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HOMETOWN HEROES: Preserving Cariboo Gold Rush history with a modern twist

The second annual Cariboo Gold Panning Championships were held last month
Shane Wright holds a bag of Cariboo Gold Rush paydirt. (Rebecca Dyok photo — Quesnel Observer)

Catching the fever of a bygone era is what led Shane Wright to call the Cariboo home.

For a second time, Wright organized the annual Cariboo gold panning championships, which took place earlier this month in Quesnel at Lhtako Dene Park during Billy Barker Days.

On Sunday, July 17, the small group spent the morning recovering small gold nuggets lost during the fastest head-to-head gold panning competition on Saturday that was followed up by a pan-to-scale challenge.

In the challenge created by Wright, participants had to outrun a gold bandit to a scale with their panned and dried gold in a fun flag tag game with 10-second penalties.

“Back in the day, it would be your life, but now it’s just a flag,” Wright said. “But the whole idea is we’re trying to make it representative of what they dealt with back then. A lot of those guys had to run, a lot of those guys had to fight to keep their gold, and a lot of those guys didn’t make it to the scales.”

Wright was captivated by the Cariboo Gold Rush through reality television shows, one of which he heard the name Devil’s Canyon and started researching more from his home in southern Alberta. He learned he could make a drive to the area in a decent amount of time without having to go way into B.C.’s North.

“We came and spent a week in the bush out by Wells and Devil’s Canyon, and got the gold fever, so I wanted to come back,” Wright said.

The following summer Wright did just that.

Read More: More tales from Wagon Road North: The Saga of the Cariboo Gold Rush

He spent two months in the area, exploring and meeting the people of Wells and Quesnel.

“And that’s when I started falling in love with this place and for me, along with the gold fever, came a sense of wanting to help preserve the history of the gold rush,” Wright said. “After being in a place like Barkerville and having the gold fever, it all came together, and it bugged me that nobody was doing something like this here.”

In a previous interview, Wright said the idea with the modern gold panning championships is to keep the link between Barkerville and Quesnel alive and keep the history relevant.

Wright moved to Quesnel nearly three years ago.

He is the sole proprietor of The ReDiscoverers, which has expanded from YouTube videos to various merchandise, including sovereign paydirt bags containing dirt from Cariboo mine sites in areas such as Cunningham Creek and Quesnel Forks, along with some gold. Wright also opened Evolve Gold and Gaming Lounge, now known as Quesnel Cards, Collectibles & Gold, in September 2020.

Wright does flooring and tile setting by trade, and this summer has been keeping busy with renovation and landscaping projects.

”Right now, I kind of live two separate lives,” he added. “Ultimately, mining is what I want to be doing.”

The second Cariboo gold panning championships ended on July 17 with a high banker relay, a tag team challenge in which competitors raced down to the river bank and hooked up hoses to a pump before turning it on.

The fastest team set up with water being pumped won.

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