Leechtown and Vancouver Island's only gold rush

In 1928, in memory of that once-thriving town, a tall cairn was placed at the junction of the Sooke River and the Leech Creek, where Leechtown once stood. It was dedicated by the then-lieutenant governor of British Columbia, Randolph Bruce, with an inscription that read, “Memorial erected by the B.C. Historical Association on site of gold commissioner’s house to commemorate discovery of gold on Sooke River by Lieut. P. Leech, July, 1864, and to mark the site of Leechtown, which sprang up following discovery.”

In June, 1864, the first expedition of the Vancouver Island Exploration Committee, headed by Dr. Robert Brown set out on the Island. Along with him were Frederick Whymper, Peter Leech, John Buttle, Ronald McDonald and John Foley. The entire group was guided by an unknown one-armed Iroquois Indian named Toma Antoine.

After crossing the Island and exploring the Cowichan Lake district, the group split into two. Brown led his party from the west end of Cowichan Lake, following the Nitinat River to the sea to rendezvous with Leech’s party at Port Renfrew.

From there, Leech led his party towards the mouth of the Sooke River and a few days later made that great discovery at the fork of the Sooke River and a Creek, which was later named Leech Creek.

With the typical training of good explorers, the men merely reported their findings and carried on with the expedition. However, they had left behind a stream of frenzy and excitement caused by their incredible discovery. A mini-goldrush had begun and, during the later part of 1864 and through 1865, it was said that upwards of $100,000 worth of gold was taken from the area.

Lieut. Peter Leech’s own words, written on July 14, 1864, indicate how great were the expectations for the area. Obviously, an enormous gold strike was anticipated with all its consequences.

Leech wrote, “A discovery which I have to communicate is the finding of gold on one of the forks of the Sooke River about 10 miles from the sea in a straight line…the lowest prospect obtained was three cents to the pan; the highest, $1…the whole value of the diggings cannot be easily oversestimated. The gold will speak for itself.”

Today, it is hard to imagine once there was a bustling town called Leechtown in the area of the Leech and Sooke Rivers with an equally busy towns, Boulder City, Thompsons Landing, Kennedy Flats and Sooke City. It was, in fact, once feared that Victoria’s population would sharply and dangerously decline if many more people headed out to the fast-growing communities on the Sooke River.

Statistics show that as many as 4,000 miners once worked more than 1,000 mining cliams in the area. A tent city at Leechtown grew up overnight. People back in Victoria anxiously awaited the latest news of the gold. When word arrived that a $70 nugget had been found, the rush was on. Within days, hordes of miners had arrived, the first crude buildings were being erected and even Gov. Kennedy visited the scene for himself what was going on.

Alas, the gold did indeed speak for itself. By 1865, only one short year after the discovery, the gold had reached its peak, passed it…and gone beyond. It seemed all the gold that was going to be taken out had been and the town was soon deserted by the miners, who drifted away to seek out other more promising prospects. The “rush” was over.

The Islander, Sunday, August 16, 1987 by Valerie Green

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