Grizzly Bears And Gold

The couple had finally tracked down their quarry, a huge grizzly. Delina took aim and fired. Hit and bleeding, the enraged bear rolled away down the slope with the Noels hard after him. A second shot crashed into it’s body. Delina with husband, Arthur, following, rushed in close and fired a third time. Incredibly the giant bear rose up to it’s full height, towering over them. The terrified Noels fired together and the bear went down for the last time.

Although it sounds like fiction, this is a true incident in the life of one of British Columbia’s most colorful pioneers, Mrs. Delina C. Noel. Delina Noel was born in Lillooet in 1880, the daughter of a B.C. pioneer. Her father, Joseph Litallien-Laventure, one of the famed Overlanders, had panned for gold at Barkerville before becoming a rancher at Twelve Mile on the Cariboo road.

In 1899 she married Arthur F. Noel, an American prospector. He had arrived on the Fraser five years before and with his partner Joe Copeland had discovered and staked the Golden Cache mine on Cayuse Creek. Enterprising Arthur had already founded the first weekly newspaper in Lillooet called the “Prospector” and was heading for the gold-rich mountains west of the Fraser.

Early in 1900, as a bride of a few months, Delina Noel journeyed by pack train into the Bridge River country. She travelled by way of Seton and Anderson Lakes and over McGillivray Pass. Something of the courageous and determined character of Delina becomes apparent when one considers the rugged nature of this country. She was by no means a spectator in the exploration and mining in the area. On the contrary she was very much a participant.

The now abandoned Noel cabin lies lonely and secluded, nestled out of sight on the green clad slope of the mountain above Bralorne. The three-room cabin, made of hand-hewn logs, seems as if it belongs in a Hollywood western. Surrounded now by a profusion of wild flowers and ringed with small aspens, it looks much as it did in 1916 when it was built.

Hidden in deep bush on the slope above the cabin is the entrance to one of the Noel’s mines. Just below it, the remains of their arrastra still stands, ragged against the blue mountain sky. An arrastra was a hpme-made water wheel device once used to mill the gold ore prior to the introduction of the newer and more efficient stamp mills. In the early days there were numbers of these arrastras in the Bralorne Valley.

The Noels, in building their cabin, used stones from the abandoned arrastras to construct their fireplace. With the help of “Big” Bill Davidson, a laborer who later made a fortune from the Minto mine, Delina collected specimens of all the various kinds of rocks in the valley. Gold-bearing quartz, chunks of jade and local granite formed the face of the fireplace. Though vandals have gouged most of the precious metals out of the rock over the years, it is still a handsome fireplace, dominating the south wall of the spacious log living room.

A small bedroom and a kitchen completed the Noel’s accommodation. Heavy grills outside all the windows were in place to guard against the prowling bears that were a constant threat in that high country.

Together the Noels purchased and sold many claims, and in addition to their own discoveries, they bought the Emmandale and Great Fox claims, combined them with other holdings and sold the “package” that became a key portion of the famous Pioneer Mine.

While Delina drew the line at actual underground work, she was an active partner in the family enterprises. At one point her husband was given an ultimatum by the men working one of their claims. He was told that if his wife did not stop coming to inspect their progress they would all quit. Arthur, however, backed his wife’s involvement and the “strike” failed to materialize.

As the mines developed she became more and more involved. In 19Û2 she was the mill superintendent of a 10-stamp mill at the Bend’ Or mine. During the First World War she ran the five-stamp mill at the Lorne Mine.

Running the mine made it necessary at times to travel to the coast, taking gold out or bringing supplies in. In those early days the trip was by the old BX stagecoach. At one time Delina even took her own gold brick by stage to the assay office in Vancouver. On another occasion she made a quick trip to Vancouver for a fresh supply of blasting powder. Her cargo was barged to Brittania and then brought by launch to Squamish.

There, at what was then the southern terminus of the PGE, she was told that regulations forbade carrying explosives on a passenger train. However, voluble Delina was in a hurry and not a woman to be thwarted. The train and it’s passengers were delayed for several hours until Delina finally gained permission to proceed with her cargo.

Mining and hunting were not her only accomplishments. She was a skilled trapper and one of the few women who could boast of wearing a mink coat made entirely of furs she had trapped herself. On Arthur’s death in 1946, Delina outfitted six old sourdough friends in new suits so they could carry his coffin in style. Indefatigable Delina continued prospecting alone. She spent her winters on the coast and returned as the snows melted to work her claims.

At the age of 70 she did admit to a friend that her doctor had advised her to take it easy. She complained that she was now “unable to lift boulders off the road.” Instead she had to “roll them off.”

In 1958, B.C.’s Centennial year, Delina was happily at work developing a copper-tunsten prospect high in McGillvray Pass. There word came that she was to be awarded a Centennial medal. Reluctantly, she agreed to take the time to go down to Lillooet for the award ceremonies recognizing “58 years of service to mining in B.C.”

After a series of heart attacks, Mrs. Delina Noel died in 1960 — at the age of 80. She probably never thought of herself as doing anything unusual. Yet it was she, and others like her, risking their lives and enduring many hardships, who discovered and opened up the riches of our vast province.

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