Bathurst prospector Claude Willett was still working at 97

People in Bathurst are saying goodbye this week to man who certainly staked his claim to the region.

Claude (Tidi) Willett died Saturday at the age of 97.

He was best known as an avid prospector who spent much of his life scouring the woods from Dalhousie to the Acadian Peninsula looking for the next big mineral find.

"Dad had started prospecting many years ago, back in the mid-'50s, when the original find for Brunswick No. 6 mine was discovered," said his son, George Willett.

"Dad, like many young men in Bathurst decided he would get himself the equipment, compass and everything else that was needed and look for the next big ore body."

With his great love of the outdoors and exercise, prospecting became a life-long passion for Willett, despite always working full time as well.

He had a number of significant finds in the area, the biggest being at Nine Mile Brook in 1975, south of the Brunswick Mines deposits.

"He had discovered a very high-grade find," said his son. "He developed it and he sold it to a company from the States."

He also made other finds, including a significant gold strike in the Belledune area and another at Middle River.

Son joins him

When George retired from his job at the high school, he asked his father, who was in his late 80s by then, if he needed help moving rocks around.

"I learned the skill of prospecting," said George Willett. "So Dad and I continued, we went partners on properties and claims, and even until this last summer and fall, Dad and I were going through the woods, looking for the big one."

Now the son has caught a bit of the same bug that his father had.

"I guess I have, I've broken enough rocks now that I've got to keep going," he said. "The funny thing was, I'd break the rocks and think I was rich, and Dad would just throw it in the ditch. He knew what a good rock looked like, and I'm just learning."

There's a visitation Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Elhatton's Funeral Home in Bathurst, and a funeral mass will be celebrated on Saturday, March 18, at 10 a.m. at the Sacred Heart Cathedral.