Some 85 years ago, quite a stir probably was created in the village of Sudbury with the announcement of the Sudbury Customs Smelting Company. In February 1892, the company, after considerable initial discussion, was proclaimed; yet by the end of April the initial excitement had turned to disappointment.
The Sudbury Customs Smelting Company, according to the prospectus, had a provisional board consisiting of James Commee, MPP, president; A.J. Macdonnell, treasurer; James Stobie, vice-president; Alfred Merry, consulting chemist; W.J. Skynner, secretary.
The directors, many from Sudbury, included James McCormick, Stephen Fournier, R.B. Struthers, MD, James A. Orr, Has B. Hammond, D. O’Connor, Frank Cochrane, D.T. Flannery, A. Hoffman Smith, J. McCormick, C.J. Kettyle, Charles Jessop, Rinaldo McConnell, of Mattawa, J.R. Gordon, of Toronto; C. Gordon Richardson, of Toronto, and Wm. McVittie of Whitefish.
The prospectus stated that the charter was for $75,000. divided into 7,500 shares of $10 each. The banker for the company was the Ontario Bank, Sudbury.
The prospectus, as one might expect, was encouraging. Though only on the market for a few days, $3,570 had been collected. Subscriptions by the officers and directors alone totaled $1,900. It was predicted that Sudbury inhabitants would swell the total to $6,000 over the next few days.
The suggestion strongly made was that the enterprise could not fail. The area needed a smelter that could be used by those not affiliated with the major companies. The property owner would gain for he could develop his own location at a profit. As a shareholder, he would also have an equal advantage with anyone else.
It appears there was, for many, a need that only a smelter of this type could fulfill. Much of the area property was controlled by a few major companies, including the Canadian Copper Company. Private landowners then found they were unable to raise money on their own for development and then subsequently found that the prices paid for undeveloped properties were poor in proportion to their prospective value.
It was felt that less than half a dozen concerns were busy night and day trying to meet the needs of the market while dozens of good properties were left idle. The prospector, with this smelter, could have his ore smelted and then have it ready for market.
The company soon claimed that it was offered more ore than it could handle in a 100-ton smelter and it would have to turn away contracts. However, financing was the main stumbling block. To help with financing of the scheme, money was sought both from private sources within the province and from the Ontario government.
The Sudbury Customs Smelting Co. formally asked the Ontario government to grant assistance for the customs smelter and laboratory. It was felt the main argument against it would be the fact that it had never been attempted before. It was hoped by the group special consideration would be given in light of the fact the scheme called for the investment of a large amount of private funds and it was an enterprise available for all to use.
The initial optimism of the promoters apparently was not warranted. During the first week of April, the company called tenders for 16,000 tons of nickel ore, yet, by the end of the month, the company folded.
The directors, at their last meeting, announced that, because of the difficulty of receiving stock outside Sudbury at par and the refusal of the government to assist to the appointment of an assayer and chemist for the company, further subscriptions would not be sought. All subscriptions, except those owned by the provisional board, were refunded and the subscribers relieved from any further obligations.
In a space of three months, early in 1892, the Sudbury Customs Smelting Company had run its course. The plans seemed ambitious and, if followed in the local paper, most logical.
Prominent Sudburians were involved and at least $5,000 was collected. Yet, the inability to raise more subscribers and the decisions of the Ontario government and the Toronto Board of Trade to not support the scheme ensured its demise. Many probably returned their shares for the refund.
Years later the company would only be a distant memory. Yet, for some, perhaps a faded or torn share would again conjure up memories of those few months in early 1892 when the Sudbury Customs Smelting Company was struggling to be established.
Gary Peck is a retired Sudbury high-school teacher with a passion for history.