1934 Cyril John “Yellowknife Johnny” Baker

In the early summer of 1933 bush pilot Wop May flew prospectors Herb Dixon and Johnny Baker from Great Bear Lake (map) to a lake near the headwaters of the Coppermine River. Over the summer, as they slowly made their way by canoe south towards Great Slave Lake, Dixon and Baker searched for signs of gold. Near the end of the summer, 50 kilometres north of Yellowknife Bay, claims were staked around gold showings at the south end of Quyta Lake (named for Dixon’s exclamation “this is quite a lake”).

In the fall of 1934 Johnny Baker, with partner Hughie Muir, continued this prospecting trip south towards Yellowknife Bay. When they reached the bay they set up camp on the east shore then climbed a hill behind the camp to find a quartz vein “lousy with visible gold”. These claims where named the “RICH” group. This discovery proved to be one of the most incredible gold discoveries in Canadian history and led to the eventual development of three producing mines on Yellowknife Bay.

In 1935, while development of the “RICH” claims was underway, Baker and Muir crossed Yellowknife Bay and Baker made another rich gold discovery along a creek that eventually became known as Baker Creek. Claims were staked and given the name “GIANT” group.

News of these discoveries resulted in a staking rush where more gold discoveries were made and mines began springing up on Yellowknife Bay. Johnny Baker was in charge of developing the GIANT claims – these eventually became the Giant Yellowknife Gold Mine – and during this work developed an interesting way of keeping the messages he sent to his head office in Toronto secret.

Anyone with a short wave radio could listen in on and, if they knew Morse code, could decode radiotelegraph messages. On the 23rd of July 1936 Johnny Baker sent the following message:

“CONGENITAL FORK GLARE FOREGROUND OCCASION GAUNTLET GRATEFULNESS IMPLANT NEAREST USERIOUS DISAGREE APOSTOLIC TROOPED HORN FLOCK DRUG OBLIGED POMPOUS TEST CHRONOMETER TANGLE…”

Baker was using a particular form of book cipher. He had arranged with his head office that he would send important messages using a dictionary where the real word in the message was substituted with a word appearing a set number of words before it. To interpret the message the reader needed a copy of the exact same dictionary and would need to know now many words to jump ahead. To interpret Baker’s July 23rd message head office simply looked up the word FORK, counted ahead a given number of words to find FREE, using the same procedure GLARE becomes GOLD, and so on. The message then became:

“CONSIDERABLE FREE GOLD FOUND ON GIANT GROUP IN NEW VEIN DISCOVERED APPROXIMATELY TWO HUNDRED FEET EAST OF POST THREE CLAIM TEN”

Timeline Link:1930s From Furs to Mines