The Shy Philanthropist from Schumacher – Michael Barnes

They speak well of Fred Schumacher in the community which honours his name just outside of Timmins. He was well-to-do before he came to the gold camp and seems to have made money for fun there.

Born in Denmark in 1863, the young immigrant to the United States eventually became a pharmacist but he did not make drug dispensing his occupation. Instead he became a salesman and later married the daughter of the firm’s owner.

He founded his own patent medicine firm and became rich in the process. Then he decided he needed some excitement in his life and investigated the potential of the new gold-fields in Northern Ontario.

In 1912 all the land available for staking was taken up but the canny Schumacher found a loophole in land ownership. Several former veterans of the Boer war held property in the Porcupine given them by a grateful government. The newcomer purchased 160 acres of veteran lots close by the great Dome Mine for $8,000 and 8 acres between the McIntyre and Hollinger, the other two big mines.

This latter smaller property seemed ideal for a mine of his own. Trouble was that a family of squatters had a shack on the exact place where the investor intended to sink a shaft. No matter. Instead of having the trespassers evicted, Schumacher paid them for the house and gained himself much good will in the process.

The American financier only held the Schumacher Mine for a short while and then sold the place to Hollinger. Since he had paid little for the land and parted with it plus the buildings he had erected for $2,000,000 he felt it was a good deal.

Fred Schumacher was by now well accepted in the community known then as Aura Lake. This name for gold was once preceded by Pearl Lake but the Post Office nixed that one because there were two many places of the same name already. Finally the province honoured Schumacher by naming it for the man who had brought so much prosperity to the area.

Schumacher only came to the town named after him on an infrequent basis. He was busy in Columbus, Ohio building a big mansion and developing the great art collection which survives him to the present.

But over a 24-year period he worked out a deal which may seem apocryphal but at least the essential elements are true. Shortly after he bought the 160 acres near the Dome he was approached to sell it for $75,000. He refused saying he would only take $150,000 but the Dome ignored the offer. So the land stayed idle for 20 years while the mine workings edged closer to the Schumacher land.
At last the big mine moved to try and buy the land. Schumacher reminded the president that his last offer was ignored and he was now doubling it to $300,000.

Once again the deal fell flat but by the mid-thirties the big Dome was in a jam. The mine needed the property badly. Schumacher had once again pulled his double-up stunt but still negotiations languished. Finally the Dome did a deal for $1,125,000 plus 20,000 of its shares.

Only 24 years before the firm could have had the lot for $75,000. As it was, the canny trader had received a huge profit for his patience and the transaction worked its way into local lore. Now Schumachering is said to mean hard bargaining on an ever enlarging scale.

As Mr. Schumacher became older, he became less involved with people but more widely known for philanthropy. He bought an organ for the United Church but directed his giving almost exclusively to children.

Ever since 1916, he gave Christmas gifts to all the children in the community named for him. The practice still continues long after his death. People, now grandparents, still treasure gifts they received from the shy philanthropist long ago.

You can see a portrait of Fred Schumacher in that community’s public school. It shows a grey haired older man smiling warmly. Although his visits to his adopted town were always fleeting and without fanfare, Schumacher has always been well regarded there.

His epitaph was once neatly summed up by a citizen. “I never heard him say a bad word about anyone.” No wonder you cannot get a bad report in Schumacher about its founder.

Michael Barnes is a published Canadian author who has written extensively on Northern Ontario.