Tag Archives | Michael Barnes History Columns

Sault Ste. Marie’s Chicora Incident – An American/Canadian Border Incident– by Michael Barnes

Most  people know all about  the locks between the Canadian and American twin cities of Sault Ste. Marie. The waterways are good for trade.

But at one time the Soo locks were all on the American side. This ended with the opening of a lock to the north in 1895. Although not openly discussed, one the most important reasons for building a Canadian lock had its roots in an event which took place a quarter century before.

As Canada became a country with Confederation in 1867, a giant firm had to change its way of doing business.The Hudson’s Bay Company could no longer operate as if it were almost a feudal entity within Canada.

As the Bay gave up its huge land holdings in 1869, the action troubled the Metis people of the Red River in Manitoba. They feared their land would be taken up by new settlers.When they banded together under Louis Riel to establish a new government, a clash with Ottawa was inevitable.

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Ontario Gold is Where You Find It – by Michael Barnes

Famed prospector Don McKinnon, co-disoverer of the Hemlo gold fields north of Lake Superior is fond of an old axiom in the mining business.

He says simply that you look for gold where gold is said to be. This sounds like double talk to the uninitiated but actually the seemingly obvious statement makes a lot of sense.

Short of expensive diamond drilling, the location of gold in commercial quantity is anyone’s guess. So the best places to look for the elusive yellow metal are where it has been found before.

A few years ago, an up and coming Junior mining company with a Scots name, Pentland Firth, announced that it was taking another look at the Munro Croesus property off highway 101 east of Matheson.

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The Ghost from Haileybury – by Michael Barnes

The most popular series of books sold in Canada was the Hardy Boys. Most people recall Franklin W. Dixon as the author. But that was just a pen name given to ghost writer Leslie McFarlane from Haileybury.

Leslie McFarlane was 23 in 1926 when he answered an ad for a fiction writer.The young cub reporter, formerly of the Sudbury Star and Cobalt Daily Nugget, felt he had it in him to become a book writer but somehow could not get started.

The ad for a fiction writer was placed by an American, Edward Stratemeyer who operated a stable of writers who churned out pulp novels along certain lines and themes.

There have been several such outfits before and since but Strateymeyer was longer lived than most and covered all the bases. Writers like Leslie McFarlane were given an outline of the characters in a series and then a plot for one book.

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The Forgotten Northern Ontario Workers During the Great Depression – Michael Barnes

The economy isn’t exactly bouncing along these days but not much more than sixty years ago,it was down right flat. This was the time of the Great Depression, the lost years, when production in many industries in Canada and around the world came almost to a standstill.

There were few social umbrellas then. Help for the unemployed had to come from financial strapped communities and also the generosity of those who had a job.  

By and large the unemployed wanted to work and would take anything they could get rather than go on relief. This spurred the Province of Ontario to use its strained resources to salvage something from the funds expended on public assistance.

Between 1929 and 1932, overall employment fell by 32% in the province. Continue Reading →

Housing Came with the Job in Northern Ontario Mining Communites – Michael Barnes

In earlier years in the teaching game in Ontario, school boards were able to secure teachers because they were offered accommodation at either free or a cheap rate as part of the deal.

One young teacher had a house in an isolated community in 1956 for $30 a month. Now mind you it was not worth that much because it was cold, leaned in the wind and had no amenities, but at least the place to live was an incentive to take the job.

Big mining companies like Falconbridge and Inco in Sudbury offered their educators most pleasant living quarters. Many of these were for single men and women and  were known as teacherages. Actually there were places for other employees as well but none had a job specific name like those for teachers.

The mines in the smaller camps provided homes for many workers. Continue Reading →

Hockey and Mining Rivalry Between Cobalt and Haileybury – Michael Barns

Every Canadian knows something of the NHL. The National Hockey League dominates Canadian sports culture. But few likely know of the National Hockey Association, the forerunner of the now famous league.

Teams in this genesis of the NHL included the Renfrew Millionaires, so called because after all their biggest sponsor, M.J.O’Brien, was a millionaire many times over, the Montreal Wanderers and a team that has made a comeback in recent years, the Ottawa Senators.

In the heyday of Cobalt when the town was rich and booming, all the mines had their own hockey teams. Both Haileybury and Cobalt had teams in the National Hockey Association and had no trouble finding corporate sponsors among the many big firms represented in both towns.

The silver town had a real Stanley Cup contender. This was the Cobalt Silver Kings. Although the players gave their all on the ice in association play, the fiercest battles were reserved for games with the Haileybury squad.

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Cobalt: A Mine was Something to Fall Back On for MJ – Michael Barnes

Most people have never heard of M J O’Brien- not in the north anyway. He died in Renfrew in 1940 and was one of Canada’s richest men. But in 1903 he made a deal at the King Edward hotel in Toronto which made him more money and created much work in the silver town of Cobalt.

O’Brien was born in the Ottawa Valley in 1851. He started off as a water boy on big construction projects and ended up owning countless big companies. He made his money through careful research and driving hard bargains. His real money came from railways and lumbering.

In 1903 the heavy set, black bearded magnate from Renfrew heeded some advice from his friend, Robert Borden, then leader of the Opposition in Pariament. Borden put him onto a lawyer who who had some business ideas.

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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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The Great Clay Belt Hoax – Michael Barnes

During the nineteen twenties and thirties the province of Ontario and its northern railway perpetuated a cruel hoax on unsuspecting settlers they had persuaded to come north for a new life.

The public relations ploy which set in motion this series of events was totally irresponsible but it was never widely exposed. Those who suffered because of it are mostly widely dispersed or dead now. The sense of injustice remains.

When Ontario bowed to pressure and built the railway north from North Bay in 1902, it was solely to transport settlers and open up the country. This was only changed when silver was found at Cobalt.

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Excerpt From Michael Barnes New Book – More Than Free Gold: Mineral Exploration in Canada Since World War II

More Than Free Gold - Michael BarnesFaults and Fissures Vein Deposits

The discovery of silver and gold vein deposits marked the start of Canada’s mining legacy. The discovery of gold at Kirkland Lake and Timmins and silver in Cobalt and near Thunder Bay set the stage for the development of these parts of Canada’s hinterland and founded the development of a mining culture that continues today. …

Gold mining has come a long way in Ontario since the first property, the Richardson Mine in Eldorado near Madoc, fizzled shortly after its 1867 opening. The scattering of small mines working in northwestern Ontario eked out a few ounces of gold in the early part of the twentieth century. The success of the Cobalt camp gave witness to the Mexican proverb, “It takes a silver mine to make a gold mine,” by providing a labour pool and ready financing for the rich gold bonanzas of the Porcupine and Kirkland Lake.

The Porcupine-Timmins area produced 67 million ounces of gold from 48 mines between 1910 and 2004. The smaller but richer grade Kirkland Lake camp had an output from twenty-four mines that gave up 42 million ounces between 1917 and 1990.

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Excerpt From Michael Barnes New Book – More Than Free Gold:Mineral Exploration in Canada Since World War II

More Than Free Gold - Michael Barnes

Our Best Friend
Kimberlites with Diamonds

With the discovery of diamonds in the kimberlite bodies of the Lac de Gras district in the N.W.T., Canada emerged as a major diamond producer, challenging South Africa, Botswana, Australia and Russia in both quality and quantity of diamond production.

Diamond hunting is difficult because kimberlite outcrops are rare, due to the fact that the rock is easily eroded; often a chunk of the stuff will crumble in the hand.

The big mining news in the eighties was of the gold at Hemlo, but in that decade two men were searching for a much more elusive quarry. Veteran prospector Chuck Fipke and geologist Dr. Stu Blusson spent all they had and all they could borrow to finance a quest for diamonds.

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The Virginiatown Bank Robbery – Michael Barnes

Kerr Addison Mine was one of the great elephants of Canadian gold mining. In the trade this simply means it had been a giant producer since the mine first started turning out mill feed in the mid-thirties.

The prospect of gold produced in bullion form excites both honest and criminal minds alike. While most of us like to dream about the precious yellow metal, some take positive action to acquire it.

In the mid-sixties a bullion shipment from the mine was hijacked at the Larder Lake station by Quebec underworld figures. On December 21st 1972 thieves struck again, this time with the mine payroll as the star attraction.

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Excerpt from Michael Barnes New Book – More Than Free Gold: Mineral Exploration in Canada Since World War II

Pronto Mine, Rio Algom - Elliot Lake 1958The World Wants Yellowcake (Uranium)

Among some people uranium gets a bad rap due to its use as the explosive material for atomic weapons and yet these folks tend to forget that it has most beneficial uses for mankind, principally as the fuel for nuclear reactors which deliver about 15% of the country’s electricity. Canada is currently the largest producer of uranium in the world, although Australia has the larger proportion of the world’s known deposits. In 2006 of the seventeen countries that mined the element, Canada produced 28%, followed by Australia with 23%. The term ‘yellowcake’ was originally given to uranium concentrate, although the colour and texture today can range from anything through dull yellow to almost black.

Early interest in uranium in Canada took a back seat to the work of Gilbert and Charles LaBine who discovered radium at Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories in 1930. Continue Reading →

The MacMillian Claim Table – Michael Barnes

The auctioneer’s gavel has had a great deal to do with the distribution of our northern history. People pass away, the relatives put the estate up to auction and sometimes priceless artifacts are lost to public view, often because those who bid on them are not aware of their significance.

All across our north country people are holding artifacts, curios and just plain keepsakes with the vague notion that the object in question is old and therefore should be kept for their own private posterity.

I come across paintings, photographs pieces of furniture and so on but often with no background material, the significance of the item is lost. Continue Reading →

Excerpt from Michael Barnes New Book – More Than Free Gold: Mineral Exploration in Canada Since World War II

2006 Mining Activity in British ColumbiaHidden in the Rock – Porphyries (British Columbia)

Those who seek minerals in porphyries would be advised to follow the old adage, “Go west young geologist,” as this form of igneous activity is found in young rock with large crystals. Deposits are usually large but the trade-off is in low-grade mineralization. The name porphyry comes from the Latin for its colour purple and has associations with royal or imperial qualities dating back to the Romans. In Canada, British Columbia enjoys the lion’s share of this rock, which contains the largest resources of copper, significant molybdenum and 50% of the gold in the province.

British Columbia is copper-rich, and mining of the metal commenced in the late nineteenth century. Many mines have been worked in the province over the past 125 years, and there are currently still some porphyry deposits of interest. Continue Reading →