Fire and the mining frontier – by John Sandlos (Canadian Mining Journal – May 5, 2024)

The massive expansion of Canada’s mining industry in the early twentieth century brought miners into close contact with one of the most fire-prone ecosystems on the planet ― the great boreal forest. Although prospectors sometimes lit fires to clear land for exploration, the smell of smoke and the site of flames more often signaled a mortal threat to new mining communities in northern Canada.

With their hastily constructed wooden buildings, rudimentary fire fighting capabilities, and lack of viable transportation infrastructure, mining communities had almost no defenses against fire. Some fires might start within a town or a mine (such as the July 1909 fire in Cobalt, Ont.), but large forest fires also spelled potential doom for anyone or anything in their pathway.

The Porcupine fire of 1911 stands out as a particularly destructive event amid the bustle and promise of a rich new mining region. The Porcupine gold rush began in 1909 after legendary figures in the history of Canadian mining ― Jack Wilson, Benny Hollinger, Alec Gillies, Sandy McIntyre, and George Buttner ― discovered mineral deposits that became the foundation of Canada’s richest gold mining region.

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