Late Gold Miners on McDame Creek

Bill Plumb, Cassiar's Chief Geologist 1958-1974, remembered...

The placer gold rush on McDame Creek ended abruptly with the discovery of gold in the Klondike at Dawson City in 1896, but there was still more gold to be found there, both placer and lode -- always an attraction to prospectors. Bob and Violet Wilms were among the first of these. When the Alaska Highway was completed in 1942, a placer mining company built a tote road from Watson Lake to McDame Creek (about 20 miles east of the future location of Cassiar) where it enters Dease River (McDame Post) and started a dredging operation. Probably Bob Wilms worked for them, but when they closed down, Bob & Violet remained and continued to recover placer gold themselves. Bob operated a small sawmill there, which was useful in the early days of Cassiar. To sluice gold from a small tributary creek, he built a unique self-dumping "sluice dam". When the creek water filled the dam to a certain depth, the dam rotated and the backed up water poured into the sluice box, recovering the gold from shoveled in gravel. It seemed to work well.

Another old-timer who must have entered the area about the same time was Glen Hope, who had worked in a gold mine at Juneau in Alaska. He settled on Quartzrock Creek, a McDame tributary, five miles east of Cassiar and operated a small stamp mill to recover the lode gold visible in the walls of Wing's Canyon. When asked about his recovery, he always said "one ounce per ton". However he successfully raised a family there before and during the Cassiar operation. His son, John, became a pilot and continued the prospecting tradition.

In the mid 1870s, during the original McDame rush, a group of Chinese miners built a townsite at Centreville. about 10 miles east of the future Cassiar. Another old-time prospector, Joe Reed, built a cabin not far away and restaked some ground there. He contacted a junior mining company in Edmonton and they optioned his claims and tried to work them. But the Chinese had cleaned up very well and there was not much gold left. However, Joe had pre-arranged with them to get 10% of the actual gold recovered rather than the usual 10% of the profits, so he did alright, although the company went broke!

Just a mile or so upstream from Centreville, a syndicate headed by a Lawrence Meyers built a floating barge, on which they installed sluice boxes and a clamshell bucket on a crane to scoop up river gravels & sluice them. The idea seemed good and they may have recovered some gold, but there were too many large boulders in the creek bed and it did not last long.

Lawrence Meyers' Gold Barge, McDame Canyon
Contributed by Bill Plumb

Later, an interesting entrepreneur named George Zimmick and his wife, moved into the old abandoned log cabins at Centreville and started "sniping" for gold amongst the boulders he found along McDame Creek. That is process of recovering small nuggets of gold caught in veins in hard rock. He did manage to recover some gold, but he also found several boulders that contained a rose-pink manganese mineral called rhodonite. With a diamond saw, he recovered the rhodonite and with the gold nuggets he made articles of jewellery that he sold to Cassiarites. He was quite a personable fellow and did well as a hobby Thus, there are many unorthodox ways of making a living and enjoying your life away from civilization!

Len Werner, exploration geologist 1970-1973, remembered...

George Zimmick always made a comment about the Chinese miners that I remember well-- "They missed the benches."  One of the main ways he told me he recovered gold was by sluicing material from benches above the present creek bed, having guessed accurately that although the Chinese were extremely thorough they didn't, or couldn't, figure out a way to determine that earlier creek bed material now high and dry would also contain gold.  I also remember George's wife telling us that she'd never have believed, after casting moose droppings in resin and quite successfully selling them to tourists as paper weights, that if someone had told her years before that someday she'd be making a living walking around the bush picking up moose turds she'd never have believed them.

You might find interesting the Bob Wilms Party  page

This page was last edited Monday, February 02, 2015

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