There were various land and sea routes available to reach the Klondike gold fields. Some thought the Inland Passage up the west coast was a good route, but it was expensive, with passage hard to obtain and the mighty Chilkoot Pass to negotiate after completing the boat trip. Furthermore, six hundred miles of wilderness separated the pass from Dawson. A Canadian overland route to the Klondike gold fields was promoted that began in Edmonton and from there traveled the Peace River and existing trails northward. An interesting account of one prospector’s journey from Edmonton to the Klondike has been published as Klondike Trek, Jim Hinkle’s Life in the Gold Rush of 1898.
Prospectors have been finding gold in the river systems of north-central Alberta since the mid-1800s. Although the richest deposits have possibly been mined, amateur prospectors today can have fun while reliving a little of Alberta's history.
Gold was discovered near Jasper, Alberta in 1987 in small rich veins within the Lower Cambrian strata. Research suggests that the gold may have been eroded from this bedrock during the early Cretaceous period, deposited with sediments, and was later carried east (during Tertiary and Quaternary time) in ancient rivers. The gold was placed in the alluvial sediments of modern rivers during the final stage of re-erosion. There are no major, commercial gold mining activities on Alberta’s rivers today mainly due to the low concentrations of the mineral. As well, large scale placer mining operations are now prohibited by government regulations in an effort to protect drainage systems and river banks from environmental damage.
Because Alberta is largely composed of sedimentary rock, not the volcanic origin geology that favors gold, the legend of the lost Lemon gold vein near Coleman in southwestern Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass region may be simple myth …or not! Around 1870, a group of prospectors left Montana to explore for gold in Alberta along the North Saskatchewan River. Two of the prospectors struck out on their own to try Alberta’s southern foothills. In 1946, Senator Dan Riley wrote about the pair in an article for the Alberta Folklore Quarterly: "Blackjack and Lemon found likely showings of gold in the river. Following the mountain stream upwards toward the headwaters they discovered rich diggings from grass roots to bedrock. They sank two pits and, while bringing their cayuses in from the picket line, they accidentally discovered the ledge from which the gold came...In camp that night the two prospectors got into an argument as to whether they should return in the spring or camp right there. After they had bedded down for the night, Lemon stealthily crawled out of his blankets, seized an axe and split the head of his sleeping partner. Overwhelmed with panic when he realized the enormity of his crime, Lemon built a huge fire and, with his gun beneath his arm, strode to and fro like a caged beast till dawn."
Apparently, a group of Blackfoot Indians witnessed the event and told their chief, who placed a curse on the area - the Blackfoot were then blamed for the murder. Next, a trapper named John McDougall was sent to bury Blackjack and was later hired to lead a party back to the mine area – but on his way to meet the miners he stopped at Fort Kipp, Montana and managed to drink himself to death. The prospector who initially funded Lemon and Blackjack, Lafayette French also went looking for the mine and wrote a friend that he had found it – but he was killed when a cabin he was staying in burned to the ground, so he never shared the secret of the mine’s location.
In 1988, a geological technician with the University of Alberta named Ron Stewart, who later authored the book Goldrush The Search for the Lost Lemon Mine, announced that he had found traces of gold in the Crowsnest Volcanics formation, fostering a mini gold rush. The gold that was found was poorly concentrated in the ore though, and uneconomical to recover, unlike Blackjack and Lemon’s reported find.