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CANADIAN GOLD RUSHES/ NOAH TIMMINS (1867-1936)
The 19th century ended with Canada firmly in the world’s consciousness thanks to the fabulous Klondike gold rush. By the middle of the 20th century Canada would be established as one of the most powerful economies in the world and an important diplomatic player following its key roll on the Allied side in both world wars. The economic underpinning, which enabled Canada to advance to the edge of major power status, was mining. In 1900 the country produced minerals to the value of US$64 million – by the beginning of the Second World War that figure had risen to $567 million and today it is nearer to $45 billion.
Today Canada’s population is only around 35 million, making it very much a mid-range country in those terms, but it is a long-standing member of the Group of 7 (or G7), the meeting of the largest economies in the world. Its standard of living is amongst the highest in the world and its proximity to the world’s largest economy, the USA, is of major benefit as Canada is an exporter of high quality, high value, advanced products to its rich neighbour.
Canada’s economic power is due to its position as a supplier of key raw materials to the world; it is a major producer of energy, gold, diamonds, base metals and industrial minerals such as potash, and has huge reserves of both heavy oil and uranium. It also possesses one of the world’s largest sources of clean water, contained in its extensive and vast inland lakes and in its frozen northern territories. It is raw materials that have made the modern Canada.
THE EARLY DECADES OF GOLD
From the time of the Klondike rush, the metal that has most caught the eye of prospectors and investors in Canada has been gold. After South Africa’s Witwatersrand, Canada has in the Abitibi region of Ontario one of the most prolific sources of gold in the world. For this reason the 20th century saw a continuing stream of activity in the area surrounding Timmins in the central region of the province. That interest continues up to the present day.
As we have already seen, the Canadian mining industry entered the 20th century in expansionary mode. We remarked on the first great find of the new century earlier, the silver discoveries at Cobalt south of Timmins in Ontario, near to the Quebec border. However, close to Cobalt lies the rich gold deposits of Kirkland Lake that were first prospected in 1911 – around the time the Hollinger gold mine was being developed relatively close by in the Porcupine district, which was to later become the town of Timmins.
The first gold in the area, which was served by the curiously named town of Swastika, was found at Larder Lake and by the 1920s there were four substantial gold mines operating at Kirkland Lake – the Teck- Hughes, Lake Shore, Wright-Hargreaves and Macassa mines. Over the years they produced around 22 million ozs of gold.
Although the mines mainly shut down in the 1960s (Macassa struggled on until 1999) they are now being brought back into production thanks to a strong gold price and a successful drill programme to prove up more high-grade ore in the camp.
Among the key figures in the opening up of Kirkland Lake were Harry Oakes, Bill Wright, Ed Hargreaves and the Hughes brothers.
American born Harry Oakes, who staked and made a fortune from the Lake Shore mine, was knighted by George VI for services to the island and people of the Bahamas, where he had emigrated in the 1930s. However, both his mining fame and charitable works are arguably overshadowed by his being murdered in 1943 in his house in Nassau, a case that was never solved, and which had echoes of that other great unsolved British colonial mystery of the 1940s, the Happy Valley murder in Kenya of Earl Errol. Both murders also curiously spawned major films.
Kirkland Lake’s mines were developed through a shaft and drive system and eventually reached considerable depths; the Macassa shaft went down over 7,000 feet and until about 15 years ago was the deepest single shaft in the Americas. The gold was often found in its native state – i.e. almost pure gold – in the porphyry ore typical of the area and this accounts for the high grades mined, which are also a feature of the drilling being undertaken today.
The Lake Shore mine was Harry Oakes’s sole mine, but such was its richness that it made Oakes, who was the largest shareholder, one of the wealthiest of all the Canadian mining entrepreneurs, as it paid out dividends of over $100 million. Whilst Oakes cannot match Noah Timmins – whose achievements we will come to below – in terms of mines developed, the Lake Shore nonetheless provided him with an enormous and steady flow of dividends and allowed him to pursue a new lifestyle (an ultimately fatal decision).
Larder Lake itself eventually yielded, in the form of the Kerr Addison mine, one of the largest mines in the Americas, let alone Canada, but from the discovery of gold-bearing ore in 1906 it took 30 years for an economic mine to be established. In the intervening years a large amount of speculative capital was sank in shafts and basic treatment plants, such as stamp mills, but returns were very poor. By the start of the First World War the leases had been amalgamated under the control of Canadian Associated Goldfields.
One prospector in particular, Jack Costello, kept faith with Larder Lake and after the war he played a central role in amalgamating some of the claims into an integrated project sufficiently robust to interest McIntyre Mines, one of the major players in the Porcupine camp. In 1936 the big break was finally made at Larder Lake with the formation of Kerr Addison Gold Mines, whose shares initially were valued at 15c. The old Kerr Addison shaft was de-watered and, after deepening the old workings, several million tonnes of high-grade ore was outlined; in due course this figure expanded to over 50 million tonnes. Faith in Larder Lake had finally paid off and Kerr Addison shares eventually traded as high as CAD$15 by the 1940s.
Porcupine’s first mine, the Hollinger, grew out of the Acme and Millerton leases, the Hollinger amalgamation being a deal brokered by the area’s legendary mentor, Noah Timmins. The Hollinger became one of the largest gold mines in the world but it was not the only mine in that developing camp. The Dome, which is still working today, was another of Porcupine’s major mines and the McIntyre was the third; all three were almost smothered at birth by the fire of 1911 which destroyed most of the mining camp and town.
However, Noah Timmins’s leadership led to the rapid re-building of the town and the mining facilities there. The three mines produced gold to the value of $US660 million, a production volume around 20 million ozs. All three were underground mines but the Dome metamorphosed over the decades into the huge Dome Pit, which although past its peak, is part of today’s Porcupine Joint Venture open-cut operation.
NOAH TIMMINS (1867-1936)
At the centre of the historic Canadian mining province of Abitibi is the city of Timmins, founded in 1911 and named after Noah Timmins who developed the giant Hollinger gold mine, which today, almost 100 years later, stands on the edge of revival.
Noah Timmins was born in Mattawa, Ontario, in 1867. His parents operated a general store in the town which serviced the mining community in the area and which he and his brother, Henry, inherited. Both brothers were enthusiastic, if initially unsuccessful, backers of prospectors (grubstaking), and Noah in particular had made himself very knowledgeable about mining and mineralogy.
In September 1903 one of Noah’s customers was Fred La Rose, whose story of silver riches in Long Lake near the town of Cobalt so intrigued Noah that, with his brother, he purchased a quarter share in La Rose’s leases. With other partners, and not without a few legal and mining problems, the La Rose silver mine was developed and then sold, as were other silver leases acquired by Noah. After that, with his silver profits banked, Noah began to raise his game, with spectacular results.
In 1909 he, with Henry and other associates, purchased the leases under which lay the Hollinger gold mine in what became the town of Timmins, from prospector Benny Hollinger for $300,000; a huge sum at the time for undeveloped ground. The Hollinger mine became Canada’s largest gold mine and one of the largest in the world. In 1912 the town of Timmins was incorporated and named after Noah Timmins who remained its generous benefactor for the rest of his life. By then, the Timmins brothers had moved to Montreal and had married the Pare sisters, whose brother Noah’s sister Josephine had married some years previously. They had a son, Alphonse, who eventually became involved in Noah and Henry’s mining activities as the first manager of the Hollinger.
Noah’s mining interests expanded into Quebec where he rescued the ailing Siscoe gold mine and also financed Noranda’s Horne smelter. By the 1920s Noah’s reach had become Canada-wide as he revived the San Antonio mine in Manitoba, financed the Outpost Island mine near Yellowknife and got involved in developing placer gold mines in the Yukon; he did not, however, forget Ontario, where he developed the Ross mine and Young Davidson mine near Kirkland Lake, close to the Quebec border.
Much of this activity was done through the Hollinger company, of which Noah was president, and which long after his death fell into the hands of the now disgraced Conrad Black, who stripped all the mining interests out of the company and ran Hollinger, fatally as it turned out, as a US-orientated industrial conglomerate. In the 1990s the Hollinger mine, which had closed in 1968, passed into the hands of Royal Oak which collapsed in 1999.
Noah Timmins died in 1936. He is widely acknowledged to be the mentor of the modern Canadian mining industry, known affectionately as the ‘Grand Old Man of Canadian Mining’ and in 1985 he was posthumously admitted to the Canadian Business Hall of Fame in recognition of his services to mining.