Pre-1930’s Wells: The Little Town That Could

Before the town of Wells was established in the early 1930s, there were a small number of people living in the area. After the first Cariboo Gold Rush had waned, there were still some miners and people living in Barkerville and, on the future site of Wells, there was a tiny camp that housed a few miners, a stopping house (or roadhouse), and a sawmill operation.

The Clarke and McIntyre Sawmill

Clarke’s sawmill was one of the early landmarks of the area. When Clarke started up his sawmill, he not only managed the operation, he also cut the timber himself. A number of other buildings soon sprung up around the mill. These included a stable and two shacks for drying lumber. Clarke also built a house with an office for himself and his family, and a large log bunkhouse for his workers. John Peterson, an engineer and Dunc McIntyre, mill superintendent, operated Clarke’s steam-powered mill. Logs from the south-east side of Jack of Clubs Lake were floated to the north shore where they were stored until low water. Clarke sold the mill to the John Hopp Company and, for a time, it supplied timber for the company’s mines at Lowhee and Stout’s Gulch in addition to selling lumber locally.

View of the Sawmill showing the extent of Jack of Clubs Lake

Before the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mine was established the Jack of Clubs Lake covered the entire flats and extended to the mouth of the Willow River. Tailings from the mine were dumped into the lake, eventually extending the shore back to its current location. The mountain on the north side of the Jack of Clubs Lake was covered with very large spruce and pine trees. A 1916 forest fire destroyed this stand of trees.

Other people that lived in the area were men such as Julius Powell, who occupied a cabin at Clarke’s hayfield, now the site of the Wells school. Several miners operated in the area, two of the more well known ones were Alvin E. Sanders and Elmer Armstrong, from Oregon, who developed properties on Proserpine and Cow Mountains in 1917 known as the Rainbow Claims, at the northeast end of Jack of Clubs Lake. These claims would eventually become part of the Gold Quartz Mining Company.

Also at the future site of the town of Wells was a stamp mill. Peter Dunlevey, who had been mining in the area since 1886, built the stamp mill in the 1880s. The mill was constructed with the assistance of the Government in Victoria, which had offered a matching $20,000 to the first person to erect a ten stamp mill in the Cariboo. Dunlevey built the mill near Barkerville as it was the centre of mining activity at the time, and there was a good deal of space and available water to run the mill. Ore came from Burns Mountain, Jack of Clubs mine, Blackjack and many other mines in the area. The stamp mill operated into the early 1900s.

In 1902 Seymour Baker, a surveyor who was also the first manager of Dunlevey’s stamp mill, purchased claims on Proserpine and Island Mountain from his employer Peter Dunlevey. In 1903 Baker established the first complete assay office and laboratory in Barkerville. Baker believed that the future of gold recovery in the area depended upon hard rock quartz mining. After years of effort, he proved his theory and sold his property to Newmont Mines in 1933. This group of claims would later become the famous Island Mountain Mine.


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