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Mining the Motherlode
Wells & World War II

Cariboo Gold Quartz Mine armed guard during wartime, wp566
Cariboo Gold Quartz, Armed Guard During Wartime. wp566

War broke out in Europe in September 1939, with the German attack on Poland which led

Britain and France to declare war on Germany. Canada joined in the fight and the First Canadian Army was formed in England in April 1942. Economic recovery arrived and was welcomed by all Canadians. Because of war supplies needed (guns, small arms, and food) industrial and agricultural activity increased. New factories and ships were built, in addition to aircraft and 815,729 military vehicles. By late 1942, there were 5 Canadian army divisions overseas. Employment became overemployment, with women entering the labour force in droves to replace the men overseas. During the war, 1,086,343 Canadian men and women served full-time duty.

Sadly, when the Second World War broke out, gold mining was classified as a non-war industry; hence, making it difficult for the mining companies to obtain supplies and skilled labourers. The lack of skills was also responsible for insufficient new development to maintain ore reserves on Cow Mountain. Thus, began the long downturn of the thriving town of Wells, British Columbia. The fortunes of the mines began to quickly decline from mid-1942 onwards, thereby affecting the entire community. Government regulations, due to the war, froze wages and because wood cutting for the central heating plant of the mine was classified as non-essential, it was changed over to coal brought up from Vancouver Island. Without wood to supply the heating plant, the mill could not continue. Wells almost became a ghost town during this period.


Wells Resident in uniform, lh37
Wells Resident in uniform, lh37

The end of the war arrived, and by 1946 optimism had returned to the Wells residents that the gold boom would continue. However, the fixed price of gold remained at $35.00 per troy ounce (U.S.) for the next twenty-two years until 1968. Combined with skyrocketing inflation, companies could no longer profit from the business of hard rock gold mining. The Cariboo Gold Quartz Mining Company bought Island Mountain Mining Company in 1954, and renamed it Aurum Mine with little success, closing for good in 1967. Although the Depression had little effect upon the town of Wells compared with the rest of the world, World War Two and rising inflation devastated the business of mining for gold and eventually forced people to look elsewhere for work.

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Last updated: September 8, 2000