Mother Too ? PLACER MINING IN WELLS, BC

Mother Too. What kind of headline is that for an article in a mining special? Well, it is the name, my identifying stamp on a placer claim. It is 12 kms west of Wells (major hard rock mining town of the 30?s and 40?s) and 20 kms from the historic placer mining capital of BC ? Barkerville. You see ? I am a woman and the Mom to four children and Gran to five and I am more than that – hence the ?Too?.

It all started around the pool table at the local Legion where gold is talked about by those who long after it. A friend who sometimes ?stakes? for a living, mentioned to me that there was this really great ground that was open, that he had staked it before anyone else could, but did not want to keep it for himself. We shook hands and the deal was made ? I was going to be the sole tenure holder of a plot of land on Forty Thieves creek. Actually, at that time, there were four claims together and the intention was change it into a lease.

Why was it such a find? A ?v? shaped valley, transacted by a larger glacier. On one side, the highest paying creek running into Lightening Creek, on the other – the second highest. And if that is not enough, it is directly across from the last claim of one William Barker, aka ?Billy Barker?. His claim was one that a bunch of miners had ?grubstaked? him for, folks that at one time or other when Billy was flush, he had helped. At his time of little or no funds, they got together and returned the favour. (See another article in this publication for further information on this man and the town named for him – Barkerville ? the reason we became the province of British Columbia and then a part of Canada)

We only had a day to register the staking in order for me to have the claim, so into town we went. As we stood in the line up at the Government Agents office, we realized that we did not have the tag numbers on the papers we had. Did we panic? Heck no, we headed over to the Billy Barker and had some liquid gold in order to regroup, and we did. I called my son, who hitchhiked out to where the notes were, broke in (carefully, since he had permission) got the information, walked nearly three kilometres back to Wells where he called us with the numbers. We raced across the street, filed the papers, paid the piper, and still had almost five minutes to spare. Yes, we went back to the ?Billy? to celebrate!

Here is where it starts to sound like a fishing story ? For the first years I worked most of the places that I figured the gold ?wasn?t? or I did not think that I was able to work and then got my friend to stake one new claim for me, where I hoped the gold was. Historically the old boys could not mine the top end, as there was not enough water for them to work it. Later on, even with the advancement of equipment and technology, the steep terrain prevented the gravels from being worked with machinery. Within the last 10 years, the timber was taken out with a high lead operation.

So, I ?hand bomb? – I pan. I dig and then fill 5 gallon buckets take them to the creek where I hope to hear the nuggets before I ever see them. One day I received a phone call from a fellow in the Ministry of Mines, he was questioning my report. He wanted to know why I thought I could claim the panning work done by my three daughters. ?Well? I said, ?The oldest is a Canadian National Youth Champion, as is the next one, and the youngest won in the Child category. They can pan as fast as or faster than quite a few adults?. ?Fine? he said, ?I?ll allow it?. The next year I joined them in having the coveted wood carved plaque as I won the Canadian National Gold Panning Championship – Adult division. Since I won that title, I was invited to participate in the Pro division, which was against some National and World Champions. Given that I had competed every year without winning anything this was even more of thrill ? knowing the level of competition I was up against. I fared well though – I have a soapstone sculpture of a gold panner that proves I came in third.

To keep a claim in good standing one must do at least $500.00 worth of work, have the diaries / reports and pictures to prove what you have done, then pay $100.00 to register all of it. My little book that I take to the claim with me is filled with all kinds of information: times and mileage; the location of the work I do; a note so that I can later plot it on the map that I must include with my report; who if anyone is with me; what the gravel looks like; and anything else I can think of. Folks have told me that my claim book entries are a little different from the ?norm? but then I had practice in all those teenage years of mine. Who would have thought writing in a diary would be a useable skill for gold mining?

Another thing that I do which is a little unique, I ?dowse?. Yes, like witching for water (which I do as well), I normally use welding rods, the first three inches bent at a ninety degree angle to lay across my palms, so it looks like the letter ?L?. I hold onto the short part. Then I walk, usually in a grid pattern, watching and feeling the rod ends move ? together, apart, either the same way, or not moving at all. When there are strong indications of either gold or water it is ?flagged? with surveyor?s tape. Although I may talk to others about what has happened when I dowse for someone, it is always in general terms and of course, no details are shared. Yes, I have done my own claim. One time an older fellow (94) came to see if he wanted to buy the claim from me, he followed me with a metal detector, we mostly agreed on findings except I had the advantage of having an indication of the underground waterways. Afterward we agreed I would keep the claim, I had more information and did not want to sell it, and he realized it was for a ?younger? person who could work without machines.

It?s ironic that in the town of Wells which is known for its hard rock mining history that most of the ?gold? conversation in the local coffee shops and pubs these days is from those who mine placer gold. The placer miners start coming back as soon as the snow goes and they can have access to their claim, and then leave once the water starts to freeze, just as they did in Barkerville?s heyday. The other parts of ?gold? conversations revolve around the exploration work done by International Wayside Mines, who are once again seeking out, proving up, and selling shares in the next hard rock motherlode (we hope).

The town of Wells, there is a new ?rush? there, a different kind of gold ? the people, the culture of an industrial based town meeting the future, using the historical connections to find and develop businesses in the heritage, arts, outdoor adventure and tourism resources. There is the Art Rush Gallery located in the old telegraph office and instead of the Island Mountain Mine ? it is Island Mountain Arts (imarts.com) The ?Amazing Space? Gallery used to have Amazing Grace sang there when it was the Catholic Church. There is the Sunset Theatre which is still a wonderfully functioning live performance space, and yes it serves it?s popcorn with real butter.

There are world-class entertainers performing in the Wells Barkerville area, and I can take the kids, enjoy the show and walk home. I have been in Wells for most of twenty-four years; I am a single parent who raised four children there, with the help of the entire town. Just recently, we said goodbye to ?Esso Dave? and I realized the feeling of ?family? that the town has given me. Dave Williams was one of three ?boys? who built the new Curling Rink. The other two were Evan Williams, his brother and Charlie Hubensky. That Curling rink is a major link of the past to the present and to the future, which is one of the things I think the area is about, and it has a golden lining for all to discover.

These very things helped me to have my own claim, folks to answer questions without making me feel stupid, telling me why the sluice box was not working, patting my hand and explaining that the big chuck of ore was not gold bearing but hey, it was a nice rock.

Why do I still have the claim? The hope that I will find ?it?, maybe, but I am able to talk to people who come to Barkerville with firsthand knowledge (in present day) of what it?s like to be out there on the claim. With hands and feet freezing and wet, tired cranky hungry, thinking for some reason I?ll find what the old boys could not, or did not (which is my real hope) and going out and doing it another day. Legitimate, hands on, sweat inducing, no ?house?, gambling.