TORONTO – Yukon gold miner (Big) Al McGregor isn’t a doctor but he can easily tell if someone’s got a certain kind of fever.
“Just say ‘gold’ and their eyes light right up, like the first time they had the best toy ever, and that’s all they can talk about is gold and gold,” the bearded and burly star of the new History series “Yukon Gold” said during a recent interview.
“I’ve got a mild case of it. I’ve seen guys, they’re actually fully entrenched in gold fever. It’s actually sad and dangerous, you know, everything for that gold.”
Indeed, the affable northern Alberta native has seen some scary situations result from gold greed in Canada’s North, where thousands of prospectors first mined in the late 1800s.
“I knew one couple, they were mining — and that was back when gold was pretty high, that first time — and a fellow pulled up in his pickup and brought out some equipment and started mining right on their ground,” recalled McGregor.
“They went down to tell him, ‘You can’t be doing this, eh?’ And he pulled out two revolvers and says, ‘I’ll mine anywhere I want.’ So they had to phone the cops and get him removed.
“But most people are very respectful.”
Premiering Wednesday on History, “Yukon Gold” features four gold mining crews who battle long days, a harsh landscape and equipment failure over a period of four months every year.
A former Alberta oil patch worker, McGregor ventured to the Yukon several years ago to be with his now-wife, who lived and ran a business in Dawson City.
After meeting miners in the area, he realized he also wanted to try looking for nuggets of the precious metal.
With that, he dipped into his retirement savings to buy a mining camp — complete with an excavator, bulldozer and a sluice plant — in Ruby Creek on the Indian River.
“I was tempted because I just needed a change in my life, and this is always a dream,” said McGregor, 56.
“I think it’s in every guy, and most girls, for adventure, and this just fit the bill for me. And … I won’t BS anybody — I’d love to strike it rich. Who wouldn’t? Hey, it would make life a little easier, wouldn’t it?”
But McGregor has had some big setbacks.
Last year his dog was killed by a wolf in the area, where “there’s a few grizzly bears hanging around, a lot of black bears, big moose that think they own the world,” he said.
Then there’s the constant fear of fear missing the pay streak, “working a big pit and getting nothing,” he added.
McGregor said that hasn’t happened to him yet but in his first year of excavating, in 2009, equipment failures and other issues meant they “lost a pile of money.”
“I think we lost about $275,000 that first year,” admitted McGregor.
“It was pretty disheartening but you keep at ‘er and you turn it around.”
And it seems McGregor has turned things around.
During a stop in Toronto earlier this week, he showed off a glass vial filled with about seven ounces of gold nuggets he said were worth a total of $10,000 (that was the only gold he had on him, though — surprisingly, he doesn’t wear any gold jewelry).
McGregor also plans to buy more land and wants to eventually look for gold in “a secret little creek” he’s bought.
Gold mining is a tough slog, said McGregor, but he’s up for the challenge — especially when he thinks of the future value of his finds.
Asked what he thinks gold will be worth in a few years, he said: “I know you’re going to laugh, but I figure $5,000 or $6,000 an ounce.” (That’s compared to about $1,600 an ounce these days.)
He predicted gold might hit that value by 2016 or 2017.
“Just take a look around the world. We’ve got governments printing money like there’s just no tomorrow — people are going to lose faith in currencies and they’re going to want to go to safe havens,” said McGregor.
“Personally, I believe the gold market’s manipulated. It would be probably be a lot higher right now if it wasn’t. But as you know, all manipulations backfire eventually. So we’ll see. Just a good guess, and I know no more than the next guy.”