BARRHEAD, ALBERTA – A group of metal detecting enthusiasts from the Edmonton Metal Detecting Club hope to find some relics dating back to the Klondike Trail.
On April 30, about 30 members of the metal detectors club will descend on Chester and Katherine Hoover’s farm.
The Klondike Trail (also known as the Chambers Trail) was an overland route that would-be gold prospectors used to reach the gold rush in the Yukon.
Most American prospectors reached the Yukon and Alaskan goldfields using the Chilkoot pass via Bennett Lake, B.C. However, several prospectors travelled trails via Edmonton. One of them is the Klondike Trail, with the first 260 miles spanning from Fort Edmonton to Grouard on Lesser Slave Lake, passing through the County of Barrhead and also through Chester and Katherine Hoover's property on the east edge of town behind the industrial park.
"My husband's grandfather would tell stories about how people had crossed the land using the trail on the way to the gold rush," Katherine said.
Brian James of the Edmonton Metal Detector Club was able to confirm this story through his research, saying he believes the trail went through her property at the top end of their farm near the transfer station.
Katherine contacted James via Facebook after he posted a message on Barrhead Marketplace asking permission to bring a group from the club to search for potential artifacts left by people traversing the trail.
"We thought, why not. He's not hurting the land, and they could potentially discover more about the people and the story of the Klondike Trail," she said.
James, a relative newcomer to the hobby who joined the club last year, said he has always been fascinated by history, so metal detecting was a natural fit.
"I've always been a bit of a history geek, especially international history," he said. "But when I joined the metal detecting club, I started looking into more local history. It is quite fascinating."
The North-West territorial government (which included Alberta) commissioned Thomas Wellington Chalmer, an engineer and former member of the North-West Mounted Police, to survey and cut a trail in 1897. In the spring and summer of 1898, he and a road-cutting party had begun cutting the trail, often incorporating and improving on an old Indigenous-Hudson Bay Trading company route. Later that summer, he declared the trail complete.
"It was a difficult trail," James said, noting it basically parallels what is now Highway 33, except it was further to the east. "It is estimated that about 2,000 pack horses died on the route, essentially from starvation and exhaustion."
He noted that about 1,700 travelers used the trail in its short life. James added that by the time the Klondike Trail was complete, the gold rush was essentially over, and of the 1,700, only 700 stayed in Dawson City.
James added that he has already scouted and has mapped the area and believes he knows approximately where the Klondike Trail went through the Hoovers' property.
"It is hard to say," he said, adding the land has been actively farmed. "But I found some items, within a 15- to 16-foot span, where the trail should have been. That is about the width the trail was reported to be."
As for what the group expects to find, James isn't sure, adding it could be anything from old-horse tack and shoes to coins, tools and personal items.
Anything the group finds will be split 50-50 with the Hoovers.