Nothing strikes the fancy, nor stirs the juices, like gold fever. Okay, platinum, diamonds, and silver perhaps – as well as agates, opal, jade and copper to mention a few more. But for the purist, however, it will always be the yellow metal. With the recent increase in the price of gold, famous gold camps around the world are getting a second look. One such area is the historic Bralorne gold camp, located about 120 km. northwest of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Interest in the historic Bralorne area dates back to the glorious days of the Cariboo Gold Rush 1858-1864. Before the Victoria Gazette and Victoria Colonist reported prospectors were searching the headwaters of the Bridge River in 1860, only Native Indians hunting and gathering various foods along with the odd trapper and the occasional grizzly bear visited the valley. It was reported that some 10,000 prospectors descended on the region to pan for gold in the creeks in the winter of 1859-60. Like other placer gold camps, astute prospectors sought the lode source of the placer gold – and found it.
In 1865, the Andrew T. Jamieson Expedition explored and examined the country situated between the “Chilcoaeten and Bridge Rivers.” Cadwallader Creek was named to honour the prospector-scout who discovered one of the richest gold strikes in the province. A water powered arrastra drag-stone mill operated on Cadwallader Creek until 1897 when William Young, Nat Coghlan and John Williams packed mining equipment into the Bridge River Valley from the town of Lillooet. By steamboat and packhorse through the rugged mountainous country via Seton Lake and Mission Mountain, three claims were struck – the Lorne, Golden and the Marquis. Together with 49 others, they formed the 1,200-acre holdings of Bralorne, and with the adjoining Pioneer Gold Mine, it would become what was called “The greatest lode operation in the world.”
In 1908, a telegraph line was completed that followed a trail over the McGillivary Creek Pass to Anderson Lake. Another route utilized by miners followed the Hurley River. It was known as, the Old Chilcoten Pass, or the Blue Grouse Trail. A wagon road to the town of Lillooet that followed the Bridge River was completed in 1909.
From 1897 to 1971, the Bralorne and Pioneer gold mines produced about 4.15 million ounces of lode gold and almost a million ounces of silver that, at today’s prices would be well in excess of US $1.5 billion. The mines had an excellent safety record and the town thrived even during the depression of the 1930’s. Although rather remote and situated in rugged mountain country, the Pioneer townsite featured a large recreation hall, restaurants, poolroom, hospital, library, theatre and even a 4,000 square foot dance floor. In 1942 the local bank was robbed for the second time with the robber getting off with $2,000 after tying up the manager. Fortunately, a Pacific Great Eastern crew captured him strolling along the railroad tracks. The cheerful community prospered until 1971 when low gold prices (US $35/oz.) forced the mines to close. Bralorne would become the last mine in BC to cease production.
At that time, the popular BC Ghost Town Series noted that “The mine was a mile in, a mile deep and its workings spread in a subterranean fan for one hundred miles.” The depth is equivalent to five Empire State buildings stacked on top of one another. At 2,000 feet below sea level the rock pressure at the bottom of the mine is incredible, and the temperature of about 130 degrees F. that made it literally and figuratively, one of the hottest mines in Canada.
Since the Bralorne and Pioneer closed due to low gold prices and not lack of gold, today, Bralorne-Pioneer Gold Mines Ltd., headed by Louis Wolfin and son David, is preparing to place the combined operations of the two mines back into production. The re-opening of the Bralorne and Pioneer gold mines is good news for the company as well as the local communities and is providing much needed employment.