The Virginiatown Bank Robbery – Michael Barnes

Kerr Addison Mine was one of the great elephants of Canadian gold mining. In the trade this simply means it had been a giant producer since the mine first started turning out mill feed in the mid-thirties.

The prospect of gold produced in bullion form excites both honest and criminal minds alike. While most of us like to dream about the precious yellow metal, some take positive action to acquire it.

In the mid-sixties a bullion shipment from the mine was hijacked at the Larder Lake station by Quebec underworld figures. On December 21st 1972 thieves struck again, this time with the mine payroll as the star attraction.

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in Virginiatown then, was a small frame building. Customers and tellers alike had no more than Christmas shopping on their minds when armed, masked men burst into the bank and demanded the considerable amount of cash in the place.

At this point they were unaware that the place was being watched by the owner of a nearby service station. Dave Mann saw the armed men enter the bank and noted their guns.

Mr. Mann just happened to have a .303 rifle and some ammunition at hand. It occurred to him that he might be able to give the law a hand.

The Township of McGarry Police could certainly have used the help. When they were alerted to the hold up, there was one major problem which prevented their arrival at the crime scene. All four tires had been rendered flat  by persons unknown.

Mr. Mann sighted his rifle on the closed in porch of the bank. Perhaps, he reasoned, the robbers would drop their weapons when threatened by a hidden marksman.

The bad guys had finished gathering up the money when the service station man fired one round into the porch. Fortunately it was unoccupied at the time. But the report of the rifle and sudden impact on the building had a very definite effect on the crooks, although not what was intended.

First the getaway driver drove off, leaving his partners stranded. But the desperadoes in the bank were not unresourceful. They grabbed Manager Bob Emmell and took him outside as a hostage.

The rifleman held his fire and the driver recovered his nerve. Shouting for customers and bank employees to stay put, the robbers made their way to the car, with Mr.Emmell as a convenient human shield.

No doubt one is temped to enquire why the getaway was not delayed any further. But this was a quiet Northern Ontario village. Most men were either working at the big mine on the hill at the end of the road, or sleeping prior to punching in for the next underground or mill shift.

So it was that before the local police department could reach the bank, the unauthorized cash withdrawal merchants were long gone. True a call was put in to the Kirkland Lake detatchment of the OPP. But the response time to Virginiatown was about half an hour so the arrival of the boys in blue was delayed.

The getaway car sped east out of town and made its way through Kearns and up the hill, past the Raven Mountain ski resort until it came to the Quebec border, at high speed, a trip of no more than five minutes.

For the robbers the presence of the bank manager was unplanned but not an event which upset their retreat to any great extent. One masked man even comforted their rather shaken guest. He said there was nothing to worry about. They had the cash and that was all that counted.

In the shadow of Cheminis Mountain, right at the provincial line, the thieves bade a cordial farewell to their reluctant passenger. They switched cars and disappeared into northwestern Quebec.

As to the characters in this drama, the local police force has long since been disbanded and the O.P.P. have taken over. Mr.Mann retired to North Bay and Bob Emmell left the bank employ and works in neighboring Larder Lake today as the Clerk Treasurer.

The bank closed its V-Town branch although the building remains, a mute reminder of an exciting time in a mining town. The bank robbers were never caught and versions of the amount they took vary with the telling.

Michael Barnes is a published Canadian author who has written extensively on Northern Ontario. Michaelbarnes53@hotmail.com

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