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The Bullion Pit Mine

The Bullion Pit Mine


The Bullion Pit and the Drop Pit Mine

Drop pit or bullion pit trench cut out with water moniters

The Bullion Pit, was once called the’ Largest Hydraulic Placer Mine in the World.

This astonishing man-made gorge now stands as a silent tribute to man’s ability to move mountains and his tenacity in the hunt for Gold.

Located just 3 Miles downriver from the town of Likely BC, the Bullion Pit measures over 3 Kilometers in length, 800 feet wide and over 400 feet deep.   At its peak this legendary mine consisted of 35 building including a bunkhouse for 120 workers, a general store, a hospital, cook shack, blacksmith shop & stables. It was made up of 8 mining leases and over 446 acres of land on the west side of Quesnel River.  The mines boundaries extended 1.7 miles upriver from Quesnel Forks, an industrious stop on the Gold Rush trail.

Gold was first found at this site in 1870 by a small scale miner of Chinese descent.  Mining back then would have been back breaking work. Miners would have had to haul and dig everything by hand, and the biggest challenge with this particular location was its Gold rich ground was covered in a thick layer of clay overburden.

Bullion pit info sign

Twenty four years later, in 1894 the site was bought by a J.B Hobson from the Cariboo Hydraulic Mining Company.  Hydraulic mining was a new innovation in the hunt for gold. It’s claim to fame was that made life easier for gold hunters by removing troublesome overburden quickly.   The problem with Hydraulic mining was that it needs an extensive supply of water to help move those mountains.  J. B Hobson’s first order of business after purchasing the mine was to secure a vast water source so his company could begin mining operations.

Drop pit

Within a short period of time a number creeks and lakes in the surrounding area were soon under the control of the Bullion Mine.  In order to divert enough water to the mine, an extensive system of ditches and reservoirs were built from Polley Lake and Bootjack Lake.  The small canals measured 6 feet wide by 7 feet deep. These interlocking channels moved water quickly and smoothly over 17 miles to the awaiting Monitors.

water monitor at bullion pit

Hydraulic mining uses jet or canons called ‘Water Monitors’ to spray copious amounts of water at overburden, washing it away to reveal gold rich pay dirt!

The immense water system took over 2 years to build as each canal had to be dug by hand.  Records from that time say the total reservoir capacity was over 1 billion cubic feet of water and produced enough water to operate the mine 24 hours per day, from April until August. Rumor had it that at its peak the mine used more water everyday than the city of Vancouver.

Later, an addition 11 miles of ditches were added from Morehead Creek, eventually creating the present-day Morehead Lake, to increase the mines operations.

As workers dug the canals they were also instructed to build twelve cabins along the ditch for workers to live in.  Theses cabins were connected to the main camp by a private telephone system, so the Bullion Pit manager could give orders to the water lock operators on how to regulate the flow of water.

water monitor

After the ditches were completed the company deciding to dig deep and test its new hydraulic system, it refocused on the original ground the Chinese miners had discovered.  The company successfully pulled over $92,000 worth of gold from that previously mined area of the Pit.  And in the spring of 1900 the Bullion Pit swung into full operation.  That year they removed over $350,000 in gold from the mine.  In today’s terms the would translate into $20.32 million dollars of gold.

The value of gold recovered each year varied greatly due to the amount of water that was available and the number of times the mine changed hands.  According to the government of BC over its lifetime, the Bullion Mine produced over 175,644 ounces of Gold!  That would equate to just over $218,676,780 in gold recovered. The mine finally was abandoned in 1942, after many regulation changes increased the costs of gold recovery.

Water monitor

Many years later, the mines neighbors from Likely BC decided that a least one portion of the mine should not go to waste and a group of volunteers decided to repurpose the old Cook Shack.  The old structure was moved into the town of Likely and residents today continue to use it as the Local Community Hall.

For more information you can read an article called Water, Gold and Obscurity: British Columbia’s Bullion Pit.  Or watch this video on Youtube called Gold Trails and Ghost Towns – The Bullion Pit


  1. Lake interrupted | The Narwhal - […] itself was dammed to excavate the riverbed for gold (salmon be damned), and just above Likely, the Bullion gold…

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