Historic Marlborough mining town to experience second gold rush if plans go ahead
In a case of history repeating itself, a small Marlborough settlement may be about to experience a second gold rush.
Canvastown, 50 kilometres northwest of Blenheim, sprang into existence in 1864 after gold was discovered in the Wakamarina Valley, leading to a rush of prospectors setting up camp.
Thousands of miners moved to the small valley to make their fortune, using pans and knives, dredges and crushing equipment to extract the precious metal, while living in the tents that gave Canvastown its name.
Now, more than 150 years later, mining company Elect Mining is in the process of applying for resource consent to set up a new mine in the town.
The company has already secured a mining permit through New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals to extract gold from a 120-hectare site straddling both sides of State Highway 6 in Canvastown.
The concentration of alluvial gold in the area, which is covered by rolling farmland, is among the richest the company and its drilling contractor have seen in New Zealand, its mining permit application says.
Based on the concentrations found in the area, Elect Mining estimated there was around 3000 kilograms of gold at the Canvastown site, which works out about $120 million based on gold prices on Monday.
In its mining permit application, the company said it expected its gross revenue to be about $7m a year, minus its operating costs for running the mining operation, which would look vastly different to how things used to be done in the town.
Canvastown Community Association chairwoman Linden Armstrong said gold was first found in the area when Elizabeth Catherine Pope went down to the river to do her washing.
But it was not until 1864, when a group of local men ventured to a spot on the river armed with tools and a sluice box that the gold rush took off.
In a day they washed up nearly a kilogram of alluvial gold and won a reward of £1375 for the discovery of a gold field.
Within weeks, the entire river was pegged out by claims, and a tent city housing nearly 5000 people sprung up nearby.
In 1864, 1271kg of gold was extracted from the Wakamarina Valley, which at the time was worth nearly £100,000.
As the more accessible gold was mined, often with simple tools, such as knives to scrape it from crevices in the rocks, it required more investment, dredges and crushers to get any value from the claims.
The gold rush dried up, and the population of the town dwindled as the miners left to seek their fortune elsewhere, so Armstrong said having another boom might be a good thing for the community.
"The church is no longer a registered church, the shop is no longer a shop, and the hotel is getting very old," she said.
"But we are still a village and we've got a very active school, so we're hoping we do have a little bit of a boom around the valley if that's what happens."
But first Elect Mining had to secure resource consent from the Marlborough District Council, which could be some time off as the council had asked the company for more information.
A company director did not want to comment about the proposed mine before it received consent, saying it was too early to make any comments.
If it does go ahead, the company planned to dig pits, which would be back-filled as the work progressed in stages, to a depth of between 14 and 16 metres.
The first stage of the work would take place on land south of State Highway 6, before moving over to the northern side of the highway once mining there was completed.
In its application, Elect Mining argued the resource consent should not be publicly notified, because its ability to remedy or mitigate environmental effects meant the impact would be less than minor.
However, not everyone in Canvastown agreed, with some residents expressing their concerns about the lack of consultation about the project and the affect it might have on land values.
The mining company was set up in 2012 to undertake exploration and develop gold resources in the South Island, having been granted several permits on the West Coast.
The shareholders of the company are engaged in oil and gas exploration and production in the United States, and have previously been involved in similar activities in South America.
- The Marlborough Express