Wednesday, May 8, 2013

GOLD MINING AND HEDLEY, BC

by Julie H. Ferguson

For years I have driven through Hedley, a small town between Keremeos and Princeton on Highway 3 in British Columbia, wishing I had time to explore it. The drive alone is worth doing in either direction—the highway follows the Similkameen River in the valley. The stretch from Osoyoos to Keremeos is even more spectacular.

Last weekend, I finally had time to stop here for a morning on a glorious May day. Hedley nestles below towering, rugged mountains, on top of which are the gold mines dating back to the early 1900s. Today, the trees were a mist of pale green and the early flowers and blossoms filled the air with their perfume. It was hot.

Gold was discovered here in 1898, which led to the inevitable boom and bust, and put Hedley on the map. Over the years four million pounds of gold was extracted worth over three and a half billion dollars in today's money. Six hotels operated here in Hedley's heyday, and no doubt many bars and other more dubious establishments serviced the miners of Nickel Plate Mine and Mascot Gold Mine. I could see bunkhouses perched high on Stemwinder Mountain about seven thousand feet above sea level from outside the Hedley Museum, my first stop.

The museum looks a bit ramshackle outside, but don't be put off by this first impression (see first image above). Inside it is a treasure trove of info, artifacts, and images. There's a tea room, a gift shop with good history books for sale, the tourist centre, and an excellent photo archive too. I was greeted by Thom (R), the president and volunteer of the Hedley Museum. He was dressed in some kind of indeterminate costume, and seemed delighted I had dropped in to see him. I soon discovered why—it was opening day and I was the first visitor of the season. When Thom learned I wrote BC history, the floodgates opened and he gave me a detailed private tour.


Opposite the museum (L) lies the outdoor section with a rusting ore bucket and other mining paraphernalia. In summer, visitors can try their hand at panning for gold, peer at the ruins of the mines through a telescope, and across the road browse in the Trading Post.

I then circled the town, sleepy in the sun, and visited the Country Market, which is a general store built in 1904. It still serves as the grocery store, liquor store, and bakery for the entire present-day population of about 2000.

Lunch is worth eating in Hedley at the famous Hitching Post Restaurant (R). Originally built in 1903 as a single storey, soon a top floor was added. In those days it roared with life, dances, music, and drunken miners. After the bust, the building served other purposes and slowly deteriorated. Today after a major renovation, the resto is a gathering place for residents and visitors. It's a friendly, good place to eat serving big portions of well-presented food with fresh ingredients. There's a choice of beer on tap and in the bottle, as well as other options—both alcoholic or not. I loved the mural, the atmosphere, and the food.

Unfortunately, the mine tours do not operate except in July and August (September at weekends only), so I couldn't experience it. It's a four and a half hour adventure run by the Upper Similkameen Indian Band who have done much restoration so visitors can safely explore the mines and tunnels, as well as the buildings. Everyone I spoke to promised it is a terrific tour. Visit www.mascotmine.com for more info.

Do stop in Hedley next time you're driving through and step back in time.

ALL IMAGES: © Photos by Pharos 2013. All rights reserved.