Metal detecting club hopes to strike gold on Alberta’s Klondike Trail

A group of treasure seekers from Edmonton is hoping modern metal detectors will help them uncover relics from the Klondike Gold Rush in a farmer’s field near Barrhead, Alta., this weekend.

Members of the Edmonton Metal Detecting Club, led by Brian James, say they think a portion of a historic Klondike Trail cuts through land now owned by the Hoover family, about an hour northwest of Edmonton. 

“You hear the word gold rush, and your brain starts to wonder about what could be out there,” James told CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active.

James got interested in the Klondike Trail after visiting the Barrhead museum and buying a couple of books about local history. One contained a map of the trail, which went through property the Hoover family bought in 1913.

The Hoover family farm and the original farmhouse, near Barrhaven, Alta, is shown in this 1951 photo. (Submitted by Katherine Hoover)

James connected with the current landowners, Chester and Katherine Hoover, and asked for permission to bring a metal-detecting crew out.

There are no crops where the group wanted to search, Chester Hoover said, so nothing will be disturbed. “We thought, why not?”

The trail the club members hope to find dates back as far as 1897, said James. That’s one year after gold was first found in Alaska and Yukon. It would have been a route for people traveling from Edmonton to Fort Assiniboine and on to Lesser Slave Lake and Dawson City.

Radio Active6:48The wonders of metal detecting

Metal detectors in the city are used to finding nails, coins, and other small trinkets. This weekend a group is heading to Barrhead where they’ll be searching for artefacts from the Klondike Trail. Brian James is a member of the Edmonton Metal Detecting Club. 6:48

The Hoover family’s oral history supports what James found in his research. Chester Hoover says he remembers his dad, Herbert, telling tales about the old Klondike Trail cutting through their land. 

His dad also talked about outbuildings and possibly a trading post, dating back to the turn of the century. Katherine and Chester have found old bricks on the property they think might be evidence of those buildings.

But what do the Hoovers think the gold seekers will actually find? Chester laughed at the question before answering.

“I suspect they might find money, which would be good, or horse harness pieces, or small metal pieces,” he said.

Brian James hopes to find artifacts like coins and antique nails on the Hoover family farm. This 1903 nickel is one of the oldest coins he has found using his metal detector. (Brian James)

James is realistic about what the search will likely turn up. On his list: plenty of .22-calibre bullet casings, probably old bottle caps and trash. However, he’s hoping for metal buttons, coins, maybe some antique nails or building materials to indicate where a trading post may have stood.

“The likelihood of gold being out there is probably slim to none,” James said.

Should James, or one of the other club members, find anything of value, they’ve agreed to split it 50/50 with the Hoovers.

“You never know what’s in the ground until you put your machine over it,” James said.

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