TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – The third instalment of the popular docu-series Yukon Gold will return to the History channel next week, giving viewers a modern-day, fly-on-the-wall peek at what exactly drove about 100 000 prospectors to give up everything and migrate north to the Klondike region of Northern Canada between 1896 and 1899, in the pursuit of gold.
Despite using modern technology that had opened up new opportunities on old workings, miners returning for the third season of the series told Mining Weekly Online that they were proud to keep the pioneering tradition alive, as they sought to pacify their own addictions to finding "that shiny yellow metal".
The series had evolved into a high stakes character-based documentary capturing the physical and emotional struggles faced by four sets of gold miners as they chased their individual goals over the 16-week Yukon gold mining season.
Returning from Season 2 were Ken Foy and Guillaume Brodeur, Karl Knutsen, and Cam Johnson. The latest season saw the addition of mining couple Nika Guilbault and Chris St Jean, marking a first for the series – a lead female miner.
In Season 3, Guilbault and St Jean were based on Stowe Creek with their toddler Zyla, exemplifying the shift towards a family focus at all four mining camps. Johnson’s large family worked with him on Ten Mile Creek; Brodeur’s wife and daughters lived in Dawson City and played a role in his story and Knutsen’s mother Maryann, not only his father Marty, also featured this season.
This season, each of the main character’s stories unfolded in unique ways.
Knutsen finished up at Sulphur Creek, where he’d been proving himself for the past two seasons, and moved on to a new challenge – resurrecting a mine on Last Chance Creek, right beside a burned out, abandoned dredge.
Guilbault and St Jean grappled with finding balance as the stress of their difficult season threatened to damage their relationship. Johnson set an extremely ambitious goal of recovering 1 500 oz of gold and found himself in an epic battle with frozen ground all season long. And Foy and Brodeur’s new partnership was tested as they set off on a prospecting journey to remote Arizona Creek and later tried to salvage their season on Cripple Hill, above the legendary Bonanza Creek.
Johnson affirmed to Mining Weekly Online that he was definitely addicted to gold; being outside and being away from everybody, all while making some good money. He described the freedom gold mining brought with it - cutting and digging and watching the earth release its bounty - as having a certain allure to it.
In the off-season, Johnson busied himself with a business in the oil patch. Despite the gold price being off its relative recent highs, he maintained that there were a lot of fundamentals going for it, and “it remained a very good business to be in”.
Johnson could not wait to get back to mining this spring, with the lower oil prices promising improved earnings. The low oil prices filtered through just too late to mitigate the lower gold price in the previous season.
He noted that new technologies were once more opening up a lot of previously exploited opportunities in the Yukon, allowing modern placer gold miners to more easily look for and find the ancient creeks that held the gold that was naturally mined by geophysical processes over millions of years.
“We just have to figure out where the old creeks ran. We will usually dig a trench across the whole valley on a claim (within the water permit’s regulations) to see where we can find evidence of ancient riverbeds. From what one finds there, one decides on a strategy [going] forward,” Johnson explained.
They also undertook some drilling at times, but he had found that it was not as accurate in determining coarse gold grades.
Johnson boasted that the largest nugget he had ever found on Ten Mile Creek was 27 g, just 4 g short of an ounce nugget.
Foy also told Mining Weekly Online that it was his love of gold that drove him to head back to the rugged Yukon season after season. Following in his father’s footsteps, Foy became involved in the business – perhaps as a stepping-stone to achieve his ultimate dream of flying helicopters.
In the past season, he was prospecting for a new claim and tested Arizona Creek for about a month-and-a-half, before later salvaging the season by being able to do some decent sluicing on a claim in the Dawson area.
Arizona Creek was very remote, about 200 km from Dawson City, in the Yukon Territory, and did not allow for all the heavy equipment to be taken in at this stage.
“The biggest challenge was to get out to Arizona Creek, living in Wal-Mart tents, eating instant food and really roughing it,” Foy reminisced.
Despite the gold price having a significant impact on their operations, Foy said that this past season he was not as severely impacted by the lower price, owing to it having been a prospecting season. However, following on from his first two disappointing seasons and despite having trimmed a lot of ‘fat’, the gold price slump to multiyear lows resulted in a significant loss on potential gold sales.
“We could not possibly trim more fat to recover that change in the market, [which] we had no control over. The impact is huge. While I work in the oil patch [in the off-season], I still wake up each morning and check the gold price because it has such a huge impact on my life,” Foy explained.
When asked about what impact a film crew had on daily operations, he said there was an initial learning curve involved in the first week of two, but after that the film crew became a part of the crew.
“They realise that when that trommel was not turning and dirt was not going through the sluice box, that we could not be bothered. We soon came to terms that they would not interfere with our operations when we are busy with important work and that at other times, when things are going well, we will take the time to do the interviews etcetera,” he revealed.
Foy suggested that he would rather love to spend the off-season with his wife Kina at home in Port Moody, British Columbia, but he had to provide and was working on oil pipelines in the province to raise the money needed to go back looking for gold the next season.
“It is not easy to work with family in stressful situations and mining seems to be the industry where stress seems to be pretty high all the time,” he noted.
He believed that he was helping to keep the pioneer tradition alive. “We are a dying breed. Stricter government regulations and environmental activists are making it harder and harder for us to continue operating,” Foy advised, adding that he would probably continue mining for placer gold for as long is it was physically possible.
The new season of Yukon Gold would premiere on Wednesday, February 25 at 22:00 Eastern Time/Pacific Time on History.