A proposed new gold mine in historic Wells, B.C., is creating concerns it could damage local tourism

·3 min read

In a part of B.C. with a long history of gold mining, a revival of the industry is stirring up conflicting opinions.

Dave Jorgenson and his wife Cheryl own two guesthouses and a gift shop in the central Interior community of Wells, B.C., where gold was king until the 1930s.

Over the past two decades, the Jorgensons have been working hard to maintain the small town as a tourist destination, but they fear an underground gold mine a Montreal-based company proposes to build near Wells will put an end to that.

Wells is seven kilometres from the National Historic Site of Barkerville which preserves the streetscapes of the gold-rush town that boomed in the 1860s making it one of North America's largest living museums.

Technological changes later made underground mining the area's key industry.

Facebook/Barkerville Historic Town & Park
Facebook/Barkerville Historic Town & Park

Now, Osisko Gold Royalties, which owns the Barkerville Gold Mines (BGM) based in Wells, plans to launch the Cariboo Gold Project which is still going through the provincial government's environmental assessment process.

Part of the plan is to construct a 16-hectare ore-processing concentrator complex — with a 12-storey waste rock treatment tower — near a visitor information centre in western Wells.

Big eyesore to town

Jorgenson says the building will be a big eyesore and will scare many travellers away along with noise from mineral carrying trucks.

"That [tower] will dominate the landscape as you drive into town," he told Carolina de Ryk, host of CBC's Daybreak North.

BGM has been doing mine exploration for the Cariboo Gold Project over the past four years.

Jorgenson says the company and its contractors have already bought up 80 per cent of the hotel rooms in Wells and neighbouring Barkerville and turned them into staff housing, but workers don't stay in town long-term and accommodations are often left empty for most of the year.

"The result is that people [tourists] don't come to our stores to shop or eat … don't have the opportunity to extend their stay," he said. "All tourism dollars have stopped flowing in our community."

COVID proves tourism unsustainable in Wells

Ian Douglas, a gold prospector who has lived in Wells for seven years, agrees that BGM shouldn't be under-using the hotel rooms it's purchased but says it doesn't really matter right now. The pandemic has already dealt a severe blow to local tourism, an industry he once worked in.

"Tourism isn't going to be able to sustain Wells as it used to," Douglas told Matt Allen, guest host of CBC's Daybreak North. "The [Cariboo Gold Project] mine in its current planning position will help subsidize our existence."

Douglas says he is eagerly awaiting the job opportunities at BGM.

"I would love to use it as a foot in the door to the rest of the industry," he said. "[Training] at BGM and working there for a few years could get you a job anywhere else in the industry."

Submitted by Dave Jorgenson
Submitted by Dave Jorgenson

Jorgenson has suggested BGM build the gold mine 600 metres away from Wells, but he says the company is resisting the idea.

"They've chosen the place that's the most economical for Osisko shareholders in other parts of the world, but I don't believe that they've chosen the best place for the stakeholders that are the people in our community," he said.

Douglas says relocating the mine somewhere else may not be feasible.

"I … don't think that there is any other place to put such a complex, readily available nearby, that wouldn't take more time or energy to construct," he said.

In a written statement to CBC News, Barkerville Gold Mines says it has been listening to Wells residents and has made adjustments to the Cariboo Gold Project.

Tap the link below to listen to Dave Jorgenson's interview on Daybreak North:

Tap the link below to listen to Ian Douglas' interview on Daybreak North:

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