The Bridge River originates on Bridge glacier in the Coast Mountains of the Pacific Ranges, flowing generally eastward through very rugged, mountainous country, until it empties into the Fraser River about five miles north of Lillooet. Bridge River is roughly 200 miles above the mouth of the Fraser.
Miners first became interested in the Bridge River Valley in 1858, as Fraser River gold seekers swept northward. During the winter of 1859-60 an estimated 10,000 stopped at Lillooet to pan and sluice the rich gravels of the region. Near the mouth of Bridge River, just beyond Lillooet, they found gold that was much coarser than that recovered from the Fraser.
Before year’s end up to 200 miners were working a 35-mile stretch of the Bridge River with rockers. The gold, although coarser, was very difficult to extract as it wedged in cracks and crevices. By February, 1859, the number of frustrated prospectors had dwindled to 100, although new arrivals were on the way. One miner found a two-ounce nugget, and by March a shipment of gold consisting of about 115 ounces was shipped to Victoria. In May, an Indian prospector found a six-ounce specimen.
A shanty town called Bridgeport (more commonly known as Bridge River) soon appeared at the mouth of the river about 300 yards above the Fraser. It consisted of four stores, one restaurant and a bakery, a blacksmith shop and several tents. It was here that most of the miners who worked the lower reaches of the Bridge River, and the adjacent banks of the Fraser, congregated on Saturday and Sunday to relax. It was near here that two enterprising partners named Fraser and Davis constructed a 100-foot toll-bridge across the Fraser, at a cost of $1,500. In 1859, two prospectors, John Millar and his partner, not being able to pay the toll, were not permitted to cross. While putting in time they turned to placer mining in the middle of the Bridge River and recovered 1,450 ounces of gold, worth about $30,000 at the time.
A substantial part of the placer gold production from the Lillooet District came from the Bridge River, where paying deposits were found seventy miles above its mouth. Chinese miners formed a large portion of the influx to the new field and soon became the chief holders of claims. Many of the mines were dam and wing-dam operations. In addition, Indians were making considerable earnings working on the Bridge River, working in the rudest manner with the most inefficient implements. It was here the that many of them were found making an ounce a-day to the hand. Nodules of pure copper have been found in the bed of the river, indicating the existence of copper veins in the neighbouring banks.
In 1896, the Bridge River Gold Mining Co. developed a hydraulic mine at the Horseshoe Bend on Bridge River. In 1900 the Bridge River and Lillooet Gold Mining Company had 14 leases on the Horseshoe Bend, with twenty-five men employed. In 1901, the company continued developing infrastructure in preparation for hydraulic mining with 36 employees. The company began hydraulicking in 1902. In 1903 the scale of the operation was evident, a cut was washed out “700 feet in length by 250 feet in depth”. The erosion of this cut would have moved somewhere in the neighbourhood of more than 1 million cubic meters of gravel.
The Horseshoe Bend is located on Highway 40, along the Bridge River just south of the confluence of the Bridge and Yalakom Rivers. This is an interesting feature marked by a dramatic bend within the river. The canyon walls are laced with hoodoos and made up of deep sand and gravel deposits left behind by retreating glaciers. At first glance the Horseshoe Bend looks to be a marvel of nature, but in fact, it is a human made feature. This feature is sometimes called Horseshoe Wash, describing the way it was created through hydraulic mining for gold. Between 1908 and 1914 over 31,000 ounces of gold was extracted from this area, worth over $54 million dollars today!