Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - February 22, 1975, Lethbridge, Alberta
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Inside, there's a homemade tin stove; outside there's a propane tank and a grill he made that too over which he boils his eggs; and over by the creek there's a hole in the permafrost which serves as a fridge. Francois doesn't need much. He feels happy as long as he is making something, and would just as soon spend the winter on his claim, rather than going to Vancouver. But even a hardy outdoorsmgn like Francois couldn't survive a Yukon winter in that shack, so he's building a log cabin, and intends to spend the year round on Victoria Creek. At night, he can listen to the radio or read from the stacks of old Winnipeg Free Presses, Reader's Digests and paperback west- erns left behind by trappers. He never tires of rereading them: "I always find something I missed. "Maybe someday I'll he says, "and open a coffee shop for the tourists. Sell them gold nuggets. But for now, I like too much what I'm doing. And I like to see that gold." The real gold fever today is in the frenzied trading rooms of the world's bullion markets. These men and wom- en of the Klondike are far removed from that in body and spirit. They are bound not by the gold, but by the land, by the Yukon and the way they live: they rise with the birds to a clear sky and leave their cabins to travel along gravel roads with just the crunch of the stones underfoot to break the peace of the valley. From high atop Solomon's Dome they can survey the Klondike Valley below. There's time to think: of these hills, once swarming with fevered miners ravaging them of their trees and gold- bearing gravel. Now the scars are barely visible a deteriorating cabin here, a remnant of an old railroad track there and the valley is placid. It belongs to the clear-eyed successors whose vision is for the open sky and the land they love. "There is a fever Marian Schmidt suggests, "but it is a fever for the land. It grows on you. Stay around a while and you'll see it'll grow on you Tom Puchniak is a writer and broadcaster now living in Montreal. Placer mining is extracting gold embedded in surface de- posits (creeks, hills) and separat- ing it from the-dirt and gravel by the use of water. In 1898, the miners used picks and shovels to unearth the pay- dirt, washed it through their sluiceboxes and panned it out by hand. In 1975, the process remains essentially the same, using more sophisticated equipment. Most placer mining in the Klondike is "hydraulic" using water pumped from a distant source to the gold deposit. The mining season is short May to the. water is running. If a miner has a hydraulic system, he will pump the water to the mouth of the sluicebox. If he relies on natural creeks, he will have a dam to build up. enough water to pro- vide a steady forceful stream for several hours at a time. The gold is lodged in perma- frost, which must be thawed. This is done 6y. stripping off the "overburden" or top layer of ground, and exposing the pay- dirt to the sun. A high-pressure of water can also be di- rected to the face of the deposit, dislodging the gold-bearing dirt and gravel so it can be moved .to the sluicebox. The sluicebox is a long, wood- en or metal trough with "riffles" at the bottom. These may be metal bars which jut one inch from the base of the box at regu- lar intervals, and wire grills with openings large enough to catch the gold. A steady stream ol water moves the paydirt through the sluicebox. The rocks and stones are too large to be caught on the riffles and move through the sluicebox and into the "tailing Silt and sand and other light material go the same route. Only the gold, with some heavier black sand or sinks to the bottom of the box. Every few weeks, the flow of water is shut off and "clean up" takes place. The gold-concen- trated dirt which has collected in the riffles is gathered and then panned out by hand. This is the only method of making the final separation of gold flakes, gold dust and gold nuggets from the other fine dirt with which it is mixed. A "claim" may be staked by anyone, for a fee. It covers an area 500 feet by feet and is good for one year, renew- able on condition that the holder do worth of work on it; this is called "representing" the claim.