I spent a few days of my vacation in the Cariboo region of British Columbia, Canada. This area is known as ‘gold country’ because rich placer deposits found here triggered a gold rush in the 1860's. Today the major industry is forestry, though there are hard-rock and placer mines that operate in the region.

I started my journey with a Greyhound bus trip out of Vancouver to the Fraser Valley, which cost me all of the money I had allowed myself for the trip. In Hope, I hitched a ride with a gentleman on his way to Fort Nelson on the Alaska Highway. He spent 40 years in the wilderness, working as a tow truck driver and paramedic. Being able to drive and not being afraid of blood were the requirements to be a paramedic back when the highway was still young. If the tow truck and ambulance were both required, the ambulance call took precedence, of course. Sonny continued to regal me with work and hunting tales in Canada’s north until we reached Quesnel some six hours later.

After a few days in Quesnel, I went with a miner to his claim near Barkerville. The area had previously been hydraulicked, an alluvial mining method that is very destructive to the environment. Miners of the last two centuries were responsible for this, as well as machinery and garbage left abandoned in the woods. A manmade ditch to build up the pressure required from hydraulicking has a small stream coming from it. The creek below has been diverted so many times that the original path is no longer known.

There is evidence of past mining activity even in the gold. I panned out a gold flake on Williams creek that was coloured silver because of the mercury beads attached to it. Still, nature has reclaimed this once-wasteland evident in old photographs. Pine forests and abundant wildlife abound over old tailings mounds. A mother grizzly with three (yes three!) cubs had been seen the day before on the mineral property.

Gub is the miner. He and his wife Judy want to work an unmined pocket that was missed by the hydraulickers. Test work with a trommel and sluice fed by a 1.5 inch pump has produced ounces of course gold, including some fine nuggets. Gub has a mind for conservation. He respects the rules. All work carried out on his claim has been approved by the British Columbian government. Gub will only use a new machinery to dig on his property to avoid oil and hydraulic fluid spills that are synonymous with older equipment. He is dedicated to reclamation of the land he mines. Grass and trees will be planted on his workings after they are mined. Though he acknowledges that the land belongs to the animals that inhabit it, but feels frustration at the bureaucratic red tape he has to deal with. There is anger in his voice when he talks of what other people in the area have done to the environment, and continue to do today.

A placer miner must put up a bond at 3500 CAD a hectare to pay for reclamation if he fails to clean up his property. This amount is not nearly enough to cover the actual costs if a miner was to abandon a property, according to Gub. He acknowledges that some regulation of the industry is needed, but some regulations are unnecessarily restricting.

There are rainbow trout living in Gub’s water reservoir. Though the stream nearby is not fish-bearing and never has been, his manmade pond has created habitat for fish that must have migrated upstream during the high water of spring run-off. The day I was there, Gub decided against pumping the pond dry in order to protect the fish living in it. Regulations state that mining must not negatively impact a fish-bearing stream, yet he has unintentionally created fish habitat that was non-existent in the past. This is a tough position for Gub, and illustrates the issues facing small-time miners. Regulations make otherwise economical deposits that can be worked recreationally or by a family uneconomical. This is the tail end to a way of life in the Cariboo.