In the spring of 1894 the Provincial Mining Association of Ontario met in Sudbury. The meeting was afterwards described as, to that time, the largest and most successful ever held. Suffice to say, the meeting provided an opportunity for all to focus attention of the mining potential of the area. Today we’ll examine the Nickel Range in some detail.
At that time the full extent of the Nickel Range was not known. Yet, the nickel-bearing belt was felt to be about 70 miles in length, extending from Lake Wahnapitae in a southwesterly direction along the Vermillion and Spanish Rivers. The width was described as irregular with it being wider at both ends and narrower in the middle where the main line of the CPR crossed it. Deposits were scattered throughout the range.
In Denison township, southwest of Sudbury, there was a regular series of approximately a dozen large ore beds on one ridge. This extended eastward into Graham township as a vein system. Prospectors referred to the rich nickel deposit as a “red hill” based on the color of the surface capping of gossan. It was the ambition of the prospector to make such a find.
The percentage of red hills or nickel ore beds was highest in Denison township. An American expert referred to this as where the range “(got) your back up” rising in some cases into a mountain of minerals. Next in importance was the township of McKim with the Copper Cliff, Stobie and Murray Mines as well as a number of yet unworked properties. These were followed by Levack township with many deposits; Township of Snider with Lady Macdonald, the Naughton and the Tam O’Shanter beds; the townships of Drury, Baldwin, Garson, Blezard and Creighton.
The ore in the area was considered to contain a high percentage of nickel. The Worthington mine had produced some rich ore and a carload from the Vermillion mine in Denison had yielded 15 per cent nickel with picked samples running as high as 43 per cent. Average ores in large bodies ranged from 2 ½ to 10 per cent nickel. Apparently 3 per cent was regarded as a good paying ore. Without exception, all mines worked on the range had improved in quantity and quality as they went deeper.
The Canadian Copper Company of Akron Ohio was the first to begin actual mining operations. In 1894 that company was the major operation with the Copper Cliff, the Evans and the Stobie mines. The Copper Cliff mine was the head mine with a smelting plant that had the capacity to treat 250 tons of ore every 24 hours.
The Copper Cliff mine had been first worked as a quarry in the face of the bluff. Later, underground operations were carried on with, by 1894, an underground shaft that was down to the 600 foot level. During the winter, a vertical shaft was to be opened between the third and seventh level.
The Stobie mine had been worked by an open adit or entrance in the side of the hill. It was a fairly successful operation and during the summer of 1893, ore had been taken out, crushed and put on the cars for less than $1.00 a ton.
The number of men employed by the Canadian Copper Co. in 1894 at the Copper Cliff, Stobie and Evans mines and the smelter totaled over 500.
Murray mine, since 1889, belonged to the H.H. Vivian Co. of Swansea, Wales. In 1894 there were about 150 men at Murray mine and about 100 at both the Worthington and Travers mines along the “Soo” branch.
The Canadian Copper Company and the H.H. Vivian Co. were two of the major operators in 1894. Yet, according to reports of the time, two-thirds of the best deposits of discovered nickel had not been worked and were in fact for sale. As well, real estate in Sudbury, Nickel City, Worthington, Nairn and Webbwood was considered a good investment by those anticipating new mines.
In 1894 there appeared, for many, to be undaunted optimism regarding Sudbury’s mining future.
Gary Peck is a retired Sudbury high-school teacher with a passion for history.