[Jules Timmins] The Shy Midas Behind Ungava – by McKenzie Porter (MACLEAN’S Magazine – February 1, 1952)


Jules Timmins was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and he has since gold-plated it from the fabulous mining ventures he has led. Now he’s the dynamo that’s powering the vast Ungava iron development. Yet even in the town they named for his family, cops and bellboys don’t know his face

Jules Timmins was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and he has since gold-plated it from the fabulous mining ventures he has led. Now he’s the dynamo that’s powering the vast Ungava iron development. Yet even in the town they named for his family, cops and bellboys don’t know his face

TOWARD the end of November last a chunky jut-jawed cigar-toting millionaire called Jules Timmins talked about gold in Noranda, northwestern Quebec, on Sunday; about iron in Montreal on Monday; about steel in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday; about copper in Toronto on Wednesday; about silver back in Montreal on Thursday; and about mining finance in New York on Friday.

He travelled nearly three thousand miles and squeezed in so many conferences that he sustained his twenty-year-old reputation at airports and railroad stations for being always the last man aboard a plane or a train. Yet, because he had managed two days in his home city of Montreal instead of the more usual one, Timmins counted it a quiet week.

Even so he’d been bustling around like this for months and felt in need of relaxation. So he telegraphed his top brass at Hollinger Consolidated Gold Mines Ltd., Hollinger-Hanna Ltd., and J. R. Timmins and Co., keystones of a dozen companies over which he presides: “Am getting lost until December 16.”

The executives glanced at their calendars and grinned. They knew the boss was heading for Georgia with a shotgun and would return in time for Christmas with a bag of the succulent wild turkeys he fondly describes as “the most wary game bird on the American continent.”

But they kept his vacation as dark as a state secret Promoters, knowing Timmins’ hereditary willingness to listen to a promising proposal, have been known to fly a thousand miles and buttonhole him for funds while he was standing in a salmon river or crouching in a duck blind.

Gold-Crazy — Like a Fox

Sixty-three-year-old Timmins is the central figure of a large family whose holdings in Canada’s mineral enterprises spread like veins through a lump of high-grade ore. Friends say jokingly he wears gold-rimmed glasses because horn rims would advertise a competitive substance. He is president, or director, of a group of mining companies which produce almost every Canadian metal, and runs his own brokerage business, J. R. Timmins and Co., on the Montreal, Toronto and New York exchanges. He sits on the board of hotel, insurance and entertainment corporations.

His two main presidential responsibilities, however, are Hollinger Consolidated, the biggest gold concern on this continent, and Hollinger-Hanna, a joint Canadian-American management firm which controls a cluster of companies now tearing the overburden off rich iron-ore deposits in the remote uplands of Labrador-Quebec at Ungava.

Aside from mining, and his wife and nine children, Timmins has only two passions -hunting and fishing. Had he wished he could have indulged his love of rod and gun to the exclusion of all else for he cannot remember what it’s like to be without a million dollars. Like other second generation millionaires he might have gone after elephants in Africa or sharks in New Zealand. He could have owned race horses, yachts and aircraft. But he’s never been a playboy or a spectacular spender.

A friend once quipped of Jules Timmins: “He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has spent a lifetime gold-plating it.” But no one accuses him of avarice: The riches he inherited from his father he has dug back into Canada’s muskeg and rock.

His father, the late Henry Timmins, was called a fool when he expressed his belief in the existence of Ontario silver. His uncle, the late Noah Timmins –whom Jules succeeded as president of the huge Hollinger concern was considered crazy when he plunged the family bank roll into Ontario gold.

Years later mining experts thought Jules Timmins had gone off his head when he talked of dragging iron ore through three hundred and fifty miles of bush from the bleak Ungava scrub to a tiny port called Seven Islands on the north shore of the St. Lawrence. Yet today the future of the North American steel industry, burdened with rearmament, hangs on the success of Timmins’ audacity.

Ungava is a two-hundred-million-dollar operation which will replace the dwindling iron reserves of the Mesabi Range on the U. S. side of the border at the head of Lake Superior. It is the most potent single mining venture in the history of Canada and an illuminated chapter in the chronicles of northern conquest.

Hollinger Consolidated, which owns the deposits, and six companies led by the M. A. Hanna Co., of Cleveland, Ohio, together subscribed the first hundred million dollars. Four Canadian and nineteen American insurance companies lent them a hundred million.

The potential influence of this enormous development on industrial Canada is today beyond measure. After 1954, when a new three-hundred -and-fifty-mile railroad is completed, Ungava will feed ten million tons of iron ore a year into the voracious smelters of the U. S. steel barons. If the St. Lawrence Seaway goes through, permitting direct shipments to U. S. Great Lakes ports, production will go up to twenty million tons a year.

Not even the U. S. rearmament program will more than scratch Ungava’s proved deposits of four hundred million tons. Bountiful reserves for Canada’s own fledgling steel industry have been set aside and any requests from the hungry United Kingdom mills will be easily satisfied. Jobs for at least ten thousand men will last indefinitely.

W. H. (Scotty) Wilson, a magistrate in Timmins, northeastern Ontario, a city of twenty-seven thousand which grew up around the Hollinger gold mine and took its name from the Timmins family, says: “Jules is like his dad and his uncle. He’s more interested in what money will do than what it will buy.”

The Shy Midas Behind Ungava

Jules’ father, Henry Timmins, planted the seed which sprouted the wealth. For thirty-five hundred dollars he bought a quarter share in the La Rose mine at Cobalt, Ont., in 1903 and touched off a chain reaction which made Canada a silver producer. Jules’ uncle, Noah Timmins, first grasped the significance of Benny Hollinger’s dazzling find at Porcupine, a hundred miles northwest of Cobalt, in 1909, and made it the most lucrative gold mine on this continent.

Timmins money saved Quebec’s Noranda gold mine from going broke in 1924, established the growing cities of Rouyn Noranda, and fired the start gun for a prospecting adventure which led to a string of mining towns stretching ninety miles eastward over the muskeg to Val d’Or.

It was Timmins money which converted a struggling venture called the San Antonio Mine in Manitoba into a dividend payer between the wars. And Timmins money was the first invested in the Yellowknife gold fields of the Northwest Territories.

The Timmins policy of progressive investment in promising claims, the encouragement of prospectors by generous grubstakes and square deals, and the building of a reputation on the stock exchanges for reliable promotion of good risks, provided Jules with the money for Ungava.

Norman Pearce, a proprietor of the Northern Miner, the industry’s trade bible in Canada, says: “Jules Timmins is Ungava, and Ungava is Jules Timmins. There’s a lot of American money in there, but it is a Canadian baby. Timmins was the only man in Canada with the nerve to do it. He is one of the richest men in Canada, but nobody identifies him with wealth. When you think of Jules Timmins you think of northern development and Canada’s future.”

During the past two years Queen’s University, Kingston, Ont., has invested Jules Timmins with an honorary doctorate of laws, and McGill University, Montreal, his own alma mater, has conferred on him an honorary doctorate of science in recognition of his services to Canada’s economy.

Yet, outside mining and university circles, Jules Timmins is almost unknown. His Montreal cousins, Noah Timmins Jr., Leo Timmins and Rodolphe Timmins, are all active in mining interests which extend from South America to the Northwest Territories.

Leo, as president of the Chromium Mining and Smelting Corporation, whose main plant is at Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., worked feverishly for fifteen years to establish this industry firmly in Canada. But from their fathers, whose partnership is legendary in Canadian mining history, the contemporary Timmins have inherited a reticence that was certainly essential to economic survival in the early era of prospecting and claim jumping, but which today reporters find frustrating.

Even the Timmins women, who busy themselves with Montreal Catholic charities and are all very personable, shy away from camera and gossip columnists. Jules Timmins’ American wife, the former Edna Nelson of Tulsa, Okla., who is so handsome visitors find it hard to believe she’s borne him four daughters and five sons, once deftly escaped Montreal’s aggressive little photographer David Bier by pleading she was in an old dress and appealing to his chivalry not to “shoot.”

Though Jules Timmins likes to keep the family name out of the press, he is intensely interested in it himself. In the mid-Thirties he employed a “family-tree man” to find out who the first Canadian Timmins was and whence he came. The lineage specialist could probe no farther back than Jules Timmins’ grandfather, Noé Timmins, who came from “somewhere around Pembroke, Ont.,” and was of either Irish or German descent on the paternal side and French on the maternal.

Since Noé, the Timmins offspring have married into such an assortment of English, Irish, Scots, French, European and American racial strains that the younger generation are probably among the most representative Canadian types alive today.

The story of Jules is inseparable from that of his family. Noé Timmins opened a general store in Mattawa, Ont., during the copper and nickel prospecting era toward the end of the last century. He was a Protestant until he married a Canadienne, when he was converted to Rome. The Timmins family are now all Catholics. Jules’ father, Henry Timmins, and his uncle, Noah Timmins, inherited the store.

The Great La Rose Bonanza

Mattawa was then a one – street frame-house town, alternately dusty and muddy, a CPR junction at a branch line which ran to the foot of Lake Timiskaming along the Ontario Quebec border. Here European settlers threw their bundles off trains and began to hack themselves a farm out of the bush.

Blind pigs, gambling dens and brothels catered to the bachelors and grass widowers who were hitting the rainbow trail. Mattawa was a frontier town and in Mattawa the northern empire of Canada had its beginnings Noah and Henry Timmins married two Canadien sisters called Paré. They thus acquired a nephew, Alphonse Paré, a mining engineer. Most of their customers were prospectors.

These two factors turned the Timmins’ thoughts from groceries to the mineral riches already glinting in the outcrop or among the stumps left by the old logging companies. For fifteen years the Timmins were known to prospectors for miles around as men ready to grubstake the most forlorn expeditions. Most of their profits were carried away into the bush and they were sometimes ridiculed for their faith in silver. But in 1903 the risks paid off.

In that year a railroad blacksmith called Fred La Rose walked into the store and dumped a few pieces of curious rock on the counter in front of Noah. These specimens convinced Noah that commercial silver lay in the district. La Rose had staked claims in his spare time while working on the Timiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway around what is now Cobalt. Negotiations carried on by Henry were complicated by the fact that La Rose had sold half his claims to John and Duncan McMartin, railroad contractors who employed him.

But Henry Timmins bought a quarter share for thirty-five hundred dollars. Then a group of claim jumpers disputed La Rose’s stake. The Timmins brothers engaged a struggling young lawyer, David Dunlap, to fight a legal action. Dunlap took for his fee an equity in the La Rose claims. He won the case. Thus the Timmins-McMartin Dunlap combine, from which three contemporary millionaire families are descended, had its beginnings.

Noah Timmins went to Haileybury, Ont, to try to borrow five thousand dollars. The bank turned him down and the cash was raised from friends. A few months later the La Rose mine shipped fifty thousand dollars worth of silver to New York. Noah shook the cheque in the face of the discomfited manager and changed banks.

With these earnings the syndicate secured a two-hundred-thousand-dollar option on five nearby claims. A month later they sold these same claims for six hundred thousand. Eventually the La Rose mine sold for a million dollars. The site of the mine became the town of Cobalt.

Henry and Noah built themselves a big house each at nearby Haileybury. They were the first in the north to have electric power. It was expensive at the time and, to test its cost, Noah kept every light in his house burning for one month. He laughingly said that he had to sell a carload of silver to meet the bill.

The gently bred Paré sisters rubbed the rough spots off their husbands. Henry and Noah would spend weeks in ihe bush inspecting claims, then return to the fine linen, soft English French conversation and musical evenings amid the now roaring mining camps of New Liskeard, Haileybury and Cobalt. It was a beginning of civilization in the north.

It was Noah who won the credit for Hollinger. Alphonse Paré, the nephew, first heard the news of nineteen-year old Benny Hollinger’s famous strike at Porcupine in 1909. Hollinger had been grubstaked by John McMahon, a bartender. McMahon was empowered to act financially on Hollinger’s behalf. Noah cornered McMahon in Haileybury, which was then a howling mob of sourdoughs, tenderfeet, European peasants and English aristocrats, all rushing north to stake claims.

A Tidal Wave Brought Death

McMahon was incoherently yelling he would take nothing less than a million dollars for the Hollinger claims. Noah let him cool off for a day or two after getting a promise of first option. He urged his brother and the McMartin brothers to go in with him. They refused. Gold in Ontario? Not likely. Noah stoically decided to go it alone.

At the last minute Henry said quietly, “I’m with you.” They closed the deal with McMahon for three hundred and thirty thousand dollars. Later they bought adjoining claims and let the McMartins and Dunlap into the syndicate.

In six years the Timmins brothers graduated from small store owners to big homes in Montreal’s affluent Westmount. The McMartin brothers transformed themselves from small railroad contractors into the sires of families which became the talk of New York café society. David Dunlap, the struggling lawyer, was headed for a home in Agincourt, near Toronto, which became one of the showplaces of Ontario.

But physical hardships had still to be endured. To set up the equipment at Hollinger it was necessary to drive sleds and teams twelve miles across the frozen surface of Night Hawk Lake. Thirteen times the ice broke and the horses and gear were hauled out of the water in the nick of time. In the summer of 1911, when the shaft was ready to disgorge its first load of gold, fire swept through Porcupine and razed every tree, tent and shack.

Hundreds of miners and their families plunged into Porcupine Lake and stood up to their necks in water with wet blankets over their heads as the holocaust consumed their belongings ashore. Many were drowned when the fire touched off a trainload of dynamite and the resulting explosion pushed a tidal wave across the lake. One group sheltering in the mine shaft suffocated. More than seventy people perished.

The Timmins calmly rebuilt the Hollinger surface workings. The first uninterrupted year of mining produced nearly a million dollars’ worth of gold. The mine has since produced one hundred and fifty millions’ worth. Hollinger was bigger than the La Rose. Noah became president and outshone his brother Henry.

The town of Timmins sprang up around the mine and there began a wave of indirect prosperity. A man called Henry Pierce, for example, wanted to buy a lot and build a store. But he didn’t have a dime. Henry Timmins lent him fifteen hundred dollars. Within five years Pierce was worth two hundred thousand.

A Six-Million Grubstake

In this atmosphere Jules Timmins grew up, a stocky lad with stout legs and strong forearms, a formidable scrapper in the schoolyard at Mattawa.

In summer he led long schoolboy expeditions into the bush, humping a big canoe over the portages, cooking beans and bannock, sleeping on balsam boughs. In winter he mushed a dog team. When the family became rich Jules might have turned into a Little Lord Fauntleroy. But at St. Michael’s College, Toronto, and later at McGill, he was a stalwart of the hockey and football teams. In World War 1 he went to France as an officer with the Royal Canadian Engineers. After the war he worked as a mucker and then as a shift boss underground at Hollinger.

He studied geology and mining until no technician could pull the wool over his eyes. Then he formed J. R. Timmins and Co. and went out into the poker game of finance. His father died in 1930 and he cleaved close to his Uncle Noah. When he was more than forty years old he paddled his ageing Uncle Noah in a canoe more than fifty miles upstream to inspect the San Antonio mines in the Rice Lake area, one hundred and forty miles northeast of Winnipeg.

When Noah died in 1936 it was Jules, instead of one of Noah’s sons, who became president of Hollinger, with wide family approval.

A chance conversation in 1910 on the Montreal-New York train set Timmins thinking about iron. A small U. S. company, he learned, had got into difficulties trying to prove commercial iron deposits in Ungava. They were in debt to the extent of seventy thousand dollars. Timmins shouldered the debt, paid a cash sum that’s never been disclosed, and got control of twenty thousand square miles in Labrador and thirty-nine hundred adjoining square miles over the Quebec border.

He hired Dr. J. A. Retty, Canada’s outstanding geologist, to survey the terrain with a crew. He spent eight years and six million dollars of Hollinger money to find out how much ore could be dug, how much it would cost to get it out, how it could be shipped to civilization, and where he could sell it. The findings would have crumpled a lesser man. A three-hundred-and-fifty-mile railway and the necessary equipment would cost around two hundred millions.

There was one bright spot. The ore lay near the surface and could be gouged out by inexpensive opencast mining. It was high grade, up to sixty-five percent iron. But to make it pay it would be necessary to produce a minimum of ten million tons a year. In 1948 the Canadian consumption of iron was only four million tons a year.

Two problems posed themselves— the huge capital required for development, and the market. In spite of the Quebec provincial government’s longing to keep it an all-Canadian venture —they envisioned a vast smelting industry along the north shore of the St. Lawrence near Seven Islands—it was necessary to bring in American money and find American customers.

In the U. S. Cleveland-Pittsburgh steel basin many companies were worried by signs of exhaustion in the Mesabi Range of Minnesota. Led by the M. A. Hanna Co. six major American steel companies combined to strike a bargain with Timmins. They would help to raise the money for digging the Labrador ore and when it was got out they would buy it. The complex financing of the enterprise through the steel and insurance companies was regarded on stock exchanges as a Timmins triumph.

At Burnt Creek, the camp in Ungava, and at Seven Islands, the base on the St. Lawrence, the desolate quiet of that Canada which had been contemptuously dismissed by Voltaire as “a patch of snow” was suddenly shattered by the roar of machines and the cries of hardy men. Offices, assay shops, dining rooms, bunkhouses and family cabins were wrought from local tamarack, balsam and spruce, and roofed with aluminum flown up from Seven Islands. Twelve freight aircraft began heaving tractors, scoops, bulldozers and cranes from Seven Islands to Burnt Creek.

Seven Islands was transformed almost overnight from a sleepy fishing village on the fringe of the Montagnais Indian reserve into a sort of Klondike boom town with three hotels, a night club, and neon lighting. Practically every hour boats arrive at the newly built wharf with supplies, which are then flown on to Ungava or driven up the tote road to the tunnels, embankments, viaducts and bridges which will eventually carry the railway.

Local Indians have guided the exploration crews through much of the terrain in return for an aircraft lift or a gift of tea or flour. Mathieu André, chief of the Montagnais, presented Retty with a lump of ore which came from a spot later proved to possess workable deposits and was immediately employed on the prospecting staff.

Eighteen times last year Jules Timmins was seen stomping around Ungava and Seven Islands like an old sourdough. His older sons, during college vacations, were working with the gangers and preparing themselves for the responsibilities of third – generation millionaires.

Silver, gold, and now iron. The Timmins name has been linked with the first, the biggest, and the best of all three finds in Canada. Yet a few weeks ago in Timmins, Ont., a railroad policeman, who for years has been accustomed to the spectacle of Jules Timmins running down the platform to make the south-bound train at the last minute, turned to a hotel bellhop standing nearby and said: “Say, who is that guy?”

The bellhop shook his head.


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