The area surrounding Monashee Mountain was one of the earliest productive mining districts in Western Canada. In 1863 a small bonanza silver lode, later known as the Hidden Treasure, was discovered on Monashee Creek. A small amount of ore was taken to the coast for processing in 1864.
The most important mineral production in the area has been placer gold from Cherry and Monashee creeks and their tributaries north and west of Monashee Mountain. In 1865, Cherry Creek made news when it was reported that the Cherry Creek Gold and Silver Mining Company had discovered a rich gold and silver quartz lead on the creek. Unfortunately, this claim was never proven and a brush fire destroyed the Cherry Creek Company’s cabins and mine workings. By 1876, placer gold was reported in quantity on Cherry Creek by both white and Chinese miners. .That year 20 men were reported working on Cherry Creek. Yields were $4-$5 a day. Although this gold was fine, some nuggets were found, one weighing 8.5 ounces. The placer gold from this creek is unusually high in silver with the fineness running around .720 fine.
With more miners heading into the Cherry Creek area, a route from Lumby was built by the British Columbia Department of Public Works in the summer of 1877. At that time the road was a mere eight feet wide track. With this new road, families began to arrive in the area.
Between 1863 and 1895, the original area grew into a small mining camp boasting a population of more than 100 people, half of which were Chinese miners. Minor gold production from creeks on the south side of Monashee Mountain started in 1877 with the discovery of placer gold in the Kettle River drainage. Starting in 1889, a Mr. Marsh drove about 760 metres (2,500′) of tunnel along the top of the bedrock under what is now Marsh Creek. Production figures are unreliable but reportedly gold was present in old fluvial deposits beneath glacial till. Mr. Marsh abandoned the project because of rotting and collapsing timbers and poor health.
From 1863 to 1930 numerous mining companies operated in the area. It had been calculated that over $125,000 worth of gold had been extracted from Cherry Creek. This figure was calculated when gold was selling at $7.50 an ounce. By today’s prices, that would be approximately $112,000,000.
No reliable figures are available for placer gold production in the Monashee area. Estimates of as much as 4,665,500 grams (150,000 ounces) produced during the 1880’s have been published, but the British Columbia Ministry of Mines records production of only slightly over 155,500 grams (5,000 ounces). Sporadic minor placer gold production from creeks in the area continues to the present.
Lode gold was apparently first discovered in the area in 1879 and the first claims were staked on the “Monashee gold ledge” on the west flank of Monashee Mountain in 1886. This property later became the Monashee Mine and yielded at least 2,500 tonnes of ore containing 15,645 grams (503 ounces) of gold between 1890 and about 1940.
About 1890 a trapper, Mr. Morgan, located the first claims on top of Monashee Mountain. This property, the Morgan, was on a group of four crown granted mineral claims held by St. Paul Mines Ltd. The Silver Bell, another high grade gold-silver prospect was located on the north side of Monashee Creek about 7 kilometres north of Monashee Mountain in 1903.
In 1916, the St. Paul Mine showings were located on the north flank of Monashee Mountain, about 600 metres north of the Morgan. A complex polymetallic ore was discovered with values in gold, silver, arsenic, antimony, copper, lead and zinc. There was apparently little exploration work in the area until the early 1980’s when Brican Resources Ltd. and Mohawk Oil Co. Ltd. acquired large blocks of claims, east and west of Monashee Pass respectively. During the 1980’s, both companies carried out several programs of stream sediment and soil geochemical surveys, geophysical surveys, geological mapping, surface trenching, and limited drilling in a search for gold-silver mineralization. Several known mineral occurrences were extended by this work and several anomalies were noted. Brican did no work after 1983. Mohawk continued working on the Pita claims, west of Monashee Pass until about 1986. The claims were allowed to lapse in 1992.
Presently, Monashee Creek, Putnam, Barnes, Eureka and the Kettle River continue to give up their gold and provide excellent opportunities for the tenacious miner.
Approximately 30 miles northeast of Terrace, across the Skeena River from Highway 16, is the historic community of Dorreen. There, running along the railway track from the old station to the railway bridge over Fiddler Creek, are the remains of community that at first glance seems to have been simply left behind
This area, where Fiddler Creek and Lorne Creek join the Skeena River, is the traditional territory of the Gitxsan. In the 1880s, this area hosted a frenzy of gold-seekers. Chinese and European miners were recorded living on the west side of the Skeena at Lorne Creek, upriver from Dorreen, in 1884. They sluiced and panned the creek gravels – as many as 180 miners in 1885. For most of the prospectors their efforts were not rewarded and the gold boom at Lorne Creek went bust by 1888. The majority packed their bags and moved on to the next rumoured gold creek.
In 1884 prospectors from the Bahamas recovered $600 worth of placer gold in two days ($29,000 in todays value).
Lorne Creek flows easterly into the Skeena River some 27 miles north of Terrace. In the mouth of Lorne Creek valley is a dome shaped mountain, on the south side of which the modern creek emerges through a canyon. A buried pre-glacial channel lies north of the dome and about 2,000′ north of the present creek, and is known as “Dry Hill”.
Placer gold was discovered on the creek in 1883 by Harry McDame. He returned in 1884 to locate claims about a mile above the mouth of the creek for Samuel Booth, of Victoria and himself. For the next 15 years intermittent small scale operations were carried on by individual operators in the bed of the present creek.
In about 1898 the existence of a segment of buried pre-glacial channel was recognized and early attempts at working the Dry Hill were encouraging. In 1902 the Dry Hill Hydraulic Mining Company, of Whatcom, Washington, began operations following the construction of a dam and flumes. The scale of the operation was increased in 1914 by the construction of a larger flume 26 miles in length. Intermittent operations continued into 1917 when the company closed the project. Of the apparent 2,000′ of pre-glacial channel only about 350′ was washed out, and this apparently not to bedrock. Good recoveries were reported at times but overall values were less than costs involved.
The numerous quartz veins, all more or less mineralized, which are to be seen at almost all points of the creek from the mouth upwards are an obvious indication of the local source of the placer gold. The appearance of the gold itself is fairly coarse and nuggety. One nugget found in 1931 by James Jones weighed 1 1/2 ounces. The placer occurs on low-lying benches of small dimensions and in the bed of the creek. Numerous remnant segments of earlier channels, of which “Dry Hill” is the most important, are to be seen at different points of the creek, at vertical heights above the creek varying up to 500 feet.
Lorne Creek produced 13,310 troy ounces of placer , an amazing $20,400,000 in todays value.
As For Dorreen, it was never a boom-and-bust town; it always just survived. Highway 16 was completed on the opposite side of the river from Dorreen in 1944, which meant people and traffic could move east and west without going through the settlement. It was the end for other railway communities, but not for Dorreen because a mine invested in the mountains above Dorreen in 1949. The school operated sporadically through the 1940s but closed permanently in 1953 when the mine shut down. Economics changed and isolated little Dorreen, with just seasonal employment and subsistence farming, shrank slowly but steadily. There was a small resurgence of settlers in the late 1960s but that too did not last.
Dorreen was nominated for inclusion as a heritage site in the Regional District of Kitimat Stikine’s Heritage Register.
Porphyry copper deposits contain disseminated mineralization, meaning that a large volume of shattered rock contains a ramifying network of tiny quartz veins, spaced only a few centimetres apart, in which grains of the copper ore occur with pyrite. The shattered rock serves as a permeable medium for the circulation of a hydrothermal solution, and the volume of rock that is altered and mineralized by the solution can be huge. Porphyry coppers are among the largest of all hydrothermal deposits, with some giant deposits containing many billions of tons of ore. Although in most deposits the ore averages only between 0.5 and 1.5 percent copper by weight, the tonnages of ore mined are so large that more than 50 percent of all copper produced comes from porphyry coppers.
Porphyry deposits contain most of B.C.’s gold resources and are its main source of gold production. Exploration for these polymetallic deposits has produced a database of over 1,400 porphyry-style mineral occurrences. Roughly 60 of these have gold resource estimates. Significant examples include Prosperity, Kemess Underground, Mt. Milligan, Galore Creek, Schaft Creek, Red Chris, New Afton, Mount Polley, Red Chris and KSM. The top 5 measured indicated porphyry resource estimates alone account for over 100 million contained ounces of gold as of 2015.
Historically, the main sources of gold in the province were mesothermal and epithermal veins. Epithermal gold deposits are a type of lode deposit that contain economic concentrations of gold, silver and in some cases base metals including copper, lead and zinc. Gold is the principal commodity of epithermal deposits, and can be found as native gold, or alloyed with silver. As a lode deposit, epithermal deposits are characterized as having minerals either disseminated through the ore-body or contained in a network of veins. Epithermal deposits are distinctive from low-grade bulk tonnage deposits such as porphyries in that they are typically high-grade, small size deposits. A few characteristics distinguish epithermal deposits. These deposits are found near the surface and mineralization occurs at a maximum depth of 1 km, but rarely deeper than 600 metres. These deposits represent a high-grade, easily mineable source of gold.
Lode deposits are considered primary gold deposits because they are bedrock deposits that have not been moved. They come in a range of shapes and sizes and can form tabular cross-cutting vein deposits but also may be breccia zones, irregular replacement bodies, pipes, stockworks, and other shapes.
In B.C., more than 400 veins yielded 14.6 million ounces, including more than 4 million ounces from the Bridge River Camp, 2.44 million ounces from the Rossland Camp, and 2 million ounces from the Premier Camp (epithermal veins). The Snip intrusion-related, shear-hosted vein ore body produced 1.07 million ounces at an average grade of 24 g/t, representing another attractive high-grade target type. Brucejack, a potential producer in northwestern B.C., is a transitional mesothermal to epithermal stock-work and breccia- hosted deposit. The Blackwater Project, part of an emerging camp on the Nechako Plateau, has characteristics of both high and low sulphidation epithermal mineralization.
Volcanogenic Massive Sulphides (VMS)
Massive sulphide deposits are currently forming in undersea locations characterized by “Black Smokers”. These Black Smokers are plumes of sulphide-rich fluids and represent the venting of hydrothermal fluids, rich in base and precious metals, onto the ocean floor. In contrast to other volcanic-hosted deposits, they form thin, laterally extensive pyrite-rich massive sulfide rock. These deposits are notable for their ore concentrations of copper and cobalt and only minor concentrations of zinc.
Although most VMS deposits mined in B.C. have recovered gold and silver as by-products (e.g. Myra Falls, Britannia), the high grade Eskay Creek mine was exceptional, with average grades of 47 g/t gold and 878 g/t silver. There is potential for the discovery of additional deposits like Eskay Creek between the communities of Stewart and Iskut.
Skarns or tactites are hard, coarse-grained metamorphic rocks that form by a process called metasomatism. Skarns tend to be rich in calcium-magnesium-iron-manganese-aluminium silicate minerals, which are also referred to as calc-silicate minerals. These minerals form as a result of alteration which occurs when hydrothermal fluids interact with a protolith of either igneous or sedimentary origin. In many cases, skarns are associated with the intrusion of a granitic pluton found in and around faults or shear zones that intrude into a carbonate layer such as a dolomite or limestone. Skarns can form by regional, or contact metamorphism and therefore form in relatively high temperature environments. If a skarn has a respectable amount of ore mineralization that can be mined for a profit, it can be classified as a skarn deposit.
MINFILE includes over 900 primary skarn occurrences, nearly 400 of which list gold among the commodities of interest. The largest gold skarn producer was Hedley (Nickel Plate) at 2.5 million ounces. The current producing Yellow Giant Camp includes skarn mineralization.
How Much Gold Is Remaining?
The British Columbia Geological Survey’s MINFILE database lists over 3,380 occurrences for which gold is identified as the primary commodity. Of these, approximately 700 have recorded gold production (400 lode producers and 300 placer).
Between 1858 and 2013, about 32 million ounces were produced from lode deposits and 6 million ounces from placers.
Remaining in-ground gold resources in the province are estimated at 280 million ounces.
Lowhee Creek is a stream in central British Columbia, which has become noted as an important contribution to the placer gold production of the Cariboo Mining Division. The creek is fifty miles east of Quesnel, flowing north and west, and empties into Jack Of Clubs Lake. Before it was mined by hydraulicking monitors, it was a small creek about two and a half miles long, perhaps three or four feet wide, with a moderate grade from its head at Stouts Gulch to the valley of Jack of Clubs Lake.
Richard Willoughby, an Englishman, discovered the creek in 1861, and was the first man to work on it. He named it in honor of the “Great Lowhee,” a secret society in Yale, B.C., in which he was a prominent member. From July 27 to September 6, 1861, a period of 43 days, Willoughby and from four to seven men worked the creek near the mouth with rockers and long-toms, and from a strip 400 feet long and 12 feet wide they recovered 3,037 ounces of gold. All the gold was found at or within four feet to bedrock which was reported as a “soft blue slaty clay yielding readily to the pick.”
Willoughby’s last week’s work yielded 106 ounces. Two weeks previous he netted 52 ounces a week for each working hand on the claim. His largest day’s return was 84 ounces of gold, valued at $160,000 today. Willoughby sold his claim in the same year and returned to Yale.
A Mr. Patterson and a brother were reported to have recovered about 525 ounces for five week’s work shortly after Willoughby’s departure. Their largest day’s return was 33 ounces. The gold was rough and ragged, and had a fineness of 930. It is said that six to ten-ounce nuggets were frequently found.
During the Seventies and Eighties the whole channel to within a few hundred feet of Watson’s Gulch, a distance of about 8000 feet, was drift-mined. When the remaining ground was too poor to make drift-mining profitable, hydraulic plants were erected at the lower end of Lowhee Creek, and the hydraulicking of the old channel was started.
During the summer of 1947, the Lowhee Mining Company Limited, of Tacoma, Washington, operated the hydraulic plant on Lowhee Creek. The sluice-flume was about 7500 feet long, 6 feet wide, and 4 feet deep. Before 1943, the tailings were allowed to run into Jack Of Clubs Lake, resulting in a large alluvial fan which stretched to the Willow River, and upon which the townsite of Wells and South Wells is built.
Lowhee Creek has been a remarkable placer creek. For more than 100 years it has been worked continuously, providing work and abundant wealth through its life. Recorded production from 1874 to 1945 was 75,000 ounces of gold, valued at over 142 million dollars today.
The Fraser River has been a source of placer gold for more than 150 years. The Department of Mines of British Columbia reported a yield of $28,983,106 in the period from 1860 to 1869. This placer gold at today’s price would be worth more than 290 million dollars. The bulk of this gold came from the Fraser River bars and the Cariboo District farther north.
Between Hope and Yale, which was the centre of the mining, there were probably more than 30 bars named and worked; while between Yale and Lytton there were more than 50, and upon them all the miners were at work with rocker and sluice.
Efforts have continued over the years to wrest from the Fraser the wealth of gold the river is believed to possess. The B.C. Minister of Mines reported in 1903 that in nine days $1,500 in gold was taken from an area of 50 feet square on Saw Mill Bar opposite Yale.
From a point on the river a few miles below Boston Bar (about 16 miles above Yale ) to Sisco Flat, a short way below Lytton, a distance in all of about 25 miles, rich deposits of “heavy” gold were worked. Farther up the river is a second run of “heavy” gold, which appears to have extended from about halfway between Lytton and Foster’s Bar to some little distance above Fountain. Here, nuggets of some size were occasionally unearthed, and there were some exceptionally rich diggings. Nuggets up to six ounces in size were reported to have been recovered near Lillooet.
Chartres Brew, Chief Inspector of Police and Assistant Chief Gold Commissioner, wrote as follows to WA.G . Young, Colonial Secretary, on April 23, 1858: “Out of one claim on Hill’s Bar they took in one day 39 ounces of gold and I saw 16 ounces taken out of another claim after a day’s work. “
ONLY SCRATCHED THE SURFACE
Another Fraser Rive r pioneer, George M . Dawson, D.C., F.G.S., at that time the foremost authority on the mineral resources of British Columbia , wrote in 1889, in his book “The Mineral Wealth of British Columbia ” that the early mining operations barely skimmed the surface of the pay streaks.”
A great portion of all this gold from whatever source derived has been gradually concentrated in the river bottom by the action of the stream, while in many places, paying deposits have been left upon the surface of ‘benches’ at various levels, or buried beneath their material, each such ‘pay streak’ representing some portion of a former bed of the river which has been left behind as erosion progressed.
The mode of working these gold deposits was a comparatively simple one. The so called ‘bars’ were no more than portions of the river bed which, being left bare at low water, could be reached by the miner. They were worked generally to but a very limited depth, often being merely skimmed over in consequence of the trouble from water and the cost of removing any considerable thickness of non-remunerative material to reach the deeper underlying pay streaks. When the exciting discoveries of the Cariboo District became known, the Fraser River was almost abandoned long before its placers had ceased to be remunerative, but since that time more or less desultory work along the Fraser and Thompson rivers has never ceased.
A great number of the high benches have been superficially worked and have, in some cases, yielded excellent results. In the bed of the river itself at each season of flood, a partial rearrangement of the material occurs and additional supplies of gold are brought in by the wearing away of the banks, a feature having important bearing on the probable successful application of hydraulic mining to some of these deposits. Though no longer exceptionally rich, the bars and benches of the Fraser River seem to afford a practically inexhaustible supply of gold.
Hill’s Bar, near Yale , has probably yielded more gold than any other single locality on the Fraser. It was estimated to have produced in all (to 1875) not less than two million dollars worth of gold from an area of less than half a square mile (Report of the Minister of Mines of British Columbia 1875). Its position at the foot of the very rapid portion of the Fraser, where the river first frees itself from the canyon and expands to a greater width with a slacker current, is a suggestive one in respect to the origin of its gold.
The $2,000,000 taken from Hill’s Bar would at today’s price of $1,900 per oz. amount to $190,000,000, and to this should be added the value of platinum which was not even recognized by the early miners. Moreover, by the old methods of recovery, the very fine gold was lost. It seems, therefore, not unreasonable to suggest that the yield from Hill’s Bar would be closer to $218,000,000.
HIGHEST VALUES BELOW LOW WATER
Another Dawson, this time Dr. J.D. Dawson, California mining engineer, examined two claims in 1934, one at Foster’s Bar and another at Willow Bank. Reporting on his investigations, he wrote: “It is my contention that the highest values are still to be found below the low water, and in the river channel proper.”
Experienced mining men concede the richness of deposits in the bed of the Fraser River, and many attempts have been made at recovery. With one exception, all previous attempts employed conventional mining methods. The exception occured at Yale in 1929. A dredge pump with hose and nozzle was mounted on a barge and a miner in full diving gear tried to feed the nozzle among the boulders on the river bed. Failure was due to the boulders and the swift current against which the diver was unable to stand. After a very short life the barge, like all the dredges before it, was carried away and wrecked. However, what little gravel was obtained proved to be very rich.
We have already referred to Dr. George M . Dawson. He is reported to have remarked to a contemporary — “If you could put a trap in the bed of the Fraser River and empty it once a year you would never have to work again.”
Dawson’s dream of a trap in the bed of the Fraser River may soon become a reality. There is sound reason to believe that this methodology could produce substantial amounts of a much needed national and international commodity — GOLD.
In the Cariboo District of British Columbia, about a quarter of a mile past the Barkerville intersection, on the Quesnel-Bowron Lake road, there can be seen a large, water-filled pit. Surrounded by heaps of gravel and rusting scraps of iron machinery, it is the remains of one endeavor by men whose dreams of golden treasure were confounded by the simple, though effective forces of nature.
At the bottom of this pit, a very rich deposit of placer gold is believed to lie. It is estimated that $4,000,000 million in gold awaits those that can solve the mystery of the pit.
During British Columbia’s gold rush era, alluvial gold in incredible proportions was often found on top of bedrock. A half mile away, toward Barkerville, an early mining operation on the east hank of Williams Creek had revealed evidence of an ancient river bed. It had paralleled the present direction of Williams Creek before its course was lost when it veered north-northeast and down into the swampy valley where Williams Creek and Willow River join. Despite the fact that many thousands of dollars worth of gold was mined from the prehistoric river bed, no practical method was available to continue mining beyond the higher ground during those early days.
According to S. Holland, 1974, this story, which appeared in True Treasure Magazine January – February, 1974 is an exaggerated and inaccurate account of placer operations on Devlin Bench. These started in 1952 and 1953 with the dredging operation of Kumhila Exploration Company Ltd. and were followed in 1956 by a second dredging operation in the same area. Finally after a period of inactivity the tailings from the previous operation on Devlin Bench were reworked in 1962 and 1963.
All this work was done on a placer lease which was owned by the Lowhee Mining Co. Ltd. Subsequently the lease lapsed and the ground was relocated in February, 1970 as Placer-mining Lease #7097. At the time, the lease was still in good standing.
The Kumhila Exploration Co. Ltd., which consisted of D. P. Kumle, A. T. Lazzareschi, and L. J. Hickman, all of California, formed this private company and optioned part of the Lowhee Mining Company’s leases at Devlin Bench on the east side of Williams Creek at the Bowron Lake road crossing. After considerable churn-drill testing, the dredge equipment formerly operated by Summit Mines Limited was assembled on the property. This equipment consists of a Hickenbottorn steel-pontoon all-riffle washing plant of 3,500-cubic yards-per-day rated capacity and a Marion 40A walking dragline shovel with an 80-foot boom and a 3-cubic-yarci bucket. As drill testing showed the pay gravel to be at an approximate depth of 50 feet, a Caterpillar D-8 bulldozer was used to strip as much of the barren surface gravel as possible. A crew of eighteen men was employed , and 200,000 cubic yards of gravel was moved , of which 84,680 cubic yards was treated by the washing plant.
In 1953, Kumhila Exploration Company Limited mined 68,200 cubic yards of gravel with their dragline dredge on Williams Creek near Devlin Bench on the Bowron Lake Road. Operations were suspended in early September and the washing plant dismantled when no further pay gravels were located.
In 1956 the Lowhee leases on Conklin Gulch and Williams Creek were under option to L. A. Prosser of L and L Dredging. In 1962. Williams Creek Hydraulic Mines Ltd. commenced to rework the old tailings on Devlin’s Bench on P.M.L. 3354, about midway between Wells and Barkerville and approximately one-half mile up the road to Bowron Lake and just north of the road. 150,000 cubic yards of gravel was treated and the gold recovered is reported to be fairly coarse. In 1963, a further 90,000 yards of gravel was put through the sluice-boxes.
The officially recorded production of placer gold from these operations is as follows:
1952 yielded 6044 ounces, 1952 yielded 4827 ounces, 1956 yielded 326 ounces, 1962 yielded 272 ounces, 1963 yielded 430 ounces, and 1964 yielded 129 ounces, for a total production of 12,028 ounces. The price of placer gold ranged from $28.18 per ounce in 1952 to $29.96 per ounce in 1964. It is true that about $400,000 was recovered by dredging and hydraulicking.
According to the story, the miners had reached bedrock, where the long-sought mass of placer gold was believed to lie. Unfortunately, this bedrock lay in a saw-toothed, criss-cross pattern with deep crevasses between up-thrusting pinnacles of rock. Some of the fissures were 100 feet underwater, some peaks of the bedrock only 80 feet. The extreme depth of the pit itself was now a problem.
Among the ordinary nuggets they found, was a very curious one. It was unusually long, about the length of a man’s thumb, pointed at one end, and almost flat at the other end. After examining it, the manager ran to the pile of tailings at the end of the sluice where he found the rest of the nugget. It measured nearly 4 inches long and had apparently sheared off in the sluice.
One cannot help wondering how many more large nuggets like the last one still remain in that watery hole, as well as who eventually may have the good fortune of finding out. Someone eventually will beat fate and have a solution to the Gold Hole’s riddle. If you get the chance, visit the site for yourself. It is practically alongside the road to Bowron Lake, just beyond Wells. Then you can decide whether the story is FACT OR FICTION!
Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton