Real life rock star

Meet Tony Beets, veteran gold miner and one of the stars of Discovery Channel’s Gold Rush reality series.

by Kevin Miller
Tony Beets, Yukon gold miner and one of the stars of Gold Rush.

Tony Beets, Yukon gold miner and one of the stars of Gold Rush. — Justin Kelly photo

Whether or not he would succeed was never a question for Tony Beets, veteran gold miner and one of the stars of Discovery Channel’s Gold Rush reality series. It was only a matter of when and how.

Beets’s determination to prosper goes back to his early teen years in the Netherlands. After his father suffered a debilitating accident, Beets had to take over the family farm, which meant he often found himself in charge of men who were more than twice his age.

“I became the boss at a very early age,” Beets said. “So I decided I had to become equal or better than the people who worked for me. My whole life, wherever I went, if I wasn’t a foreman within a week... well, I’ve always kept one step ahead of the rest of them.”

Skeptical about the future of farming in the Netherlands, Beets and his new wife Minnie emigrated to Canada in 1980. Beets started out on a dairy farm near Salmon Arm, B.C. Within a couple of months, a new goal had formed in his mind.

“I heard through the grapevine that people in the Yukon were making $1,000 a week in the mines (equivalent to over $3,000 per week in today’s dollars). I figured I was going to make the same thing.”

Beets bought a plane ticket and flew up to Whitehorse, but he arrived too early in the season to get a gold mining job. So he returned to the farm for a few more months, before exchanging the milking machines of B.C. for the oil pipelines of Alberta. While in the oil patch, he finally landed a job in a Yukon gold mine, and he hasn’t looked back since.

Hard work necessary

Today, Beets owns one of the largest privately held placer gold mines in the territory. But if anyone thinks he’s riding the gravy train to riches, they can think again. Throughout the seven-month gold mining season, Beets and his crew work 12 to 14 hours a day, often in punishing weather conditions, battling constant breakdowns and the clock.

“You only have X amount of time in the season to be successful,” Beets said, “so you’d better be determined and get out of bed every morning and put in your seven days a week. Gold mining is a hands-on operation. If you’re not out there every day, it’s not going to happen.”

Despite such heroic efforts, success is never guaranteed.

“I have years where I think I’m on good ground, but at the end of the day we have trouble paying our bills. The ground is always determining your fate. And the good ground really is gone. If one day you make a million bucks in this business, I suggest you hang onto it pretty tightly, because you may need it next year.”

One of the perks of owning his operation is the opportunity to employ family members. Each season Beets works alongside Minnie and three of his four adult children.

If his onscreen persona is anything to go by, Beets is a tough man to please. Describing himself as a hands-on employer, he never passes up an opportunity to instill the importance of hard work and diligence in his children.

“I’m harder on them than I would be on any employee,” Beets said. “I work them hard and I expect a lot, but I pay them fair.”

Despite the tough love and the gruelling schedule, his children keep coming back each season.

“Either they like me or they like my money,” Beets said. “Either way, it’s great to have them around. And they still want to go on holiday with us during the off season, which in today’s world is quite something.”

While Beets thinks it’s a risky time for newcomers to enter the business, he does not believe it is impossible. However, he encourages prospective prospectors to think small.

“The smaller guys make just as much if not more than we do, because their input costs are lower. If you can get a piece of ground, I suggest that you concentrate on keeping your costs down. Don’t go for 5,000 ounces; go for 1,000. Your overhead will be smaller, and you’ll take home just as much.”

A little bit of good luck doesn’t hurt either, but Beets is the last person to leave success to chance.

“You have to give luck a little bit of a hand. Get out of bed a couple of minutes before everybody else. Don’t just talk about it. You gotta get out there and make it happen.”

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