Old legends never die
While driving to work from his home in Mission, Brian Antonson looks north to the tall mountains covered in snow.
Sometimes through the cloud-shrouded peaks that loom over Pitt Meadows, he sees a sparkle.
"I believe there is gold northeast of Pitt Lake," he says.
But Slumach, the central figure of a century-old legend, never found it, he adds.
Antonson and his brother Rick first heard about Slumach’s lost mine in the summer of 1957, while sitting around a campfire on the shores of Hatzic Lake.
It’s a tale that began in the late 1800s after Slumach, a Katzie man, was hanged for shooting a Métis man called Louise Bee.
Soon after Slumach’s death, tales of giant gold nuggets and murders were spinning in the press.
People believe the native man who lived at the Silver Creek Reserve near Pitt Lake had a secret stash of the metal. He’d saunter into New Westminster and party with his riches for weeks. When he died, legend says he cursed his hidden mine.
Slumach’s country is meant to cover the circumference of Pitt Lake and extends up into Garibaldi Park, Widgeon Lake, Stave Lake, DeBeck Creek, the Stave Glacier, Terrarosa Glacier and the rocky outcrop in the Pitt Polder called Sheridan Hill.
"It is intrigue and it is full of things that nobody can say for sure. It is our own legend," Antonson says. "Slumach’s lost gold mine belongs to the Lower Mainland."
Fascinated by the tale of glittering gold, a curse and hidden treasure, the brothers vowed to look for the mine when they grew up.
In 1972, they joined Mary Trainer to write In Search of a Legend: Slumach’s Gold.
The book became a Canadian best seller, selling 10,000 copies.
"I’ve been pursuing this since I was nine.” Antonson, head of broadcast and media communications at the B.C. Institute of Technology says. “It’s kept me going for 50 years."
Since writing Slumach’s Gold 35 years ago, the Antonsons have continued to research the legend, whittling fact out of the fiction.
He says he has received many phone calls over the years from people who purport to found the hidden cache.
"I believe people have found gold up there but I have no idea where it would be," Antonson says.
"The people who have found it have talked about the Stave Glacier, the Terrarosa Glacier and those seem to be logically things." The reason why Slumach’s legend refuses to die rests in the elements of the story.
"It is part Tom Sawyer, part Indiana Jones that attracts so many people," Antonson says.
"People love gold. It is the precious metal everybody wants."
When the trio started writing Slumach’s Gold, Antonson says there were so many rumours, lies and missteps around.
Slumach is often vilified as a evil murderer who had cursed the shiny motherlode. Newspaper reports claim 30 people have died searching for it.
Through old press clippings, court records and interviews with other Slumach fanatics, the book methodically lays out the research.
“The goal has been to contribute to the local knowledge base and the legend,” says Antonson.
They try to reveal the legends central characters: the murdered Louis Bee; the lost mine’s first finder and the curse’s first victim, John Jackson and introduce the research done by former RCMP officer and Maple Ridge historian Don Waite; movie maker Michael Collier and aviator–adventurer John Lovelace.
"I don’t believe that Slumach ever had anything to do with the mine," Antonson says. "He just got involved, someone picked up his name and said we can use this. Legends have a life of their own."
• Slumach’s Gold: In search of a legend can be purchased through www.heritagehouse.ca or by calling 1-800-665-3302.