Jimmy Copland was a gold mine of information about history

Every day, Canadian men and women die and take their life’s stories with them; often a wealth of experience and hard-won knowledge that could be of benefit to future generations.

Despite the fact that, with today’s technology, it’s almost painlessly easy to record one’s memoirs, autobiography, family history, or whatever.

It wasn’t always so, and I was reminded of this ongoing tragedy while researching the career of prospector James Copland who came to B.C. in 1859 at the age of 20, to follow the Fraser, then the Cariboo, then almost every succeeding gold rush until in his 90s.

In December 1930, Grand Forks lawyer and notary public Arthur F. Crowe was prompted to write a letter to John Hosie, Provincial Librarian in Victoria, about, “A client of mine, James (Jimmy) Copland residing in this district, [who] boasts of the youthful age of 91 years. He also boasts of participation in nearly all the gold rushes of the western part of the province since 1859. He states that he spent his 21st birthday on the flats where Oroville now stands. He was at that time headed for the Rock Creek rush of 1860.

“He has a most marvellous memory and in connection with his operations on Williams Creek in the Caribou [sic] in 1862 and 1863 he drew me a map of Williams Creek and named practically every claim from that of ‘Long Abbott’s’ above Richfield (the claim on which he states the discovery was made in the early season of 1863 that the gold of that creek lay not on but beneath the blue clay in the bed of the creek), to beyond Cameron’s claim (where he states the gold was found in the gravel) below Cameron Town [adjoining Barkerville-TW]. That seemed to me quite a feat and especially so when he was able to sketch the production and sensational strikes on various of such claims…”

Copland, who listed his occupation as “placer gold and quartz mining,” and the lawyer obviously became friends and, during their numerous conversations, he shared one anecdotal nugget after another, leaving his listener in awe and, finally, scrambling to

take notes.

“I presume there are other old-timers (gradually dwindling, however) who can tell somewhat similar tales,” Crowe wrote Hosie, “but I doubt if there is any one with the retentive, and as far as I can check up, extremely accurate memory of Jimmy Copland.

“He has also given me an outline of his adventures on Manson Creek, and also the Cassiar region where he operated in 1875 and 1876, coming from there back to the Fraser, Cascade placers and then to Rock Creek where he states White’s Bar was discovered on Rock Creek in 1886 and $100,000 in gold taken out in that and the following season by the White party, whom he named in toto…

“Mr. Copland is going to Vancouver within the next couple of weeks, and if you as the Librarian and Archivist of the Province thought it would be of any value in having a chat with the old fellow, I am sure he would go to

Victoria to see you. Victoria was, of course, his stamping grounds for some years. He recalls many incidents which happened in the bars and other places of the early days there.

“I believe in view of the passing of these old-timbers that it would repay you to chat with Copland. He is getting a wee bit more feeble within the past few seasons and may not last a great deal longer. Perhaps in another 10 years the argonauts of those rushes will be counted on the fingers of one hand, and there will be fingers to spare…”

Did Hosie meet with Copland during the latter’s visit to Victoria? There’s no record of it. Although he may have been getting feeble by 1930, James Copland was still around, aged 97, living in his cabin at Rock Creek, the scene of one of B.C.’s more colourful gold rushes.

Yes, we do know a little more about his fascinating mining career than this, thanks to some newspaper interviews. But they, alas, just hint at the rich story of James Copland, pioneer prospector. He, despite Crowe’s concern, took it with him to the grave, unrecorded.

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