The arrival of the H.H. Vivian Company was preceded by its reputation. Enthusiasm must have been present in Sudbury for an operation hailing from Wales recognized the nickel worth of this area. The future looked good for the small town in New Ontario. Yet, the local expectations never were met. Disappointment would accompany failure, particularly when so much had been expected. However, its origins, development, and ultimate failure constitute an interesting tale.
The Murray Mine, familiar to so many over the years, would be the main mine for the H.H. Vivian Company’s Sudbury operations. Though accidentally discovered by Dr. Harvey, and on another occasion by Thomas Flanagan, only on February 25, 1884, would there be an offer to purchase the site. At the price of one dollar an acre, 310 acres would come under the control of four non-residents – Thomas and William Murray of Pembroke, Henry Abbott of Brockville, and John Loughrin of Mattawa. In 1899, Murray Mine, located on the north half of lot one, concession four of McKim, was purchased by the Welsh company.
In mining circles, Henry Hussey Vivian was not an unknown. The company had a world-wide reputation in the area of smelting and in dealing in metals. H.H. Vivian had been, it would appear even before the discovery of nickel in Sudbury, honored by the Queen and made a peer as Lord Swansea. His interest was directed towards Sudbury with Alfred Senior Merry being sent to Canada in order to examine the “Murray Mine”. The deposit was prospected under patent in the summer of 1889 and bought by Vivian in October, 1899.
Work on the site probably began in 1890 with the erection of buildings and the construction of a plant. By September, 1890, at Murray Mine a smelter was erected and blown in, a second one later with a third in operation by 1892. Apparently the smelter near the mine produced a low grade matte containing about eight per cent nickel. This was bessemerized with the product being about 40 per cent nickel and 25 per cent copper. The matte then was sent to Swansea, Wales, for refining.
On May 16, 1890, the H.H. Vivian Company was incorporated. The Canadian office had joint manager – G.N. Hendrickson and F.R.W. Daw of Sudbury. Sir H.H. Vivian was the chairman, while A.S. Merry was the managing director of the Swansea operation.
At the time of incorporation, the company had mineral properties in McKim, Blezard, and Snider townships. It appears about 150 men were employed in 1890. The main shaft on October 1, 1890, was at the 60-foot level. At that time, the estimated value of the machinery and plant was $40,000.
By 1894, near the end of their operation in Sudbury, the company opened a new location approximately a mile south of Murray or “Vivian” mine in Snider Township. A trip to the site by Lord Swansea resulted in it being named the Lady Violet Mine.
The Lady Violet Mine never was a major operation for the H.H. Vivian Company. In fact, operation consisted primarily of stripping and sinking trial shafts to at least a depth of 30 feet. It appears a blacksmith shop and a few temporary residences were the only buildings constructed at the Lady Violet Mine.
After 1894, there was limited activity at either site, with both mines closed that year. Attempts, on a minor scale, were made the following year to re-commence operations. Yet, they were short-lived. About 10,000 tons of ore left on site in 1894 was sold to Joseph Wharton Co. of the United States. This ore was smelted in 1897 and 1898 at the Murray smelter by Thomas Travers. Also, some diamond drill exploration was undertaken in 1898. Though this work was undertaken after 1894, a large percentage of the time was directed at keeping the various levels free from water. Operations would be characterized as more in the line of caretaking rather than actual development of the mines.
The reasons for the failure of the company are of interest for this was a company that should not have failed!..certainly not after only a few years in operation. It has been suggested that there was an apparent lack of technical knowledge. In contrast, the main rival, the Canadian Copper Company, was identified for its technical knowledge and business capacity. Three companies were operating in Sudbury and serving a very limited market – a market which could have been served by one company. Finally, there appears to have been a lack of co-ordination between the local executive and the head office in Wales. For example, the exploratory diamond drilling operations of 1896 were undertaken from Great Britain. The decisions regarding the site, angles of inclination and direction of the bore holes were made overseas after consultation of maps pertaining to the two properties. It has been suggested that the decisions were made with little on-site knowledge.
The H.H. Vivian Company was a company from which so much was expected. Its failure in Sudbury during the 1890’s would have led to a sense of anxiety in the area for now so many would no longer have a mine to go to. Over the years the mine has had a varied history – being associated with J.R. Booth, the Mond Nickel Co, J.F.H. Ciergue, the Dominion Nickel Cooper Co., the British American Nickel Corporation Ltd. Ultimately, the mine, first developed by the H.H. Vivian Company, would be owned by International Nickel. The Vivian Company failed; yet others, perhaps benefiting from the mistakes made by the company, combined to ensure the continued development through the years of the area’s deposits.
Gary Peck is a retired Sudbury high-school teacher with a passion for history.