Experience the History of Canadian Gold Rush: How We Panned Gold in Rockies
As a teenager, I was captivated by the stories of Jack London and his experiences during the Klondike Gold Rush. Growing up, I read his books and was always fascinated by the idea of visiting the Yukon River and Dawson City. When I moved to Canada, I realized that this dream could become a reality.
I decided to do some research and discovered that the Klondike Gold Rush was not the only one that took place in North America. Another significant rush occurred in British Columbia, just a few hours from Calgary. During the gold rush in British Columbia, prospectors flocked to the region in search of their fortunes. The rush began in 1858 with the discovery of gold in the Fraser River and quickly spread to the Cariboo region. The gold rush brought thousands of people to the area, including many Chinese immigrants who played a significant role in the development of the region.
I was intrigued and decided to learn more. Through my research, I found out that gold panning is still a legal activity and that while the rich deposits have been depleted, it's still possible to find a few grams of gold in a day, though it's considered a lucky day.
The history of the gold rush and the opportunity to pan for gold in the same rivers and creeks where the prospectors of the past found their fortunes, makes for an exciting and unique experience!
One weekend, my friends and I decided to take a break from the city and explore the beautiful British Columbia. Our destination was Fort Steel, a historical town that was established and later disappeared due to the gold rush. Today, it serves as an open-air museum with a public recreational panning area.
While the museums were interesting, we wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the gold rush and the people who lived it. We searched online and found out that there was a man who still owned a claim and lived by gold mining. We were excited by the idea of talking to him and spending time with him, learning about his experiences firsthand. Although we didn't have any contacts or up-to-date information, we were ready for an adventure and to explore the unknown!
We set out on an adventure, armed with only approximate GPS coordinates and a general idea of who we were searching for. It was a 30-minute drive from the end of the paved road to the location where we spotted a sign. The sign warned us that we were being recorded by a camera, and just 100 meters ahead, we stumbled upon a scene of equipment, a trailer, several trucks, and two dogs. As we stood there in confusion, the owner of the property emerged.
He was a man in his 50s or 60s, dressed in a t-shirt and shorts with shiny green rubber shoes on his feet. At first, he seemed a bit grumpy, but after a brief conversation, he smiled and became more welcoming. My wife, who had studied geology in university, asked him about his mineral collection that was displayed on a barrel, and that's when we discovered Steve's passion.
As soon as we showed an interest in learning more about the place and how he lived, Steve eagerly shared his knowledge of the geology of the area, the history of the Gold Rush, and today's gold mining. Although he isn't a professional geologist, Steve loves his mountains and knows a lot about them. What was great about our conversation was that he shared not just academic facts, but the personal story of the place - something you can feel, touch, and see.
Steeve welcomed us with open arms to pan for gold at his creek, with one small catch: we had to steer clear of the spot where he was panning himself. All of his machines were silent as he was waiting for a new license, so he was back to the old-fashioned way of panning with just a shovel and pan.
The creek was tiny, measuring only 5 meters wide and no more than 30 centimeters deep in most places. It carved its way through the mountain slope, down to the bedrock and gently washed away its banks. Over time, more material was carried away, leaving behind deposits of gold in the stream.
Unfortunately for us, most of these deposits had been cleaned out long before we arrived, and all that was left were forgotten flakes in cracks and untouched material in the banks. But Steeve, being the expert that he was, showed us the spot where he had been working for the past few weeks.
He had found a promising looking area on the side of the creek where the bedrock seemed rich. He built a dam to redirect the flow of water away from the work area and then meticulously removed all the stones and rocks to expose the bedrock. With a twinkle in his eye, he said "if you're lucky, you might find a nugget or two, but don't get your hopes up, I've been working this spot for weeks and all I've got is a handful of gold dust and sore back."
Steeve was on a mission, hunting for gold in the cracks and crevices of the creek bed. He used a plastic box with a transparent bottom to see everything under the water, and small tools like a screwdriver and a stick to remove every grain of sand in search of the elusive glitter of gold.
It's a strange thing, gold panning. You can move tons of rocks, working for days or even weeks, and come up with nothing more than a handful of worthless sand. But, on the other hand, you might strike it lucky and find a nugget that's worth more than your annual salary. It's a game of chance, where you have a 100% chance of being just a few meters away from a valuable nugget without even knowing it.
Steeve told me the story of the biggest nugget he ever found, it weighed about 2 ounces. They were working on a new spot, using machines to clear the area down to the bedrock, but decided to do the final clearing by hand. His partner was using a pick to break up a rock when he spotted something shiny and small. He uncovered it, and there it was, a beautiful nugget. Steeve said with a chuckle "It's a funny thing, gold. You can work hard all day and find nothing, or you can hit the jackpot with one lucky strike."
We have spent most of the day in the Creek and on its banks. We were panning sand, scratching the creek banks, digging, and looking into the pan. It’s a physically hard job, sand and rocks are heady, and water is cold. The most surprising for me was that you need to clean all the cracks on the bedrock, as many gold flakes are deposited there. After you collect enough material you go to the river and wash it for several minutes in the water, and surprise surprise, your fingers are getting cold very fast! After all, you have a handful of sand on the bottom and probably some gold. You slowly wash the sand out and keep looking for shiny pieces. After all, you usually get a clean pan with nothing in and the biggest question is….. Was there no gold or you just washed it away.
This is a kind of casino, but without an owner who is taking your money. You are gambling with nature that doesn’t care about you. You are mostly gambling against yourself. You know exactly, that the chance to find a nugget for you is so small that it is almost 0. You know for sure that you will spend way more money on food, gas, and tools than you can yearn with gold sand. You can go and pan in the nearest river and the final result will be more or less the same, but your mind does not work that way. You keep panning with the golden nugget in your mind, you are waiting for it, and you dream that probably this shovel will be the one.
One of the advantages of this casino is that there is little risk of losing all your money, selling your house to pay off debt, and ending up homeless. Spending time in nature, away from technology and distractions, allows you to have ample time to think and listen to the soothing sounds of the forest and river. Additionally, it's easy to make new friends, especially when you know how to initiate small talk and have topics to discuss over a beer. Many people need a reason to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of nature, and this casino provides many activities such as hiking, panning, fishing, hunting, and more. I personally enjoy duck hunting as it's very similar to me. Watching the sunrise in the middle of a wetland or near a forest lake is an incredible experience, but it can be challenging to wake up at 3-4 am and walk there to watch it. This casino offers an additional motivation for you to do so. Panning for gold is not a goal, but rather a way to appreciate and enjoy nature.
Today was a fantastic day. While finding a small flake of gold was exciting, the true value of the experience was understanding the gold rush and the work that went into it. Spending hours at the creek gave us a deeper understanding of the history of the place. Additionally, being in the mountains of British Columbia, surrounded by the stunning but rugged nature, gave us a better appreciation of the harsh conditions the gold miners had to endure. And let's be real, all that panning made our arms feel like they were made of solid gold.
Furthermore, the highlight of the trip was meeting Steeve. On any journey, the people you meet are often more important than the sights you see. Steeve is a person who has chosen to live his life in a way that aligns with his passions, and that is truly inspiring. It's rare to find someone who is not afraid to pursue their dreams, and that's what impressed me the most. Most people tend to follow the crowd instead of following their own aspirations, but Steeve is the exception, he is living his best life, panning for gold and drinking beer by the river, what's not to love?
About Travel Real Canada
Travel Real Canada is a family-owned tour company that specializes in providing private tours of beautiful Alberta. We pride ourselves on their personalized and intimate approach to tour guiding, with the goal of making each tour a unique and memorable experience for their clients.
We offer a wide range of tour options, including hiking and sightseeing tours, all tailored to the needs and interests of their clients. With the private tours, we are able to adapt to the customer's needs and can make sure that everyone has a great time.
Their tour guides are knowledgeable, passionate, and friendly, with a deep understanding of the local area and its history. They are able to provide interesting and informative commentary on the sights and landmarks visited during the tour. The guides are also able to make the tour a fun and interactive experience for the whole family.
Travel Real Canada is committed to environmental conservation, using eco-friendly transportation such as fuel-economy vehicles or bicycles whenever possible. We also make sure that their tours are safe, using well-maintained equipment and well-planned itineraries. With the company's commitment to customer satisfaction, safety, and environmental conservation, you can be sure that your tour with them will be an unforgettable one.