We keeping losing our heritage in Northern Ontario. In November 1995 another part of it came tumbling down.
A striking introduction for eastbound visitors to the town of Kirkland Lake would no longer grace the gold camp skyline and another link with our mining past was gone.
One of the distinctive contributions mining offers to Canadian architecture are headframes, which when covered in with wood or steel become the shaft house. A newcomer might think of them as the above ground part of an elevator shaft.
Many hard rock mines are deep and the cables for the cage or elevator run up to a drum at the top of the shaft house. Each of these structures are different due to location, depth of the shaft and other factors.
The structure which was downtown was the south headframe of the Teck Hughes mine and it was the place where Sandy McIntyre had his second chance at the big time.
Sandy was a grizzled Scot prospecting in the Porcupine in 1909 when he and his partner staked the great McIntyre mine which operated until the late eighties.
But the Scot was a drinking man and frittered away his cash and stock options gained from locating the mine. For most of us, one chance at such a golden grail would be all we would get but not long after, Sandy had another chance.
Jim Hughes was one of the owners of the McIntyre mine and he knew what a superb bush man the prospector was and that he was a gifted mine finder. He had claims in the newly opening gold camp in Kirkland Lake and wanted to see what the ground held.
Sandy was only too pleased to prospect the ground. He looked across the lake at the Lake Shore mine which prospector Harry Oakes was bringing into production. He saw the direction in which that mine’s veins went and used them for a reference on the Hughes ground.
He tramped the low land by the lake and the rocky hillside to the south. Ever active with his pick, he tore away moss and overburden and located several rich gold veins.
Hughes realized he had a rich property on his hands. As exploration progressed and investors flocked to boost the mine’s treasury, he turned to reward the prospector. He gave Sandy 150,000 shares and a cash bonus.
But the errant Scot had not learned from his past adventure. He spent money like water, went for a binge in Montreal and eventually sold his shares for $450. Since those shares eventually went as high as $10 each, he had spent in a few short days what could have risen in value to $1.5 million if he had been patient.
By contrast a cook at the same mine bought shares with his pay, sold them later, built a nice apartment building and retired to live on the proceeds.
Sandy McIntyre died poor but happy in 1943. The Teck Hughes mine he had prospected went on to be the third largest in the gold camp. It finally closed in 1968 after having produced 3.7 million ounces of gold. Gold prices varied during the 55 years of operation but in modern prices the output was close to two billion dollars.
All but one of the seven mines that made up Kirkland Lake’s mile of gold were closed by the late sixties. Much of the plant of the Teck Hughes mine was torn down but the great south head frame remained, its outside sheeting or cladding removed, making the huge steel work highly visible on the skyline.
Actually the mining company that owned the property did not leave it there out of sentiment. Such steel structures may be dismantled and erected atop new mines elsewhere. But this one was on a hill and engineered for a specific spot.
So the headframe lingered for another 27 years and then the company that owned the property had to tear it down. There was some deterioration and the steel frame work was considered dangerous. After all it might fall on the motel just ahead of it.
The landmark came down but there was a consolation. Two of the former mine buildings have been combined to form an interesting furneral home and the elegant brick assay office may be saved as a mining monument.
We tend to focus on the problems of mining in the nineties but the buildings that started the game off earlier in this century have since had both their uses and troubles as well.
Michael Barnes is a published Canadian author who has written extensively on Northern Ontario. [email protected]