The above video clip shows hydraulic gold mining at the Bullion Mine, near Likely in BC’s northern Cariboo. The Bullion Mine operated from 1892 to 1942. Huge hydraulic monitors – apparently the largest installed in North America – used high-pressure water to blast away the surface soil, gravel and stones to expose the gold. These operations created the so-called “Bullion Pit,” a man-made canyon up to 300 metres wide, 125 metres deep and almost 3 kilometres long. The work of sluicing the gravel and separating the gold is also shown in close-up.
Shot around 1941 by Vancouver filmmaker Alfred E. Booth, this unique colour footage provides graphic evidence of the mining operation’s scope and the sheer power of the hydraulic monitors. Watching it, I recalled Robert W. Service’s poem, “The Ballad of Touch-the-Button Nell” (ca. 1909), with its memorable and vivid description of hydraulic mining in the Yukon:
The long lean flume streaked down the hill, five hundred feet of fall;
The waters in the dam above chafed at their prison wall;
They surged and swept, they churned and leapt, with savage glee and strife;
With spray and spume the dizzy flume thrilled like a thing of life.
“We must be free,” the waters cried, and scurried down the slope;
“No power can hold us back,” they roared, and hurried in their hope.
Into a mighty pipe they plunged, like maddened steers they ran,
And crashed out through a shard of steel — to serve the will of Man.
And there hydraulicking his ground beside a bedrock ditch,
With eye aflame and savage aim was Riley Dooleyvitch.
In long hip-boots and overalls, and dingy denim shirt,
Behind a giant monitor he pounded at the dirt.
A steely shaft of water shot, and smote the face of clay;
It burrowed in the frozen muck, and scooped the dirt away;
It gored the gravel from its bed, it bellowed like a bull;
It hurled the heavy rock aloft like heaps of fleecy wool.
Strength of a hundred men was there, resistless might and skill,
And only Riley Dooleyvitch to swing it at his will.
He played it up, he played it down, nigh deafened by its roar,
‘Til suddenly he raised his eyes, and there stood Lew Lamore.
Those of you who know the poem will remember that, just three stanzas later, the enraged hero Riley Dooleyvitch “accidentally” turns the hydraulic monitor upon the leering villain and pimp Lew Lamore. I’ll draw a veil over the details of what the monitor does to Lamore. However, the photo below shows clearly how the monitors left the Bullion Mine site after its closure in 1942.