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MacDonald's Lost Gold Mine

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 0

The following article is thought to be true, but is essentially undocumented. Various accounts have woven a story that contains certain identifiable markers. Many of these have been documented on an old map. Others may have been verified by direct evidence and aerial photography. The story is presented for your consideration...

My father, Doug Smith, was an amateur prospector. He explored some rugged areas of British Columbia in the search for minerals. He did have some success, having found a fairly rich deposit on Vancouver Island near Port Alice. While this location yielded samples with a high percentage of gold and other minerals, there was not enough material to ever justify a commercial mining operation.

Doug had a friend named Richard Johnson who accompanied him on some trips. Somehow, the two learned of a mineral deposit that had been uncovered on Vancouver Island during a road building project. The two of them went to Gold River, the closest town to the exposed site. They found the minerals on their trip to the location but noticed that there was only a very small amount of material showing. They did take a sample which they sent for analysis. It indicated high concentrations of various minerals.

When they left Gold River, they visited a friend of Richard's who lived on the way back to Doug's home. "MacDonald", (the only name I knew for the fellow), said that if they were interested in gold, they should go to the central British Columbia region. He had found a lot of gold many years before when he was a young man during the Great Depression. He found a creek near Williams Lake, British Columbia that had gold. Each year, he hiked into the bush with a pack horse and some supplies to a camp he set up on the creek. Using only hand tools and a gold pan, he worked a gold mine and was able to find small gold nuggets and flakes of gold. He said that he was able to earn between $2,000 and $3,000 each year. This was enough money to pay for passage for his family to come to Canada from England. He described the area and told how he spent his days working the gold mine, fishing, hunting and exploring the terrain. There were no roads, towns or cabins nearby at this time.

Doug and Richard were quite interested in MacDonald's story. They asked about the route to the creek and MacDonald was happy to describe it. He said that it was about a two day hike east of Williams Lake using roads, trails and open terrain. The start of the trek was to the southeast of Williams Lake and then north via rough trails. The destination was a creek that emerged from a large lake. There was another much smaller lake to the east of this large lake. A few other location markers were told in conversation. MacDonald offered to escort a party to the gold source in the next summer. Unfortunately, MacDonald died that winter.

Doug went to the general area in the summer of the next year, 1971. After reviewing area maps, he decided to explore the area around the southeast of Williams Lake. He concentrated on Spout Lake as it fit the general description and had the smaller Peach Lake to the east. There were no roads to this lake in the 1930's but by 1971, a good road had been constructed. Arriving at the lake, Doug was able to cover much of the territory to the north and east of the lake. He was able to find large, parallel hills of broken rock, which had been described by MacDonald. There was supposed to be zinc and galena deposits in this area, but those were not found. None of the creeks in the area showed much promise when panned for gold.

Over the years, Doug returned to the Williams Lake area several times. Each visit was not successful. Doug talked to Richard who was the last of the pair to talk to MacDonald about the gold mine. Richard said that there was a large rock feature on the hill directly above the main source of the gold that appeared to be in the shape of a man's head. MacDonald had left his tools at the site so after 40 years, the shovel head and wheelbarrow wheel might still be found to confirm the site. When he next went to the area, Doug could find no such formation in the rock nor any old tools.

This story is something of a family legend. Over the years, I have searched the same bush looking for creeks that seemed similar to those described but none had any matching rock formations. I have also panned each of the creeks near Spout Lake but have been disappointed by the results. Unfortunately, the information I received from my father is sparse. I have my father's map that shows his searches and it has all of the notes that Richard and he gathered from MacDonald. Richard, Doug and MacDonald have all passed away now. I remain the only person with knowledge of the story and first-hand experience looking for the gold source.

I have used some additional tools to survey the subject area. Aerial photographs are now available that show Spout Lake in some detail. The British Columbia government published a geological survey that shows all significant rock and mineral findings in the province. The current role of gold claims can be viewed online. None of these tools seem to indicate that Spout Lake is, or was, a gold bearing area. The only reasonable conclusion is that the mother lode is either non-existant or elsewhere.

In analyzing the possibility that there never was a gold mine at all, I have contemplated the facets of the story that I heard. MacDonald traveled into the bush by himself in the Great Depression. This seems possible since there would be little available employment at that time. A man could at least sustain himself on packed supplies, wild game and fish. Were he to find a gold deposit, he might actually earn a living.

MacDonald said that he earned between $2,000 and $3,000 per year. At the time, gold was worth about $30 per ounce so the season's production would be up to 100 ounces. A determined man might be able to work enough gravel in a day, in a fairly rich deposit, using hand tools, to produce nearly an ounce a day. If the source is a hard-rock mine, rather than a placer gravel deposit, it might be easily missed by modern prospectors. Such a source would not show itself as gold color in the nearby creeks. The weather in that area would be comfortable for the months of June, July, August and parts of May and September. This is a period of about 100 days or more. With production of about an ounce a day, over 100 days a man might obtain 100 ounces of gold.

The story indicates that zinc and galena were found in the area. Why has this never been commercially developed over the years? For a long time, zinc was a very inexpensive metal. If the deposit was small, it might not be found by another prospector or it would be dismissed. Galena is a richer mineral, a compound of lead and sulphur. This too might be in too small a quantity to be noticed. The subject area is rather vast with extensive forestry cover. While there is now much better access to the lakes and creeks by road, there are still large areas that remain difficult to traverse. That part of British Columbia is subjected to severe winter weather that precludes prospecting. Besides the intense cold temperature, massive snowfalls cover the ground. Snow can occur in October and lie thick on the ground until well into April. Much of the land is private property. This is not in itself an absolute barrier, but it does slow the exploration process since often permission of the land owner is required before someone can start prospecting.

Did the gold deposit ever exist at all? If my mother, sister and wife are asked, they might suggest that it did not. I believe that the gold did exist. My father was convinced that it did. He talked to MacDonald himself and believed the man to be genuine. After MacDonald brought his family to Canada, he needed to get a full time job and couldn't venture into the bush for months at a time. He might have been able to get his family to Canada just before the onset of World War II. The travel cost would have been significant. MacDonald would have saved a lot of his gold money and lived cheaply since he was intent on reuniting with his wife and children. He settled in Port Alberni where he worked at the local pulp mill. This was a secure, lucrative position that allowed him to live in comfort. Perhaps he still had some gold funds left. There may have been little economic need to return to Williams Lake for quite some time. The demands of fatherhood would require a lot of his time while his children were still young.

Why didn't MacDonald go to the gold mine in 40 years after his family was reunited? MacDonald said that his health had deteriorated over the years so he couldn't risk travel to the gold source by himself. He had tried to enlist others to go with him, without success. The fact that he offered to escort Richard and Doug, and wanted no payment, leads me to believe that he was sincere. A thief might offer such a story and produce some ficticious map drawn on a napkin as proof of the claim. A request for payment for such information might be made. MacDonald did nothing like that and he told Richard during his last months of life that he was looking forward to the trip at last.

I believe that the gold exists and that a lost gold mine waits to be discovered, hopefully by me. The area around Spout Lake is likely not the right place. A study of the map shows other lakes as potential candidates. McIntosh, Eagle and Lang Lakes are possibly within a two day hike from Williams Lake. Back in 1930, as there were no roads, MacDonald would not be able to travel very far, perhaps 10 to 20 miles per day with gear. Realistically, Lang Lake is possibly out of contention. That lake, and lakes near it, are better accessed from the town of 100 Mile House, which had a good road leading to it in 1930. This town was never mentioned, leading me to believe that MacDonalds gold mine was further north.

There is a possibility that Felker Lake is the one MacDonald traveled to. While there is another lake, Chimney, east of it it, Chimney Lake is actually larger than Felker. Also, in the 1930's, a person would reach this lake easier by starting from Springhouse or Enterprise. Felker Lake is worth a brief look, but that is all.

Perhaps the lake is much smaller than anyone imagined. There is even one called Goldpan Lake in the area. This lake, however, lies right beside Horsefly Road which was a major route in 1930. Study of the British Columbia geography in and around the area of Williams Lake reveals that there are many lakes and streams within 40 miles southeast of that town. The area is reduced when those lakes close to nearby settlements, (in 1930), are eliminated. MacDonald would have mentioned those settlements as the starting point. He only mentioned Williams Lake.

Does MacDonald's Lost Gold Mine exist? Maybe. Maybe not. One factor that keeps the idea alive for me is the present value of the gold. If 100 ounces were taken from the gold bearing gravel today, it would be worth in excess of $120,000. Not a bad wage, $12,000 a day. Enough to make me want to go back again!


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