A Brief History of the Porcupine District
Hollinger Consolidated Gold Mines Limited: Public Relations Section – Timmins (This document was published between 1947 and 1949.
More than two hundred years before gold was discovered in the Porcupine, a narrow winding trail made its way from Porcupine Lake to the Mattagami River. Indians and Trappers, carrying canoes and heavy packsacks on their backs, crossed this trail many times, intent only on reaching their destination at either end and continuing their journey.
Little did they realize that beneath their feet, in places close enough to be marked by their boots, lay unmeasured wealth, gold which has since played a prominent pat in all phases of the history of our country.
Following the discovery of silver at Cobalt, and the development of that area, interest in the possibility of similar deposits in the Porcupine district was aroused. In 1896, 1898, 1899, 1903, 1905, and 1906, parties of government surveyors working in the district were impressed by the nature of the country and the possibilities it offered. In 1908, Dr. W. A. Parks, of Toronto University, examined the district and in his report stated: “I regard the region south of Porcupine Lake as giving promise to the prospector.”
Indians Discover “Coal”
Indians coming from the Porcupine Lake district in 1909 carried with them stories of a deposit of coal of considerable proportions, and these claims were investigated. Upon examination, however, it was found that the “coal” was really a very low grade of iron ore. Prepared for a three-week stay in the district, the prospector, not interested in the iron deposit, decided to further explore the area. The result of this casual decision was the discovery of gold which stated the rush into the Porcupine.
The first mining claim in the Porcupine district to be recorded was filed on December 20, 1906, and was situated in the Township of Shaw, west of Nighthawk Lake. Between the filing of this claim and the discovery of gold, other claims in the vicinity of Porcupine and Nighthawk Lakes, and still others in the Township of Whitney, were also recorded.
D’Aigle Sinks Test Pit
Even before this time a prospector named Reuben D’Aigle had visited the Porcupine in search of gold, working to the extend of sinking a test pit on present Hollinger property. With his party, D’Aigle packed in equipment, including an anvil, forge and blacksmith’s outfit, from Nighthawk Lake. A veteran of the Yukon in search of placer gold, D’Aigle was unable to see value in the rock from the test pit and soon gave up the search. Years later, grab samples from D’Aigle’s pit ran as high as a third of an ounce of gold per tone of rock!
When news of the original discovery of gold in the Porcupine reached Haileybury, two prospectors, Alec Gillies and Benny Hollinger, decided to proceed to the area and investigate the possibilities. Having reached this decision, Hollinger secured the backing of Jack McMahon, of Haileybury. McMahon grubstaked Hollinger for the trip to the extent of fifty dollars, for which it was agreed that McMahon would receive a half-interest in any property staked. Jack Miller, who had by this time become well known in the Swastika and Elk Lake districts, agreed to back Gilles to the extend of one hundred dollars for a half-interest in the results of the venture. While Hollinger and Gilles were staking the Hollinger property, McMahon sold half of his half-interest agreement to Jack Labine for the sum fifty-five dollars.
“White Rocks” Reported
Before leaving Haileybury, Hollinger and Gillies met another prospector, namved Clary Dixon, who had just returned from staking claims in the Porcupine which beame parts of the McIntyre and West Dome properties. Dixon recounted having met Harry Preston, a member of the party that staked the Dome Mines property, while in the district. Preston, in return for a previous favor, had revealed to Dixon the presence of “white rocks” in the area just west of Porcupine Lake.
Proceeding to Porcupine Lake, Hollinger and Gilles found that the ground in the vicinity of the lake had all been staked and claimed. Recalling Dixon’s story, they proceeded westward. At the west side of Tisdale Township they encountered Bill Davidson, finder of the Davidson Mine, who described some quartz veins he had seen in open ground near his Thompson and Vipond claims. Locating these veins, as well as the old test pit previously worked by Reuben D’Aigle, Hollinger and Gilles each proceeded to stake six claims. With this task completed, the men began a thorough inspection of the ground.
After several days of investigation, the stillness of the bush was suddenly broken by excited shouts, originating in the vicinity of the Hollinger claims. Not knowing what to expect, Alec. Gillies, who was nearby, rushed to the scene of the excitement. Crashing through the bush, he came upon Hollinger who was dancing about and throwing his hat into the air, shouting, “Gold, Gold”. Looking down to where the moss had been removed form a mound, Gillies saw as rich a showing of gold as has ever been seen in the North. Hollinger has found gold on one of the trails used by D’Aigle while sinking his test pit years before.
One account of the discovery of gold by Hollinger states that the twelve claims were staked as a joint effort by Hollinger and Gillies. When the question of ownership arose, it was decided by the tossing of a coin. Hollinger won the six which included the initial discovery, Gillies taking the six claims to the east.
Very soon after Hollinger made his exciting discovery, another party of prospectors visited the camp. Upon hearing the good news, this party, consisting of Clary Dixon, tom Middleton, Jack Miller, Sandy McIntyre and Hans Buttner, began staking open ground. The first three mentioned staked the ground immediately west of Hollinger’s claims, while McIntyre and Buttner secured claims to the north. While this staking was being carried out many additional outcroppings containing visible gold were uncovered.
Porcupine Rush Begins
Reports of the outstanding success which crowned the efforts of this group of prospectors traveled like wildfire. From camp to camp, and from town to town, the news spread. From all parts of the north prospectors and bushmen, clerks and laborers, veteran and tenderfoot, dropped what they were doing and headed for the Porcupine. By freeze-up time Porcupine Creek was jammed with hundreds of canoes carrying excited men and loaded down with equipment and supplies. Many were overturned and swamped in the mad rush to riches. Everyone was eager to share in the new-found wealth of the Porcupine.
When Alphonse Pare, then in Haileybury, received the news he proceeded to the Porcupine and examined the claims staked by Hollinger. Convinced of the exceptional value of this strike, he attempted to arrange a purchase contract with Hollinger and Labine, who held a quarter-interest. Failing this, Pare got in touch with his uncle, Noah Timmins, who was then in Montreal. The Timmins brothers, who had previously made an outstanding success of the Larose Silver Mine in Cobalt, managed to negotiate a deal with Jack McMahon. This deal involved payments totaling $330,000.00 Pare than assembles a working crew of 22 men and set out for the Porcupine, arriving at the Hollinger claims on New Year’s Day, 1910.
The six claims staked by Alec. Gillies were in the meantime optioned by M.J. O’Brien, of Cobalt, for $250,000.00, and became known as the Acme claims. Hurried drilling operations on this property produced very discouraging results, and O’Brian dropped the option. Through mine promoter A. T. Budd, of Haileybury, Noah Timmins then secured the Acme Claims for a sum of $350,000.00.
The six claims staked by Dixon, Millerton and Miller were called the Miller-Middleton group. Jack Miller finally agreed to sell these claims to Timmins fro $250,000.00. The Acme Gold Mines Limited, and the Millerton Gold Mines Limited, were incorporated as separate companies.
In 1916 steps were taken to consolidate the Timmins properties in the Porcupine, resulting in the Hollinger Consolidated Gold Mines Limited. By this time the Acme and Millerton properties were considered to contain most of the ore, but when the new company was formed the original Hollinger company received 2,400,000 of the new shares, the Acme 2,100,000 and the Millerton 200,000 shares. The Canadian Mining & Finance Company Limited, also was included in the consolidation. In 1922, Schumacher Gold Mines Limited was purchased for $1,631,376.00.
The early days of the Hollinger Mine were marked with discouraging events, and many people were skeptical of its future. In 1911, after an early spring, an almost entire absence of rain was experienced. The bush throughout the district became tinder-dry and local bush fires were springing up everywhere. On May 12, one of these fires swept in on the mine and, despite valiant attempts by the men, completely destroyed the surface plant, including the new stamp mill.
The Porcupine Fire
On July 11th of the same year another fire left the entire Porcupine camp in ashes, leaving death and destruction in its wake. Unable to check the progress of the flames, many people took refuge in Porcupine Lake. Others sought safety in the Dome and West Dome mine shafts, and were wiped out by suffocation. In all, seventy-three victims were counted when the holocaust was over. The tremendous setback suffered by this loss of life and irreparable damage taxed the courage and tenacity of the pioneers to the limit. Only the sterling qualities of these men could overcome such discouraging events.
Despite these difficulties, the story of the Porcupine is one of continuous development and progress. Hollinger’s first mill, now standing before the office building as a monument to the pioneers of the camp, was in operation before the fire, crushing 10 tons of ore daily. When production began in June of 1912, a new mil had been installed, capable of handling three hundred tons per day. Transportation difficulties were encountered and overcome. Ore which we expected to run to the value of about fifty dollars per ton turned out to be worth between eight and ten dollars, but this has resulted in the development of ore bodies much more extensive than those anticipated in the early days of the mine.
Another unforgettable event in the history of the Hollinger occurred when the new mill installed in 1912 was for the first time to be cleaned of the precious metals recovered from the ore. The mill contained about fifty flasks of mercury, and this was to be retorted to recover the gold. Interest and excitement ran high, with expectations of $40,000 in gold from this first cleaning. The cleaning task complete the men awaited results. Soon they were made known. Recovery amounted to a total value of $9.40!
Bewildered and dismayed by this startling news, the men began to search for the cause. A cleanup of the mill presses followed, and there the answer was found. The gold which was expected to be recovered from the mercury was in the presses.
By 1913 most of the early difficulties encountered in milling had been eliminated, and the mine continues to grow steadily. In 1914-15 mill capacity was doubled. The following year, when the Hollinger, Acme and Millerton properties were consolidated, steps were taken to again double capacity. By this time, however, the First World War was making its demands on men and supplies, and the completion of this move could not be achieved until several years later. By 1921 however, when men and materials were again available, a daily capacity of 3,800 tons was reached.
Since that time many changes have been made in the Hollinger Mine, and its influence has been continually widening. Mining methods and practices have been constantly improved and brought up to date. The mine now has reached a working depth of 5,150 feet, with five shafts operating from surface. Levels are driven from these shafts at 100 or 150-foot intervals. Many miles of underground railway have been installed to service the mine and remove the ore. Exploration and development work continues and most of the ore which has been removed to date has come from the upper levels of the mine.
Additions to and changes in the surface plant have been made, until today it is one of the largest, most efficient and modern installations of its kind in the world, incorporating many features for the improvement of working conditions and welfare of the employees.
Young-Davidson and Ross
In 1932 the Hollinger acquired a controlling interest in the Young-Davidson Mine at Matachewan, and this mine had been producing steadily since being taken over. In 1933 a similar interest in the Ross Mine at Ramore was secured, and this mine has been producing for a number of years. Besides an active interest in various mining districts, the Hollinger maintains a competent field force to investigate and develop other areas of promise.
The gold mines of the Porcupine have played an increasingly important role in the life of the country since their beginning. Hollinger alone, in 1946 contributed $9,742,064.88 to national wealth by the production of gold and silver, resulting from the milling of 1,118,955 tons or ore. From the time these mines began production, employees have been assured continuous work at comparatively high wages. Even during the years of depression in our country, when other industries were decreasing the number of employees, the gold mines continued to offer steady work without decreasing wages. The security of employment offered by the mines, with the subsequent security of the entire community, is unsurpassed anywhere.
The Influence of Mining
Some indication of the beneficial and far-reaching effect of the mining industry in this country may be gained from official figures. In the year 1943, the last for which complete returns are available, the mining industry in Canada for equipment, supplies and freight alone spent a total of $130 million. Add to this amount the $207,500,000.00 paid to employees in wages and salaries, and we see a direct outlay of $337,500,000.
During the same year, 1943, 112,140 persons were employed in the mining industry. Together with their families, they represent a total of 427,029 people who are directly supported by the mining industry in Canada.
The U.S. Bureau of Mines estimates that for every man employed in the mining industry, 12 and a half people are required in the factories, in the bush and on farms to provide the materials and supplies required by the industry and its employees.
By using the Ontario Mining Association’s conservative figure of one in place of 12 and a half, we have a total of 854,058 people who depend directly upon the mining industry for their livelihood. This is approximately seven per cent of our total population, and their wages, on the basis of those paid in the mines, would total $415 million. These people in one year would buy food alone valued at $130 million. Even on this ultra-conservative basis it is easy to recognize the importance of the mines and the mining industry in the industrial and economic welfare of our country.
From the courage and vision of a handful of men working in the bush have grown the present modern communities of the Porcupine, far beyond the fondest hopes of the pioneers. What the future holds may still be beyond the comprehension of us here today, but by continued cooperation and enterprise, together with a realization of the importance of the industry and the men who are a part of it, the nation as a whole will continue to benefit and prosper.
(The author asks that due regard be aid to the numerous versions of early incidents surrounding the development of the Porcupine area. It was extremely difficult to arrive at a version acceptable to all authorities on the subject.)