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1930: 1930 - Gold Trails in Fir Valley

It was during the depression years of the 1930s that mining for gold commenced, and then ceased for the most part sometime in the mid 1940s. Records show only 75 ounces were accounted for during this time frame. The majority of mining was on the mountain to the east of Wood Lake but there was one small mining venture at another location. Just south of Jack Seaton Park, close to the top of a ridge, are the remains of mining activity.

Mr. Donald MacLennan of Okanagan Centre followed a quartz vein down into the surrounding hard rock. The July 1934 assay report wasn’t encouraging; it gave a gold content of .04 ounces and .3 ounces of silver per ton with a combined value of $1.51 per ton of ore. Not exactly a profitable operation and the development ceased.

East of Wood Lake there were several locations where gold was sought. The geology here was very different from the Seaton Park occurrence. An ancient river channel containing placer gold lay buried under volcanic rock until eventually it was exposed by glacial action thousands of years ago.

Two fellows from Alberta by the names of Ely & Hall staked a claim and began an operation that lasted for nine years. They dug tunnels, sank shafts and recovered sufficient gold to sustain their quest for the shiny yellow metal. To the North of the Ely and Hall lease was the Stuart lease where a group of men from Kelowna dug a 100 foot tunnel as well as a few exploratory trenches, but all indications are that no gold was recovered.

To the north again was the Atkins and Staples lease. Several tunnels were dug, some hitting the river gravel and others not. A large well-constructed log cabin stood at this location until time and the elements of weather reduced it to a pile of rotten and disintegrating wood.

The fourth and final site is known as the Ribbleworth lease. At this location, a tunnel was dug into a material known as breccias, consisting of a very fine matrix mixed with sharp angled volcanic rocks. No river gravel, let alone gold, was found in this location and nature over the decades has reclaimed the area. A.S. Underhill, a prominent doctor from Kelowna, and John Sommerville partnered in 1938. A tunnel was blasted through granite bedrock but to my knowledge the grave containing gold was not located.

From the late 1950s to the present, more individuals have spent time digging for gold including locals Shorty Meyers, Fife Sommerville, as well as a fellow by the name of Campbell. The Union Oil Company of Canada in the late 1970s drilled test holes for uranium in the Fir Valley area. At the time, uranium exploration was taking place between Big White Mountain and Beaverdell. Results from those holes are unknown but information obtained elsewhere indicated that water with trace levels of radioactivity was exiting from some of the old Ely and Hall tunnels.

Mining has played a small role in Lake Country’s history but there is much to admire in those who pursued the dream of ‘striking it rich’ and while not achieving financial wealth they certainly left Lake Country with a facet of colourful and interesting history.

Source: Moody, Jim. Published in The View in Lake Country, December 7, 2006.