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Lethbridge Herald Newspaper Archives

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Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - February 22, 1975, Lethbridge, Alberta IAL Klondike e miners rtasever By Tom Puchniak THE KLONDIKE is a land of dreams. It was this even before an August day 79 years ago when Skookum Jim, Tagish Charlie and Siwash George Carmack found their magic specks of gold. It was never more so than in the annus mirabilis of '98 when Dawson swelled to a population, of souls, most looking for gold in the nearby earth and streams, a few the saloon owners, the shopkeepers, the whores looking for it in other men's pockets. A few years later, when the gold seemed gone and most everyone had left, the dream was over. Almost. For while most of us think of the Klondike now as a sad land of ghost towns, graveyards and dreams long since broken, the steady shuffle of gravel in the miner's pan has never entirely left the now-quiet valleys. Overshadowed by the heady days of 1898, unnoticed in the rest of Canada, an unbroken line of miners has con- tinued to work the creeks of the Klondike. Only their numbers have withered. The intensity of their dreams is as bright as ever. Marian Schmidt is a middle-aged mother of five, willi a modern three- bedroom house on Dominion Creek in the Klondike Valley. And she's a gold miner. Everything she and her family have has come from mining, and for the past 35 years 'she's left her home in North Vancouver every spring to re- turn to the Yukon gold fields. There, she and dozens like her dig away the creeks and valleys of the Klondike, feeding them into sluiceboxes and panning out the gold. Adventurers are plunking down their staking fee on a summer- time dream of yesteryeaj- and, more often than not, on a plot of gold-free ground. Those original stampeders left more than a legacy of wild times and worked-out creeks. They left gold that wasn't worth mining at the 1898 price of an ounce, Today with the price hovering around the fever is in the air for a special group of people whose vocabulary runs to "paydirt" (gold-bearing "sluicing" (washing the paydirt to get the "clean-up" (gathering gold from the and "tailings" (rocks and dirt left when the gold has been ex- Almost all the placer operations (surface mining of gold) are family affairs. Mrs. Schmidt's teenaged son and daughter take the robust work in their stride: driving a bulldozer along the steep and harrowing narrow valley roads, sloshing around in the muddy creek water, hauling fuel drums. "It's hard Mrs. Schmidt says, and the hours are backbreaking: sometimes from sunup to sundown, and that's a long day in the land of the midnight sun. There's no question, you've got to love the work to keep at it, and Marian Schmidt loves her work. When her husband died in 1969 right on their Dominion Creek claim, a lot of people figured she would call it quits. But that was the last thing on her mind, because Marian Schmidt intends to die with her boots on too, and have her ashes sprinkled with her husband's on Solomon's Dome overlooking the entire Klondike Valley. The Schmidts' is not the run-of- the-mill bulldozer-and-sluicebox op- eration. Marian's husband devised a sophisticated system of conveyor belts and "washing" machines which doubled their recovery of gold and greatly improved prospects on a creek estimated to contain more than million in gold. Marian Schmidt says that when someone devises an even more so- phisticated machine, it will mine the tailings from her operation and still make it pay. But that will be some impersonal company, devoid of any feeling for Ihe work, unable to absorb the poetry of Ihe land which is elemental to miners like Marian Schmidt. "You she muses, "there's a cycle to our lives. All summer we work so hard we lose track of time. We're just like Ihe up about 18 hours a day. But then the days grow shorter, and we grow more tired, and finally it's time to head south." Winter in North Vancouver is taken up doing the books, ordering supplies, resting. "But then as spring ap- proaches, we get restless and our thoughts turn again to the north. Word comes down that they think it's going to be an early spring they always say she laughs. "And then we come back up here and we're so happy to be back, and the water starts to run again and the birds sing... and the cycle starts all over again." But no one can simply go into the Klondike and start mining gold. Take Mike Stutter and Benny Warmsby; for example. They ran a profitable barge business on the Yukon River, but Mike had once worked as a claims assessor for the Yukon Consolidated Gold Company, which closed down in 1966 when the gold became un- profitable, and he knew that Dago Hill, up from Hunker Creek, was a good piece of property. Someone estimated that buried under it was million in gold. So Mike and Benny bought the hill and invested more than in the venture when gold was still an ounce. If anyone questioned their sanity at the time, the soaring price of gold has since transformed that skepticism into envy. All mining is a gamble. The costs, the time and effort it takes to strip away a hill and find out what it con- Continued Alter Benny Warmsby washes down the deposit face Mike Stutter bulldozes the gold-bearing gravel to the mouth of the sluicebox (top right) and Benny rakes the paydirt into the box (middle and Photographs, including cover, by Tom Puchniak ;