William Bell

In 1979 I accepted a teaching position in Fernie. I moved here from Vancouver, not liking the city life and decided that Fernie was where I wanted to be. I think it was only a few days before I was off exploring. A long term interest in history and geology attracted me to Wild Horse Creek, site of a big gold rush in 1863. To cut a long story short, I was soon hobby-mining gold on Wild Horse Creek and through a lot of hard work, I managed to recover a growing supply of natural, placer gold in the form of dust, flakes, small nuggets, a few larger nuggets and a couple of the really big, rare ones. I staked several claims and made some very interesting discoveries: old coins, old graves and a couple of close calls with bears and a cougar kept life interesting.

At one point, my partner and I needed to raise some money for mining equipment. He sold an ounce of his gold to a jeweller in Cranbrook for $1000, the going price at that time. I took an ounce of mine to sell and asked the jeweller if he bought placer gold. He told me he did as he could make $5000 per ounce when he sold it as jewellery. He showed me the ounce my partner had sold him, gold that had I helped mine. I decided there and then my gold would be sold as jewellery.

Over the next few weeks I used some of my smaller nuggets to make gold earrings. These proved to be hot items in big demand so I was in the jewellery business. My profits helped buy the needed mining equipment and pay for the Little Smith Torch, welding-gas bottles and other tools that I bought to begin my jewellery work with. Soon, I had built a centrifugal casting machine and learned to carve wax designs, which I could cast in gold, using the lost wax process. For several years, I used my profits to buy better equipment and expand my gold mining activities. I was deeply involved in my growing interest in goldsmith work.

I also took many of my school students gold panning and gave more than a few of them gold fever, I’m sure.

Now and then, I run into someone wearing one of my jewellery creations and I have heard some pretty fanciful stories about the origins of the piece they were wearing. It turns out I am not the only creative person when some of my work surfaces. I have made lots of wedding and engagement rings, repaired lots more and done some work that I cannot believe I could do.

Unfortunately, for the last while, it has been difficult for me to do the work I enjoy doing so much, between a frozen shoulder, some broken ribs and other health issues that have slowed me down a lot (it can’t be old age, surely). Is it just the curse of 2020 that we are struggling with?

I have some custom projects I have not been able to get to but I am starting to get more active at my work bench again and will be mainly doing my own projects after I catch up. Some of my work is available at the Fernie Arts Coop; more will be available on-line in 2021. 

My best memory of gold mining and making jewellery is when my wife-to-be (Darlene) and I went to Wild Horse Creek and spent a day shovelling pay dirt into a sluice box. At the end of the day we had enough gold to make her engagement ring and her wedding ring, which I took great pleasure in making - with her supervision of course. Who else makes his fiancé mine the gold for her rings?

Living in Fernie has given me tremendous opportunities: mining gold, prospecting, looking for fossils, finding old mines, or just exploring the mountains. What more could a person want? No need to ever be bored here. 

Photo by Jesse Bell