The evolution of Elliot Lake, Ont. — from a logging and fur-trapping centre in the early 1900s to the uranium capital of the world in the 1950s and 1960s, and then to its present status as one of most successful retirement communities in Canada — is unique. And few people know that history better than M.E. (Dit) Holt, a mining engineer who began his career by taking part in the staking rush that transformed a remote wilderness north of Lake Huron into a mining boom town.
In the next few months, Holt will bring that history back to life through a series of columns featuring the men (in those days, mining was a man’s game) who found, financed and developed a total of 11 mines in the district.
To set the stage, we’ll go back to 1948, when Aim Breton and Karl Gunterman discovered radioactive rock in Long Twp., east of Blind River. However, significant deposits of the radioactive element were not found, and Breton and Gunterman let their claims lapse. In 1952, prospector Franc Joubin (1911-1997), backed by financier Joseph Hirshhorn (1900-1981), restaked the lapsed claims and set out to determine exactly what was exciting his geiger counter.
Joubin was convinced that the claims covered a uranium orebody, but Hirshhorn was not so confident and refused to put up the $30,000 needed to start drilling. In an effort to win over his grubstaker, Joubin travelled to England to consult with Dr. Charles Davidson, who had worked on uranium found in gold-bearing ores in South Africa. Davidson postulated that when rain water fell, it formed sulphuric acid, which could dissolve uranium mineralization found in association with pyrite.
This uranium solution could then be washed deep into the ground; however, a geiger counter would still register radioactivity on the surface. Joubin returned to Canada and talked Hirshhorn into drilling barely a month before the claims were to lapse again. In early May 1953, Joubin and Hirshhorn learned that there was indeed uranium on the Long Twp. claims.
Not one to settle for only one prospect, Joubin began to examine similar geology in the surrounding area; he did so with the aid of a map known as the “Blind River Sheet,” created by William Collins and Pentti Eskola for the Geological Survey of Canada in 1922. From the map, they discovered a “Z” pattern sedimentary contact that covered more than 90 miles in the Elliot Lake region.
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