This column was originally published in the Late Summer, 2010 issue of Highgrader Magazine which is committed to serve the interests of northerners by bringing the issues, concerns and culture of the north to the world through the writings and art of award-winning journalists as well as talented freelance artists, writers and photographers.
Timmins Owes its Very Existence to Six Men Not Three!
Timmins city clerk Jack Watson says with a note of bitterness in his voice:
“We submitted all six and were upset with the decision. We appealed but lost.”
The community that calls itself The City With a Heart of Gold has every right to the motto because literally the ground beneath it, the heart of Mother Earth, has arteries of gold.
There has been gold production in Timmins continuously since 1910 and it will continue for many more decades. There is no reason for a thriving modern city to be located in the middle of nowhere; there is no port to support international trade, no junction of railways, no meeting of highways that is a destination point.
Yet, Timmins is in the midst of a four-year celebration of 100 years of history and achievements.
No achievement was greater than the exploits of these six men: Sandy McIntyre, Hans Buttner, Harry Preston, John (Jack) Wilson, Benny Hollinger and Alex Gillies.
They discovered in 1909 the gold deposits that became the Big Three producers in Canadian mining history, the Dome (1910-still in production), the Hollinger (1910-1968) and the McIntyre (1912-1988).
Yet earlier this year the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame inducted just three of the six into its illustrious membership. Wilson and Harry Preston found the gold outcrop that was to become the Dome or as its workers fondly called it, The Big Dome. Only Wilson made into the Hall.
Hollinger and Gilles discovered the Hollinger deposit that was to become the biggest gold mine in the British Empire but only Hollinger was inducted into the Hall.
McIntyre and Buttner found the McIntyre mine but only McIntyre got the honour.
Timmins city clerk Jack Watson says with a note of bitterness in his voice: “We submitted all six and were upset with the decision. “We appealed but lost.
“Maybe we will be able to get the other three into the Hall sometime in the future.”
Now the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame is privately owned and board of directors decisions cannot be overturned by any legal or government bodies.
The Hall’s website says it was conceived by the late Maurice R. Brown, former editor and publisher of The Northern Miner weekly newspaper, as a way to recognize and honour the legendary mine finders and builders of a great Canadian industry.
The Hall was established in 1988 and currently has over 140 members. A decision has been made but it is still worthwhile to take a look at history.
The first key discovery was the finding of the “Golden Stairway.” Preston said he made it on June 6, 1909 when he slipped on a knoll while Wilson was away from the camp.
Wilson claimed responsibility and never admitted he was not present for the monumental find. As team leader, Wilson was given credit by Dome Gold Mines Limited in its official history published in 1983.
Yet, the authors of that book also said: “Whether the find was the result of a joint effort directed by John S. Wilson or whether Harry Preston, one of the team members, deserves most of the credit is a clouded issue.”
Certainly other prospectors who were around at the time of the find gave the credit to Preston in various interviews with writers.
Also, the Ontario Department of Mines took an ad in the Timmins Daily Press in 1954 to say Preston did it.
It probably would take King Solomon to untangle that knot of history but the official profile by the Hall of Fame dismisses Preston as merely one of the Wilson team.
The Hall accepted that McIntyre and Buttner were “partners” but still dropped the German-born Buttner.
The Hollinger-Gillies partnership was one of hundreds of such arrangements as prospectors liked to have a travelling companion when going into bush country for reasons of company, safety and assistance in case of illness or injury.
When you ask a man to share the hardships of the trail for weeks far from civilization and you know in the event of trouble your health, even your life, depends on your companion, he is your
Gillies was a professional prospector and Hollinger had been his partner for two years but their
grubstaker (a man or group who advanced money to prospectors in return for a share of any discoveries) died. Each man found a new backer but headed to the Porcupine Gold Camp together.
They were mere yards apart when Hollinger made the find Oct.6, 1909 in an abandoned exploration pit. They staked six mining claims each and then flipped a coin to see who would get the discovery group.
Gillies got the six claims along side of Hollinger’s discovery. Both group of claims formed the nucleus of the Mighty Hollinger. It was hair-splitting by the Hall to omit Gillies.
McIntyre and Buttner came along the same day and on Oct. 7 they staked the ground that was
to become the McIntyre Mine.
We will return to the Hall’s website for its structure and the official profiles of the three inductees, which, by the way, are identical except for the photos, names and dates.
(Mort) Brown, well known and widely respected, convinced three pre-eminent Canadian mining
organizations as well as The Northern Miner to sponsor The Hall with an annual financial contribution and staff support. The sponsors are:
The Mining Association of Canada, founded in 1935, the national organization of the Canadian mining industry. Its members are engaged in mineral exploration, mining, smelting, refining and semi-fabrication.
The Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, the national voice of the Canadian mineral exploration and development community. Its 5,000 plus individual and corporate
members are the people who find mineral deposits and raise the money to develop them into
The Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum, which provides a vehicle to exchange technical knowledge and information among its 11,000 members. The Institute celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1998.
The Northern Miner, which covers the worldwide activities of mining companies based in North America. It began publication in 1915, and provides mining and exploration news, information for investors and informed discussion on issues affecting the mining industry.
A Board of Directors (12 members appointed by the four sponsors) conducts the business of The Canadian Mining Hall of Fame.
The profiles: 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 the 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 the north.
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 jewellery
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.
It is easy enough to throw rocks at the Hall of Fame but one can search the entire 1,995 square miles that comprise the City of Timmins without finding a monument, plaque or statue honouring the six prospectors who deserve never to be forgotten.
Fortunately this will be corrected by 2012 by the Porcupine Prospectors and Developers Association when seven statues will be erected honouring the three inductees.