DAWSON CITY — It is possible to travel by boat for hours down the Yukon River to Dawson City without spotting another human, although you will likely see moose and black bears — and if you’re lucky, a grizzly.
It is quite a contrast from the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896 to 1899, when treasure hunters turned the river into a superhighway of steamboats, barges, canoes and rafts.
One of the stops for prospectors was Coffee Creek, a farm and trading post. Today, the waystation is a barge stop and base camp for Kaminak Gold, one of several Vancouver-based companies taking part in a modern-day Yukon gold rush. Kaminak’s four-million-ounce Coffee gold deposit lies in nearby mountains.
“Thousands of prospectors would have stopped there over the years,” Kaminak founder and chairman John Robins said with a smile. His appreciation for the irony is heightened by a personal connection — his great-great-grandfather was a prospector who was part of the original gold rush.
“The Yukon has been one of the greatest teases for an exploration geologist,” Robins explained in an interview. “It’s one of the greatest places in the world for placer mining, but there’s never been a (major) gold mine.”
Piles of gravel beside the highway on the outskirts of Dawson City attest to the history of placer mining — the mining of streams and riverbeds for alluvial gold. The practice began with rock hammers and gold pans and graduated to dredges that would chew up entire stream beds, process the rock for gold and leave the gravel behind.
There are still about 150 placer mining operations in Yukon, most of them small-scale family operations. Some even work the same creek that kicked off the Klondike Gold Rush. The largest placer mines employ dozens and use heavy equipment including bulldozers and dump trucks.
QUEST FOR YUKON’S NEXT MINE
Kaminak’s project is relatively young — the “discovery hole” was drilled in 2010 — but the company is in the vanguard of junior mining firms hoping to build Yukon’s next mine.
The Fraser Institute’s latest mining survey ranked Yukon as the world’s No. 1 jurisdiction for mineral potential, and No. 9 for “investment attractiveness.”
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