Early Mining schools in Sudbury and Copper Cliff – Gary Peck

During the 1890s, there was considerable interest in the establishing of mining schools in Ontario. One of the early promoters was James Commee, MPP for Algoma. Offering support was James Orr, editor of the Sudbury Journal, who argued for the locating of a mining school in Sudbury. The town did not quite receive the school desired, but in 1894 this area hosted two summer schools.

In the session of the legislature in 1894, $2,000 was appropriated for the purpose of organizing Summer Mining Schools in the northern districts of Ontario. Work for this undertaking was assumed by the School of Practical Science, University of Toronto, with the pilot summer schools in 1894 located in the communities of Copper Cliff, Sudbury and Rat Portage, with the later established after the Copper Cliff and Sudbury schools.
When advertised locally, the caption read, “Summer School for Prospectors, Miners and Others interested in mining.” On Friday evening, July , at 8 o’clock, there was a meeting at the public school in Sudbury. Present were instructors W.E. Bustead, B.A. Sc., and W.A. Parks, B.A., to answer any questions. The local paper encouraged support, stating “All who possibly can, should take a course even if they do not expect to become either miners or prospectors, as the knowledge obtained will be of much value.”

Visited Mines

Once the instructors arrived in Sudbury during the first week in July, they used their time to visit the area mines and to meet any interested parties. In essence, they were promoting the program and at the same time familiarizing themselves with the area. Out of this preliminary work came the decision to hold classes in two communities – Sudbury and Copper Cliff.

In Sudbury, the Summer School was provided with the use of the public schoolhouse with it proving “eminently suitable…” As for Copper Cliff, classes were held in the band-room facilities that were not ideal, but at least adequate. The course began on Monday, July 9, and continued regularly until August 15.

In Sudbury, classes were held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays commencing at 7 p.m. However, in Copper Cliff scheduling was more complicated in light of shift work. To accommodate shift workers, classes were held in the afternoon at 3 p.m. and in the evening at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

As for the course, there were three main subjects – Geology, including mining geology and ore deposits; Mineralogy, including practical work with the blowpipe for the identification of minerals; and Lithology, with special reference to the rocks of the region.
The time was divided in order that about one-half of each meeting was devoted to practical work and the other half to lectures. Appropriately, the practical work and instruction in the subjects, as much as possible, related to the region where the classes were held.

Termed Success

For the students, there was not an instruction fee though $2.50 was charged for a blowpipe outfit which became the property of the student. Enrolled were men who were largely prospectors, miners and furnace or mill-men, mine owners and others related to the industry. At Copper Cliff, the class numbered 19 while at Sudbury those in regular attendance number eight. In addition, a number of others attended the Sudbury classes on an infrequent basis.

Locally, the instructors believed that the program had been appropriately supported. Singled out for commendation for their support were the following – James Orr, editor of the Sudbury Journal, the members of the Public School Board, and James McArthur, Esq., manager of the Canadian Copper Company works.

When it came time to assess the experiment, it was the view of the instructors that the first venture had met with “eminent success.”

Considering the significance of the Sudbury Basin, it is not surprising that the school was located here in 1894. As for men like James Commee, James Orr, and others, they did not have a permanent mining school; however, to them goes a degree of the credit for establishment of the first Summer Mining Schools.

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