During the 1890s many Sudbury prospectors were upset with recent provincial legislation that proposed to levy a royalty on nickel production. In 1894, A. Hoffman Smith, a resident of Sudbury since 1888, forcefully expressed his criticism of the legislation. At the same time he discussed in some detail the life of a prospector. It is his views regarding prospecting that will be examined today.
It was the contention of Smith that Algoma was the most difficult area in North America to prospect. Isolation was a problem, there being no trails or roads and pack horses couldn’t be used to the extent they were in British Columbia. This necessitated the prospector carrying his outfit and supplies on his back. A few rivers would serve to facilitate travel.
Active prospecting was not a 12-months of the year vocation. The season was limited with about five or six weeks in the spring and two months in the fall. During the summer months the undergrowth was dense and covered the ground. Mosquitoes, black flies and sand flies servd to make life unbearable. Snow provided the main obstacle during the winter.
The prospector was limited in how much he could carry. No matter how strong, he could pack only enough food for about a week. Two days of his week would be lost going in and out should he happen to be only a few miles from the railway or base of supplies. Should he be able to reach his prospecting ground by canoe, he could take provisions, for about a month. However, this would be the exception.
The provisions of the prospector were quite basic, consisting of salt pork, flapjacks, and plain tea. Springs were scarce, necessitating reliance on swamp water to drink and cook with. Smith felt the prospector would “need a stomach of nickel-steel in order to stand it.”
Once in the bush, the luxuries of home were far from prevalent. The prospector slept on brush on the ground with nothing beneath but part of his blanket. After a few years of this, Smith felt rheumatism would develop and later serious lung troubles might occur. The prospector had to be out in all weather. Half of the time he was liable to not only be footsore and weary, but also wet. During this time he’d be carrying a pack that would weigh about 50 pounds. The only consolation was that the pack should get lighter each day.
However, these were not the only difficulties the prospector encountered. Once he had located a prospect, he had to secure it. Evidence suggests this was not the easiest task. He also had to contend with provincial legislation that the independent prospector viewed as discriminatory. These aspects of the prospector’s travail will be discussed next week.
Gary Peck is a retired Sudbury school teacher with a passion for history.