When Coal Was King
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The Lost Lemon Mine

by James R. Kerr

Many stories have been written about the Lost Lemon Mine, undoubtedly many more versions were told but not recorded.

For well over a hundred years now it has been the dream of many to find this legendary spot. Crowsnest Pass and High River were the two main points from which gold seekers headed for the mountains with high hopes. Undoubtedly much of our coal was discovered in the process of prospecting for gold.

Michael Phillipps who is credited with being the first white man to use the Crowsnest Pass route through the high rock range in 1873, was hoping to find gold and was disappointed at not finding any.

Kootenai Brown, who with two companions in 1865, also crossed the range, but further south, was hoping to reach the North Saskatchewan River near Edmonton where gold had been discovered. Brown spent the balance of his life in our proximity, until his death in 1916. He took many trips through the mountains but there is not one mention of the Lost Lemon Mine in the story of his life.

The original company who owned Lille, (French Camp), was known as British Columbia Gold Fields, Ltd. "Societe anonyme du Chemin de fer Houiller de Canada." The creek flowing through their property was known as Gold Creek. They had visions of finding gold there.

As a boy I remember parties leaving the Pass with pack animals, carrying tools, gold pans, a supply of staple food and blankets. They fought flies all summer and more or less lived off the land. Early snow storms drove them home—no one ever used the gold poke he carried for the purpose for which it was intended.

Names coming to memory are Matt Holloway—Frank Byron—Tom Thompson—Tom Roach—Joe Dobek—Dick Deering. The list goes on, Gene Nelson—Jack Morden—Carl Sapeta—Vince Janostak—Tommy Kropinak—Mike Czech to name a few.

It has been done before and no doubt it will be done again. The flashing of a sample, probably from some distant place and hinting that it was from close by; or the news that a roughly drawn map has turned up vaguely indicating a mine site. The result—another rush.

Among my possessions is a gold-panning pan, found far back in the mountains. Was it thrown away in disgust? Was the loss of it the reason for not finding a bonanza?

In days gone by when people made their own entertainment, before radio or television, relaxing around a fire, inside or outside, as the season dictated, a favorite pastime was storytelling. It was an art now lost. Stories about the Lost Lemon Mine were high on the list; the object was to outdo the other fellow. No doubt the original stories were enlarged upon. As the years went by nothing was lost in the telling.

It may seem harsh to discount our oldest local legend, but it is my belief that the Lost Lemon Mine is only a legend. It is also my belief that the search will be revived again and with renewed vigor.

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