Gold has been the central element in the area's history going back to the 1858-1860 Fraser River Gold Rush. Miners rushed to the Cayoosh and Bridge River areas looking for placer deposits, One named Cadwallader looked for the outcroppings on the creek that is now named for him and turned out later to be the site of the richest hard-rock veins in the region. Early exploratory parties of Chinese and Italians in the upper Bridge River basin were driven out by Chief Hunter Jack, who himself had a secret placer mine somewhere in the region, believed to be in upper Tyaughton Creek. and whose big-game hunting territory this also was. During the 1870s Hunter Jack began to invite chosen prospectors into the valley, and ran a ferry across the Bridge River that virtually all entering the region had to cross. Among these were those who would eventually discover the hard rock lodes on Cadwallader Creek. Though styled the Bridge River Gold Rush, in this early period there were so few who had made it into the district that there were only forty residents during the 1890 Census, prompting the naming of one of the claims "Forty Thieves".
In the 1890s intrepid prospectors searched for the underground source of that gold in the mountains. William Allen prospected the area in 1897, and his claim took the name from his hotel—the Pioneer—in Lillooet. A small mill was imported from California, and later Welshman John Williams, who had worked the California goldfields, built an arrastra or Mexican rock mill, which became a symbol of the Bridge River mines and remained in service into the heavy-production years of the mines.
Again in 1897, three men hiked in from Lillooet to Cadwallader Creek looking for gold. They made three claims—the Lorne, Marquis, and the Golden King. These would form the core of the complex of claims which became the Bralorne Mine. Arthur Noel bought the claims and worked them sporadically, holding on in bad times, waiting for the good.. He installed a 12 stamp mill. Unfortunately, the mine became tied up in litigation and stood idle for a dozen years.. By 1914 Pioneer Gold Mines was set up with more industrial equipment, boilers and modern rock mill. The site worked through the 1920s and the profitable King vein exploited. But it was the collapse of world markets and the solid price of gold in the Depression, when the mines really took off; when men and investment ramped up production. The district was one of the few bright lights in the BC economy during the Depression - in a seven-year period in the 1930s, the mines of the Bridge River produced $370,000,000 in gold. Taylor installed a 100 ton a day capacity mill but under the direction of M. O'Brian, output increased fivefold.
The golden years
As said, Bralorne came into its own in the Great Depression years. In 1931 Austin C. Taylor and associates acquired Bralorne property and financed construction of a 100 ton mill. The Bralorne Mine operated from March 1932 until 1971. In that time 3 million ounces of gold were refined from its adits. From this wealth, came a complete town, with schools, churches, post office, houses, recreation halls and hunting lodges. The mines themselves needed support buildings of power houses, boiler houses, blacksmith shops, machine shops, concentrator buildings and so on. Over one hundred miles of underground tunnels were dug in the forty or so years of operation. As Bralorne sits on a volcanic fault, the shafts were quite warm inside: 40 degrees C was not unknown. On the topic of environment, the plant used cyanide to separate the gold from the quartz (see Gold cyanidation); when the site was abandoned the drums of chemical sat open and leaching into the rivers, though they have since been cleaned up.
The Bridge River provided a sanctuary from the economic woes of the world. As all around North America plants were idled and people starved, Bralorne provided a ray of hope. Hundreds of men were on the payroll for the mines. Huge bunkhouses were built to shelter the men. A huge community ensued—banks, churches, ball teams, and bakeries followed. In fact, the Bralorne mines propped up an otherwise failing region. Without the business from the mines, the Pacific Great Eastern railway, truckers, cariboo ranchers, and town of Lillooet probably would have failed. Parts for all heavy equipment for the mines were brought into the district via the tortuous Mission Mountain Road and its continuation the Bridge River Road, after being barged down Seton Lake to Shalalth from the Lillooet end of the lake, when not shippable by railway.
Other nearby mines
As the Bridge River is a geologic complex with gold mining at Cayuse Creek, other mines sprouted at Brexton and Minto City These mines were not as large as Bralorne, employing men in the order of dozens, and not hundreds, but still contributed to the area.
For many years Bralorne sat abandoned and forgotten. Its empty buildings bare and open to all who want to strip or damage them. Lately, interest has been renewed in the area, and people are returning using some of the old buildings as recreation properties. An extensive museum of the area is in Bralorne. Some other buildings have fallen down, have been burned, or stripped of lumber and fittings. The rusting and derelict ball and concentrator mill, has been cleaned up under the Mine Reclamation Act.
Since 2002 rising gold prices have led to new exploration in the area and plans for re-opening the Bralorne Mine, and nearby Pioneer Mine.
- BC Dept of Highways viewpoint sign, Bralorne-Gold Bridge Road, often quoted in all sources.
- Campbell, Barbara (August 2007), "Environment in focus", Canadian Mining Journal 128 (6): 21.