the purchase any of West Coast Placer’s claims.  There will be more perks as the club grows.

Update 2021
The club has been active for 5 years, we have a good group of recreational miners. We are still accepting applications for new members.

If you are interested please send an email through the WCP contact form on this link, Contact Form. Explain why you want to join the club and we will consider your application. Not all applications will be approved.

We will not accept applications made through the comments section. See instructions above.

How Much Gold is Left on Earth?

How Much Gold is Left on Earth?

Is the world running out of gold?  That seems to be a common theme in investment circles in recent years.  This eye catching article on Visual Capitalist estimates that we’ll be out of gold by 2030. This article based on a report from Goldman Sachs claims we’d hit “peak gold” in 2015, GoldCore.
Gold_reservePeak gold is the same idea as peak oil.  Where the peak is the moment when maximum world production is reached and declines from then on, eventually reaching zero production.  Unlike oil though gold is not used up in consumption.  It is typically stashed away in a vault or worn as jewellery.

Estimates for all the gold in the world mined to date hover around 165,000 metric tons.  Some estimates go as high as 1 million tons but most experts would agree that under 200,000 is accurate.  World gold supplies are difficult to quantify. That is because gold reserves are not always reported accurately.  Over 50% of gold above ground is used for jewellery which makes it difficult to track.  Gold rings, necklaces and such can change hands without any records.  About 35% is stored as bullion for investments and reserves.  Large holders of gold give misleading numbers regarding their reserves, presumably for security reasons but who knows?

pourLiquidGold

The United States, Germany, Italy and France are the worlds largest holders of gold respectively.  Each has their share of controversy surrounding their claimed gold deposits.  There are conspiracy theories about the amount of gold stored in Fort Knox.  Some believe it is empty and the government is just pretending its full of gold.  Without seeing it for ourselves we’ll just have to accept the disclosed numbers.

To further add uncertainty to global gold production small scale miners do not typically report their take.  This is especially true in third world countries.  A lot of gold is mined in this way, primarily placer but hard rock as well.

AfricaMiners

How much gold is left in the ground?  Nobody really knows.  Mining companies of all sizes spend their exploration budget to map out potential deposits.  They are a long ways from mapping the entire earth.  The peak gold estimates are based on proven and indicated reserves that are reported by public mining companies.

There is no shortage of gold on earth.  The problem is that it is much deeper than we can mine.   Current scientific theories estimate that there is enough gold in the core to cover the surface of the earth with a 4 meter thick layer of pure gold.  The density of the core is measured using several techniques including seismic geophysics.  Seismic waves are measured from earthquakes all over the world.  The wave properties change as they pass through the liquid outer core and the super dense inner core.  S-waves can’t travel through liquid, that is how the outer core is mapped.  The density of the inner core is greater than iron at 5,515 kg/m3.  Clearly there are large amounts of substances that are heavier than iron to achieve that density.

seismicCoreMeasure

We are limited to several thousand meters below the surface as far as mining is concerned.  Check out this blog post on the origins of gold.

Lets do a little math.  The average concentration of gold in Earth’s crust is estimated to be between 0.0011 ppm(source) and 0.0031 ppm(source).  Now we can calculate the volume of the portion of the crust which can potentially be mined.  The deepest gold mine in the World is TauTona Mine in South Africa which reaches 3.9 kilometers below ground.  The TauTona mine, operated by AngloGold Ashanti, is a gold mine so its a good yard stick for how deep we can go.

The volume of the earth (approximated as a sphere) is 1,086,832,411,937 cubic kilometres.  The calculated volume for the earth with 4km stripped off the top is 1,084,788,886,213 km3.  Subtracting the two and using the average abundance of 0.0031 ppm we arrive at 6.3 billion cubic meters of gold in the top 4km of the crust.  One more calculation, gold has a known density of 19.3 tons per m3.  Which gives us a total mass of 122,264,143,828 or 122 billion metric tons.  That is a lot of gold.

Nuggets

Our calculated estimate of 122 billion metric tons of theoretical gold includes the entire surface of the earth.  Currently we are not equipped to mine the oceans, although technology is advancing quickly.  Check out this article on sub-sea mining robots, LINK.  The same processes that accumulate gold into deposits occur in the ocean just as they do on land.  With 71% of the surface covered by ocean that is a significant area that is yet to be explored.
earth-core
Lets adjust our estimate to account for only continental land which can be mined with today’s technology.  So by subtracting the oceans we are left with 35 billion tons of gold on dry land.

Global production throughout the entirety of human history is 165,000 metric tons as previously mentioned.  So in a very theoretical sense we have mined 0.00047% of the world’s surface gold.  That’s very encouraging.  Although not all of that gold is accumulated in mineable deposits.  Typically you need at least 0.5 ppm to make a mine profitable.  Depending on logistics, location, overburden and other factors that cut off grade can rise quite steeply.  So all of that 35 billion tons is not really available to us.

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Once gold is discovered it will be mined.  We are too greedy to leave it in the ground.  Take a look at the gold rushes of North America between 1849-1900.  There are some great blog posts on the subject here, Gold Rushes.  The hoard of gold hungry prospectors would descend on a creek once a discovery was made.  They would move in, erect a town and mine it for all its worth.  Within 2-3 years all the easy gold is gone and only the tenacious miners would remain to mine the small gold.  The rush would continue elsewhere and repeat the cycle.  The same thing happens with hard rock mining but on a longer time scale.

Peak gold takes this phenomena into account.  Much like peak oil we’ve picked the low hanging fruit wherever it has been found.  Gold is a little different because it is very hard to find.  When it comes to oil reserves the big ones stick out like a sore thumb.

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Typically it takes about 20 years to go from discovery to full scale gold mine.  That involves all the steps to test a property using prospecting, geophysics, and diamond drilling.  Delineating the reserve and all the stuff that it takes to build a modern mine (permits, studies, infrastructure and so on).

With the current state of the mineral exploration that 20 year lead time is going to come back to bite us.  Over the last few years mineral exploration has dropped off to the point that it is almost non-existent.  That seems counter-intuitive if we are running out of gold.  Exploration is a high risk investment and people don’t take the risk unless commodity prices are high.  The good news is that when prices spike again like they did in 2010 there will be a massive feeding frenzy.

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So we’ve estimated that within 4000m of the surface of Earth’s crust there is 35 billion tons of gold.  With a remaining 87 billion under the ocean.  Only a small portion of that is concentrated enough to mine.  Its a big world out there and we’ve only properly explored small pockets of it.  The super easy stuff is largely gone but with advancements in technology and some ingenuity its there for the taking.  For those explorers who are willing to put on their thinking cap and step outside of their comfort zone there is a bonanza waiting for us.

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 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.

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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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This photo is actually from Rock Creek in Alaska, not BC. Still a good photo though.

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.

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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.

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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