[B.C. Gold Mining] THE CARIBOO ROARS AGAIN – by Charles Lugrin Shaw (MACLEAN’S Magazine – May 15, 1933)


SEVENTY YEARS ago the gold rush to the Cariboo country, in central British Columbia, was the talk of the mining world and the goal of thousands of men who, eager for adventure and the chance of making a quick fortune, answered the alluring call of the gold trail. The creeks of the Cariboo were worked for generations and yielded more than $60,000,000 in placer gold.

Then came the day when mining men regarded the Cariboo with a shrug of indifference and perhaps a sigh of hopelessness. “The Cariboo is through,” they said. “A mining camp never comes back.”

But they spoke too soon. For this year, thousands of miners— some with their wives and children and even their mothers-in-law—have struck out for the glamorous Cariboo to gamble with the capricious goddess of fate that rules all mining camps, just as their predecessors did in the early 1860s. After half a century of peaceful slumber, the historic old goldfield has awakened and is roaring again.

Throughout Canada mining men are “gold conscious” this year. Twenty years ago this country’s gold output was relatively insignificant. Last year its value was greater than that of any other individual commodity produced in the Dominion—considerably more than $60,000,000. Stimulated interest in gold has brought Canada to a position second only to South Africa in its production.

British Columbia’s story is paralleled in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba. Three years ago Ontario had two producing camps— Porcupine and Kirkland Lake. These have now been supplemented by Red Lake, Michipicoten, Matachewan and Thunder Bay. Quebec, with Noranda and half a dozen other big properties producing or near production, challenges Ontario’s leadership, as does Manitoba with its great Flin Flon development. Saskatchewan and Alberta, with placer operations on the McLeod River, are also prominently in the picture.

The 1933 rush to Cariboo is very’ different in some respects from the Cariboo stampedes of earlier days. In the past, prospectors sought gold nuggets and dust in the placer fields. But this year, while there will be placer mining too, the big excitement is over lode operations—that is to say, the extraction of gold from veins in the hard rock rather than in loose form from the gravel of the creek beds.

Lode Gold Now Dominates

THEY used to say that lode gold and placer gold never went together. If a goldfield was a placer field, it was that and nothing more. There were theories to the contrary, of course. Forty years ago. Dr. Dawson, the noted geologist, predicted that a new golden era would come to the Cariboo some day; an era in which lode gold would be dominant. He wasn’t alone in that view either. But many practical mining men shook their heads scornfully; all except a few persistent fellows who refused to give up the search for the hidden key to the Cariboo lode simply because tradition told them it could not be found.

“Gold doesn’t just grow in nuggets,” they argued. “It must come from veins somewhere big, solid veins that will yield big profits some day to someone. The veins can’t all be eroded away. If we could only find them . ..”

And then last year someone did find lode gold—Fred Wells of Cow Mountain and Jack of Clubs Lake, men who didn’t care a snap of their fingers for precedent or mining engineers; who simply had their own ideas and a little more than the average share of courage and independence.

“Don’t you see what that means?” ask the old-timers who have never surrendered their faith in the Cariboo lodes. “It means that if Fred Wells can make a go of it on Cow Mountain, then we’ve all got a chance of applying the same methods and making a go of it on every mountain in this wonderful old placer country.”

Hence the new scramble to the Cariboo that has filled the streets of Quesnel at the end of steel, and aroused the picturesque old towns of another generation, Barkerville and Stanley, from half a century’s sleep. Long before the snow had started to leave the rugged hills of the Cariboo, claim stakers were busy over a vast area, fixating ground which seemed likely to yield gold.

If they couldn’t find the gold themselves, if they lacked the funds to develop the claims, there was always the chance of selling out to someone. Several of the biggest mining corporations on the continent have had their agents in the Cariboo this spring. One company staked more than 300 claims on the snow. Old-timers regarded the frantic activity with amazement and some amusement.

“Won’t they have a nice, peaceful time when the snow has gone,” the old-timers remarked with sarcasm. “They’ll find in a good many places that they’ve staked over each other on the same ground. It’ll take months to straighten things out, and the lawyers will have a little gold rush all to themselves.”

There will be disappointment and despair in the Cariboo this year, just as there has always been in every mining camp, but there will be little of the hardship which the early-day miners encountered – months of utter solitude, breaking trails through the wilderness on short rations, lack of effective equipment. Better tools, better transportation facilities, better access to scientific knowledge these are the things that will unlock whatever treasure the Cariboo will yield.

Towns Rejuvenated

“THE OLD-TIMERS can’t seem to realize what is going on around them. The fact that every hotel and lodging-house in Barkerville is filled, that the streets are crowded with automobiles, that radios now have their aerials where flagpoles used to be – it’s simply incredible to the pioneers, some of whom haven’t been out to the railroad for many years. The sudden rush of business demoralized the town. The gold recorder’s office was swamped, and even when alert young men from outside were brought in to apply modern methods they found themselves days behind schedule, trying to keep pace with mining applications of all descriptions.

But Barkerville, steeped in the traditions of a mining camp that first flowered in years beyond the memory of most living men, still looks very much as it did in the roaring days of the first stampede. Then it was the end of the road for bull teams, stage coaches, pack trains and horse-drawn freight wagons, gum-booted and bearded miners, flower-vested gamblers from ‘Frisco, dance-hall girls and other typical camp followers of the Old West. Many of the original buildings are still there, and the old-timers will be glad to show you the piano and the spinet that were brought in sixty miles from Quesnel on the backs of men.

For the first time, the airplane has played a role this year in opening up the Cariboo. The most enterprising claim stakers made profitable use of “Ginger” Coote’s machine while the snow lay deep. There is the case of the young Quesnel hospital matron who chartered a plane to send her staking agent out to ground that an old prospector had recommended.

When a blizzard came and the young woman began to feel sorry for her men out there in the wilderness, she chartered the plane again and flew over the claims, dropping parcels of provisions. It was fifty below zero at the time and she was numb with cold when she returned to Quesnel, but that didn’t matter.

“If those claims pan out like I think they will, I guess I can stand a little cold,” was all she said.

Then there is the case of Jim Doody. “You just can’t keep track of that boy,” say the veterans who can’t yet accustom themselves to the methods of today; who can’t realize that a real, honest-to-goodness prospector may spend half his time up in the air. The old-timers cling to their skis and snowshoes and dog-sleighs in winter and trudge the trails in summer, but Jim Doody prefers the air route—with the result that probably no one in the Cariboo managed to stake as many claims as he during the cold months.

“Nothing can stop Jim Doody,” said a venerable citizen of Barkerville. “Why, he’s actually gone and staked the cemetery— every inch of it. Can you imagine that! There’s nothing sacrilegious about it. He won’t disturb the graves. But what gets us is that we’ve been living here in Barkerville for fifty years and never thought of doing that ourselves.”

Nor was the staking of the cemetery Mr. Doody’s only triumph in Barkerville. He married the prettiest girl in the town, and the wedding marked the high point in Barkerville’s social season.

The Wells Discovery

FRED WELLS didn’t need anyone to coax or encourage him; certainly not a scientist or engineer. Wells was a hard-headed, hardrock mining man without university training and with a quiet contempt for academic experts.

“The only people who know anything about mines are miners,” Wells used to say, but more often he said nothing. He just went ahead and worked on ideas of his own. He is one of the veteran mine bosses of British Columbia. He worked in the Rossland camps years ago and performed wonders at the Surf Inlet mine, but for a long time his heart has been in the Cariboo. One day, when visiting the hydraulic operations at Lowhee Creek, near the spot where Tinker Brown had once, long ago, pounded the hard ledges, Wells was impressed by the sight of quartz boulders exposed by the excavation. He decided to play a hunch.

Five years ago Wells started operations on Cow Mountain, near Lowhee, in the heart of the old placer country. If you had asked him then what he was trying to do, he would have volunteered no information. Unlike most of the mining fraternity, Wells is inclined toward pessimism and is sparing of speech until he has something delinite to show. But he had his theories and he put them into practice. When he started a 3,000-foot crosscut tunnel at a depth of 750 feet, engineers laughed at him.

He kept on driving and opened up the mysterious “B” veins at depth, which is something that no one else ever did. His tunnel struck nine cross-fissure “B” veins, eight of which contained commercially valuable ore. Engineers and mining men were amazed. The news spread fast. All through the West went word that the Cariboo was coming into its own again as a lode camp!

Some say Wells is lucky. Well, any miner who finds gold is lucky. Those who have followed the up-and-down career of Wells and admired the way in which he kept plugging away at Cow Mountain regardless of criticism, say it is clear as day that Wells is simply being rewarded for using good judgment, for having the right idea in the first place and letting nothing deter him from proving it. Anyway, Wells says he is going to drive a tunnel nearly a mile long clean through Barkerville Mountain, and he claims that he’ll soon have sufficient ore to keep a 1,000-ton mill going—an unheard of thing in the Cariboo.

Large Companies in the Field

AND NOW the rush is on. It started last winter, soon after knowledge of the Wells operations became general. The news swept down from the snowclad hills to the Coast and to the East. A California millionaire, on a big game hunt in the Cariboo, heard about it and in a few days New York interests had their men in the field, staking ground.

J. P. Morgan’s Newmont Mining Corporation of New York sent its vice-president west and more claims were staked. The Howe Sound Company, one of the biggest mining concerns on the continent, became interested. Premier Gold, once the wonder mine of Portland Canal, sent its scouts to the Cariboo. So did Granby Consolidated Co., U. S. Mining and Smelting Co., and half a dozen other big enterprises which never pass up a good thing when they hear of it.

This injects a new and unique element into the Cariboo gold rush of 1933; for never before have big corporations, interested primarily in ore tonnage rather than placer nuggets, entered this field. The Cariboo has always been a “little man’s camp” exclusively.

Justification for all the present excitement, of course, depends largely on what Wells’ Caribou Gold Quartz mine will be able to show in the way of a proved ore body. It must be remembered that the property is still in its early stages of development. Government engineers are inclined toward optimism.

“The results obtained at this property,” says J. D. Galloway, provincial mineralogist. “are important inasmuch as they affect not only this property, but it is a reasonable assumption that certain features disclosed will quite likely prove characteristic of the Barkerville area generally.”

And Douglas Lay, the government’s resident engineer, adds:

“The area seems to present all the earmarks of a potential camp and to offer much promise for well directed capital. A dispassionate consideration of the available facts does not support the view that there is likely to be only one producing mine in this area, but on the other hand clearly indicates that arguments advanced a considerable time ago for development at many different points have been greatly strengthened by recent developments. The commencement of actual production at the Cariboo Gold Quartz property marks the opening of a new chapter in Cariboo history.”

For years the majority of practical mining men regarded the Cariboo as a placer field and nothing else. “You can always find gold lying loose in the slime. Why look for it elsewhere?” they asked. “And, besides, whoever heard of a big placer field turning itself into a lode proposition?” They were supported by precedent, of course, but even thirty or forty years ago mineralogists were not being entirely deceived by this argument. They saw significance in the fact that in several places in British Columbia where placer mining had once been profitable, gold in quartz had also been located.

They mapped a wide belt 900 miles long, extending from Fernie paralleling the Rockies, westward to Harrison Lake and then north to the Yukon, in which both placer and lode gold had been found. Back in 1894 the late Amos Bowman made a study of lode prospects, and his conclusions are the basis of much of the present activity in the Cariboo, but for many years they gathered dust on yellowing pages in neglected pigeonholes.

Other Fields Active

THERE WAS a peculiarity in the quartz veins of the Cariboo, and this used to ‘ baffle the old-time hard rock men. Throughout the great mineralized belt there were two distinct vein formations, one running laterally with the belt and the other counter to it. The lateral group was the more conspicuous because the veins were wide and hard, and the quartz outcroppings were a tempting lure for the miner’s drill, even though most of them proved barren.

No one spent much time on the narrower counter veins until the late Dr. W. L. Uglow began his explorations some seven or eight years ago. Instead of following precedent, Dr. Uglow struck off on a new tangent. The lateral veins—“A” veins, he called them—had been pretty thoroughly prospected and had been found wanting. Very well; he would study the counter veins, which he classified as ”B.” The B veins, many of them hidden by debris, because of their softer formation, had long been overlooked.

Through the geological ages these B veins had been a prey to all the agencies of erosion—air, water and chemical reagents. By the time man appeared on the scene they were submerged. Sometimes the old-timers came across these veins after they had removed the placer gold in the loose ground above. When they reached harder ground below, they were baffled. They found iron pyrites and did not know the metallurgical secret that has since made it possible to obtain from this so-called “fool’s gold” the real thing. They moved on to easier pickings.

But Dr. Uglow, with the unwavering zeal of the true scientist, was not so easily discouraged. “When these B veins occur so often under rich placer diggings,” he used to ask, “isn’t it logical to suppose that they should be the source of gold, rather than the hard veins that so often have disappointed the miners?” But with characteristic modesty, when it came to putting his findings on paper, Dr. Uglow was reserved. He was writing an engineer’s report for the Government and not a stock-selling prospectus. He was very careful and not at all sensational. If someone wished to prove his theories, well and good; he wasn’t coaxing anyone.

Incidentally, the Cariboo isn’t the only goldfield in B.C. that is causing excitement. Down in the Bridge River country is the Pioneer mine, which has been steadily increasing production. In the Kootenay, renowned years ago as a mining area, new properties are being developed, and up in the Northwest the Portland Canal district is beginning to be heard from.

It may be that B.C.’s road back to prosperity may be paved with new-found gold.

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