Bruce Chaytor sticks a shovel into the dirt.
After carefully pouring the material into a black pan, he steps into the Goldstream River and allows the stream to fill the pan. He carefully shakes the pan as the liquid slowly erodes the dark pile.
He sifts his fingers through the remnants of sand and dirt before admitting there isn’t any gold this time.
Finding only mud is the norm, Chaytor says, yet the long-time placer miner just can’t stay away from gold panning.
“You’re happy even when you find a little gold dust. It is a quest, much like fishing. You are always trying to find which crack is worth the effort,” he says.
“You strategize, because you have substantial rocks you have to get under or around (and) there may be 100 different cracks to choose from. It is a singular pursuit of outsmarting Mother Nature.”
Chaytor, who lives in Langford, is the founder of the Vancouver Island Placer Miner Association, a group that pans for minerals, unlike hard-rock miners, who may blast or drill for them. Once a week he gets out onto one of his five claims – land on which he owns the mineral and placer rights.
Those claims, for which he paid $300 each to the province, stretch across portions of the Leech River near Sooke. There’s no making a living from this hobby, Chaytor admits. He and the approximately 100 members of the group chase the glitter and glow of gold for the rush.
“I look at it as redneck recreation,” he says, jokingly. “A lot of people like to go down the trails, sniff flowers and look at the birds and bees. Some of us like to get into nature and roll around in it.”
Chaytor and his wife, Donna, have been placer mining for decades.
Greater Victoria and the surrounding areas played an important role in the gold rush. Those who may not have gone chasing into the Cariboo or Klondike to find their fortune settled around Leechtown near Sooke, a now-defunct settlement built on the allure of gold 150 years ago.
“The people of this area don’t realize how incredible the gold rush was and how incredible the exploration that found the gold was and what it did to the economy in Victoria,” Donna Chaytor says.
”It was short lived, but it brought on different industries that has brought sustenance to the southern part of Vancouver Island for many years.”
A new monument marking Leechtown’s 150th anniversary was unveiled July 19 in Kapoor Regional Park in Sooke along the Galloping Goose trail, on the edge of where the town once stood. Donna says it stands as a reminder of what the gold industry meant to the area, including the naming of one of the West Shore’s most famous streets.
“That is why it is called Goldstream Avenue, because there used to be a huge underground mine where they found gold and a big hard rock exploration in the late 1800’s,” she says.
“We (just) want to keep history alive.”
In the meantime the couple, who both have what they call a healthy collection of gold pieces, kept mostly as souvenirs, continue panning streams and rivers in search of nuggets.
“It has evolved into a lifestyle … It is an individualist pursuit in most cases,” Bruce says.
“But the interesting thing is everyone has a tale of reaching into a hole and finding treasure. No one remembers reaching into the hole and pulling out mud.”
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