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.