Bedwell River—known as Bear River at the time, was the focal point of much of the early mining activity ,with nine of the thirty-two mineral prospects of the Clayoquot Sound area mentioned in the Annual Report of the Minister of Mines for 1898 being located there.
Gold was first found in this river by a member of the party led by John Buttle of the Vancouver Island Exploration Company in 1865.The stampeders that flocked to the area in response to this report met with little success, but a group of Chinese persisted and found workable concentrations in a boulder-strewn section of the river about six miles upstream. It is reported that these Orientals left the area in a body in1886 because of, it was said, superstitious fear engendered by the sudden death of one of their number .Subsequent activity in the area was centred on the discovery of lode deposits of gold and base metals, rather than placer mining.
Deposits of copper-iron mineralization and gold-bearing quartz veins were discovered at Bedwell River as early as 1896 but this first boom petered out within a few years with production possibilities being developed at the time. Later a company with its head office in London, England, acquired a copper prospect on Big Interior Mountain, between Bedwell River and Drinkwater Creek, and proposed to put a mine into production with access from the Bedwell River side. Seven miles of wagon road were completed and materials for an aerial tramline landed at the head of Bedwell Sound when war broke out in 1914 and the crew abandoned the project to enlist. A slump in copper prices in 1918 and the difficult access discouraged further development of this property.
Interest in the area revived when gold-bearing veins were discovered on a tributary of Bedwell River seven miles inland in 1938. A boom of considerable proportions developed and two mines, the Musketeer and the Buccaneer were put into production, producing between them nearly 7,000 ounces of gold before being closed by war-time conditions in 1942. This area of the upper Bedwell River is within the boundaries of Strathcona Park and is now closed to mining. Elsewhere in Clayoquot Sound, small ore shipments were made from various mines and prospects at various times, the largest being 1,500 tons containing 60,000 pounds of copper, 3,544 ounces of silver and 569 ounces of gold from the Kalappa Mine on Meares Island in 1913.
The Indian Chief Mine at Stewardson Inlet, thirty miles northwest of Tofino, was a somewhat larger-scale operation with an integrated mill and concentrator. It was operated by the Tidewater Copper Company during the 1920s and again by Japanese interests shortly before the outbreak of World War II. Total production from this mine was 2,430,310 pounds of copper; 55,000 ounces of silver and 722 ounces of gold from 72,000 tons of ore.
During the 1960s interest was mainly in copper, but the Musketeer gold mine at Bedwell River was rehabilitated and operated for a brief period and 734 ounces of gold was produced at the Tofino Gold Mines operation near the head of Tofino Inlet. Also, during this same period between 1960 and 1964, the Brynnor Iron Mine to the east of the Clayoquot Sound area produced three million tons of iron concentrate. Since that time, most of the mining-related activity in the Clayoquot Sound area has been directed towards exploration for large mineral deposits rather than small-scale production.
This exploration activity was stimulated by the discovery of the Catface copper deposit in 1960. Subsequent drilling and underground drifting has indicated that it contains over 180 million tons of 0.35 per cent copper ore. No doubt the old-timers knew of this occurrence of low-grade mineralization — a malachite-stained bluff that can be seen from a boat out in the channel — but they wouldn’t have considered it as being ore. However, modern technology has proven similar deposits to be feasible to mine (Island Copper Mine at Port Hardy on Vancouver Island is an example). On the subject of exploration, reference can be made to the report prepared for the Clayoquot Sound Sustainable Development Strategy by Dr. N.C. Carter of Victoria which gives an estimate of $9.5 million spent on mining exploration in the Clayoquot Sound area between 1980 and 1989, in addition to an estimated expenditure of $10 million on the Catface copper project since the early 1960s.
Exploration activity has declined in recent years as a result of generally unfavourable economic conditions and particularly because of uncertainties over land use allocation. However, it can be expected that it will revive when conditions improve and there will be mining in the Clayoquot Sound area into the next century and beyond.
A production estimate of 40,000 dollars’ worth of fine gold is reported for the Bedwell River during the 1860’s through the 1890’s (Barlee, N.L. (1972-07-01): The Guide To Gold Panning In British Columbia). At a 1900’s value of approximately 19 dollars a troy ounce this would have equalled approximately 65.5 kilograms of gold.
During the late 1860’s through the 1890’s, the river was worked by a group of placer miners, reports range from 15 to 100 in total. In the early 1920’s, it is reported that J.H. Woodworth and Associates had placer claims at the head of the Bedwell River. Other placer workings are reported to be located near the mouth of You Creek. The entire river, excluding the lower 6 kilometres to tide water lies in Strathcona Park.