The McLeod Luck: a Hard Rock Story

Read about a B.C. guy with a golden touch

by Gail Jansen-Kesslar

Don’t pick up The McLeod Luck: a Hard Rock Story expecting a dull, dry tome. This self-published memoir is an exciting read written by B.C. mining pioneer Don McLeod, a man who struck gold with ventures like Brandywine, Newhawk and Northair.

It’s a book about adventure, perseverance, hard work and more than just a little luck. McLeod’s good fortune brought him a string of successes throughout his 40-year career, but it also literally saved him multiple times from the clutches of death.

There’s the time he escaped a cave-in at the Britannia Mine in 1951 by jumping into an ore chute, as well as the avalanche that buried him alive near Tide Lake and the car crash that took the lives of four other passengers near his hometown of Stewart, B.C. The risks were all part of a life McLeod accepted when he chose mining over his family’s hotel business.

“My friends and family all used to tease me, ‘What life are you on now?’ ” said McLeod. “How many do you have left? And there’s even a few near misses that I forgot to mention in the book.”

McLeod said he rarely worried about the physical danger that was an intrinsic part of his life.

“The one place I did start to panic was when I was stuck on that mountain goat hunting,” said the 84-year-old of a tale he recounts in the book. “There, I really had to talk to myself into calming down, because I knew that if I lost my cool I’d never get out of it.”

A smart attitude

McLeod often exhibited the same devil-may-care attitude in his professional life. In the 1970s, he became the first miner in 40 years to open a gold operation in B.C. without the assistance of a major investor. He poured the Brandywine Mine’s first doré ingot on June 1, 1977, and over the next five years saw the property north of Vancouver produce $70 million worth of gold, silver, lead and zinc.

The book contains plenty of lessons for today’s mining industry players—even if they rarely wield a pickaxe. McLeod has a talent for making friends—nowadays called networking—and that ultimately helped him out of many tight spots. His basic philosophy is one that never goes out of style.

“The main lesson there is (that) if you’re ambitious and you’re a hard worker, and you’re willing to take the bad with the good and the good with the bad, you can be very successful in this industry,” said McLeod. “And that’s been proven over and over—not only by me but by a lot of other fellows as well.”

Small is a good thing

McLeod said he believes that even though large mining companies dominate the headlines, the days of small mining companies are far from over. If anything, small operations are needed even more than ever before.

“There’s a big role for small companies to play in today’s world,” said McLeod. “Some of the major companies are relying on the smaller ones to go out and do their homework for them and find the deposits . . . and if you go to a mining conference these days, you’ll actually see that it’s the smaller companies that are the focus.”

Ensuring the stories live on

McLeod said he wrote the memoir at the urging of his daughter, Catherine.

“We knew very little about my own father,” said McLeod, “and we’re not even sure when he came over to Canada. We have stories that he told us that we remember, but little beyond that. So seeing as we didn’t have any of my father’s history, my daughter wanted to be sure that my history was on record.”

The original intent was to print only enough copies of The McLeod Luck for family members and close friends. However, a bulk deal on printing led McLeod (always a numbers guy) to produce more copies than he bargained for, leaving him to wonder, “What the hell was I going to do with all these books?” The answer presented itself as he readied himself to attend the Association for Mineral Exploration convention in Vancouver a couple of years ago.

“The mining industry as a whole, and myself in particular, have always supported the Children’s Hospital Foundation here in Vancouver," said McLeod. "So I got the bright idea of taking 400 books to the conference and setting up a table where I autographed and gave the books away for a minimum donation of $50 to the Children’s Hospital Foundation.”

That move was obviously touched by the McLeod luck, as he ended up raising $40,000 for the foundation in a single afternoon.

“I got rid of a lot of books,” said McLeod with a laugh.

Recognizing the value

The McLeod Luck went on to win an Independent Publisher Book Award—the 2010 gold medal for best regional non-fiction book. McLeod admits in his typical self-effacing way that the book is a pretty good read.

“Well, the last person in the world that will usually tell you it’s a good product is the author," he said, "but I went back and reread it, and I think we did a hell of a good job, and I’m quite proud of that.”

While he has no plans to print more books, McLeod said he still has a copy or two kicking about that he’ll send to anyone who’s willing to make a $50 donation to the Children’s Hospital Foundation. After all, what’s a little McLeod luck if you can’t spread it around?

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