Miners used many different methods and equipment to wrest the gold out of the rivers and ground of British Columbia.

The basic tool of the solitary miner was the gold pan, supplemented at times by a rocker. Once miners started to band together, they would build other equipment such as sluice boxes, and flumes. Tunnels and shafts often had to be constructed to get at the gold deep in the ground. However, the basic principle of separating the "gold" from the "dirt" relied on the fact that the gold was heavier than anything else.

Gold Panning

Prospectors would use gold panning to both find the gold in creeks and streams, as well as to recover it.

Two Men with Gold Pans in River, Cariboo, Detail of A-06395
Two Men with Gold Pans in River,
Cariboo, Detail of A-06395
A shovelful of dirt and gravel would be placed into the pan. The pan would then be lowered into the water and gently moved in circles. Large stones in the pan would thrown out, and the dirt broken up using the miner's fingers. As the pan moved in circles, muddy water and sand would float out of the pan, with the much heavier gold remaining at the bottom of the pan.

Cradles or Rockers

Bill Phinney With Hand Rocker at the Caledonia Claim
Bill Phinney With Hand Rocker
at the Caledonia Claim
Faster and more productive than panning, but still easily moved around was the cradle or rocker. These devices were similar to a baby's cradle in that they could be rocked back and forth using a handle.

Dirt and gravel and water would be placed onto a box on top of the cradle that had holes in it. Underneath the box on top was a sloping and rounded surface covered in canvas called the "slide or apron". As the cradle was rocked, the finer gold and sand, would wash through the holes in the top box and be caught by ridges and canvas on the apron. The larger rocks caught by the hopper would be thrown out, and the process repeated with a new batch of dirt and gravel.


Men Posed on Flume, William's Creek
Men Posed on Flume,
William's Creek
Water was not always right at hand where the miner needed it. Long wooden troughs called "flumes" used gravity to bring the water down to the site of the diggings. The flumes would be often be held up and supported off the ground by timbers. Flumes sometimes had to run long distances and even span over deep gorges.


Sluicing was even better than using a cradle as a flow of running water did most most of the work of separating the gold from the dirt and gravel.

Sluicing, Ne'er-Do-Well Claim, Grouse Creek
Ne'er-Do-Well Claim
Grouse Creek
A sluice box was an long open wooden trough that got narrower and lower at one end. Dirt and gravel would be placed at the top and washed down the length of the sluice by a constant stream of water, usually from a flume. Gold would be caught either by "riffles" (ridges on the bottom of the sluice box) or by a false bottom with holes in it. Mud and the larger chunks of rock would wash out the lower end leaving the gold behind.

Shafts and Tunnels

To get to gold that was deep in the ground, miners had to "sink shafts" down into the ground and "run tunnels" into the side of a hill.

Windlass at the Barker Claim
Windlass at the
Barker Claim
Shafts went straight down like a well. Miners raised the rock and gravel up to the surface using a windlass and a bucket or tub.

The Neversweat Mine, Williams Creek
The Neversweat Mine
Williams Creek
Tunnels were dug horizontally into the side of a hill or at the bottom of a gulch or a ravine. The sides and the roof of the tunnel had to be supported against cave-ins by the use of heavy timbers. Rock and gravel would be removed from the tunnel using either wheelbarrows, or a narrow track of rails and a rail car.

Cornish Wheel

Miners who had dug shafts into the ground were often faced with water seeping into the shaft and flooding it.

Cornish Wheel and Flume, The Davis Claim, Williams Creek
Cornish Wheel and Flume,
The Davis Claim,
Williams Creek
The "Cornish Wheel" consisted of a large wooden wheel with shelves. Water would be fed to the wheel using flumes and then allowed to fall onto the top of the wheel and its shelves, making it turn. The wheel would then drive a rocker arm, which in turn would pump water from the mine shaft.

Hydraulic Mining

The quickest way of mining gold from hills was the use of hydraulic mining, but it was not used in British Columbia until later years.

Slough Creek<BR>Hyraulicking
Slough Creek
Hydraulic Mining, 1897
Water would be carried to the mining site via canals and ditches where it would go into a hose. The beginning of the hose was larger and higher than the other end which would have a pipe attached to it, so the weight of the water going into the hose would force it out the other end at great pressure. It was like mining using a fire engine hose, as the jet of water would cut into the hillside, washing the dirt and gravel down into a sluice box.

Unfortunately, this could also be quite dangerous. It was not uncommon for overly eager miners to be buried when the bank of a hillside caved down on top of them. The quickest method of attempting a rescue was to "sluice them out" using the same jet of water.

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