The Big Nickel scandal of 1916 – by John Sandlos (Canadian Mining Journal – June 16, 2024)

In 1854, the land surveyor A.P. Salter noticed the needle on his compass wiggle in strange way, a signal that the bedrock on which he stood contained a huge deposit of nickel (one of the few ferromagnetic minerals that affects the orientation of old-school magnetic compasses).

Owing to its remoteness, Salter’s discovery was ignored at the time and soon forgotten. The construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway through the Sudbury basin in the early 1880s brought an influx of newcomers and a transportation link to the region.

Among them was a blacksmith named Thomas Flanagan, who in 1883 noticed telltale signs of mineralization (namely, rusty residue associated with oxidization) at a blast site. A staking rush soon followed, as prospectors and early developers laid the foundation for the growth of Ontario’s nickel empire.

More than anyone, the American investor Samuel Ritchie actively promoted Sudbury nickel as the new wonder-metal of modern warfare. But when Ritchie initially created the Canadian Copper Company in 1886, his focus was, as the name of his company suggests, the copper in the Sudbury ore because there was no real market for the much larger supply of nickel.

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