It was in the summer of 1869 that prospector and miner Thomas Latham arrived in an area known as Quesnelle Forks. It was just a few miles upstream that while searching a nearby creek that he struck gold. Latham continued to work these claims for another 10 years every summer and would then take all his gold out with him just before winter set in. He would spent his winters near Vancouver where he would freely spend his summer riches. In the late 1870's Latham then abandoned the claims and went further north into in search for more lucrative claims.
Once Latham left the claims it didn't take long before the chinese miners moved in. They worked their way deep into the creek bed as well, and over the years, they created quite a deep canyon about 1,000 feet in length, but still 150 feet above the Quesnel River. Then they, too, moved on after taking almost $1 million in gold from the claim.
Then in 1891, some investors who had heard about this creek took over the claims. They brought in a mining engineer from California named John Hobson to help them build a large scale mine. John was a specialist at hydraulic mining in California so his expertise was want these investors needed as it was thought that this property would yield at least 100 million dollars in gold.
The first thing these investors did was raise as much money as they could. Then they set out to acquire all the surrounding claims and soon they had mining claims which covered about 10 square miles. Work began in 1893 twith the construction of 21-mile canal, to take water from Polley and Bootjack Lakes. This water would run down pipes at the mine, which fed the giant 12 inch water monitors. This ditch canal was 10 feet wide and upwards of 6 feet deep and was all dug by hand. The company brought in Japanese workers to dig this canal. Construction of this canal lasted for two full years and in 1895 they we ready to start hydraulicing the sides of the creek.
All the washed rocks and gravel were washed over large steel riffles downstream where the heavy gold was trapped. The tailing would continue downstream to eventually end in the nearby lake. All the while this mining was going on, work continued with construction of a large dam upstream the mining operation. A 410-foot wide by 35-foot high dam, was built on a creek about 11 miles away to form a small lake that was named Morehead Lake. By 1899, the ditching system was complete. The area of the watershed captured by the dam was over 60 square miles and had a capacity of over one billion cubic feet of water.
There was over 33 miles of various ditches in total the company had cabin built along these ditches for workers to stay. These workers would tend to the series of gates that allowed the water to run to the monitors. These cabind even had their own telephone system so the company could give orders on how much water was needed. For the first 6 odd years of operation the mine did quite well taking out 60 million dollars worth of gold. After 11 years of mining the company had made 70 million in gold but had spent 112 million dollars so in 1907 the mine shut down.
The next few decades saw the mine change hands a few times until 1933 when gold was revalued from 20 to 34 dollars per ounce. It was at that time that the a new company, Bullion Placers Ltd., went in to redevelop the pit. The following year there were three shifts of 80 men working rebuilding flumes and ditching. The mine continued working until 1942 when some legal issues and the start of the second world war brought the operation to a halt. During that time it is estimated that approximately two and a half million cubic yards of earth was sluiced each year for almost 10 years, and that there was about 1/4 ounce of gold in every cubic yard.
In all, some 200 million tonnes of dirt and gravel were washed away to create a huge canyon more than 270 yards wide, 130 feet deep, and almost 2 miles long. It is also estimated that over its lifetime, the Bullion Pit produced some 75,700 ounces of gold, worth approximately 91 million dollars in today’s prices.
You can still go to the bullion pit today. There is a small information site where the old water monitors are display. There are also trails that you can walk down into the cut where they mined.