The Bullion Pit Mine was an awe-inspiring wonder of man’s tenacity for extracting wealth from the ground in his hunt for gold. Located 5 kilometers west of Likely, the mine was in operation from 1892 to 1942.
The Bullion Pit was once called the Largest Hydraulic Placer Mine in the World, measuring over 3 kilometers in length, 800 feet wide, and over 400 feet deep.
During its peak, the Bullion consisted of 35 buildings, including a bunkhouse to accommodate 120 workers, cook shack, general store, hospital, blacksmith shop and stables. It consisted of 8 mining leases and over 446 acres of land on the west side of the Quesnel River. The mine boundaries extended 1.7 miles upriver from Quesnel Forks.
Gold was first found at this sight in 1870 by a small-scale miner of Chinese descent. Twenty-four years later, in 1894, the site was bought by J.B. Hobson from the Cariboo Hydraulic Mining Company. J.B. Hobson’s first order of business after purchasing the mine was to secure a vast water source for his hydraulic mining operation. Within a short period of time, a number of creeks and lakes in the surrounding area were soon under the control of the Bullion Mine. In order to divert enough water to the mine, an extensive system of ditches and reservoirs were built from Polley Lake and Bootjack Lake. The small canals measured 6 feet wide by 7 feet deep. These interlocking channels moved water quickly over 17 miles to the awaiting hydraulic monitors.
The immense water system took over 2 years to build as each canal was dug by hand. The total reservoir capacity was over 1 billion cubic feet of water, producing enough water to run the mine 24 hours a day, from April until August. It was rumored that the mine used more water each day than the city of Vancouver.
Later, an addition of 11 miles of ditches were added from Morehead Creek, eventually creating the present-day Morehead Lake, to increase the mines operations. Workers were instructed to build 12 cabins along the ditch for workers to live in, and these cabins were connected to the main camp by a private telephone system, enabling the Bullion Pit manager the ability to give orders to the water lock operators on how to regulate the flow of water.
After completion of the ditches, the company decided to dig deep to test its new hydraulic system, focusing on the original ground the Chinese miners had discovered. The company successfully pulled over $92,000 worth of gold from that previously mined area of the Pit. In the spring of 1900, the Bullion Pit swung into full production, removing over $350,000 in gold from the mine. In today’s terms, that would translate into over $20 million dollars of gold.
The value of gold recovered each year varied, depending upon how much water was available and how many times the mine changed hands. However, over it’s lifetime, the Bullion Pit Mine produced over 175,644 ounces of gold, equating to a whopping $218,676,780 in gold recovered!
The mine was finally abandoned in 1942, after many regulation changes made the recovery costs too high. Many years later, residents from Likely decided to repurpose the old Cook Shack, moving it into town where it still resides as the Local Community Hall.