The Porcupine Gold Rush of 1909 was a transformative event in Canadian history, with three gold mines discovered by separate prospecting parties a few miles from each other. The rich discoveries made by Benny Hollinger (1885-1919), Sandy McIntyre (1869-1943) and John (Jack) Wilson (1872-1948) in northern Ontario wilderness led to the development of one of Canada’s premier mining camps and the founding of Timmins, the City with a Heart of Gold.
The Hollinger, McIntyre and Dome mines built from the discoveries of these intrepid prospectors are in a league all their own, having produced 19.5 million ounces, 10.8 million ounces and 15.9 million ounces of gold, respectively. During the past 100 years, the “Big Three” and other mines in the Timmins Camp have collectively produced 67 million ounces of gold, with production continuing into a new century.
In the early 1900s, a series of gold and silver discoveries and a newly constructed railroad lured hundreds of fortune-seekers to northern Ontario. Among them was Jack Wilson, a Toronto-born railway superintendent and veteran of the Spanish American War who led a prospecting party north into the bush near Porcupine Lake. Wilson found a quartz vein laden with gold on surface. He and his crew used drills and hammers to open up this seam, and found so much gold he described their find as a “regular jewelry shop.” Then, on June 6, 1909, his team, which included Harry Preston, discovered spectacular gold on a large rounded outcrop. This “Big Dome” ultimately became the Dome operation which is still producing a century later.
News of the Dome discovery prompted Ontario-born Benny Hollinger, a former barber from Haileybury, to join the trek to the Porcupine with Alex Gillies, a professional prospector. They arrived to find the immediate area entirely staked and headed west beyond the staked claims. In an abandoned excavation, Hollinger stripped moss from an outcrop and uncovered a wide vein splattered with visible gold. Their claims were later developed into the world-class Hollinger mine by entrepreneur Noah Timmins, another Hall of Fame inductee.
Sandy McIntyre left Scotland, where he was known as Alexander Oliphant, to seek his fortune in Canada in 1903. He became a prospector, and found his way to the Porcupine Camp with German-born partner Hans Buttner. They pulled their canoe up on the shores of Pearl Lake the same day of the Hollinger discovery and immediately started staking the nearest open ground. They too found visible gold and staked claims that were subsequently developed into the McIntyre mine.
Hollinger, McIntyre and Wilson never made great fortunes from their discoveries, yet contributed greatly to Canada’s economic prosperity and mining heritage. The City of Timmins celebrated the prospectors’ legacy as part of its 2009 Centennial marking the Porcupine gold discoveries. In 2010 Timmins marks the 100th Anniversary of the start of gold production from these historic mines.