Adam Palmer has spent 10 years chasing a tantalizing legend — even though it comes with a curse
Brad Badelt · Posted: Oct 07, 2019 12:52 PM ET | Last Updated: July 28, 2020
The Doc Project29:53Searching for Slumach’s Gold
Originally published on October 7, 2019.
Every summer for the past decade, Adam Palmer, 39, has spent weeks scouring the mountains near Pitt Lake, B.C., in search of a mythic lost mine known as Slumach’s gold.
He’s hiked countless miles on logging roads, crossed icy glaciers and bushwhacked through thick coastal forest, only to return home empty-handed each time.
That is, until now.
On a clear morning in late July, Palmer showed me where he believes one of Canada’s most famous lost gold mines is hidden.
We were standing in a remote alpine meadow, surrounded by jagged mountains, some 50 kilometres east of Vancouver. In the centre of the meadow were the remnants of an abandoned log cabin and beside it a rusted shovel and chisel — the tools of a gold prospector from decades ago.
“We think that this prospector was after Slumach’s gold, if he hadn’t already found it,” Palmer explained, his voice brimming with optimism.
Closing in on a legend
Over the past century, hundreds — maybe even thousands — of people have looked for the fabled mine, which is said to be worth billions. Several prospectors have died trying to find it, others have gone missing. To date, no one has ever conclusively located it.
But with his discovery of the prospector’s cabin, Palmer believes he is finally getting close. In addition to the cabin and mining tools, Palmer found an old glass jar that contained ore and what appeared to be gold.
We’d flown to the cabin site in a helicopter (he works for the company as an outdoor guide) so he could show me these clues first-hand, on the ground.
Palmer planned to return a few weeks later to search the surrounding mountains for the mine. Slumach’s gold, he believed, was finally within reach.
I had one niggling question — does this mythic mine actually exist?
Who was Slumach?
The story of Slumach’s gold is a curious mix of fact and folklore. It begins in the late 1800s, when an Indigenous man known only as Slumach was found guilty of murder and hanged in New Westminster, B.C.
Not long after his death, rumours began to surface that Slumach had discovered a lucrative — and hidden — stash of gold in the mountains, near Pitt Lake. Slumach, it was said, would bring walnut-sized nuggets of gold into saloons in New Westminster.
Just before Slumach was hanged, it was rumoured that he muttered a curse on anyone who dared to search for his gold mine: “Nika memloose, mine memloose.” Loosely translated from the Chinook language, the words mean, “When I die, the mine dies.”
There’s little evidence to support any of the story, particularly the curse, but rumours of Slumach’s gold began to attract more prospectors to the area.
In the 1930s, hundreds of prospectors travelled into the mountains around Pitt Lake every summer in search of the gold, according to Rick Antonson, co-author of the book Slumach’s Gold: The Search for a Legend.
And they didn’t all make it back.
“The tally done by mainstream media years ago was that 33 or more [people] had fallen victims to the curse,” said Antonson, who, along with his brother Brian, has been fascinated with the Slumach story since he was a kid.
The legend of Slumach’s gold
1 year ago2:13
“We know the curse didn’t exist, but we also know that it’s treacherous territory.”
Several prospectors have even claimed to have found the gold. In the 1970s, for example, a forest surveyor named Stu Brown said he stumbled onto a stream near Pitt Lake that was ankle-deep with gold nuggets. But Brown was never able to pinpoint the location again.
An elaborate hoax?
But for all those who believe in Slumach’s gold, there are others who think it’s just a hoax. Fred Braches, a local historian who recently published a book titled Searching for Pitt Lake Gold: Facts and Fantasy in the Legend of Slumach, says there’s no evidence for most of the story.
Slumach was real, Braches says, “but he had nothing to do with gold.” Braches believes that the story of Slumach’s gold was created by locals in the Pitt Lake area to draw prospectors. More prospectors meant more jobs for guides and outfitters.
“There is no gold,” says Braches, “but it is gold in somebody’s mind, and that is important. People are looking for what they believe is there.”
But even today, there’s still a small community of people searching for the lost mine, sharing trip reports and swapping clues through Facebook and online message boards.
“You meet up and another story, another piece of the puzzle, comes out,” Palmer says.
The thrill of the hunt
For these modern-day searchers, like Palmer, it’s not about the money. Not anymore, at least. Much of the area where Slumach’s gold is supposedly hidden is within the boundaries of Pinecone Burke and Golden Ears provincial parks, where mining for gold is prohibited.
For Palmer, the search for Slumach’s gold is about the thrill of the hunt — trying to solve a mystery that no one else has been able to.
“If someone finds this gold,” he said, “you are now the hero of a bunch of men who have been looking for so many years.”
More than that, he says the search for the lost gold — all the dead ends and long days — has been about sharing the adventure with friends, some of whom he does trips with year after year.
“It’s all about the time that you spend,” he said. “It adds memories and those memories — that’s the real gold.”
After our helicopter trip in July, Palmer returned to the cabin site a few weeks later to search for the lost mine. And that’s when he made another surprising discovery: gold.
Not a lot of gold — just a few tiny flakes, but still. He found it while panning a stream near the abandoned cabin.
“I thought I was gonna drop it,” said Palmer, “and I knew that no one would believe me.”
He plans to go back again next summer, to find Slumach’s mine once and for all.
To hear the full documentary, tap or click the Listen link at the top of this page.
About the Producer
Brad Badelt is a freelance journalist based in Vancouver, B.C. His work has been nominated for two national magazine awards and he recently completed his first radio documentary for CBC’s Ideas. He hopes to never have to fly in a helicopter again.
This documentary was edited by Julia Pagel.