Gold miner Mitch Mortensen is the perfect advocate for placer mining in B.C.

This thought leader is sitting on a gold mine of deposits as well as priceless ideas

by Virginia Rasch
Mortensen standing with shovel in forest.

Mitch Mortensen is using his 30+ years of experience in mining exploration to be a strong advocate for sustainable mining. His speciality is placer mining, and here he’s on French Snowshoe Creek, Yanks Peak, using a Keene Highbanker to sluice gold. — Photo courtesy Mitch Mortensen

If Mitch Mortensen needs to craft his personal mission statement, he’s got one right here:

“Placer mining has no credible representation in the media so I am endeavouring to fill that void,” he said.

With a family history of placer mining and a gold mine to boot, Mortensen is a passionate advocate for responsible mining. He is president of Snowshoe Mountain Resources Corp. in Mackenzie, B.C., and founder of the Omineca Mining Association, a non-profit with a focus on promoting sustainable mining practices in B.C.

He holds strong opinions but they are based on a lifetime of boots on the ground and shovels in the dirt—in other words, on life experiences. He knows the systems, he knows what works and he knows what needs to be fixed.

For example, Mortensen looks at old mines that have been abandoned and are leaching toxins.

“The best way to deal with the leaching toxins is to mine out the resource completely and then reclaim the land,” he said.

He believes that both placer mining and reopening old mines can be an important part of reconciliation and wealth for Aboriginal peoples.

“It is my view that mining is as viable a means to support themselves as fishing, hunting or trapping,” he said.

Another example of Mortensen’s ideas stems from his frustrations with getting permits, an all-too-familiar problem for miners.

“It is an arrogant presumption to think our elected officials know what we as individuals know. We the people must take a certain responsibility towards ensuring our elected officials receive the right information,” he said.

Thus, he feels the responsibility to educate people and politicians and thus turn around the continued alienation of placer mining.

As for working towards a sustainable economy, Mortensen has views on that too.

“B.C. at this time is not prepared to meet the needs required for a lower carbon future because B.C. is unwilling to meet the needs of the industry that actually mines these minerals,” he said. “So long as the industry struggles to get a permit approved, B.C. will only be poised to exploit the idea of mining.

“There is a certain hypocrisy to having contempt for mining in your own province and yet be completely dependent on resources mined from third-world countries. You're buying a cell phone for your 12-year-old child made of resources mined by another 12-year-old.”

Mortensen takes his responsibilities seriously as a spokesman for placer mining.

“Understanding our past is important because it enables us to become stewards of the industry,” he said. “I believe it will be leadership from the individual placer miners actively engaging the public to dispel the misinformation about placer mining.

“It is leadership through education and industry transparency that will win the day for sustainable mining in B.C. and Canada.”

Mortensen sitting beside lit candle in old cabin.

Mortensen loves the adventures he experiences while placer mining. Here he visits the Winger Cabin on Little Snowshoe Creek, Yanks Peak. It was built in 1917 by Thomas Kinvig (Ethel Winger’s father). — Photo courtesy Mitch Mortensen

There is a lot of depth to this miner, but it’s not all serious. He has fun, childlike curiosity and boundless energy as seen in his Free Miner videos, a series he created as one of his contributions to the education cause.

“Everybody loves adventure and the thrill of discovery, and some of us actually need that to function in life,” he said. “Mining is where you can make a discovery and go down in history.”

His family business is also sitting on a potential “gold mine” of a mine. An ore sample that yields 0.5 ppm of gold means that a gold mine may be economical. Below, Mortensen discloses what he’s been finding in his family’s samples.

Here’s our interview with Mitch Mortensen:

Your family has a history of placer mining. Tell me about the Snowshoe Mountain Resources Corp.

Snowshoe Mountain Resources Corp. is a family business and was established to prepare the way for a project to be advanced into development. Both got started in 2012.

My step-father came into my life when I was about four years old. He married my mother in 1980, and when he retired we moved out to Cariboo Lake. Living there was a life-altering experience for me in the mid-1980s in grade school.

But 50 years earlier, he was a young teenager placer miner with his uncle and grandfather in this area during the 1930s. Following his tour in the Second World War, he tried to get his own mining operations going but took a step back because of the difficulty in procuring the money to get an operation into production. Yes, I have come to understand that some projects take generations to realize. Yanks Peak, formally known as Snowshoe Mountain, still is my playground as much as it is still a classroom of learning. My son has also taken to spending some time there as well and has interest in placer mining too.

Please briefly describe your latest gold find at Sunrise Operations.

The latest find on Sunrise comes from passive seismic conducted in 2021 through Westcoast Placers. I am thankful that I took the time to do video and photos of those operations because what was found appears to be several tertiary river channels converging, including a massive canyon draining north. This may be the same northern outflow that John Hobson described in his notes about the Bullion Mine.

Sunrise is permitted for drilling, and the data indicates that this delta has a massive volume of river gravels that makes even a low-grade gold mine feasible. So far the best assay is 800 ppb (0.8 ppm) of gold and that is exceptional.

What is your current position with the Omineca Mining Association? As editor of The Golden Shovel quarterly newsletter and a contributor through your column, Mitch’s Musings, what types of stories and issues do you like to cover and why?

My current position with the Omineca Mining Association is as one of the founders and the secretary/treasurer of the organization. At the time of founding, I was having a lot of conflict with the Ministry over a Notice of Work. So much so that it was either give up or push back. We were shut down for the better part of four seasons, and although we finally got our permit, that project has not recovered since. What is disappointing is it took me three years just to advance that project from a claim to a stage working with scientists and five university students from all over North America. These were graduate students gaining work experience through an internship.

At the same time as our first troubles with the Notice of Work, our Statement of Work report from the previous year was also called into question. When the Ministry was done, the accusational tone softened to “we just wanted more information.” It was a humiliating experience to be treated that way.

Through the Association, The Golden Shovel has afforded me the opportunity to form the avenues of expression necessary for miners to voice their concerns, all the while keeping the writing informative, in good taste and less adversarial to the Ministry. Placer mining has no credible representation in the media so I am endeavouring to fill that void.

I like to publish a variety of stories that are mining based but I am open to publishing good stories that can fit the theme of The Golden Shovel.

The first lesson for any writer is to write what you know. So far I have been writing about the Cariboo and also about emergency response. These are things I know something about.

Knowing our country’s mining history is important for everything from exploration today to the effects on the environment. I do my best to keep a balanced point in Mitch’s Musings and that point is based in equality.

For example, when the Mount Polley Mine blew out, there were five million tons of sediment material that slid into Quesnel Lake. The only thing historically comparable regarding sediment, ironically enough, was just downstream of Mount Polley. It was the largest hydraulic mine on the planet in its day—called the Bullion Mine. Approximately 220 million tons of sediment were washed with billions of cubic feet of water into the Quesnel River during the lifetime of that mine. That history offers a reasonable prediction of the environmental and ecological result of what eight million cubic metres of sediment and 17 million cubic metres of water from the Mount Polley spill into Quesnel Lake will do.

The Mount Polley Mine spill should never have happened, but my point is it is embarrassing how the media manipulated a poorly informed public instead of doing investigative and balanced reporting.

As people we are heavy handed in our opinion of politicians and bureaucrats but it really is a system created by people and run by people. Improvements start with the people having greater knowledge and integrity towards the office and as stewards of the industry instead of just expecting these virtues from the Crown representatives.

Mortensen standing in front of flume at Barkerville.

“Knowing our country’s mining history is important for everything from exploration today to the effects on the environment,” said Mortensen. “Mining is the one career where you become part of history.” Here he’s in front of a flume in Barkerville, the main town of the Cariboo Gold Rush in B.C. in the 1860s. — Photo courtesy Mitch Mortensen

Not only is respect for the environment a critical part of mining nowadays but also respect for Indigneous groups. How have you been working with Indigenous groups?

Working with the Aboriginal peoples is a challenge. It is my view that mining is as viable a means to support themselves as fishing, hunting or trapping. However, the negativity surrounding “colonialism” and its relationship to placer mining have made relations extremely difficult.

The Chilcotin War is just one dark chapter of mining history that involved a Yankee invasion inviting chiefs to a “peace meeting” who were subsequently hung as murderers. Unless filled with compassion, an apology is hollow.

For another example, the Fraser River area is where the gold rush started. Now, because of the continued alienation of placer mining, it has resulted in a complete closeout of rich gold-bearing ground from the Fraser River mouth all the way to Lytton. All this is done in the name of preserving salmon habitat. However, what is not being discussed are the science and facts that support dredging as a means to enhance salmon habitat. Also not being discussed are the ancient channels of the Fraser that are well away from its current channel or the sand bars in the river channel that replenish with fine gold every spring. With the closeout has also gone the opportunity for everyone including the Aboriginal peoples to make a gainful living from placer mining in the future. In fact, many of the Aboriginal peoples did quite well mining for themselves during the gold rush.

It is embarrassing that Canada has been the subject of a United Nations resolution regarding the Aboriginal Nations of this country.

One of the few connections I have made is with Hank Siegel. He just recently returned from the Vatican with Phil Fontaine. He was there in person to receive the Pope’s historic apology. Hank is dedicated to seeing the next generation in more important roles such as trades and project management. People need to understand that what we take for granted as a civilization was stripped away from these people over several generations. It must be restored.

My goal is to create and maintain genuine connections with Indigenous peoples throughout this country. I am in the process of drafting an idea to present to Conservative Party that will effectively open up all these abandoned hard-rock mines that are leaching toxins into the environment. These mines need to be mined out and then closed out properly. We need the minerals for our civilization anyway, and the best way to deal with the leaching toxins is to mine out the resource completely and then reclaim the land. It is my intention that working with the Aboriginal peoples on such an endeavour will forge genuine reconciliation.

I quoted former deputy minister Dave Nikolejsin on the Omineca Mining Association homepage and I agree with him:

“B.C. is well endowed with natural resources that the world needs. If those resources don’t come from a place like B.C. that has extremely strong environmental standards, they will come from somewhere else.”

Why is mining in B.C. superior to mining in other parts of the world, especially in third-world countries? Do you feel B.C. can and should be a model to the world in these regards?

We are not superior to mining in other parts of the world. In fact, we are accomplices to the exploitation of resources in third-world countries.

There is a certain hypocrisy to having contempt for mining in your own province and yet be completely dependent on resources mined from third-world countries. You're buying a cell phone for your 12-year-old child made of resources mined by another 12-year-old.

British Columbia is already a model to the world. What that model is tomorrow is up to British Columbia.

How is B.C. poised to meet the needs of minerals required for our lower carbon future?

B.C. at this time is not prepared to meet the needs required for a lower carbon future because B.C. is unwilling to meet the needs of the industry that actually mines these minerals. So long as the industry struggles to get a permit approved, B.C. will only be poised to exploit the idea of mining.

How does understanding our past help to shape the future of this important industry?

Understanding our past is important because it enables us to become stewards of the industry. It is an arrogant presumption to think our elected officials know what we as individuals know. We the people must take a certain responsibility towards ensuring our elected officials receive the right information.

Mortensen’s son panning for gold.

Mortensen’s son, CJ Gibson, has taken an interest in placer mining too. — Photo courtesy Mitch Mortensen

In your opinion, what else needs to be done in terms of leadership (and by whom) to move sustainable mining forward in B.C. and Canada? In what ways can we encourage buy-in for this approach to mining by the general public?

It is leadership through education and industry transparency that will win the day for sustainable mining in B.C. and Canada.

While we have all enjoyed the Gold Rush TV series, right now a ripple is going through the placer mining industry. For the first time, we are seeing the industry on full public display through YouTube. Channels such as Dan Hurd (a high school teacher) and Canadian Gold Mining are teaching what we do and how we do it. Free Miners is a series I created to be my own contribution to the cause. MineWorld is a platform that was created to host several channels.

I believe it will be leadership from the individual placer miners actively engaging the public to dispel the misinformation about placer mining.

Having been in the mining industry for 30 years, you’ve seen many cycles of boom and bust. We’re now in a boom with huge demand for minerals for greening our economy. What helps you personally ride these waves of boom and bust?

I ride these waves like a roller coaster. It scares the heck out of me at times but it's a much better ride than the merry-go-round. The merry-go-round just goes around and would make me throw up like the thought of a regular job for the rest of my life. Everybody loves adventure and the thrill of discovery, and some of us actually need that to function in life.

Is mining a good career choice and why? What do you look for in a new hire?

Mining is the one career where you become part of history. Just by staking a claim you become recorded in the government records. Historical documents are available for researching your claim. The work you do is recorded, including technical reports that contribute to the record. Mining is where you can make a discovery and go down in history.

Gold is the most stable investment. Unlike a high-interest savings account, gold keeps up with inflation.

Placer miners most often work alone or with partners rather than teams. Through the internship program, I saw virtues in a student that are vital to this career choice, such as genuine childlike curiosity that drives a person to climb a mountain simply because it's there. It's not just the gold but a thirst for experiencing one’s surroundings.

For example, I wanted to have a closer look at a gravel layer exposed in a steep area. As a general rule, I only gamble with my life rather than my money. Now there was some slide risk so I told the students to wait at the bottom and I started to climb. I was most of the way up when I realized that one student was two steps behind. At that moment, I was apprehensive, but I was also impressed.

Rainbow at end of dirt road.

If you are part of Mortensen’s family business, there is indeed gold at the end of the rainbow. — Photo courtesy Mitch Mortensen

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