Gold in Them Thar Hills

Hills of gold?

Have you ever panned for gold down at Dunvegan?  It’s a bit of fun you might want to invest in this summer: there is both hearsay and fairly weighty evidence that there is gold in the banks of the Peace River…

The August 9, 1923 edition of the Edmonton Journal included some exciting news from Spirit River: a man named E. Coldren appeared in town with treasure.  He showed off 17 gold nuggets, about 4 ounces.  He said he had found them in a pocket in the river bank, between Dunvegan and Peace River.  Furthermore, he had located another pocket with more; he figured he had left behind 35 -40 ounces, or ten times as much gold.

When Coldren showed up with his find, about 25 years had passed since Klondike gold fever lured thousands to the Yukon in search of fortune and adventure.  But perhaps some of the people who saw that handful of gold remembered what the discovery and disappointment of the yellow stuff in the Yukon had made most forget: as early as 1861, gold had been found in the Upper Peace River region.  So why shouldn’t there be some a little further downstream?

Back in the 1860s it was the Cariboo that was undergoing a gold rush.  Several of the prospectors took a chance on checking out the regions further to the north and east – as far east as the B.C. Peace Region.  Gold was discovered.  Maybe it wasn’t enough to make further exploration into the remote region practicable.  Maybe those prospectors wanted to keep the Peace gold in their back pockets while they focused on Cariboo gold.  In any case, that was the first time the possibility of a rich deposit of gold in the Peace was forgotten.

Fast forward to 1892.  The Lethbridge News carried a story about a Californian gold prospector having concluded a tour of the Omineca Region of B.C. and the Peace Country that November.  He was from California: he knew gold.  What did he think?  He couldn’t understand why there was no concentrated effort to find gold up here, where there was every possibility of lucrative discoveries.  The geology was right, and gold, silver and copper had been found in small quantities.  The Californian prospector predicted a major boom, from the Omineca Mountains clear to the Peace Country.

That man may have inspired a few to go out and have a look, but if there were some prospectors willing to explore here, they wouldn’t have had long to get started before news from the Klondike waylaid their Peace Country plans.  Gold that is already found in relative abundance is better than gold that may be somewhere.

The Klondike Gold Rush, closely followed by the Alaska Gold Rush, caused gold fever so powerful it could be called hysteria.  Some made their millions; many more saw nary a nugget.  The stampeders who made it to the great north, a little late to cash in, left a wake of deflation: personal tragedies born of excess, boomtowns left to bust, and a wilderness region changed forever.  Was it enough to make everyone sick of gold fever for a long while?

Coldren found his gold in 1923.  Nothing remarkable came of it. Coldren didn’t become wealthy or famous enough to be traceable on the internet.  Did he ever make it back to that pocket of gold on the banks of the Peace between Dunvegan and Peace River?

July 13, 1934:  The Montreal Gazette contains a short announcement from the Peace Country.  Two men from Bluesky filed claims on a seam of gold 20 miles west of Dunvegan, on the banks of the Peace River.  It was being called the richest find in two decades.

So why shouldn’t there be some a little further downstream?

If you have found a deposit of gold (or diamonds) on the Peace River (or anywhere else), please let us know! No, seriously, your stories, information and corrections are much more valuable.  Do you remember panning for gold in the park?  Do you know more about the history of gold in our region?  Town Spirit would love to hear from you.  Hit the comment button below, or email  Happy discovering 🙂

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