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Yukoners pan for gold, good times at world championship

Team Canada had some sourdough spirit at the 2014 World Gold Panning Championship in Kopparberg, Sweden, August 11-17.

Team Canada had some sourdough spirit at the 2014 World Gold Panning Championship in Kopparberg, Sweden, August 11-17.

Three Yukon panners were on Canada’s five-person team at the 39th annual event that saw about 250 participants from 15 countries take part.

Whitehorse’s Lorraine Millar, Lara Herry-Saint Onge and Yann Herry joined Donald Harvey and Nancy Duquet-Harvey from Kirkland Lake, Ont., to represent Canada at the championship.

“It was good. It was a lot of fun,” said Millar. “They had a lot of extra things going on. They had a concert each night. They kept the competitions going each day. The weather didn’t really cooperate; we had a fair bit of rain … But it was a good event.”

“It’s like a family. It’s mostly the same people from one championship to another … and most of the people stay at the same camping ground,” said Herry. “Every evening we share meals and stories, so it’s a good atmosphere.”

The championship used 30 “pools” that are small, knee-deep boxes filled with dirt and water. At the start of events competitors are given five-gallon tubs of dirt with between five and 12 pieces of gold hidden inside. Competitors don’t know how many pieces they are looking for and received penalty minutes for each piece of gold missed.

Panners are ranked for speed and accuracy.

Onge competed in the mixed youth competition in Kopparberg. The 14-year-old placed eighth in the semifinal and finished 16th overall.

“I didn’t get top five or anything, but we did pretty good for Canadians,” said Onge. “It’s not my profession – I don’t really do it outside of competitions. So I was a little surprised that some people did it like a sport, would train and do many competitions.

“It’s not very serious, it’s mostly for fun.”

Millar made the semifinal in the open classic (or traditional) pan event. She reached the final of the open women division at the 2012 worlds in South Africa.

“In Sweden they use a pan called a batea, which is more cone shaped. It’s not like what we’re used to here: an east-winger Klondike pan,” said Millar.

“In the women’s open, I think I was still jet-lagged, so I didn’t do very well in that one,” she added.

The five Canadians competed in the team event, finishing last in 15th place.

Herry accompanies his daughter, Onge, to the events and usually gets recruited onto the team, he said.

“We go far away and they need five people for the national team, so I’m always drafted,” said Herry. “This year my daughter taught me the techniques finally and I got it and I was very pleased to find the gold. So maybe next time I will be entering the competition for real.”

All three Whitehorse competitors began their panning careers where you’d expect a Yukoner to: in Dawson City, home of the Klondike Gold Rush.

Millar, who placed second for women in this summer’s Yukon Gold Panning Championships, lived in Dawson from 1983 to 2006 before moving to Whitehorse. She and her husband David Millar – who won the men’s division of this year’s Yukon championship – have attended world championships in Poland, Switzerland, Finland, Spain, Australia and South Africa.

“The competition pans are quite flat. They look like a pizza pan with concentric circles,” said Millar. “You swirl the pans in big circles, kind of flat, to get most of the dirt off, and you dip away the remains to get it clean enough to pull the dirt out of the pan.

“Because it is 19 times heavier than water, it will work its way down to the bottom.”

Onge started panning when she was seven in Dawson. She got the panning bug when she happened to be in Dawson as the town hosted the world championship in 2007.

“I met some people and they taught me how to pan, and they invited me next year in Spain. I started then,” said Onge.

“Since then we’ve been going every two years,” said Herry.

The 2015 World Gold Panning Championships will be held in Navelgas, Spain, followed by Sacramento, Cal., in 2016.

Contact Tom Patrick at