River Gold

During the 1930s and early 1940s, many individuals were spotted along our nearby North Saskatchewan River ‘panning for gold’. The search for gold seemed to have reached its peak during this period, a time when unemployment was high be­cause of the depression years. You never heard of anyone getting rich panning for gold it did, however, provide a meager income for many indi­viduals.

It was strongly believed that flakes of gold broke away from eroded gold bearing veins and were washed down the North Saskatchewan River from the Rocky Mountains.  Usually these flakes of gold mixed with black sand, and settled in sand bars, in flats and in benches along the river. Only gold dust was found, nuggets along the river were never found this far away from the mountain­ous regions.

Most people seeking gold on the North Saskatchewan River used the ‘panning method’.  They partially filled their gold pans with gold bearing sand and gravel, then agitated it under water , thus separating the heavy gold flakes from the lighter black sand.  Mercury was then used to attract the gold flakes gathered in the bottom of the pan.

Panning for gold was a slow process and some people con­structed a sluice box to speed up their operations. A sluice box contained wooden  riffles which caught the gold flakes as water washed over the sand and gravel and permit­ted the gold flakes to drop to a catch blanket below. Mercury, again, was used to attract the gold flakes.  The use of a sluice box allowed the operator to put a lot more gold bearing sand and gravel through his unit.  These two methods, panning for gold and the use of a sluice box, were used by individuals.  A third method was use of a dredge. Gold dredge's were used during the turn of the century by many 1arge companies from Edmon­ton.  These dredges allowed the operators, who were in the gold mining industry commercially, to put tons of gold bearing sand andgravel through these units.  The price of gold in 1931 was $20 per ounce.  However in 1935, the United States Government fixed the world's price of gold at $35 per ounce. It remained at this price level for years. Today's world price is in excess of $300 per ounce.

During the depression years of 1932 to about 1938, you often spotted someone along the North Saskatche­wan River panning for gold. Gold dust wasn't that plenti­ful and in many cases the in­dividual ended up getting a good sun tan and lots of fresh air, little else.  Others were able to average a dollar or two a day, which helped them to exist. Henry Lorenson, who now lives in British Columbia, once told me he made as much as $5 per day many times while panning for gold along the river near Lindbergh.  This was much more than he could earn working out.

        Another local resident, the late Nick Scraba did a lot of gold panning along our North Saskatchewan River. Alth ough he never struck it rich, he did however manage to pick up a few much needed dollars from time to time.  Once he thought he had it made, but as it turned out his luck failed him.  Late one Fall he discovered a very rich de­posit on a sand bar near Elk Point.  Every panful yielded an abundance of gold flakes.  That day he worked hard and put in many long hours.  It was the best find he had ever made.  Luck wasn't with him - the next day winter set in and all further gold panning had to be post­poned until the following spring.  His intentions were to resume panning as soon as the river ice went out, but the fol­lowing spring when he retur­ned, he found that his rich sand bar was no longer there.  It had washed down the river to some new location, which he could never locate.

I recall one other man who panned for gold along the river during the 1930s.  He was a stranger who lived in a dugout along the banks of the river.  He was a real "loner" and only came to our village to replenish his supplies.  No one ever got to know him as he pretty well kept to himself. He stayed around most of the summer and then took off for parts unknown, never to be seen along our river again.

You seldom see anyone panning for gold any more.  No doubt a supply of gold dust still remains along the different sandbars.  With the price at $300, an ounce you would think it would be well worth going after but for some unknown reason,  however it no longer attracts people like it did during the 1930s and 1940s.