Column: The third Scotch Creek gold rush

By Jim Cooperman, Observer contributor

After three exploratory hikes in the Scotch Creek gold country, I look forward to at least another one because there are still more historical sites to document. So far, the remains of four Chinese cabins and more recent cabins have been located, along with many examples of old hand diggings including large piles of rocks, pits and channels. North Shuswap old-timer Larry Speed was my guide for a tour of the area near the forks, where as a youngster he had seen the abandoned placer mining operations that began in the early 1930s.

The 1936 Report of the Minister of Mines provides a map and details about 16 active claims and leases in the Scotch Creek valley during the third gold rush. Most of the work was done by hand using wooden flumes or pipes to provide the water needed to move the gravel off the banks and extract the gold with sluice boxes. These boxes were set at a slight angle and the gravel was shoveled in by hand and washed over riffles made of wood or steel that would trap the gold, with the tailings exiting the box at the lower end.

Thankfully, a prospector who has a current claim adjacent to the creek provided a government “property file” that contains a treasure trove of information and photos about the largest project, Scotch Creek Placer Mines Limited. This company was incorporated in 1935 after acquiring most of the remaining area from a half-mile below the forks to the Indian Reserve by the highway. Their camp included a number of cabins, an office and engine room and a large cookhouse.

A large hydraulic system was built utilizing 2,000 feet of pipes ranging in size from 12 inches to 8 inches to send water from Garnet Creek at high pressure to wash the gravel off the bedrock on the hillsides. According to another local old-timer, there was too much water pressure for the sluicing and some gold was lost in the tailings that ended up in the creek. In addition, the company had a 1-yard wood-burning dragline shovel with a 60-foot boom to excavate material in the creek bed. Larry remembers seeing the remains of this equipment partially buried in the creek.

To provide better access, the company built a wagon road to the forks along the route of an older trail that extended from the end of the Meadow Creek Valley above Celista. As well, a warehouse for the placer operation was constructed on crown land just beyond the original Sturdy Ranch. As the logging road on the west side of Scotch Creek had not been built yet, this road was the only way to bring in equipment and supplies.

In the 1935 placer mine prospectus, the company geologist claimed, “the ancient, gold-bearing gravels on the Pre-Cambrian bedrock are exceedingly rich in rough, coarse gold and good, gritty gold can be found in any of the gravels on your property.” He also went on to claim that the site was free of glacial action and the only one like it in Canada. A total of 150,000 shares were issued at a cost of $1 per share to cover the costs of the operations and purchasing the existing leases.

Also contained in the property file are letters and reports from a senior mining engineer and John Walker, the Provincial Mineralogist. All of the assertions in the prospectus were thoroughly disputed, “it is very doubtful if the rocks in that area are Pre-Cambrian and it is certainly untrue that they have not been denuded of their rich gold-bearing gravels, if any, by later glacial action” and “When the Chinese give up work on a stream it is doubtful if much pay-dirt remains for the small-scale operator.” The engineer also revealed that the old leases had not been purchased, but only optioned with monthly payments.

Given that their rationale for large-scale placer mining was seriously overstated and their techniques were flawed, it is no surprise that the company was not successful and was gone in just three years. Yet the small-scale miners continued to have limited success and some carried on operating in the valley until 1942, when the government suspended all gold mining for the war effort. According to the 1950 provincial Placer Mining Bulletin, a total of 480 ounces of gold worth $14,193 was recovered between 1931 and 1945. No doubt, there were some unhappy shareholders who lost money in what was just one more Shuswap mining scheme failure.

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