Viola MacMillan: From the Ground Up: An Autobiograpy (Afterword) – by Virginia Heffernan (Part 1 of 2)

Virginia Heffernan, principal of GeoPen Communications, is a science and business writer who specializes in writing about mineral and energy resources. She provides research and writing services to both corporate and government clients and is a regular contributor to publications such as Investment Executive, The Northern Miner and Canadian Consulting Engineer.

“From the Ground Up” is an autobiography of one of Canada’s most notable mining women, Viola MacMillan, best known for her involvement in the infamous Windfall mining scandal of 1964. Although her autobiography presents her side of the controversial story some gaps and context were missing. Virginia Hefferernan’s thorough investigation cleared up many of those gaps and provided much needed context in the “Afterword” final chapter of the autobiography.

Afterword (March 2001)

The name Viola MacMillan evokes one of two responses. Those who knew her personally describe a generous and dynamic professional who became the sacrificial lamb of a corrupt Bay Street. Those introduced to her by the press recall a scoundrel who swindled innocent investors out of their savings. Will the real Viola Rita MacMillan please stand up?

If MacMillan were alive today, she would readily rise and state her case, just as she did on the 1960s television program, “To Tell the Truth.” As her memoirs divulge, she was an aggressive personality who rose from humble beginnings to achieve success in the mining industry: Canada’s own Horatio Alger, some would say. Despite her tiny stature – she stood just five feet tall and weighed little more than 100 pounds – she fought her way to the top of a man’s world by sheer force of will and a refusal to take ‘no’ for an answer. “Anybody, regardless of sex or circumstance, can do anything they want to do. All you need is the guts to stick to things,” was her favourite response to queries about the secret of her success.

But she rarely spoke of what became known as the Windfall affair, a mining scandal in the 1960s that triggered a royal commission investigation, exposed weaknesses in the market regulatory system and shamed several high-ranking officials. Even MacMillan’s otherwise detailed autobiography gives scant attention to an event that not only rocked her world, but changed the dynamics of share trading in Canada forever. MacMillan carried a long list of accomplishments to her grave, but her name will always be synonymous with Windfall.

MacMillan and the mining industry were joined at the hip.

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Golden Hope For a Timmins, Ontario Wasteland – by Nick Stewart

Established in 1980, Northern Ontario Business  provides Canadians and international investors with relevant, current and insightful editorial content and business news information about Ontario’s vibrant and resource-rich North. This article was published in the January, 2011 issue.

Goldcorp Inc. is just months away from making a production decision to dig up the literal “heart of gold” a stone’s throw from downtown Timmins. 

The Vancouver-based producer is working fervently through the winter months to build a case for a series of open pit mines at the very centre of the historic mining community, potentially making Timmins a unique portrait of modern mining in Ontario.

The project will carve out a patch of land just south of Highway 101, the main drag along which most of the city’s major commercial activity is located. The 250-acre property is surrounded by a pharmacy, a fast food outlet, a hotel, the Shania Twain Centre, the Gold Mine Tour and residential suburbs on two sides. The downtown core is across the street to the west.

This large area is the site of the shuttered but still treacherous underground Hollinger Mine, closed in 1968. Its hundreds of miles of tunnels have plagued the community with sinkholes and subsidences, creating a restricted wasteland and resulting in millions in property damage.

By mining out the area, Goldcorp stands to not only tap into the abandoned riches beneath the soil, but also to later transform it into safe, usable land. Like the issues surrounding the property itself, the new mining project is rife with logistical challenges, not the least of which involves determining what was left in the ground following nearly a century of mining.

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Battle of the Canadian Gold Rushes: Klondike Versus Northern Ontario – by Stan Sudol

Stan Sudol is a Toronto-based communications consultant, who writes extensively about mining issues.(

The Yukon Klondike

I have a small complaint about Canadian mining history or more importantly, our media coverage of past gold rushes. The Yukon Klondike gold rush of 1896-1899 seems to take all the glory – thanks to writers like Jack London, Robert W. Service and Canadian literary icon, Pierre Berton – while northern Ontario’s four globally significant gold/silver discoveries in the first half of the last century do not get the historical respect they deserve.

The initial Klondike discovery, on August 16, 1896, at a fish camp near the junction of the Yukon and Klondike rivers, is credited to George Carmack and his Tagish Indian brothers-in-law, Skookum Jim Mason and Dawson (Tagish) Charlie. Robert Henderson, a Nova Scotia prospector is credited as a cofounder, since it was on his advice that the discovery was made, however he made no money from the find.

At the height of the rush, Dawson City, the main staging town at the mouth of the Klondike River had a booming population of about 30,000 and was known as the most cosmopolitan city west of Winnipeg and north of Vancouver.  Due to its isolation, all the claims had been staked by the time most people finally arrived. Some of the most memorable photographs from the period show a thin line of thousands of people climbing the legendary Chilkoot Pass – the shortest but most difficult route to the goldfields – bringing the required year’s supply of food and living material.

Fortunes were made and lost in Dawson City’s “rip-roaring” frontier atmosphere where prostitutes were tolerated and nearly everyone was on the lookout for charlatans and con men. Many became rich just supplying services to the stampeders.  In total, about 12.5 million ounces of gold was produced during this short-lived rush that lasted for less than a decade.

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Thirty-Eight Years of Progress [Timmins History]– by Norman E. Green

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.”

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Timmins Unhappy With Canadian Hall of Fame Gold Discoverers Exclusions – by Gregory Reynolds

This column was originally published in the Late Summer, 2010 issue of Highgrader Magazine which is committed to serve the interests of northerners by bringing the issues, concerns and culture of the north to the world through the writings and art of award-winning journalists as well as talented freelance artists, writers and photographers.

Timmins Owes its Very Existence to Six Men Not Three!

Timmins city clerk Jack Watson says with a note of bitterness in his voice:
“We submitted all six and were upset with the decision. We appealed but lost.”

The community that calls itself The City With a Heart of Gold has every right to the motto because literally the ground beneath it, the heart of Mother Earth, has arteries of gold.

There has been gold production in Timmins continuously since 1910 and it will continue for  many more decades. There is no reason for a thriving modern city to be located in the middle of nowhere; there is no port to support international trade, no junction of railways, no meeting of highways that is a destination point.

Yet, Timmins is in the midst of a four-year celebration of 100 years of history and achievements.

No achievement was greater than the exploits of these six men: Sandy McIntyre, Hans Buttner, Harry Preston, John (Jack) Wilson, Benny Hollinger and Alex Gillies.

They discovered in 1909 the gold deposits that became the Big Three producers in Canadian mining history, the Dome (1910-still in production), the Hollinger (1910-1968) and the McIntyre (1912-1988).

Yet earlier this year the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame inducted just three of the six into its illustrious membership. Wilson and Harry Preston found the gold outcrop that was to become the Dome or as its workers fondly called it, The Big Dome. Only Wilson made into the Hall.

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Benny Hollinger (1885-1919), Sandy McIntyre (1869-1943) and John (Jack) Wilson (1872-1948) – 2010 Canadian Mining Hall of Fame Inductees

Benny HollingerThe Porcupine Gold Rush of 1909 was a transformative event in Canadian history, with three gold mines discovered by separate prospecting parties a few miles from each other. The rich discoveries made by Benny Hollinger (1885-1919), Sandy McIntyre (1869-1943) and John (Jack) Wilson (1872-1948) in northern Ontario wilderness led to the development of one of Canada’s premier mining camps and the founding of Timmins, the City with a Heart of Gold.

The Hollinger, McIntyre and Dome mines built from the discoveries of these intrepid prospectors are in a league all their own, having produced 19.5 million ounces, 10.8 million ounces and 15.9 million ounces of gold, respectively. During the past 100 years, the “Big Three” and other mines in the Timmins Camp have collectively produced 67 million ounces of gold, with production continuing into a new century.

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Timmins – the Legendary Porcupine – has a Golden Prosperous Future – by Gregory Reynolds

Gregory Reynolds - Timmins ColumnistThe world-wide boom in commodities has seen profits for Canadian mining companies soar and shareholders are loving it.

Buried in the good news is an interesting development that may prove beneficial to mining companies and the communities dependent upon them even after base and precious metal prices hit the bottom of the present cycle.

Flush with profits, mining companies are taking intense and expensive looks at former producers in Ontario’s historic mineral camps. What this is doing in the short term is putting pressure on the exploration sector as companies turn back to Red Lake, Kirkland Lake, Sudbury and Timmins while coping with a shortage of workers.

Still, it is good for the local economies and contains the promise of a bright future if mineable ore can be found in closed workings.

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Xstrata Copper Announces $121 Million New Investment in the Timmins Kidd Mine

This article was provided by the Ontario Mining Association (OMA), an organization that was established in 1920 to represent the mining industry of the province.

Ontario Mining Association member Xstrata Copper has announced a new $121 million investment to deepen and extend the projected operating life of the Kidd Mine in Timmins.  This investment will not only have a positive impact on the company´s future but also on the fortunes of its employees, suppliers and contactors, Timmins, Northern Ontario and the economy of the entire province. 

The Kidd Mine is the deepest base metal mine in the world.  This new project will expand the copper-zinc orebody´s mining zone from 9,100 feet below surface to 9,500 feet and extend the mine life to 2017.  This zone is estimated to contain 3.4 million tonnes of ore with a grade of 1.48% copper, 6.22% zinc and 80 grams of silver per tonne.

“The investment approval reflects Xstrata Copper´s commitment to the sustainability of Kidd Mine and the Timmins community and its business strategy to continually implement improvements to enhance the value of its operations,” said Claude Ferron, Chief Operating Officer for Xstrata Copper Canada. 

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Roy Thomson’s Timmins Adventures – Michael Barnes

All millionaires have to start somewhere. After chubby,ambitious Roy Thomson started his first radio station on a shoestring in North Bay, his attention turned to the bustling Timmins-Porcupine area.

The hard luck,hustling salesman came to Timmins in the early thirties and worked to open a radio station.No one would loan him any money but he found an ally in J.P. Bartleman.

The insurance salesman thought a radio station would be a good thing and he rented the newcomer space in a building of his in the seamier part of town.

Thomson’s long suffering engineer cobbled together the parts for broadcast output and fell foul of the law until his tight fisted boss paid union dues. The new station started with a piano and a few records. Even the sole announcer became fed up with playing ‘In a Monastery Garden’ several times a day because the discs were scarce.

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Mine Money Triangle – By Leslie McFarlane (Maclean’s – April 15, 1938)

Inco Advertising 1939Prosperity, modernity, pioneer color and a relief problem
– You’ll find them all in the Big Three of Ontario mining

Considering Northern Ontario’s glittering triangle. At the apex, toward the eastern border of the province, lies Kirkland Lake; one hundred miles west and a little north, timmins; southward, along that invisible boundary that makes Ontario two provinces in one, Sudbury.

No communities in all of Canada are busier, none more prosperous. The same golden light shines on each. Close together geographically, speaking the same language of mines and mining in a score of tongues, with a common tradition of pioneer luck and labor and a common destiny in that their wealth is derived from the rock, it might seem that they would share a common personality. They don’t. They are too vital for that.

Each of the three communities is distinctive in its own right.

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The Shy Philanthropist from Schumacher – Michael Barnes

They speak well of Fred Schumacher in the community which honours his name just outside of Timmins. He was well-to-do before he came to the gold camp and seems to have made money for fun there.

Born in Denmark in 1863, the young immigrant to the United States eventually became a pharmacist but he did not make drug dispensing his occupation. Instead he became a salesman and later married the daughter of the firm’s owner.

He founded his own patent medicine firm and became rich in the process. Then he decided he needed some excitement in his life and investigated the potential of the new gold-fields in Northern Ontario.

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