Northern Ontario’s mining memorials tell a tale of hard-fought labour protections – by Bill Steer (Bay Today – January 19, 2022)

Back Roads Bill Steer is the founder and remains the GM of the Canadian Ecology Centre. He teaches part-time at Nipissing University (Schulich School of Education) and Canadore College. His features can be found across Village Media’s Northern Ontario sites.

With the help of the region’s scholars, Back Roads Bill recounts the struggles and horrific working conditions endured by early miners and the reason we should all remember them

It is part of a history lesson we know little about, so perhaps we need a little schooling. Envision hard rock miners, once toiling far underground in dark, cramped and dangerous conditions; it was arduous and risky work.

They emerged tired and dirty at the end of their shifts, walking back to small wood-sided homes and their immigrant families. Mining, along with forestry, created what was then called ‘New Ontario,’ — what we know as Northern Ontario.

Indigenous mining in the north began after the last period of glaciations, people of the Plano culture moved into the area and began quarrying quartzite at Sheguiandah on Manitoulin Island. Mining is an important economic activity in Northern Ontario. It has been since the first copper mines at Bruce Mines in 1846 and Silver Islet in 1868.

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[Bolivia Silver Mining] Cerro Rico – The greatest of the great.- by Andrew Watson (Geology For Investors – July 2018)

In this column on great deposits, I have discussed those that were rich, big, changed destinies, broke governments and accumulated a wealth of stories. However, only one has definitively changed the world. Cerro Rico, or Potosi in Bolivia, is perhaps the greatest of the great deposits.

It’s origins are shrouded in myth, the wealth proverbial, the toll horrific. The Cerro Rico was the keystone in the arch of colonial Latin American precious metal deposits whose combined wealth provided the single greatest metallic bonanza there was, and likely will be on earth.

Eduardo Galeano has said ” You could build a bridge of pure silver from Potosi to Madrid with ore extracted. And you could build a bridge back with the bones of those who died mining it”

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West Virginia Miners Play Second Fiddle to the Molly Maguires – by Mark Hand (Counter – September 29, 2015)

In search of improved working conditions and livable wages, mine workers in two major coal producing states resorted to violence against coal mine owners and managers. The militants in one of those states are celebrated as heroic fighters of America’s industrial age. In the other state, the miners’ campaign for human progress is omitted from state history books.

In Pennsylvania, the state contributed funds to build a monument to honor the Molly Maguires, a secretive Irish organization that allegedly killed coal company officials as retribution for their treatment of miners. In museums and gift shops in the state’s anthracite coal region, visitors can purchase t-shirts and other memorabilia honoring the Mollies, 20 of whom were hanged after they were found guilty of murder and other serious charges in the late 1870s.

A big-budget Hollywood movie, titled The Molly Maguires, was released in 1970 with a radical coal miner, played by Scottish actor Sean Connery, as the hero and a Pinkerton detective, played by Irish actor Richard Harris, as the anti-hero.

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Mitsubishi Materials apologizes for using U.S. POWs as slave labor – by Mariko Lochridge (Reuters U.S. – July 20, 2015)

LOS ANGELES – Construction company Mitsubishi Materials Corp (5711.T) became the first major Japanese company to apologize for using captured American soldiers as slave laborers during World War Two, offering remorse on Sunday for “the tragic events in our past.”

A company representative offered the apology on behalf of its predecessor, Mitsubishi Mining Co, at a special ceremony at a Los Angeles museum.

“Today we apologize remorsefully for the tragic events in our past,” Mitsubishi Materials Senior Executive Officer Hikaru Kimura told an audience at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

In all, about 12,000 American prisoners of war were put into forced labor by the Japanese government and private companies seeking to fill a wartime labor shortage, of whom more than 1,100 died, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, an associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Six prisoner-of-war camps in Japan were linked to the Mitsubishi conglomerate during the war, and they held 2,041 prisoners, more than 1,000 of whom were American, according to nonprofit research center Asia Policy Point.

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History of Mining: The evolution of shaft sinking systems (Part 7 of 7) – by By C. Graham and V. Evans (CIM Magazine – June/July 2008)

1600 A.D. to the present — a summary

Primitive shaft sinkers used their hands and implements of bone, wood and, later, metal to dig the shafts that were necessary to remove the minerals required in their society. With the arrival of a social system, under the Egyptians and the Phoenicians, shaft sinking and mining became more organized, with slaves, criminals and prisoners of war being utilized. In these early days, fire quenching was utilized along with wedges and hammers to break up the rock, which was then removed in baskets.

With the coming of the Middle Ages, mining and shaft sinking alike became a respected profession; however, mining techniques remained much the same as those used under the Romans. The first major change in shaft sinking practice was the use of black powder rather than fire quenching to break the rock, which occurred in the 17th century.

The Industrial Revolution brought about the next major changes — steam-powered hoists and pumps. In the 19th century, the pneumatic rock drill replaced drilling by hand and in the mid-20th century, mechanical mucking machines replaced hand mucking. All these changes, although slow in coming, drastically increased the speed of shaft sinking.

Summarizing the average sinking speeds from the various periods clearly illustrates the changes in technology over time and the resulting increase in sinking rates.

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History of Mining: The evolution of shaft sinking systems (Part 6 of 7) – by By C. Graham and V. Evans (CIM Magazine – May 2008)

Shaft sinking from 1970 to 2007: mechanical excavation

During the 1970 to 2007 time period, there were a number of changes to traditional shaft sinking systems, both in Canada and in other countries around the world. These include:

  • the use of shaft jumbos for drilling;
  • the use of electronic detonators for blasting;
  • the use of hydraulic drills rather than pneumatic drills;
  • the use of slurry explosives instead of nitroglycerine-based explosives;
  • the drilling and blasting of long rounds utilizing drill jumbos suspended from the work stage;
  • equipping the shaft simultaneously with excavation; and
  • the development of mechanical shaft excavation systems.

It can be noted that during this period no improvements were made to the mucking, hoisting or concreting segments of the sinking system.

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This Week in Range History: THE MESABI IRON COMPANY: TACONITE PIONEER – by Donald C. Wright (Home Town Focus – January 9, 2015) Northern Minnesota

This week we’re sharing a story written by Eveleth native Donald C. Wright about the Mesabi Iron Company, predecessor to Reserve Mining Company in Babbitt. Although the Mesabi Iron Company operated the plant in Babbitt for only two years (1922 – 1924), they were taconite pioneers who “proved that high grade iron ore could be produced for America’s steel industry from hard, tough Minnesota taconite.”

Wright’s story was originally published in the June 1984 edition of Range History: The Mesabi Perspective, a quarterly publication of the Iron Range Historical Society, and is reprinted here with their permission. All of the photos published with the story here are also courtesy of the Iron Range Historical Society.

Thank you Iron Range Historical Society for sharing your stories of our history. Cindy Kujala HTF Staff Writer

About the time the American Civil War was coming to a close in Wilmer McLean’s parlor in Appomattox, Virginia, Michigan’s bright copper boom was fading and miners began to cast interested glances at the new state of Minnesota. Minnesota’s North Shore had been opened to settlement by terms of the Treaty of LaPointe with the Chippewa in 1855 and prospectors already were drifting in to investigate rumors of gold, silver and copper.

One of the new arrivals was a German immigrant named Christian Wieland who, with his four brothers, hacked out a settlement on the shore of Lake Superior and called it Beaver Bay.

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History of Mining: The evolution of shaft sinking systems (Part 5 of 7) – by By C. Graham and V. Evans (CIM Magazine – February 2008)

Shaft sinking from 1940 to 1970: The Golden Age

The period between 1940 and 1970 can really be called the golden age of shaft sinking. It was during this period of time that the shaft sinking records, which still stand today, were in a number of countries around the world. Listed below are the shafts which were sunk at record-breaking speeds:

January 1960: President Steyn #3 shaft (South Africa) — 1,020 feet (311 metres)
March 1962: Buffelsfontein shaft (South Africa) — 1,251 feet (381 metres)
September 1964: Staric main shaft (Czechoslovakia) — 1,053 feet (321 metres)
April 1964: Proletarskaya (USSR) — 1,280 feet (390 metres)
May 1969: 17–17 Bis mine (Ukraine) — 1,316 feet (401 metres)

Shaft sinkers from the Republic of South Africa generally claim to hold the shaft sinking record for their sinking project at the Buffelsfontein mine in 1962; however, as can be seen from the list above, both the Russians and the Ukrainians were faster.

The South Africans used much larger sinking crews than Europe or North America. Table 1 compares statistics on some of the shafts sunk during this period. Note the number of persons employed on the Buffelsfontein project.

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History of Mining: The evolution of shaft sinking systems (Part 4 of 7) – by By C. Graham and V. Evans (CIM Magazine – February 2008)

Shaft sinking from 1900 to 1940: start of the Modern Era

Mine shafts sunk during 1900 to 1940 in North America were almost all rectangular, timbered shafts while in Europe nearly all were circular and lined with brickwork or concrete. The reason for this was ground conditions. The majority of North American shafts were sunk in hard, competent rock. In Europe, on the other hand, the majority of the shafts sunk were in soft sedimentary rock, often with major water-bearing strata.

This was a busy period for shaft sinkers in a number of areas in the world. In the Ruhr district of Germany alone over 200 shafts were sunk: 124 shafts (1904–1914); 71 shafts (1915–1932); 13 shafts (1933–1940).

This was also an exciting time for the Canadian mining industry, with many of the famous mining camps opening up from 1900 to 1940. After the discovery of silver in Cobalt, Ontario, in 1903, prospectors ranged widely over the Precambrian areas of Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories. In Ontario and Quebec, Abitibi and Larder Lake were discovered in 1906, Porcupine in 1909, Swastika in 1910, Kirkland Lake in 1911, Matachewan in 1916, Rouyn-Noranda in 1924 and Red Lake in 1925.

In Manitoba, the Rice Lake district was discovered in 1911, and in the Northwest Territories the deposits in the sediments in the Yellowknife area were discovered in 1933 and those in the greenstones in 1935. In Saskatchewan, the Box and Athona mines were discovered in 1934 and three shafts were sunk at these properties in the La Ronge gold belt.

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History of Mining: The evolution of shaft sinking systems in the western world and the improvement in sinking rates (Part 3 of 7) – by C. Graham and V. Evans (CIM Magazine – November 2007)

Shaft sinking from 1800 to 1900: Cousin Jacks

During the latter part of the reign of the Tudors in England (1485–1603), Saxon technicians were brought to England to teach Cornishmen to sink shafts and mine Cornwall’s extensive tin and copper deposits. This worked so effectively that by the early 19th century Cornwall possessed some of the best contemporary European mining technology.

Beginning about 1840 and repeating in 1865, Cornish mining prosperity slumped disastrously for a number of technical and economic reasons. The discovery of rich overseas copper deposits coupled with a degree of mismanagement in the Cornish mines worsened the situation, throwing Cornish shaft sinkers and miners out of work. At the same time, the 1800s saw a great deal of British capital investment in overseas mining ventures.

These British-owned mining operations recruited their skilled labour from Cornwall and by the mid-1820s, Cornish miners, or “Cousin Jacks” as they were called, were to be found all across Latin America sinking shafts and developing mines. Cornish miners were also brought in to develop and mine lead deposits in the United States, as well as in Norway and Spain.

Copper was discovered in Australia in 1848 and more Cornish miners emigrated to that area to develop the mines there. Additional mineral strikes across the Americas and Australia followed, which attracted Cornish miners. By 1850, there were an estimated 7,000 Cornish miners and dependents in the upper Mississippi region.

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History of Mining: The evolution of shaft sinking systems in the western world and the improvement in sinking rates (Part 2 of 7) – by C. Graham and V. Evans (CIM Magazine – September/October 2007)

Shaft Sinking from 1600 to 1800 – The Industrial Revolution

It was during this period of time that the first mining schools were opened in North America and the first technical societies for mining were formed. The first School of Mines in the United States was opened in 1864 at Columbia University in New York. In Canada, McGill University opened a mining engineering program in 1871. This was followed by the University of Toronto in 1892, and Queen’s University in 1893.

Also helping to spread the expertise involved in shaft sinking were the mining technical institutes. In Canada, the first of these to be formed was “The Gold Miners Club of Nova Scotia” in 1887. This organization was reorganized the following year as “The Gold Miners Association of Nova Scotia.” A number of other provinces also set up provincial mining associations in the 1890s. In 1898 the Canadian Mining Institute was formed.

One of the early improvements to shaft sinking techniques during this period was the introduction of horse whims for the removal of material from the shaft bottom. This development occurred in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. A well-designed horse whim could remove material from the shaft bottom many times faster than windlasses operated by manpower.

The second improvement to take place during this period was the replacement of fire setting with drilling and blasting. It took three centuries after gunpowder became known in Europe before some resourceful miner, probably in the late 1500s, thought to stuff some into the cracks in rocks, ignite it, and let chemistry do the work.

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History of Mining: The evolution of shaft sinking systems in the western world and the improvement in sinking rates (Part 1 of 7) – by C. Graham and V. Evans (CIM Magazine – August 2007)

Shaft sinking prior to 1600 (ancient times)

The sinking of mine shafts has been going on for thousands of years. The Egyptians mined gold as long as 4,000 years ago, and it is thought that the Persians, Greeks, and Romans learned their shaft sinking techniques from the Egyptians.

Shaft sinking in the Egyptian period and early Roman period was carried out by prisoners of war and criminals, and conditions were terrible. Towards the end of the Roman period, prisoners of war became less available and working conditions improved dramatically.

With the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, shaft sinking and mining activity decreased substantially due to the instability in Western Europe. The social chaos and general economic instability persisted until the 11th century.

From 1100 – 1500 AD the status of the miner was much changed from Roman times. The trade of mining, which included shaft sinking, became a respected profession. Agricola, in his book De Re Metallica published in 1556, gives a number of references to shaft sinking. Advance rates at the end of this period were probably in the range of one to two metres per month.

The period from antiquity to 1600 AD covers a huge time period and many changes in civilization; however, from the early mining by the Egyptians, through Roman times, the Dark Ages, and then the Medieval period, very little changed as far as the techniques utilized for sinking shafts.

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