Tuesday 2nd September 2014

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100 years of AME BC

The Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia embarks on its second century

by Greg Klein

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When Gavin Dirom talks about drawing on the past to address future challenges, he might be speaking from personal experience. The president/CEO of the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia is actually Gavin Dirom III, named after his father and grandfather. They both held senior positions with the organization. “My grandfather was the association’s president in the ’60s, my father was a director in the late ’80s and early ’90s,” he explains. Now, with AME BC celebrating its 100th anniversary, Dirom might hold an ideal position to appreciate the group’s past and help guide its future.

“All this grew from somebody’s idea in 1912, just a few people to start. Then it became an organization that’s still going strong a hundred years later,” he says.

“It’s a big part of our history. It’s province-building history that prospecting, mineral exploration and mining has contributed to in a major way. Most of the province was opened up through the efforts of those early pioneers.”

The Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia embarks on its second century

This 2008 photo from the Ball Creek Project in northwestern B.C. has an almost timeless quality, suggesting continuity between the past, present and future. (Photo: John Fleishman, courtesy AME BC)

It’s a colourful story too. Douglas Fetherling’s book The Gold Crusades: A Social History of Gold Rushes 1849 to 1929 relates how mining transformed what was a land of native settlements, Hudson Bay Company posts and, on Vancouver Island, a few colonial officials. By 1852, as the California gold rush played out, over 500 prospectors wandered north. A major strike was found on the Fraser River in 1856. The following year, hundreds more would-be miners, mostly American, showed up en masse, transforming the isolated outpost of Victoria and threatening British sovereignty. Then in 1858 Governor James Douglas, who by no means wanted more Americans cluttering up his colony, made the mistake of shipping 800 gold ounces to the San Francisco Mint for refining. Word spread quickly and about 30,000 additional adventurers arrived that year. The Fraser River Gold Rush was on. But by 1862 even that was superseded by Billy Barker’s spectacular find, sparking the Cariboo Gold Rush of Barkerville fame. And that was just another stepping stone towards the granddaddy of all gold rushes at the mother of all motherlodes, the Klondike of Dawson City fame in 1898.

Prospectors fanned out to other regions too. Margaret Ormsby’s definitive work British Columbia: A History lists some of the deposits found by the 1880s in southeastern B.C. “Silver-lead and zinc had been discovered in Slocan, coal in East Kootenay, copper near Phoenix and lode gold at Camp McKinney, Fairview and Hedley.” Rising silver prices in 1895 sparked a regional boom in 1896. Ormsby quotes an historic source describing the town of Nelson as “short of frills, boiled shirts, parsons, lawyers and prohibition orators” but not “mule skinners, packers, trail blazers, remittance men and producers, with a slight trace of tenderfeet.”

The region, Ormsby writes,

had something of the character of the rushes to the placer mines of Cariboo [in central B.C.], Omineca [north-central B.C.] and Cassiar [far-northern B.C.]. In its first years, Rossland had as colourful a floating population of Americans, “Cousin Jacks” (Cornishmen), Irish, Croats and Scandinavians as ever graced the camps of Idaho and Colorado. For these flamboyant and roistering prospectors, claim-jumpers and stock-manipulators, Sourdough Alley provided every kind of entertainment: prize fights in theatres, keno tables in gaming-houses; boa-feathered dance-hall girls; bars; and orchestras and bands which played round the clock.

Yes, exploration and mining brought civilization—in a manner of speaking. It also helped bring about settlement, law, infrastructure and economic diversification. Overall it played a profound role in shaping Canada’s most westerly province.

Meanwhile, that small group in 1912 has grown to 4,800 AME BC members categorized as junior and major companies, geoscientists, prospectors, engineers, entrepreneurs, suppliers, mineral producers and associations. They also hold expertise in law, accounting and public policy, all mutually beneficial vocations that support the sector. They work in about 100 countries, with Vancouver boasting the world’s highest concentration of exploration and mining professionals. “That’s what the evolution of exploration and mining in B.C. has led to,” says Dirom. “We’re fortunate to be the centre of mineral exploration excellence in the world.”

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