Reminiscences of pioneers are often the more difficult of sources to uncover. In some cases the pioneer was never interviewed. Often people were too busy surviving in what had to have been a trying time. However, Thomas Frood, one of Sudbury’s early history-makers, did have a few of his views committed to paper at the turn of the century. The account is an important one for not only the views expressed but also what they reveal about the author.
Thomas Frood was born in Renfrew in 1843. For the early years of his life, he lived in southern Ontario as a druggist in Southampton, and later as a teacher in Kincardine. Like many, he followed the Canadian Pacific Railway into Sudbury, working as a timekeeper. The excitement of prospecting probably encouraged him to remain.
The highlights of his story in Sudbury have been documented. The deposit that ultimately became Frood Mine was discovered by Thomas Frood and James Cockburn in 1884 on lots six and seven in the sixth concession of McKim township. Eventually both sections came under the control of the Canadian Copper Company, though no serious work was undertaken until 1899.
Frood, when he was interviewed, was no longer a Sudbury resident. Yet, to the correspondent of the Toronto News, he must have seemed a logical choice for here was a man who was in Sudbury from the onset. As well, he had an appreciation for, and confidence in, the future of New Ontario.
The correspondent was quick to note that Frood was not a city man. He lived in that far away place called the “woods”. In fact, the last time Frood had been in Toronto had been 13 years previous and on that occasion it was only to cash a life insurance policy.
At the time of the interview, most of the Sudbury area was under the control of the Consolidated Copper Mining Company. The Dominion Mineral Company and the H. H. Vivian Company had, by then, failed. With one company having most of the options on the ore beds and as well having the all-important facilities for smelting, there was a limited future for the individual prospector like Frood. Hence, he no longer actively prospected the range.
The account reveals that Frood was, for a number of years, a government fire ranger. On one occasion, he had helped to light a forest fire in the Nipissing District that threatened the entire Temagami forest reserve. Frood noted “It was a close shave. Not many people today know how near Temagami came to being a waste of rocks and charred stumps.”
It soon became evident that aside from his varied and interesting past, Frood was a man who had a sincere appreciation for nature and the wilderness. His most recent trip had been to travel the Whitefish River to Vermillion Lake. To the writer, he did not describe trials of ardor. Rather, he enthusiastically extolled the scenery of the area. To Frood, the “Vermillion (was) the Windermere of Canada.” He felt that for natural beauty, there was not a place that contained more charm.
Frood, the prospector, was quick to recognize the potential of agriculture in New Ontario. He was convinced that the farmers around Sudbury were becoming wealthy. It was his contention that the prices for their hay, oats, and potatoes were excellent, with lumber camps providing a ready market. Agriculture was, Frood suggested, a relatively untapped source with only about one-tenth of the arable land in use.
He talked not only of the future but also the past. Over the years he had staked hundreds of mining claims. Yet, the prices of sale had ranged from $10 upwards with the Frood Mine being sold for $30,000. Frood was the not-uncommon prospector who lacked capital and had a family to support. Hence, at the time of the interview, he felt he would have been rich had he received full value for all of his mines.
Frood was in Toronto solely because that was where the government resided. His project, in keeping with his faith in the growth potential of New Ontario, was to urge the government to divert population north. For years this had been a scheme of Frood’s; yet, he had not met with unqualified success. At the time, there were only four post offices in a stretch of 150 miles on Georgian Bay between Parry Sound and Spanish Mills. In the area, the roads were poor and few. Yet, unfairly he felt, property owners had paid taxes for over 40 years with little in return.
From his home on the shores of Georgian Bay, opposite Little Current, Frood and family lived a life of relative seclusion. Neighbors were the forest animals. Yet, this was a life-style of his choosing. His “hermitage” of 15 years had brought a sense of tranquility to his life. What remained was to encourage others to settle in New Ontario and enjoy what he had learned to appreciate. He appeared to be one of New Ontario’s ‘boosters’ at a time when the true value of the area was not yet recognized. This, it might be suggested, was not an insignificant contribution for the prospector who had first reached Sudbury in 1884.
Gary Peck is a retired Sudbury school teacher with a passion for history.