February 29, 1912 Speech to the Empire Club by Professor Arthur P. Coleman, University of Toronto – Ontario Mines and Miners

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Ontario Mines and Miners (February 29, 1912)

Mr. President and Gentlemen,

Probably some of you are not quite familiar with the fact that Ontario has been a mining country for a very long time. Nearly 100 years ago, in 1815, a little iron mine was worked on the north shore of Lake Erie, of all places in the world, and a certain amount of iron was smelted, about a ton a day. It was poured right into moulds to make potash kettles and stoves, for which there was good sale. This was quite a prosperous mining industry for a time, but there were ups and downs, and in two or three years the industry disappeared, and now one cannot even find the ruins of the old smelter.

Then came copper mining, about half way through the century, begun by two English companies on the north shore of Lake Huron at Bruce Mines. They have been revived once in awhile in later times, but have not amounted to much since those early days when they were prosperous.

Then came the turn for gold. The present generation thinks there never was any gold mining before Porcupine was discovered; but gold was found in earlier years over many parts of northern Ontario, and you can scarcely go fifty miles through the whole width of the province without seeing abandoned gold mines. Gold was first struck in 1856 in the township of Madoc and one or two adjoining townships. Some of the ore proved rich, and everybody invested his spare, cash in gold mines, with the result that everything was lost, and gold mining was at a discount for that generation. However, each new generation has to perform the same experiment, -so there is a chance for you. (Laughter.) After gold came the turn for silver, which was found in a most extraordinary deposit on a little island out in Lake Superior three-quarters of a mile from shore near Port Arthur. The island was about three times the size of this room, and during the very first year they were at work, in 1868, they scraped up from the water around the shore $16,000 worth of the metal. That was something spectacular. Something that aroused cupidity, and the Montreal men who owned the mine expected to become rapidly wealthy. However, they met difficulties. It was a small leaky island, and it was very hard to sink on it; so presently it passed into the hands of Detroit gentlemen who have owned it ever since. Later the mine was sunk to a depth of more than a thousand feet below the surface of Lake Superior, and there were serious difficulties with the water. It was necessary to build crib work in order to provide space for their buildings, and also to make things water-tight before going on with mining operations.

Silver Islet produced about three and a quarter, million dollars’ worth of the metal. One bonanza produced $1,700,000, and the mine proved one of the finest silver deposits found in North America up to that time, although not large when compared with some discoveries that came later. One winter, however, the captain of the steamer that was bringing up coal got drunk and ran aground on the way, and with no coal to keep the pumps going the mine filled up with water, and has never been opened since. I visited Silver Islet mine about two years ago and lookng at the crib work, found the most astonishing thing I know of in any mining country. The cribs were filled with ore containing native silver; and the waves are now tearing them to pieces and rolling the masses of rock with native silver in them on the shore. We picked up two; or three quite good specimens. They have done some strange things in Cobalt, but nothing quite as’ strange as filling cribs with rich silver ore.

Then came a more important metal, namely, nickel. It is of much more use to the world than silver, which is convenient for certain purposes; for instance, as subsidiary currency, though it is a little too heavy and a little too soft even for that. Silver is after all not really a valuable metal when you come to think about it. In fact it is almost as valueless as gold, the least valuable of all metals when looked at from the practical point of view. Well, then came nickel, which was found in the Sudbury region, laying the foundation for the most stable mineral industry in the great Dominion of Canada, an industry that has been prospering since 1886. It began to get on its feet then, and it is today, shall I say, in its prime? Nobody knows. There are two great companies working our nickel mines, the Canadian Copper Company, and the Mond Company of England. The nickel matte that is produced near Sudbury goes mainly to the United States and to England. Not much goes to the continent.

We have the greatest nickel mining region in the world, with deposits of at least 50,000,000 tons of comparatively rich ore, containing, in addition to the nickel, a large amount of copper. There are blessings attached to all sorts of spheres in this world, as I am sure His Lordship the Bishop will admit. One of the greatest preventives of a quarrelsome spirit among the nations is the rising cost of nickel, because nickel is necessary for armour plate. (Laughter.) It is a very important constituent of armour plate, and when Germany builds four dreadnoughts in a year then England has to build eight, with the result that nickel shares are booming, and splendid dividends are being paid by both companies at the present time.

Perhaps I should qualify this statement a little by saying that a very considerable part of the nickel output goes into automobiles. The wealthy millionaires sitting around this table, no doubt get a new automobile every year, thus helping the nickel industry to continue to thrive. I see no just reason why it should not. The only copper mined in Ontario at present is the accompaniment of nickel. About one half as much copper as nickel is produced in the treatment of the ores.

In 1904 came the extraordinary discovery of silver in the Cobalt region, which ought to have been called something else in reality, but it received its name because, for the first time in the world, large masses of cobalt ore were discovered. Cobalt had been looked upon as a rare element before, and, very high prices were obtained for it, but at present it has lost most of its value, and silver is the important thing in Cobalt. You all know of the very rapid rise of that marvellous little mining region, including only a dozen square miles of territory, not half as large as many a township in old Ontario, but producing more wealth than any county in the province except the one that includes Toronto.

I suppose the business men here represent a greater output than Cobalt, but that little territory in the north is producing enormous wealth. Though the veins seldom go down more than five hundred feet they are so rich as to make Cobalt the most wonderful silver region in the world; very small but very prosperous. Few silver mines elsewhere in the world have paid out half their product in the form of dividends, as we can say of the Cobalt silver region. Every, year, for the last three years, people have been saying, well, it has reached its climax now and it will go down next year. In 1910 they output was larger than ever, and the Bureau of Mines reports show that there has been a little increase in 1911, when about sixteen million dollars worth of silver was produced.

Then, of course, comes gold. You all own Porcupine stock and you are quite sure you have the mine that is going to produce the largest amount of gold, and therefore I don’t suppose I need really say anything about Porcupine. I take it for granted you know far more about it than I could know, and I suppose it will be sufficient for me to say that there are several thousand claims in the Porcupine region. I forget whether it is quite ten thousand or not, but very near it and there are probably six real mines. I should not be greatly surprised if there are a dozen mines developed ultimately, but whether there are many more or not is, in the womb of time and nobody can say.

Now, Porcupine is considered a great gold region, and has been compared with the Rand and all these other famous regions, but it has not produced any gold up to the present. We are all confident that it will produce gold in large amounts, but I wish to bring out one or two points that are not insisted upon by the newspapers. The production of gold in the whole Province of Ontario in 1910 was less than $70,000. What is the capitalization of the Porcupine Mines? You are more familiar with the working of the stock exchange than I am. How many hundreds of millions of dollars of capital are supposed to be invested in the Porcupine region? There will no doubt be a large production of gold, but will the whole of this large capital ever be returned?

Personally, if you will permit a personal reference, I don’t want to see any more gold mines found. There is too much gold in the world to suit the salaries of poor professors. The output of gold has doubled within the last few years, and if it keeps on in that way prices are going to go up and up, and salaries are going to lose their value year by year, so poor professors will have to drop out and go to farm in the Cochrane region, or somewhere up there.

So much for the mines, and now a word or two about statistics. You are business men and I do not know whether you believe in statistics or not. There are some people who say that statistics were meant to delude. For a considerable number of years I was connected with the Bureau of Mines as geologist. The Bureau of Mines of Ontario began its work in 1891, the first year in which formal statistics were collected of the output of our Ontario Mines, the total value being about $4,700,000.

I will not trouble you with the odd dollars but will give round figures. And what do you think the materials were that were grouped together in that $4,700,000? I suppose you imagine that gold and silver and all the other metals were represented in the statistics? No gold was referred to. Apparently Ontario produced none that year. Silver was produced to the extent of about $60,000. The only other metal mentioned is galena and that was mined to the extent of $3,50,000, so that all told there were not $400,000 worth of metals produced in the Province of Ontario.

That is only twenty years ago, you recollect, when metal mining was at a low ebb, but the statistics were padded out with the production of petroleum and brick and stone and all sorts of things that could be crowded in, so that the $4,700,000 was arranged. (Laughter.)

I fear you are taking a more sinister view of it than I intended to suggest. When you start a whole row of statistics, you know it is desirable to start as favourably as you can. I think it is thoroughly natural to put it in that way. I was not connected with the Bureau of Mines at that particular moment, I may say. It was in fact two years later before I joined the force of the Bureau of Mmes.

Now, we will skip a few years, years of trial and tribulation of all sorts. Then I was sent by the Bureau to visit gold mines, and had a plethora of them for several years. Among other places I went to the Lake of the Woods. Probably none of you are old enough to have heard of the Sultana Mine or the Mikado or the Black Eagle. You didn’t lose any money in them and therefore you have no uncomfortable feelings. There were almost as many mines for the region as in Porcupine, and there was gold in a great many of them. I have seen gold panned at perhaps one hundred different mines in western Ontario as I went around by canoe before there was any Canadian Northern Railway, and looked at mine after mine.

You may ask why did not I pick up a gold mine for myself but fortunately I escaped that temptation and so suffered no loss. If I had, my appearance might not have been as moderately respectable as it is now, for none of those gold mines ever paid any dividends except out of capital. Scarcely one of those gold mines repaid its full expenditure. This is said of course to cheer you up with reference to the Porcupine region. I know you need a little encouragement and therefore present these facts for your benefit. Well, gold mining in the west was not very successful, to my astonishment, because I believed there would be some very good mines there; and that, perhaps, makes me a little pessimistic about gold mines in general.

The ten years from 1891 to 1901 may be passed over, because they are not very important, with the statement-“That within this time the mineral output in Ontario was doubled-in fact a little more than doubled-reaching about $11,000,000 worth of various materials.” The nickel and copper industry had been rising in the meantime. We may skip five more years and then find that, in 1906 the output had doubled once more, giving a total of about $22,000,000 worth of different mineral products. Another five year interval brings us to 1911, for which I have not the full statistics, since they have not been published yet, but in 1910 the output of the Province of Ontario was reckoned by the Bureau of Mines at of and the probability is that the output for 1911 is about $42,000,000, which is almost double again. We have been nearly doubling our product of minerals-every five years for some time, so that the future of the mining industry in Ontario looks bright.

What it will do when Porcupine comes up with its golden bricks is hard to say, and prophecy is dangerous, unless you have a firmer foundation than geologists have. We are now producing minerals at about the rate of $17 or $18 per head in Ontario. Have you got your $17 out of it yet? At present we produce about $17 worth of minerals per head in Ontario, including ore and stone and all the other different things, though we began in 1891 with less than $3 per head. We started with an output of less than half a million dollars’ worth of metals and we end with an output of about $30,000,000 worth, one half being silver, which is much the most important metal in Ontario at the present time. This is very cheering, very satisfactory. The little Cobalt district is an astounding region, with no equivalent anywhere else in the world, and Porcupine may prove to be the same.

What does this all mean for the old Province of Ontario? Here in Toronto we do not mine, though they say there are great mining operations going on at the King Edward Hotel. However, it would be unwise, I suppose, to touch on that aspect of it. What difference does it make to us whether they find a gold mine or a nickel mine up there in the backwoods where the black flies bite people in summer, and the thermometer goes to fifty or sixty below zero in winter? These discoveries have a very distinct and important bearing on the prosperity of Toronto. The matter touches us in various ways. I spent a considerable part of my time last summer in the Sudbury region and found when I was in the mining districts that I could talk English only to a few people, since most of the population spoke other tongues. You see the imperial side of it.

About 17,000 miners have gone into Northern Ontario, and the majority of them are not Canadians. Canadians won’t work in a mine. They are quite willing to boss the job but they are not going to do the rough work of mining themselves. There was a time when the Irishman would do rough work like that, but the Irishman won’t do it any more. He makes a fine policeman, a magnificent politician, or even a Premier, but he won’t do the rough pick and shovel work, and so we have to call on all sorts of countries to send us their men. What we want, is brawn and muscle and we get it. A great many Russians come here, the majority of them Finlanders, fine fellows physically. I don’t know whether they are going to make good raw material for us or not, but they are going to stay. Every Finlander, as soon as he can, takes up 160 acres and builds him a shack and gets a cow or two. He is never satisfied until he does that.

You have the Finlander then planting himself on the soil, and physically he is good material. Whether he has good moral qualities, is hard to say, but the Finlander tries to learn English, and in all the schools in these little towns you will see his flaxen haired boys and girls with their blue eyes. They are very good material if we bring them up right, and we must bring them up right. We must see to it they become good Canadians and that they learn; English in the schools. (Hear, hear!) Now, I am sure it will interest some of you to know that the largest church in the town where I spent last summer, Copper Cliff, is the Greek Catholic Church. It is not the Anglican Church, nor the Presbyterian Church, nor the Methodist Church. Much the largest church is the Greek Church. That is impressive.

You see that people having totally different points of view are coming in, and have to be assimilated. The Finlanders are largely Lutherans, where they are any thing at all, religiously. Southern Europeans are coming also, the Swiss and the Italian. The latter does not like to go below ground. He prefers the bright sunshine naturally, coming from a sunny country, but he does a great deal of rough hard work in the mining country, just as he does in Toronto. Wherever a railway is being put through, he, is on hand, not only in our province but in other provinces.

Then there is the Slav, a man hard for us to understand, who lives a rough and tumble life, feeding himself in ways that no man can fathom, no white man at least. I should not use that word “white man”, though it is used in the north. The Pole, or the Polack as he is called, is the commonest of the Slavic races, and if you go to the Post-office in one of the mining towns you will find a stack of letters left in front of the wicket. Everybody comes along and picks out his own letters, for the very good reason that the Postmaster cannot read the names on any of them.

It is the rarest thing in the records of the mines, unless you get a list of the bosses and mining engineers, to find an English name. Well, that is a problem, an imperial problem that we have to solve. We are bringing in a big population that must be assimilated if Canada is going to be a success. That north part is going to be the greatest part of Ontario. We who live in the little southern end of Ontario think ourselves important, but that big north end will some time sway the province. Toronto thinks it is the whole thing, but it is not. There is a great deal besides Toronto in Ontario, and we must keep that in mind. We must see that things are so managed that our immigrants shall all be good Canadians, so that we can help one another, and can work together for the future of our country.

That is one aspect. Another aspect, I perhaps should refer to for a moment. These men do the rough work. Who gets the pay? Well, I suppose the millionaires get the pay. They do, quite largely. There are plenty of houses in Rosedale, that have been paid for with silver from Cobalt. There are not very many that have been paid for with nickel from the Sudbury region, for reasons I need not discuss. But we are actually producing millionaires at the other end of the scale. We have the two classes, and there is a little risk arising in that way. Class distinctions are coming in. We have a servile class and a ruling class. Now, that may be a thing that cannot be avoided. I am inclined to think that that is the case, but it is a thing that we want to watch. That splitting into castes, into an upper circle and a lower circle, is not very wholesome. There was no such thing in Ontario until this last boom in mining and manufacturing.

There is a point that will particularly appeal to the business men around this board, namely, where do all the supplies, and where does all the machinery come from that feeds this great north country? What are the mines doing for us? I think you may say, without a particle of doubt, that the enormous spread of Toronto, the surprising and rapid growth of Toronto, is very largely due to the filling up of the north with these mining men. The mining man is not like the farmer. I like the farmer very much, but he looks at a ten cent bit several times before he spends it, and, no doubt he needs to. The farmer looks at it that way, but the miner does not. He gets good pay and gets it promptly, and when his cheque comes he spends it, or most of it at least, and that spending comes into your coffers here in Toronto.

A very large part of the supplies of everything that is used in the north comes from Toronto. The growth of Toronto is bound right up with the progress of these men I have been speaking of. Men are now delving 500 feet or 1,000 feet below the ground that business in Toronto may prosper. That kind of workmen provides the foundation on which the prosperity of our city itself is built. Now, I understand you like to keep within the half hour, and I have talked twenty-five minutes, and have said about all that is necessary.

Voices: Go on; go on.

Well. I suppose if you want me to say anything more it will be in the nature of prophecy, and as I suggested prophesying is a very dangerous thing. As I am getting on in years, perhaps I can disappear before the prophecy can be brought to the final test. I suppose you will ask what is the future prospect of mining in this Province, and I think I may say that the prospects are bright. The statistics I gave you support that, I think, quite satisfactorily. The greater part of our north is really unknown territory to us yet. Do you know that in the silver region they have actually swept the surface with brooms and scoured it with water, over a few square miles? But we have by no means done that over the 100,000 square miles of territory to the north. There is no doubt that much more will be discovered; but that another Cobalt will be found is doubtful. That is too unique a thing to be repeated.

That mines of gold and copper and of many other kinds will be found is quite certain. It is merely a question of careful, patient work. So far we have been accustomed to run over a mining region on snowshoes and stake a claim, expecting to discover valuable minerals under three feet of snow. That kind of thing of course has its place, because you have to locate your property before you are likely to do much work upon it; but, after all, it is the painstaking work of the prospector, and the painstaking work of the mining engineer, and the work of the Government in providing railway facilities and making decent roads where a man can take machinery in and bullion out that counts the most. I think the prospects are really very bright for the future.