Many Challenges for Early Sudbury Prospectors – Gary Peck

Previously it was noted that the lot of a Sudbury prospector was one beset with many difficulties. A. Hoffman Smith, a resident of Sudbury since 1883, had stated in 1894 that Algoma was the most difficult area in North America to prospect.

Having already examined some of the actual problems associated with locating a site, today we will discuss the difficulties associated with securing a site and conclude with a discussion of what, to two early pioneers, was the ideal prospector.

Once a site had been located, a prospector had to secure the prospect. Unfortunately the central office was over 300 miles distant in Toronto. On occasion, his affidavits and applications, once they had arrived, might remain unrecognized for weeks.The prospector, despite every effort to secure accurate information, might find his claim “blanketed”. This would mean that some unknown person might have made a prior application for the territory he had prospected.
The person who had prior claim would be notified of the new application and then would have 30 days in which to examine the area. Within the 30 day limit, the individual with the first claim could purchase the property including, of course, the ‘discovered’ site. Or, on occasion, the whole territory might be withdrawn from sale.
According to A. Hoffman Smith, such situations were not exceptional. One can well imagine the frustration that would be experienced by the prospector.
Often the prospector would be too poor to pay for his claim. This would necessitate the individual working on a “grub-stake” principle for ½ or ¼ or even less interest. It was felt by Smith that most of the prospectors in the Sudbury area during the 1890s were in that predicament.
It undoubtedly took a special man to be a successful prospector. James Stobie and Rinaldo McConnell were two such men and both in 1894 defined what they constituted an ideal prospector.
James Stobie, during the mid-1880s, had discovered a site on the south half of lot 5, Concession 1, Blezard township that later became known as the Stobie mine. Stobie felt that the ideal prospector would not be found among the “fat and wealthy man”. He felt that neither the capitalist, office seeker, dude or miser (would) make such sacrifices.
The man had to be sound in mind and body. He had to have “indomitable luck and great power of endurance in order to contend with all the difficulties he (would) be sure to meet in this rock-broken and pathless wilderness.”

Needed Knowledge
The successful prospector would have to be able to differentiate between a paying range and one of limited value. Finally, he felt it was imperative that he not get homesick, lost in the woods nor be afraid of the bites of bears or black flies.
Rinaldo McConnell, also one of the early prospectors who was quite successful, has left his views regarding what was a suitable prospector. Apparently, according to McConnell, many that arrived were far from practical, expecting to step out of the Pullman on to a nickel-plated mining location. To him it took a practical man to discover, mine, smelt and refine the nickel ore in Sudbury.
Perhaps a fitting tribute to these early pioneers and hardy souls would be the words of McConnell when he stated that prospectors were:
“Men who climb the highest peaks, and go into the deepest ravines and endure a great deal of hardship and privation while endeavoring to make a competency for themselves and who, at the same time, prove great benefactors to their country by discovering and developing the hidden treasures: treasures providence has so wisely and beneficently stored away in this part of the country.”
These were the views of a very successful prospector whose finds included what later became known as Victoria Mine.
It is evident that there were problems that beset the early Sudbury prospector. To have the traits described by Stobie and McConnell would not ensure success but it may have at least put success in the realm of the possible.

Gary Peck is a retired Sudbury school teacher with a passion for history.