Golden Triangle: A Brief History

The Stikine Territory, circa 1870

Interest in the area dates back to 1862 when “Buck” Choquette found gold on the Stikine River … to put things in context, in 1862 Lincoln was the US President.

If you follow `Canadian mining stocks, you’re already familiar with an area of British Columbia known as the Golden Triangle – home to some of the world’s most prolific mineral deposits.

Interest in the area dates back to 1862 when “Buck” Choquette found gold on the Stikine River, 150 miles upstream from Wrangell, Alaska. To put things in context, in 1862 Lincoln was the US President, the US Civil War was in full-swing, Alaska was still a colony of Russia, and the new colony of British Columbia was only five years old. Northern BC was owned by the Hudson Bay Company and British Columbia was still nine years away from joining the new country of Canada.

News of Choquette’s discovery spread quickly down the west coast and over 800 miners – mostly Americans – left Victoria for Wrangell. Intimidated by the Stikine’s unforgiving terrain, not all of them made the trip upstream. The Stikine Gold Rush fizzled and soon became overshadowed by Billy Barker’s 1863 discovery of gold in the Caribou.

Eager to impose tariffs and licenses on the Stikine speculators, James Douglas the Governor of British Columbia, declared British ownership over the “Stickeen Territories”. He took the area away from the exclusive domain of the Hudson Bay Company and assigned the region to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of BC. In doing so, what we refer to today as “northern BC” became part of British Columbia.

In 1872, gold was discovered near Dease Lake in the Cassiar country to the northeast of the Stikine. The Cassiar Gold Rush was a significant find – in 1874 alone, more than a million dollars in gold was mined from the area but by the 1880s mining activity had slowed as miners continued north in search of the motherlode. By 1896, the focus had moved to the Klondike and discoveries along the Yukon River which eventually extended Nome Alaska, in 1899.

Over the next hundred years, low commodity prices generated little interest in gold exploration. The few mines that remained in the Golden Triangle, failed to generate a profit and closed. Yet, there was always a glimmer. Cominco discovered the “Snip” Deposit in 1964 but it was 20 years before it was explored in earnest. Snip yielded more than one million ounces of gold through the 1990s averaging more than 27 grams/tonne from 1991 – 1999. Eskay Creek which closed in 2008 was a major discovery that produced more than 3 million ounces of gold and 160 ounces of silver.

Investment in mining ebbs and flows based on relatable factors – just like those who didn’t venture up the Stikine to explore the area near Buck Choquette’s claim, todays exploration companies have been reluctant to invest in an area so remote. That change in 2008, when gold prices crept north of $1,000 / oz.

Pretium and Seabridge lead the way. Pretium’s Brucejack Project, located in the Central Stikine – the mid-section of the Golden Triangle – has proven to be one of the richest ore bodies in the world. Mining construction started in earnest in 2016 and mining commenced in July 2017. Seabridge’s KSM Project, still undeveloped, is widely considered to be the largest gold project in the world with reserves of nearly 40 million ounces of gold, over 180 million ounces of silver and over 10 billion pounds of copper.

This time, the government invested in the area. The BC Government paved the Stewart-Cassiar highway north of Smithers and funded the construction of a $ 700 million high-voltage transmission line bringing reliable power within reach of mines and exploration camps that were, previously, off-grid. Communication solutions providers stepped in to enable better communications between field operations and head-offices. Airports in the area improved and the area now enjoys direct service to both Calgary and Vancouver.

Today, more than 220 exploration and mining companies are working in Northern BC. More than 60 of them are working in the Golden Triangle.