Atlin became known as a productive Canadian placer gold camp in 1898, after the discovery by two prospectors, Miller and McLaren, who found placer gold in paying quantities on Pine Creek. Later gold seekers found impressive amounts of gold on adjacent creeks, notably Spruce, McKee, Otter, Ruby, Boulder and Birch Creeks, and lesser amounts on other Atlin area creeks.
Spruce Creek, the most productive placer stream, flows northwesterly into Pine Creek about 4 kilometers east of Atlin. The main creek is about 23 kilometers long with two 4-kilometer long branches at its head. Principal historic workings are in a five-kilometer section near the creek’s midpoint. Upper parts of the creek have been only marginally productive and local knowledge suggests that the contrasting qualities of “pay” reflect either a gold source located in the middle area or that glacial till deposits in that area have been sufficiently re-worked by stream action to concentrate the gold, whereas upper areas have not been similarly affected.
Spruce Creek placer gold in recent decades has been recovered by hydraulic and mechanized surface operations but by far the greatest amount of gold was recovered in the early 1900’s by underground mining methods. From 1896 to 1945, approximately 7,926,848 grams of gold were recovered from Spruce Creek making it the largest gold producer in Atlin. Records showing the exact amount of underground work are not available. Greater development on Pine Creek recently allowed it to become the largest gold producer in Atlin, overtaking Spruce in 1956.
Pine Creek Waterfall
Pine Creek, the discovery creek of the district, flows west from Surprise Lake and enters Atlin Lake about three kilometers south of the town of Atlin. The creek is about 20 kilometers long and has been mined more or less continuously from 1898 to the present. Operations have included both traditional sluice box efforts by individuals and very large scale, mechanized mining operations. Hydraulic mining was successful on this creek and relatively little underground work was done. Pine Creek is underlain by a belt of variably altered ultramafic rocks that extends westerly from Surprise Lake to the town of Atlin and that are in fault contact with the Upper Paleozoic Cache Creek Group. Where encountered in the Pine Creek placer operation areas, the ultramafics are reported as highly talc and serpentine altered. Approximately 4,017,917 grams of gold were removed from Pine Creek from 1898 to 1945, the second largest producer in the Atlin gold fields behind Spruce Creek. However, increased work more recently on Pine Creek allowed it to become the largest producer in the Atlin area from 1956 onward.
McKee Creek flows west and southwest into Atlin Lake about 14 kilometers south of Atlin. The creek is about 12 kilometers long and has been worked primarily in the middle third section of its length. Hydraulic mining started in 1903 and has accounted for most of the gold production. Some underground mining was conducted on the creek in the mid 1930’s. From 1898 to 1945, approximately 1,369,123 grams of gold were recovered from the creek making it the 5th largest producer in the Atlin Camp.
Otter Creek flows north into the west end of Surprise Lake about 17 kilometers northeast of Atlin. The main part of the creek is about 10 kilometers long with a west flowing spur at its southern end. The creek has been worked more or less continuously since the earliest Pine Creek discoveries in 1898. Production was by hydraulic and underground operations, most of which were located near the mouth of the creek. Three pay channels were reported: the first on bedrock, the second 10 meters above, and third 20 meters above the second. Like many creeks in the Atlin camp, the richest pay came from the first 1.8 to 2.4 meters of gravel above bedrock and from a meter or so of the often highly altered and weathered bedrock itself. Approximately 688,445 grams of gold were recovered from the creek between 1896 and 1945 making it the sixth largest producer in the Atlin area.
Ruby Creek flows south into the west end of Surprise Lake about 22 kilometres northeast of Atlin. The creek is about 10 kilometres long and braids into several streams at its mouth. Most of the gold was removed from the creek between 1898 and 1948 with both hydraulic and underground operations. Drifting was done on bedrock accessed by one main decline. All of the hydraulic work occurred at the lower end of the creek. Between the years 1906 and 1945, a total of 1,721,178 grams of gold were recovered, the fourth highest producer in Atlin.
The pay channel at Ruby Creek cuts through the Surprise Lake batholith of Late Cretaceous age. It is a large pluton covering about 1100 square kilometres and ranges in composition from monzonite to granite (fine-grained alaskite) to syenite containing minor biotite and no hornblende. The gravels overlying the pluton are up to 6 metres thick, and like many other streams in the area, have the richest returns in the bottom 2 metres immediately above bedrock. Capping the gravels is a 20 to 40 metres thick, columnar jointed, olive basalt flow covered by an additional 20 to 40 metres of air-fall ash material called scoria. The flow is about 100,000 years old.
Boulder Creek flows south into the west end of Surprise Lake about 17 kilometres northeast of Atlin. The stream is about 6 kilometres long and braids into three separate streams near its mouth where most of the placer work has been done. From the years 1898 to 1945, 1920 kilograms of gold were taken from the creek. The creek was extensively hydraulic mined at the lower end and has received a resurgence of work in the 1980s. It is the third largest producer in Atlin.
Most of the gold was taken from the lower end of the creek and very little at the upper end where it flows over the batholith. There is significant placer wolframite in Boulder Creek and several wolframite showings in areas surrounding the headwaters of the creek.
Hydraulic mining was done on Boulder Creek from 1927 to 1941 and produced most of the gold recovered from the creek. A dam was built on the upper reaches of the creek to supply water for operations lower down.
Birch Creek flows south into Pine Creek less than 2 kilometres west of Surprise Lake and about 15 kilometres northeast of Atlin. The creek is about 9 kilometres long and was worked for about a 3.5 to 4 kilometre length starting from about 1 kilometre above its junction with Pine Creek. Hydraulic methods were used a great deal on Birch Creek and 386,859 grams of gold were recovered on the creek from 1896 to 1945. It was known for its unusually coarse gold. It is the 8th largest producer of placer gold in the Atlin camp.
Total Gold production from the Atlin Creeks from 1898 to 1946, is recorded as 634,147 ounces.