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Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2019 - part 3
Japan and Alaska
  Map Yokohama, Japan Aomori, Japan Sapporo, Japan Kodiak, Alaska Anchorage Juneau Vancouver Skagway Icy Strait Point Sitka Ketchikan Victoria

Saturday 18 May and Thursday 23 May

Maiden calls to Juneau, Alaska

Juneau is a town whose roots are gold, with the discovery of Gold in a stream, now called Gold Creek, by prospectors Richard Harris and Joe Juneau on October 4, 1880, largely thanks to Tlingit leader Kowee. The resulting gold rush led to the foundation of Juneau. Initially the gold was worked as alluvial gold by hand and shortly afterwards by hydraulic sluicing and other techniques those who have followed our pages on New Zealand Gold will be familiar with. That was only the start and soon it was realised that there were considerable deposits of gold in quartz and the area became one of the largest producers of gold in the world with the “Juneau Gold Belt” stretching for 100 miles from Berner’s Bay to Wyndham Bay - there are still two large active mines. This cruise visited Juneau twice, both times arriving at lunchtime, and the description below combines the visits. For the first visit the QE arrived from the north, going through the Icy Strait then turning at Point Retreat Lighthouse on the Lynn Canal with excellent views of Eagle glacier and then the Medenhall glacier. Entry to Juneau is up a narrow channel from the Taku River in the south, so our route followed an almost complete circle. On our second visit when we approached from Vancouver from the south, it was much more straightforward.

Juneau has been the capital of Alaska since 1906 and is the second largest city in the United States by area. It is isolated because there are no roads, only ferries and flights, connecting to the rest of Alaska and the rest of North America. The city is on the narrow Gastineau Channel and at the foot of steep mountains reaching up to the Juneau Icefield and its many glaciers. The Mendenhall Glacier is the most popular of the local tours. It is 12 miles from Downtown and many tours go there. There are also public buses 3 and 4, costing $2 and each leaving hourly, although their nearest stop is still 1.5 miles from the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area within the Tongass National Forest. Various hiking trails go from the Visitors Centre. With a lunchtime arrival on both visits, it was too risky to catch a bus and local tours cost $45. Outside the cruise terminal is the base station for the Mount Roberts Tramway. This aerial tramway that has been in operation since 1996 and it takes around six minutes to ascend 1,800 feet to reach its top terminal which features sweeping views, restaurants, a gift shop, and a nature centre offering guides to the numerous hiking trails that span Mount Roberts. Also near the top terminal is the Juneau Raptor Centre a recovery centre for injured eagles. With enough time available it would be possible to walk up instead. Tickets are $35 return and $1 downhill only. Another option for a longer tour is to visit the Glacier Gardens which are a combination of nursery and botanical gardens, laid out in 50 acres of rainforest, and only 8 miles from the dock.

The town of Juneau offers a number of souvenir and shopping options, as well as pubs, cafes and restaurants. Having been unsuccessful in our search for King Alaskan Crab in Kodiak we were recommended Tracy's King Crab Shack, which we passed on approach to the berth. It was hard to miss. The top option is a bucket of half a King Crab, costing $125, and whenever someone buys one a bell is rung. We chose a smaller option and shared 2 crab legs, crab bisque and crab cakes. There was also a tasting option for 4 local beers but we ended up with full normal glasses of the Alaskan Amber and Alaskan Summer, brewed in Juneau, and the Denali Twister Creek IPA and Denali Crab Shack Kolsch from Talkeetna near Anchorage. We later found an excellent fudge and icecream shop to complete our lunch. The town also has two useful bookshops - one selling secondhand books where we bought "The Juneau Gold Belt" by Earl Redman. Juneau town does a good job of hiding its gold roots from tourists, concentrating on visiting its glaciers and whale watching trips, although there are lots of jewellry shops selling gold nuggets.

After lunch there are several interesting places to visit within the town although most tourist places close at 1600 or 1700. There are two Museums. The Alaska State Museum was established on June 6, 1900, when an Act of Congress created the Historical Library and Museum for the District of Alaska. The modern new building houses collections that include cultural materials from Alaska’s Native peoples; the state’s Russian colonial eras; fine art; natural history and industry. If you make the steep climb to the Alaska State Capitol there is a statue of William Henry Seward, erected in 2017, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Cession which resulted in the transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States. The centennial anniversary Hard Rock Miners bronze statue at the waterfront shows the use of a pneumatic drill used to make blasting holes in the gold-bearing ore.

The City Museum with its totem pole is next door. Built between 1945 and 1951 as the Veterans Memorial Building it was the site of the July 4th 1959 Statehood Ceremony when the 49-star flag was officially flown in Alaska's capital. In 1989 the Juneau-Douglas City Museum moved into the building. It has good displays about gold mining in the area, including an excellent video "Juneau: City Built on Gold". Their bookshop had leaflets about visiting the Last Chance Mining Museum and Historical Park and the AJ Mine/Gastineau Mill Mine and there were a couple of trail guides to walks along the Perseverance Trail above Juneau and the Treadwell Trail on Dougals Island opposite. Ship's tours went to Gold Creek or to the remains of the Wagner Mine in Salmon Creek for a salmon lunch.

With a full day to explore, or a second visit as we had, it is possible to first visit the City Museum to gain general background then walk on up Basin Road along Gold Creek to the Perseverance Trail Trailhead to visit the Last Chance Mining Museum which is accessed from the turnaround at the end of Basin road before continuing onto the Perseverence trail proper. On the way we passed the St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, built in 1894, which was closed and the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary which was open and had an interesting icon similar to the one recently installed in Lichfield Catherdral. The day was dull with the cloud low as we walked up to the Trailhead

The Perseverance trailhead has a pelton-wheel driven air compressor then the Ebner Mine adit is ahead. If one continues there is a steady climb there is a viewpoint down onto the Last Chance Basin. Perseverance Trail crosses Gold Creek several times before reaching Silver Bow Basin, once the site of Perseverance Mine with views of the "glory hole". At Granite Creek trailhead the trail continues through an area for birds and flowers for a further 1.5 miles to lower then upper basin. The term Trailhead is common in Alaska and refers to the start of a trail or the start of a brnch off a trail rather than the end.

The Last Chance Mining Museum is across Gold Creek and contained within the Compressor Building of the former Alaska-Juneau (A-J) Gold Mining Company. Mining here was from the 1880s to 1944 and the building contains much interesting information and artefacts, as well as the large air compressor which provided air at 100 psi for the pneumatic rockhammers and other equipment throughout the mine. It is a large building and had been used as a theatre and hall after mining ceased. The curator, Renee, was very knowledgeable and at the end of our visit we asked about the model of the sculptures at the cruise terminal which she explained were commissioned by her husband. Outside is the remains of the railyard with Baldwin electric locomotives and several rusting personnel cars. After mining ceased there were tourist trips using this equipment through the tunnels but that was abandonned many years ago. The old locomotive repair shed was damaged during bad weather.

In the area above town is the House of Wickersham which was built in 1899 and purchased by Judge James Wickersham, an influential political leader, in 1928. Upon Judge Wickersham’s death, the house passed to his wife and eventually to her niece, Ruth Allman. Recognising the historical value of the Judge’s accomplishments and the collection of historical photographs, artifacts diaries and scrapbooks she now possessed, Mrs. Allman opened her home to visitors. The house has been operated as a museum since 1958 and was purchased by the state in 1984. Another interesting building is the Alaska Governor's Mansion. The official residence of the Governor of Alaska was first occupied in 1912. The striking white building is not open for visitors but has several information boards outside explaining its history. Closer to the waterfront, the Walter Soboleff Building of the Sealaska Heritage institute set up by Alaska Natives has an authentic clan house, exhibits and a souvenir shop.

At the waterfront a line of classic DeHavilland Otter seaplanes were returning to their base next to the QE after their last scenic glacier flights of the day. Wings Airways operates five aircraft, painted in five different colours, built between 1953 and 1965. The 1953 Otter was actually the 7th aircraft built in the series. They have all been modified to have lean modern turboprop engines producing 900 hp instead of the original radial engines of 600 hp giving them an impressive take off performance although they do not sound quite right! We sat watching. It was getting chilly by the time we departed but we were determined to make use of our balcony so we sat out with a bottle of Graham Beck bubbles purchased in town - the ship provides some magnificent woolen rugs for the loungers which came in handy. As we left we imagined what the waterfront looked like it was dominated by the huge Alaska Juneau Mining Co's processing plant was running 24 hours a day. The article following is our attempt to summarise the story of gold mining in the area, especially of the Treadwell mine which collapsed and flooded in 1917, and the A-J Mine but also includes some information on current mining in the area.

Background on The Juneau Gold Belt

As our regular readers will know we have an interest in Gold Mining round the world which started with our experiences in New Zealand so we have done some research on Gold Mining in Alaska where, as in New Zealand, it played a key role in the development of the area. This is a summary of what we found out about the Juneau Gold belt.

Before we go any more deeply into Juneau Gold it is worth mentioning that the terminology in the region is quite different to New Zealand, particularly the use of the term ‘Placer’

    Definitions from Juneau Local History Museum documentation.

  • HARD-ROCK MINING: Lode-mining. (Quartz Reef Mining in NZ as the Gold is almost always in veins in Quartz)
  • LODE: A mineral deposit in rock; a vein of ore. (Usually referred to as a Reef in NZ)
  • PLACER: (rhymes with "passer") A deposit of sand or gravel containing eroded particles of valuable minerals. (Alluvial Gold Deposit in NZ)
  • PLACER MINING: Mining a placer area by washing to extract its mineral content. (Alluvial Mining by Panning, Ground Sluicing and Hydraulic Sluicing and also Dredging in NZ)
  • SOFT-ROCK MINING: Examples are coal and salt mining.

The Treadwell Mines

The Treadwell mines were arguably the best known mines in the area and lay on Douglas Island, just across Gastineau Channel from downtown Juneau. In the early 1900s they had some of the most advanced systems used in American mining. They are however best known for being the site of one of the biggest mining disasters ever when in 1917 most of the huge Treadwell complex of underground mines which reached a depth of 2800 feet started to collapse and were completely flooded in a matter of hours.

The Treadwell story all started in May of 1881 when a French Canadian prospector, Pierre Joseph Erussard (“French Pete”), accompanied by local Tlingit Natives, staked the Parris (later changed to Paris) Lode Claim on the site of what is now known as the “Glory Hole.” He found only low grade ore and discouraged sold his claim in September for a few hundred dollars to John Treadwell, a California carpenter with a mining background, who also bought a couple of adjacent claims. Over the next 40 years Treadwell grew from a single gold claim to four mines, five mills and a bustling community of workers and their families, complete with stores, mess halls, bunkhouses, a marching band and even Alaska’s first indoor swimming pool known as a natatorium. The Treadwell Complex mined nearly $70 million in gold prior to 1917. At peak capacity in 1915, the 960 stamps of the Treadwell complex crushed 5,000 tons of rock a day, a world record at the time. The mine operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 363 days a year employing approximately 2000 men who worked eight-hour shifts and were paid some of world’s highest wages at that time ($100 per month in 1910).

Initially, however, the gold bearing ore was extracted from open pits (as in the Martha mine in NZ) by blasting ore bearing rocks off the sides of open pits. The name Glory Hole comes from the high accident rate with many men going to Glory, as often as once a week, from the major pit which reached to over 400 foot deep.

This soon changed to underground workings using shafts and tunnels and the stope technique. The ore was processed, sometimes after an initial sorting by hand or additional crushing using jaw crushers by the almost universal method of Stamper Batteries - the stamps in the mills pulverized the ore to the size of fine sand releasing the gold from the quartz. The gold was extracted and processed using a variety of techniques including Mercury and Cyanide.

There were a number of separate stamper batteries serving the mines making up the Treadwell complex. The largest, and the example we will take, was installed in 1899 and comprised 300 stamps which is still believed to be the largest number of stamps ever installed under one roof, anywhere in the world. Each stamp weighed 1,020 pounds and was dropped 8 1/2 inches 98 times per minute This crushed six tons of ore daily to fineness that would allow the ore to be washed through a wire screen with 40 holes per square inch.

Initially the pulverized ore fell onto copperplates coated with mercury. Free gold, amalgamated with the mercury, was collected and retorted (heated to separate the mercury from the gold). This was latter replaced by a cyanide treatment whch extracted a higher proportion of the gold. Recall, it only needed a few ounces of gold per ton to be economic. The 300 stamp mill improved its efficiency by use of Vanner Rollers. These were cylinders, over which a rubber belt, rolled and shook the crushed rock in a constant flow of water, causing the waste rock to go over the top and the gold-bearing rock to remain at the bottom. 120 Vanners were housed in a separate structure to serve the 300 stamp battery.

We now need to go back underground to see how the techniques of underground hard rock mining evolved over the life of the Treadwell mine and ultimately led to disaster in April 1917 when all all the mines in the Treadwell complex, except the Ready Bullion, flooded with seawater. The Ready Bullion Mine only survived because its underground workings had been deliberately isolated from the other workings, which were all interconnected at many levels. It continued to operate until 1922 when its closure marked the end of hard rock mining on Douglas Island.

The method of working was not unique, it was a common method used in other mines round the world. Vertical shafts were made which had reached down to 2800 feet and side tunnels were cut off them through the lode of gold bearing ore. The ore was removed by blasting out huge stopes (caverns) above the tunnels through which the ore was removed. The rock was reduced to football sized pieces and extracted using a front loading digger feeding trucks behind. The stopes which remained were a series of up to 200 foot wide and deep caverns which overlapped and were supported by narrow pillars of rock. At that time the stopes were usually not backfilled so depended just on the pillars to avoid collapse. As the depth of mining increased the yield was reducing so there was a temptation to extract as much as possible by reducing the size of the pillars whilst at the same time natural processes were eroding them further. The result was predictable.

At 10:57 pm. on April 21, 1917, a hole 30 feet deep and 15 feet wide was found under the Fire Hall with water running in from the hillside. Five minutes later water from Gastineau Channel began running into the hole. The three mines that were being flooded had a working depth of 2800 feet and some 10 million tons of ore had been removed with little or no backfilling. The mines were not actually under the channel, but caved in from the side. An estimated three million tons of seawater filled this space in three and a half hours. It took one hour and forty minutes to get all of the men out of mine after the alarm was sounded. Water and rocks were pouring down on the cage of the hoist when the last men were lifted out. Less than an hour later, a geyser of salt water spouted 200 feet above the combination shaft from which the men had evacuated. Incredibly only one man was reported missing and most believed he had skipped town. Only a dozen horses and one mule were not saved.

Alaska-Juneau Mine (A-J) Mine

The other mine of major significance near Juneau was the Alaska-Juneau Mine usually known as the A-J Mine sited near Gold Creek, where prospectors Richard Harris and Joe Juneau, assisted by Tlingit leader Kowee, first found gold in October 1880. The first placer (alluvial) claims, were worked by hydraulic sluicing at Last Chance Basin where whole landscape was reshaped as countless tons of soil and rock were washed away daily.

Last Chance Basin later became the base for the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company's extensive underground operations. Remains of some A-J structures and equipment can still be seen be seen across the creek from the Gold Trail. The original compressor building is still intact conathe huge Ingersoll-Rand machine-, world's largest at the time-that supplied compressed air both for breathing and for drilling and other mining operations in 120 miles of tunnels, shafts and openings that eventually A-J comprised. At its peak in the late 1935. the A-J employed more than 1000 men year working 24 hours a day. The mine consumed 80 cases of dynamite every day.

At the time of the Treadmill disaster the A-J was undergoing a major upgrade and its stamper batteries were being replaced by, the then new, ball mills which are not only quieter but are potentially more efficient at extracting gold from ore. The ore is tumbled in huge rotating cylinders with hardened steel balls. Initially they were did not have the throughput expected and over the next decade the process was refined and an extra course crushing floor was added. The mill also reintroduced hand sorting so only the white quartz ore which contained the gold was sent to the mills.

The only other two significant mines left in production after the Treadwell disaster were the Perseverance which closed in 1921 (but was aquired by the A-J in 1934) and the remaining Treadwell mine on Douglas Island.which closed in 1922. Gold extraction in the Juneau area became completely concentrated in the A-J's Mount Roberts complex in the Gold Creek Valley. That complex, over the years, processed 90 million tons of rock and ore yielding more than $80 million in gold. The mine only paid dividends from 1928 until the start of the war when miners left the Alaska Juneau to enlist in the war effort or for higher paying jobs in war industries. It became impossible to mine the tonnage needed to keep the operation profitable and leading to the A-J suspending operations in 1944. Even so no other company had ever mined ore so low in grade for so long, underground, and made it pay. With the closure of the A-J Mining in the Juneau Gold Belt was almost non-existent for many years after the war..

Recent Developments.

There are now two two new mines working in the Juneau Gold Belt.

The Kensington Mine began operation in 2010 at Berner’s Bay 45 miles Northwest of Juneau and is a 100% gold operation extraction gold from quartz veins. In 2014 120,000 oz of gold were extracted from 630,000 tons of ore. The ore is accessed from adits (horizontal tunnels into the hillside) and extracted by transverse long-hole stoping where a horizontal tunnel is created both above and below the ore. Long holes are drilled down from above into the ore and filled with explosives. The rock is blasted into football sized pieces and extracted from the bottom tunnel using front loaders. Once all the ore is removed the open hole (stope) is backfilled with a mixture of tailings and cement to prevent the sort of collapse seen at Treadwell. The process then continues in the adjacent area. The ore is crushed and processed using a flotation process concentrating the ore to contain 6 – 12 oz of gold per ton which is sold to specialist processors.

The Greens Creek Mine is located on Admiralty Island 18 miles Southwest of Juneau. It is primarily a Silver Mine and is one of the largest and lowest cost primary silver mines in the world which also produces gold, zinc and lead. In 2016 it produced 7,800,000 oz of silver alongside 58,000 oz of gold, 60,000 tons of zinc and 20,000 tons of lead. It is an underground mine using cut and fill and long hole stoping. The ore is crushed and minerals separated by a flotation process before shipping to specialist processors. The tailings are compacted with giant rollers until they are as hard as concrete and layered with with rock and clay to keep out air and water to avoid leaching of of toxic materials into water sources.


Tuesday 21 May

Maiden call to Vancouver, Canada

The approach to Vancouver in the early morning went under the Lion's Gate Bridge and then along the edge of Stanley Park. There are many points of interest in this thousand-acre park which can be explored on foot or by horse-drawn vehicle. There is the Vancouver Aquarium, the Shakespearean Gardens, Seven Sisters, Beaver Lake, the Hollow Tree, Siwash Rock, Totem Poles and the monuments to Queen Victoria and Robert Burns. The ‘Nine o’Clock Gun’, an 1816 muzzle loading cannon, was fired to advise fishermen that their day’s work was at an end and still fires every day at 9.00pm. The city shows its face towards the water with lots of yachts and cruisers including those of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club behind Deadman's Island on the edge of Stanley Park. Vancouver is a city with many modern tall buildings, overlooking the cruise terminal at Canada Place which was built for Expo' 86. The roof of the Vancouver Convention Centre was grassed, an unusual environmental design feature. There was a regular procession of little float planes to their Terminal Building nearby. Harbour Air have one Cessna and all the rest are de Havilland : 14 Beavers, 22 Otters and 3 Twin Otters. Some of the Otters have been upgraded to have a 900 turboprop.

Friends who visit Vancouver speak well of the city and we hoped to enjoy our visit. Leaving Canada Place we were welcomed by a row of free shuttles (to Grouse Mountain and the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park) and the HopOn HopOff buses. Those trips we checked were expensive and our plans were to walk to Gastown and Chinatown and then have lunch. Lunch was already organised at the Terminal City Club (TCC) in West Hastings Street, one of Pauline's reciprocal clubs. It is near the Lookout with its observation deck, entry $19. After being welcomed at the TCC, there was plenty of time to explore. First stop was the Canadian Pacific Railway Station (CPR). Built in 1910, the station has now been restored but the surrounding area is a building site.

Turning along Water Street there were lots of tourists and lots of souvenirs shops. This area is on the tour bus routes which pass one of the world's first steam powered clocks, still in working order - we heard the 1145 whistle as we approached. Further along is the Gassy Jack statue. This is where the city of Vancouver began back in 1867 when John ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton set up a makeshift whisky bar for lumberjacks, gold diggers and mill workers. Nowadays Gastown is home to trendy boutiques, antique and craft shops as well as some of the best restaurants in town. Our next target was to visit Chinatown which was described as "A little slice of Hong Kong where you’ll find an array of shops and street stalls selling exotic foods, herbs, trinkets and silks. One of the world’s narrowest buildings is here on the corner of Carral and West Pender Streets: ninety-six feet long and only six feet wide". But the area suddenly became poorer with lots of people hanging around and we turned away. Normally we blend in well but we were carrying cameras and wearing nice jackets because of the dress code for lunch and were too conspicious. We heard afterwards that there is currently a big problem in Vancouver with a new drug which leaves people much like zombies which is what we were observing. Many of the shops at this end of West Hastings Street were closed and we were pleased to find Victory Square, although the benches there had homeless people sleeping.

Continuing to Richards Street we found Cathedral Square and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. Mass had just started at 1210 and the church was full so we could not walk around inside. Further along Dunsmuir Street at the junction with Hornby Street was the Bill Reid Gallery and next to it the Christ Church Anglican Cathedral which also had Communion at 1210.

This completed our explorations because it was time to go back to the TCC for lunch where we had an excellent meal in their 1892 restaurant with chowder followed by Wagyu steak and local salmon as mains. We never had time to go to the Museum  of Vancouver. It is Canada’s largest civic museum describing Vancouver’s past, present and future showing the history, culture and natural history of the Lower Mainland. The museum contains over 300,000 artefacts including Coast Indian carvings with Japanese jade and ivory. On top of the museum building is the H. R. MacMillan Space Centre and Planetarium. They will have to wait till our next visit.

On our second visit the Queen Elizabeth had passed again Stanley Park on her approach to the cruise terminal and we had got good views as we had left previously. It was too far to walk on our first visit and we knew there was an organised coach tour to the airport on 31 May which went there en route. It is 400 hectares of rainforest with many walking trails and includes a long Seawall. The group of totem poles at Brockton Point are hidden from the cruise terminal by trees and there were 20 minutes to get off the coach and explore. The drive around the park continued past the Lions Gate Bridge and then past several beaches before joining the main highway to the airport. City Hall was a surprise because it was on 12th Avenue so was well away from the centre. It is a landmark building, built at the end of Art Deco style in 1936.

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Content revised: 2nd June, 2019