MINING IN ATLIN, BRITISH COLUMBIA, 1898-1908
By ROSALIND WATSON YOUNG, Victoria, BC.
Originally published in The Journal of the Canadian Mining Institute, 1909 (Vol. XII)
An attempt will be made in the following pages to give the history of mining in Atlin, British Columbia, for the past ten years.
During that period, from streams draining an area of less than fifteen square miles, about six millions of dollars have been obtained. It must be remembered that an exact estimate of the gold extracted can only be approximated. The Provincial Government levies a two per cent. mineral tax upon all output exceeding two thousand dollars; and the annual output is computed largely, though not solely, on the amount for which royalty has been paid. As may be supposed, each year a great deal of gold passed out of Atlin without being declared for royalty, hence without being in any way recorded.
The following figures are obtained from the reports of the
Minister of Mines.
PER CAPITA YIELD OF GOLD.
This total furnished by the Government is a conservative one and personally the writer does not hesitate to place the total output at six millions. As the average number of men actually engaged in mining has each year been about six hundred, the per capita yield of gold has been one thousand dollars.
Attention is directed to the small returns for 1908, which are accounted for by the fact that, of the three largest companies, one did not operate, and the remaining two operated to a limited extent being engaged in improving their water systems.
DISCOVERY OF GOLD.
Prior to 1898, nothing was known of Atlin beyond its being a country of lakes and mountains in far Cassiar. The manuscript map of George Davidson explaining the "Map and Trails of the Chilkaht Chief, Koh-klux, 1852" shows a lake called "Aht-leen" - the original form, evidently, of the word Atlin.
In the spring of 1898, Fritz Miller, a German, and Kenneth MacLaren, a Canadian, left the Klondyke trail at Bennett and crossing the ice of Taku Arm and Lake Atlin found themselves on Pine Creek. Six miles from the mouth of the creek they staked Discovery claim. Development has proved this the most enriched area so far uncovered, the southern bench showing no sign of exhaustion.
To secure supplies the two prospectors made their way to Juneau, Alaska. On their return they were followed, and by August Thirteenth news of the "Gold Strike" reached the Government at Victoria. Before the Autumn of that year, three thousand people, it is estimated, had rushed to the camp and all available ground was staked. It is noteworthy that all the creeks that have been gold producers were staked that first summer. Some have been abandoned several times and restaked but have not yet reached the productive stage, though viewed as good prospects. The results of that first season's work could not be ascertained but have been estimated officially at seventy-five thousand dollars ($75,000).
Only four hundred people wintered in Atlin, but in the following spring there were thousands of new arrivals.
The first locators were uncertain whether Atlin was in British Columbia or the Northwest Territories, and the Mounted Police claimed it for the Territories. Now a placer claim in the latter was 250 feet, and in British Columbia 100 feet. When, therefore, it was established that Atlin was in British Columbia, the 250-foot claims were "jumped" and abundant material was prepared for years of litigation.
Another trouble befell the new camp when in 1899 the British Columbia Government passed an amendment to the Placer Act, excluding all who were not British subjects from holding claims. This "Alien Bill," as it was called, was disallowed within a year, but already harm had been done. Soured with the place, hundreds of aliens had left. The absence of experienced miners became marked. Capital was withdrawn and has ever since been shy.
At first all matters of dispute had to be referred to the Government at Victoria. In 1899, a Special Commissioner was sent by the Government to Atlin to settle disputes. Subsequently a Supreme Court judge visited Atlin each summer. In 1904, Atlin was made a county for judicial purposes. Since the appointment of a County Court judge, it has become unnecessary for a Supreme Court judge to visit the camp. After the first few years the powers of the Gold Commissioner were enlarged, so that he could adjudicate upon many mining matters.
With the exception of what has come from McKee Creek, practically all the placer gold of Atlin has been derived from the Pine creek valley, which is a wide valley extending some twenty-five miles eastward of Atlin Lake, and flanked to north and south by low ranges. The valley is drained by Surprise lake and Pine creek with their tributaries, - Ruby, Boulder and Birch on the north; Wright, Otter, Gold Run, and Spruce on the south.
In 1899, the Geological Survey was represented by J. C. Gwillim, B.Sc., who made a log and compass traverse of the lakes, and a paced survey of the country travelled by land. In his excellent report he shows that the "Gold Series" consists of magnesite, serpentine, peridotite, and actinolite slate. Intrusions of granite cut this series off on the north; to the south are quartzites, slates and limestone. Most of the gold has been found in the Gold Series, a little in the slates, and almost none in the granite.
STUDY on GRAVELS DESIRABLE.
Practically no work has been done in the District by the Survey since 1899. The field is a most interesting one for the study of gravels, and great assistance would be rendered the miners by having skilled geologists investigate the old water courses.
There have been several runs of gold but the richest and most widespread occurs in the "old yellow deposit" of pre-glacial origin. At first, both on Pine and Spruce creeks blue gravel was found overlying the yellow, but as work advanced on the benches the blue gravel disappeared leaving only the yellow.
The average value of the gold is twenty dollars an ounce.
RELATIVE VALUE OF CREEKS.
The leading creeks, in order of production, have been Pine, Spruce, and Boulder. The following table, compiled from Government Reports, shows the amounts upon which royalty was paid in the various years from 1899 to 1908 :-
Pine and Spruce, the largest producers, differ in this respect, that while the bulk of the gold from the former has been won by companies, from the latter it has been secured by individuals and partnerships.
For the first three years 1898, 1899, 1900, ordinary placer methods were employed. Especially for two and a half miles on Spruce creek, Chinese pumps, waterwheels, drains, ditches, sluice boxes and wingdams crowded each other. Pick and shovel work produced good results.
SIZE OF PLACER CREEK CLAIM.
It did not take long to find out that 100-foot claims were too small to mine, and stack tailings upon. So in 1901, the size of the placer claim was increased to 250 feet square. Time proved that even this was inadequate. In many cases, it was only by consolidation of claims that work could proceed smoothly. When owners of adjoining properties disregarded the "give and take" principle, mining was impossible. Bench owners had to wait till creek claims had been worked out before they could get their share either of water or dump.
In 1906, the Placer Act was amended to make the width of the claim from base to base of the hill and 250 feet in the direction of the stream.
1000 FT. X 250 FT.
Difficulty in determining what was the base of the hill when slide-material was present, led to an amendment in 1908, making the placer claim 1000 ft. wide and 250 feet in the direction of the stream. This change appears to have given satisfaction.
HYDRAULIC LEASES HELD FOR SPECULATIVE PURPOSES.
The shallow ground was soon worked out and it became necessary to instal hydraulic plants. Already there had been much staking of hydraulic leases. Such leases are not supposed to be granted, for ground that can be worked by simpler placer methods. Through fault of the Gold Commissioner, some such leases were granted and tedious law suits resulted. In many cases leases were held purely for speculative purposes. In the years 1899, 1900, 1901, two hundred and fifty-eight hydraulic leases were issued. During the last five years the government has rigidly enforced the cancellation of all leases which did not comply with statutory conditions. In all, two hundred and fifty-three leases have been cancelled, whereby much ground has been thrown open for restaking.
Hydraulic methods were inaugurated in 1900. Although other phases of mining have since been tried, none have been more successful than hydraulicking. Three companies that have operated on a large scale are: North Columbia Gold Mining Co., Pine Creek; Amalgamated McKee Creek Mining Co., McKee Creek; Société Minière de la Colombie Britannique, Boulder Creek.
NORTH COLUMBIA GOLD MINING CO.
The most extensive hydraulic operations are conducted on the south bench of Pine Creek, opposite the town of Discovery, by the North Columbia Gold Mining Company. This company was formed in 1904 and has secured the controlling interest of the Pine Creek Power Company, which was originally the Sunrise Hydraulic Partnership. Rich ground was purchased adjoining the upper leases of the Pine Creek Power Company.
Ordinarily three pits are worked and four giants with seven-inch nozzles are used in each pit, three to drive the gravel into the sluice, and one to trim the dump. It has been found that the water is much more effective when it drives the gravel than when streams play upon the face and the back wash carries the gravel to the sluice. The pits are double-compartment with two lines of sluice, so that when one sluice is being cleaned, piping goes on in the other compartment. Thus time is saved, which is a secret of success. In a country where the season is short it is imperative that the water should be fully utilized if work is to be profitable. The North Columbia company each year extends its working season hopeful that it may yet secure seven to eight months work, i.e., April to November.
The depth of gravel is about 45 feet, consisting of 5 to 6 feet of top soil and loose gravel, 15 feet blue glacial clay, 14 to 26 feet yellow gravel. Bedrock is magnesian and so soft that it can be cut down about four feet. It is thirty feet above the level of the creek. The gold values are in the yellow gravel, especially the five feet nearest bedrock. The whole deposit, barren clay inclusive, runs about 40 cents per cubic yard.
Owing to the compact character of the gravel, and the low pressure of water hitherto available, blasting on a large scale has been necessary. In a single blast 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of seventy-five per cent. powder were used, the method being to run drifts and T's, so that charges of powder could be placed every twenty-five feet over the whole area of ground to be blasted. The biggest charges, about two hundred pounds each, were placed at the back of the drifts. Time and labour were saved and the efficiency of the blast increased by using water for tamping. To outward appearance the blast was a failure, but when piping began the good effect was apparent. The gravel was found to be perfectly shattered and the washing of it as easy as surface stripping.
Though efficient, such blasting was costly. In future, it will be unnecessary, it is hoped, because the volume and pressure of the water have been increased. In 1906 a crib dam was constructed across the lower end of Surprise Lake, which is a natural reservoir, fifteen and a half miles long by three miles wide.
DITCH OF 15,000 INCH CAPACITY.
In 1907 and 1908 a ditch five miles long, 26 feet wide at a minimum depth of 6 feet, and capacity of carrying 15,000 miner's inches of water, was excavated by means of a one-yard dipper shovel. Hence this company is now in a very enviable position having abundance of water, with the "old yellow deposit" extending to unknown distances.
McKee creek is in possession of two companies, the Amalgamated McKee Creek Company, and the McKee Consolidated Hydraulic Company, under one management. The "Amalgamated" bought out the Atlin Mining Company or Nimrod Syndicate.
The output from this property is reported to have been $232,000.
In 1908, the water supply was increased. A steam shovel, an electric haulage system, and a washing plant near the lake, are now contemplated.
La Société Minière de la Colombie Britannique installed its plant on Boulder creek in 1901. Its success has been varied as may be gleaned from the following amounts upon which royalty was paid:-
For some time, there was bad feeling between this company and the "individual miners" of the creek, on account of tailings. In the end the company secured a perpetual injunction restraining certain miners from ground sluicing. If expenses were kept as low as possible, this company should prosper.
On Birch creek the output is limited by the water supply. In 1908, the hydraulic company had water enough for only two hours' piping in every twenty-four; nevertheless they uncovered over 4,000 square yards of bedrock and obtained $10,000. What is required is capital to improve the water system.
The success in placer-dredging met with in Oroville, California, was so conspicuous that hopes ran high that a dredge was the proper device for handling the Atlin gravels. The trial was made by two companies - the British America Dredging Company and the British Columbia Dredging Company.
The British America Company installed its dredge on Gold Run in 1903 and operated it in 1904 and 1905. The British Columbia Company completed its dredge in 1905, operating it 58 hours in that year, and one month in 1906.
Both dredges were built by Bucyrus Company, of Milwaukee, at an approximate cost of $100,000 each, and were electrically equipped, of endless chain type, with theoretical capacity of 3,000 yards a day. The British America dredge was originally intended for leases at the mouth of Pine creek, but as miners drifting on Gold Run had done exceptionally well, it was decided to purchase ground there, that there might be every opportunity of success. Digging began in 1904. The ground proved to be 32 feet in depth, consisting of 8 feet surface dirt, 3-8 feet yellow gumbo, boulders and cemented gravel to bedrock, and bedrock hard. By the close of the season little gold had been recovered, and the buckets were in a battered condition, all requiring new lips.
In 1905, the dredge was taken from winter quarters and placed in repair. A Keystone drill, meanwhile, made holes for blasts. The holes were about 40 feet apart and 25 pounds of 75 per cent. powder were used for each blast. As a result the digging capacity of the dredge was at least double of the previous year; but even so, it dug only one-tenth of its theoretical capacity. The gross yardage was about 30,000 yards. The working season was cut short by the breaking of the main driving shaft andof the grizzly
shaft. Though the shafts were repaired, it was deemed advisable after finishing the cut then engaged upon, to dig a hole for beaching the boat. The actual run was about 88 days. Operating expenses amounted to $18,000. What gold was recovered was not announced but was known to be inconsiderable.
The British Columbia dredge on Spruce creek was in every way - save results! superior to that on Gold Run. It was of open-connected type, with 32 buckets on the chain, each bucket having a capacity of 7½ cubic feet.
In its proportions it was similar to the Gold Run dredge, being 90 feet long and 45 feet wide. Its superiority lay in the size and open-connected type of the buckets, in having a main driving belt instead of a sprocket chain, in the strength of its machinery, in the gold saving appliances, and in the disposal of the tailings - the Gold Run dredge had no stacker.
The boat was built in 1905, a fine piece of workmanship, and made a test run of 58 hours, the gross yardage being 10,000 yards. The gravel was 14 feet deep containing immense boulders. Beneath this was a false bedrock of clay, underlain by a glacial deposit of undetermined depth.
At the conclusion of one month's work in the following season, dredging operations were discontinued. The boulders were too numerous and the gold was not being saved. In the end the boat was dismantled, the machinery shipped to Dawson, and the hull left to show how the money of investors had been ruthlessly squandered. Had the first dredge been placed on the modern gravels at the mouth of Pine creek, as was originally intended, there would most surely have been a happier story to tell. Where dredging has been most successful, the gravel is loose and free from large boulders, bedrock soft, and the gold fine and uniformly distributed. Neither at Gold Run nor at Blue Canyon, Spruce creek, did the ground conform to these conditions.
The only valuable asset left to the B. A. D. Company, is the
power-house that was built on Pine creek below the Falls.
The steam shovel was the next experiment, and a more successful one. In 1905 The Northern Mines Limited purchased three-quarters of a mile of the richest part of Spruce Creek, which prospected two to four dollars per cubic yard, and thereon installed a 26-ton traction wheel shovel manufactured by the Vulcan Iron Works of Toledo, Ohio. Though the capacity of the shovel was theoretically a thousand cubic yards a day, in actual practice it was three hundred to four hundred yards, the gravel being sixteen to thirty feet deep. The first season promised success, but owing to limited capital, the company economized by purchasing a second-hand boiler and hoisting plant, with the result that only one skip could be operated, thus causing shameful waste of time. In the second season there was friction in the local management. An unskilled crew was "hard" on the shovel. Breaks occurred: and shutting down for repairs with twenty men on the payroll at five dollars a day, was expensive work. The season closed with the company in arrears for wages and supplies. But the failure was not due to the shovel, which had satisfactorily handled the gravel.
Meanwhile a more powerful shovel had been installed by the Atlin Consolidated Mining Company (Guggenheim capital) on Tar Flats, situated on the north bench of Pine Creek, about a mile above Discovery. The shovel was a 70-ton Bucyrus; 1¾ yard dipper. For the digging engine, one hundred horsepower was required; for the swinging and dipper engines thirty horse-power each. The fuel used was wood, of which five to six cords was the daily consumption. There were four dipper teeth, sixteen inches long when new, but constant friction soon wore them down. The boom was long enough for a cut forty feet wide.
Digging began August 15th, 1906, and continued until September 18th, during which time 12,100 car loads of dirt were discharged into the sluice, making a rate of 1,500 cubic yards per day; for in the given period the shovel was shut down on one occasion for four days and on another for five days. The record run was 468 cars or 1404 cubic yards in nine hours.
The height of the working face was 18 feet. The gravel was yellow, compact, uniform, with few boulders too large for the dipper. Bedrock was serpentine mixed with soapstone, soft enough for the shovel to dig into two to three feet. No blasting was necessary the first year, but was found advisable the second season. Cuts were made 900 feet long and 40 feet wide. The rails on which the shovel ran were in six-foot sections and held by bridles to render spiking unnecessary. The shovel advanced six feet at a time and ordinarily, two or three times each shift.
Eighteen cars divided into three trains of six cars each drawn by a locomotive were employed. These trains were so disposed that while one was being filled, another was discharging into the sluice and the third, empty, was waiting on the siding ready for its turn at the shovel. The cars were side-tripping, of 3 yard capacity and run on three-foot gauge track with thirty pound rails. A train went by electricity to the foot of the incline, where a switchman hooked the cars, three at a time, to a 1⅛-inch cable connected with a 75 horsepower hoist.
The incline was constructed about five hundred feet from the lower end of the company's ground. It had an angle of 30 degrees, and was double-tracked, its platform 45 feet above the pit floor. Two men were stationed on the platform to trip the cars, keep tally of the number received, and start the empties, which then ran down by their own weight.
In the platform were four bins, into which the cars emptied. The auriferous material fell on a grizzly, of which the steel bars were set at an angle of thirty degrees and eighteen inches apart. The "oversize" fell on the dump, while the "undersize" dropped into the 4 x 4-foot sluice. The sluice was 200 feet long with two Y's to better distribute the tailings. The grade was 8 inches to 12 feet, with the exception of the first twelve boxes, where the grade was one inch to the foot. The first three boxes were paved with 45-pound steel rails, the remainder, except the extreme ends, where blocks were used, with steel angle iron 3 in. x 3 in. x ½ in. An undercurrent was used only when cleaning up, as without it the water did better service on the tailings pile. Ten to twelve pounds of mercury were thrown into the sluice every other day. One thousand inches of water was conveyed from the "Miners' Ditch", by 800 feet of 26 to 28 inch steel pipe to the head of the sluice-box.
NUMBER OF MEN EMPLOYED.
For operating the plant, thirty men were employed in two ten hour shifts. Seventeen on the day shift were disposed as follows:- Engineer, craneman and fireman for the shovel, 3 motormen, 1 switchman, 1 man for hoist, 2 men for tripping cars, 4 pit men for cleaning bedrock, laying track, etc.; 1 blacksmith, 1 blacksmith's helper, 1 carpenter.
From the British America Dredging Company's power house an alternating current of 22,000 volts was obtained. In the transformer house a step-down was made to 460 volts to operate the hoist and lower for lighting purposes. For the locomotives direct current was generated from the alternating current.
The gravel was worth about fifty cents per cubic yard. Working expenses were about $250 per day. The original cost of ground and plant amounted probably to not more than $150,000. In. the two seasons' operations royalty was paid on $100,000, which was a very creditable showing.
In 1908, a new superintendent was placed in charge, who decided that the plant needed a complete overhauling. He also concluded not to operate that season, but to await the results of experiments being made elsewhere with an improved type of machinery.
Of modern methods, the steam shovel is the most practicable yet discovered for handling Atlin gravels.
NEW FIELDS FOR ACTIVITY.
In several new directions the outlook is bright for coming years and especially at Ruby Creek and O'Donnell River. Ruby creek, which empties into Surprise Lake, has for years been regarded as an ideal hydraulic field. Complete control could be obtained of the creek; water and dump were excellent; and prospecting had revealed a pay-streak at least 170 feet wide. The depth to bedrock was 47 feet with 25 to 30 feet in pay. Experts looked at it. Some took options, but went no farther. In 1908, however, the property was bonded, prospected, and the bond taken up. An hydraulic plant will be installed forthwith.
Another promising section is the O'Donnel River, the largest river flowing into Atlin Lake. It is thirty miles long with numerous tributaries. Here, Robert McKee, who was the discoverer of gold in Spruce and McKee creeks, with pick and shovel has made $10 to $20 per day. Last winter, 1908, he organized a company intending to thoroughly prove his ground. Should his expectations be fulfilled a very large area of new territory will be opened up.
In the rear of the town of Atlin is a unique deposit of hydro-magnesite. Its white surface extends over two to three hundred acres; its depth is undetermined. Its origin is believed to be due to the action of mineral springs in the magnesian rock. A trial shipment of 200 tons was made to San Francisco in 1904. Owing to excessive moisture it netted only one dollar a ton.
The magnesite is of pure quality as shown by the following
analysis made in the Government Laboratory :-
It is used in the manufacture of fire brick, Portland cement, wood-pulp, etc.
Recently British capitalists have made a first payment on the property. It is likely that the material will be dried and shipped crude. One strange feature about the deposit is that it seems to increase in bulk, due, it is believed, to the chemical change from oxide of magnesia to carbonate of magnesia. The hole out of which the two hundred tons were taken very soon disappeared.
When the Conrad mines were opened up at Windy Arm, Yukon, in 1905, an impetus was given to prospecting for minerals. Development at Windy Arm has been slow. Undoubtedly there are good mines there, but for reasons best known to the owners,
work has been held back. The Atlin prospects including free milling quartz, copper, and lead have in most cases not been developed any more than is required for assessment work. At the Beavis mine, within a mile of Atlin, a shaft has been sunk 175 feet and 425 feet of drifting done, with results said to be satisfactory.
On Taku Arm, south of Golden Gate, the Engineer Group of claims has been staked for many years. The ore is free-milling quartz and very rich stringers occur, containing tellurides of gold.
A shipment made in 1908 is reported to have given values of $65.00 to the ton.
In the fall of 1908, coal was discovered at the south end of Atlin lake. The quality appeared good and suitable for coking, but it was too late in the season for any extensive examination to be made as to quantity.
Coal was also discovered in Rainy Hollow, which is in the extreme north-west of the Atlin Division, and approached from Haines Mission by way of Porcupine district, Alaska. Though Rainy Hollow was located in 1898, it has witnessed little actual development. It contains copper and iron deposits and, if the coal discovered is of sufficient quantity, the success of mining in that quarter is assured.
The writer has imperfectly traced the ups and downs of mining in the Atlin Division during the first decade. It must be admitted that the pioneers met with many disappointments and had much to learn from hard experience. As in all mining communities the population has been transitory. Comparatively few "old-timers" will make the history of the second decade.
The camp is not worked out. There is good ground in abundance but capital is required to win from it the gold. Spruce creek, for example, has produced about a million of dollars. In places the paystreak has been traced for a width of a thousand feet and the end not reached. Tailings washed a second and third time have yielded more gold than at the first washing.
A company in control of this creek, with plenty of water and a bed-rock flume, would have a paying investment for more than a lifetime; in British Columbia, the opportunities for profitable investment at the present time are so numerous, that it is hard to coax capital to out-of-the-way places.
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