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While some gold panning pupils joked that they would be lucky if they had enough gold to buy a cup of coffee, it was undeniable: they had found gold. Tiny flecks of mustard yellow washed and shaken from nearby tree roots and the river bank.

Gold panning tutor Joe Gagnon patiently guided each pupil in the centuries-old art last weekend. The process itself looks more like washing dishes in the river, than a mining technique. Dish soap is used to clear the surface of the water so you can see to the bottom where the gold lies.

“Mom! I found gold!” yelled Shona Thorne, who had helped organize the course through the Valemount Learning Centre.

Thorne’s mother Marion Farquharson had planted herself next to a huge boulder with a marshmallowy shape due to water erosion.

“Good!” she yelled back. “We need more!”

Gagnon has been panning in this particular spot for years. Last year this site and several dozen more hectares were claimed by local gold panning enthusiast Jody Cinnamon who thought it would be fun to stake a claim so he could bring down young family members to learn this delicate art.

The idea was not to strike it rich, but of course there’s always that chance.

One of the participants Bill Russell relayed a story of a man who found a huge cache of gold somewhere around Jasper. It started a mini gold rush that attracted 500 men. But nobody ever found the spot.

“It’s out there still,” Russell says.

Closer to Tete-Jaune, only one person for sure has found anything resembling a “nugget.”

Still Chris Zimmerman ensured that when he skimmed the big rocks out of his pan he wasn’t chucking out any prizes Despite the chilly air and water, the pupils spent nearly half the day along the shores, alternately panning and telling stories of people they know who have found gold.

Gagnon says there are many people who will buy gold if you do succeed in panning a substantial amount. He also has a claim in the North where he has fancier equipment designed to process those clumps of soil more quickly.

In the pan, it takes about 10 minutes by the time you’ve shovelled enough dirt into your pan and carried it down to the river. Then you’ve got to settle the mixture and wash out the dreck. Because gold is heavy, it will remain in the bottom of your pan if you’re careful not to dump it out. Gold pans often have three ridges on one side that allow you to wash off the lighter rock and dirt while keeping the heavier elements for inspection. At the end, Gagnon always swivels the pan around and nearly every time those tiny mustard flecks appear at the tail end of the sand swirling in the pan.