The Discovery of Sudbury Nickel was Accidental – Gary Peck

The discovery of ore in the Sudbury area is one worthy of recording for in many ways its discovery was both accidental and initially at least, unappreciated.

 In 1856, A.P. Salter, provincial land surveyor was involved in survey work in the area. While running the meridian line north of Whitefish Lake, he noted a deflection on his compass needle. This occurred in the area between present – day Creighton and Snider townships. He reported to Alexander Murray, a geologist with the Geological Commission. Murray visited the area, took samples, and wrote a report; however, in 1856 little interest was generated given the inaccessibility of the area. Significantly, the samples were taken about 200 yards west of Creighton mine. Creighton mine was rediscovered in 1886 and in 1901 the Canadian Copper Company began operation there.

 The discovery of ore in the area had a second respite. In 1883 Judge McNaughton, Sudbury’s magistrate, was lost in the fall of that year around present – day Murray Mine. Dr. Howey, one of the areas first settlers, was among the group that found the judge. Dr. Howey, an amateur geologist, became intrigued by the rocks. As fate would have it, Dr. A. Selwyn, of the geological survey, was in Sudbury accompanied by Dr. Girwood of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

They suggested to Dr. Howey that the ore samples would prove unprofitable!

Shortly after the C.P.R. came through the same area and in February 1884 the land, from which the samples came, was purchased. Dr. Howey, except for the advice given, might have owned the Murray Mine site.


 However, the discovery of the site was itself somewhat accidental. The surveying crew of the C.P.R., under William Ramsey, established the route north of Lost Lake (present – day Ramsey Lake), rather than south. It initially had been planned to run north from the present site of Naughton. This error resulted in the line being run through the same area where Dr. Howey had gathered his samples.

 In August 1883, Thomas Flanagan, a blacksmith, noted the copper sulphides on the site. The hill was cut the following year by the grading crew. That year the same Dr. Selwyn visited the site and this time accurately assessed the ore body.

 In Feb. 25, 1885, lot 11, concessions of McKim Township was purchased at a dollar an acre for a total of $310. The owners were non-residents – Thomas and William Murray (Pembroke), Henry Abbott (Brockville), and John Loughrin (Mattawa).

 In 1887, the presence of nickel was apparently noted for the first time when the Canadian Copper Company shipped its first ore from the Copper Cliff mine to its smelter in New Jersey. Nickel then was only mined in commercial quantities in the French colony of New Caledonia.

 Thus the mineral importance of the Sudbury area was duly noted for the first time.

An interesting chapter in Sudbury’s history. 

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