Canada’s New-Found Empire

A. P. WOOLLACOTT March 15 1929

Canada’s New-Found Empire

A. P. WOOLLACOTT March 15 1929

Canada’s New-Found Empire

"This Canadian Shield is the richest repository of base and precious metals in the world"


THE unparalleled interest that mining men are taking in that part of Canada which extends through the “barren lands" to the Arctic and their spectacular efforts to be first on the ground have focused attention within the past year upon that half million square miles of country which lies between the Mackenzie River and Hudson Bay.

When capital begins spending freely, as it has in this area, one may confidently look for developments of importance, for it is axiomatic that capital looks both ways, and is always wise before as well as after the event.

The northern plains and the Ungava Peninsula, which together make up more than a fifth of the Dominion, have potentialities of the utmost importance to the nation, resources which have been known for a century and are now for the first time brought within measurable distance of development by the opening up of Hudson Bay, and the consequent conversion of that inland sea into a superport tapping what the geologists call the Canadian Shield, from the inside of a great horse-shoe with a vantage of several thousand miles.

This Canadian Shield, once thought to be a worthless waste of rock, is by far the richest repository of the base and precious metals in the world, and will eventually contribute more to the national wealth than all the other natural resources combined. That is the considered view of geologists, based upon fifty years’ investigation, and their work is not yet finished.

Another half century must pass before they can give anything like a reasonably full account of the resources contained in that part of the earth’s crust within the boundaries of the Shield. But even now enough is known to indicate that the time is near at hand when the Ungava Peninsula east of Hudson Bay and the country westward as far as the Mackenzie River will bulk as large in the public estimation as those southern parts of the Shield which have already yielded something over a billion dollars in metals.

Geological research has made it clear that the Shield is a unit built up and laid down throughout its extent under the same conditions. Therefore, it is reasoned, if there is wealth in the Sudbury basin, in the Mesabi range, at Kirkland Lake, in the Porcupine District and in The Pas belt, there is likely to be wealth in similar formations in other parts of the Shield. Which explains why capital is now launching a massed attack from the shore of Hudson Bay into the very heart of a region long regarded as a frozen waste given over to wolves, polar bears, musk-oxen and caribou. Which explains also why engineers are talking about a new route up Chesterfield Inlet and thence by tractor trails across the divide to copper deposits on the Arctic coast, and why other adventurers are sending expeditions out to the three great lakes of the Mackenzie system, all of which lie partly or wholly within the Shield.

To Canadians who merely move over the surface of the earth, kicking up more or less casual dust now and then, but knowing nothing of the substratum upon which their patriotism is founded, a brief description of the underground structure of their main treasure vault will not come amiss.

If the Shield were cut out of the map of North America it would have the appearance of a letter U, surrounding Hudson Bay, including in its lower tip a part of the United States as far down as the upper third of Lake Michigan, from which point its western edge runs around the end of Lake Superior and forms the eastern boundary of Lake Winnipeg. Then, crossing the upper half of Saskatchewan westward, it turns north and passes through the middle of Great Slave and Great Bear Lakes to the Arctic. Canada south of the St. Lawrence is not included in it, nor that part of Ontario below a line from Georgian Bay to Kingston, as well as a strip from the lower Ottawa to the City of Quebec.

A good cross section of the southern part passes in review as one travels by the main lines of either of the transcontinental railways from Winnipeg to Quebec in the one case and to Ottawa in the other. The nature of the country is very similar throughout, a fact to be borne in mind in connection with the question of building future railways through any other part of it, nor must it be forgotten that the climate anywhere in the north is not more severe than it is between Calgary and Quebec.

In a general way the picture is that of a rocky, parklike country of low relief, more or less wooded in the south, but treeless north of Churchill, drained by a bewildering network of streams having their sources in innumerable lakes of all sizes. Mountains and glaciers are entirely wanting. In fact, except for some extremely high promontories fronting on Hudson Strait and the Atlantic, the general elevation is about a thousand feet. The treeless plains are lower, sloping gradually to the Arctic. There are no tundras in any part of the Shield. Grassy plains supporting very large herds of caribou are plentiful in the so-called barrens.

In the Bay region a forested lowland from one to two hundred miles wide and a thousand miles long borders the sea from Fort Churchill clear around to Fort George on the eastern shore of James Bay. This is the largest single tract of soil in the Shield, the southern portion of which is a proven agricultural hinterland of Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba with an ocean frontage, as the long established farms and gardens at Fort George, Rupert’s House, Moose Factory, and York Factory have demonstrated.

But the bare bones of the earth in the form of rocky outcrops are visible over a considerable part of the surface; as for the remainder the bedrock is masked by a shallow covering of glacial deposits. Hudson Bay itself is just a shallow depression in a rocky bed, its waters at different times in the past having covered a greater or less extent of surface, according to the degree of land elevation prevailing at the time.

How the Shield Came to Be

IT IS possible here only to suggest in the barest outline the geological history of this dominant feature of the continent. In the hoary past the Shield was the only existing continent in the northern half of the western hemisphere except for a long, narrow land-mass away off in the ocean to the south, and another larger one of similar shape far to the westward. That was before the appearance of life on the land, though the lowlier forms swarmed in the seas.

The Shield of that day is to be thought of as a more or less uniform thickness of volcanic flows spread out over the whole surface to a great depth, a low bare windswept land of desolation entirely devoid of anÿ form of life. At different times in its history this early continent, made up basically of the most ancient rocks in the world, was in whole or in part dry land or sea floor. When it was submerged, sediments were deposited here and there on its surface consolidating into the sedimentary rocks of that age. These two rocks, the volcanic flows and their associated sediments are of interest to mining men and to all who invest in mines, or take a flier in mining shares now and then on the stock exchange, for it is in these rocks, known as the early pre-Cambrian or Keewatin, that a great deal of the mineral wealth of to-day is found. It is not believed that ores existed in these rocks until a later period in geological time. The Keewatin formation, by which is meant the whole Canadian Shield of that day, rested upon a semi-molten granitic foundation which slowly upheaved itself, causing the crust to be lifted into domes, ridges, hills and mountains, but without breaking through the Keewatin blanket. The Shield, then, had become a mountainous continent with a smooth unbroken surface everywhere.

The uplifting granite melted and absorbed much of the undersurface of the Keewatin formation. Later, the overlying rocks were fractured, and minerals in solution were infiltrated into the innumerable cracks and cavities, solidifying and forming the pay-streaks which miners endeavor to locate and follow in ¿heir underground workings.

Another stage was marked in the course of time when the mountainous Shield was everywhere planed down to about its present level. A prodigious mass of material, including untold wealth in the form of precious and base metals, was removed from the continent by erosion that extended over an enormous period of time, and was deposited in the adjoining oceans. In that reduction only a comparatively small part of the Keewatin formation remained untouched, tucked away and protected as it was in deep down-folds, parts of which still exist scattered throughout the Shield. The search for these mineralized remnants is the special work of the Geological Survey.

In the later part of the pre-Cambrian age other rocks of the Huronian series were deposited, all a present-day source of wealth. The whole Shield went through another folding and fracturing process, while igneous rocks from below were intruded vertically and horizontally among the strata. Mineralization was produced by these foldings, fracturings, and intrusions. This is of some interest to those who try to make money easy on the street in mining ventures, for the simple reason that they are gambling on the chance of the miner running into such fractured zones, and the further chance that such zones when found will be richly mineralized with “high-grade” ores.

A geological map of the Shield has the appearance of a patchwork of ovals and irregular areas of all shapes and sizes, varying from a few square miles like the Sudbury and Cobalt areas to larger regions of ten, twenty, and forty thousand square miles in extent. These patches represent the remnants of the Keewatin, known occurrences of which are numerous immediately north of the Great Lakes.

They almost invariably contain mineralized zones. The Pas mineral belt is a series of such patches. The largest productive section is the Kirkland Lake—

Porcupine Belt on the QuebeeOntario boundary extending a hundred miles east and west into both provinces.

But everywhere in the north, in Ungava and the Barren Lands, similar areas have been found and partially mapped by the geologists, so that there is every reason to believe that when the north is thoroughly investigated, remnants of the ore-bearing formations will be found to be as numerous and as rich as those in the proven areas of Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec.

The first discovery of any importance in the Canadian Shield was that of the copper-nickel ores in the Sudbury basin, a region of very small dimensions, measuring thirty-six miles long by sixteen wide. It is in the form of an oval and is surrounded by an oval ring of late preCambrian rocks from one to four miles in width. The deposits are found chiefly on the southern outer edge of the ring. The district supplies ninety per cent of the world’s demand for nickel, produced almost entirely in the Mond-International mines, now merged, which in a twenty-five year period yielded the enormous sum of $400,000,000. üne of the most outstanding discoveries in the mineral history of Ontario was made in the latter part of 1928, when an enormous body of high-grade copper-nickel ore was struck at the 3,100-foot level in the Frood Extension, running forty-eight dollars in copper and seventeen dollars in nickel to the ton. The face workings are described as “looking like walls of brass.”

International Nickel, now a billion-dollar corporation, holds the limelight in the mining world. From the most recent data furnished by Lord Melchett it appears that the ore at the Frood is in the neighborhood of 120,000,000 tons, which at sixty-four dollars a ton, has a present value of $7,680,000,000. Actual ore reserves at other properties of both companies Lord Melchett places at 25,000,000 tons, and this is valued at eighteen dollars a ton, making the combined proven and indicated physical resources of the International-Mond enterprise worth the enormous total of $9,640,000,000.

This very small spot in the gigantic Canadian Shield will in the end be worth not less than ten billion dollars to Canada, and yet there are those who haggle in parliament over the trifling amounts expended in geological field-work.

Nickel has been found at the east end of Athabasca Lake around Fond du Lac, samples of which assayed at the Mines Branch at Ottawa run over one per cent in nickel. Will this section of the country develop into another Sudbury basin when the rocks are more thoroughly explored superficially and at depth? It is interesting to note that these samples were found on the northern edge of a forty thousand square mile body of late pre-Cambrian strata roughly bounded by the three lakes, Athabasca, Wollaston and Cree. If there is anything in geological correlations this area is worth watching. At present it is one of the least known sections of Canada, and has never been traversed except by two or three geologists, and perhaps a score of trappers.

The presence of nickel has also been reported in a mineralized zone on the east shore of Hudson Bay north of Portland Promontory, a district which the geologist, Dr. A. P. Low, regards as promising for the discovery of sulphide ores.

Silver, Copper and Cold

THE silver deposits in the Cobalt field have attracted a great deal of attention since their discovery in 1903. Up to the end of 1926 Cobalt alone produced $234,000,000 in native silver. The richness of the mineralization is indicated by the recovery from one vein of 20,000,000 ounces, while at least seven mines have produced more than 20,000,000 ounces each. Though Sudbury basin is small it is a hundred times larger than the Cobalt area which covers only six square miles of the Huronian-Keewatin formation. It is noteworthy that money taken out of Cobalt has furnished the capital that developed Porcupine and Kirkland Lake, and is the chief factor in developing the mines of northwestern Quebec.

Away up in the north there are seventy-five miles of a certain kind of slate through which Back’s River flows on its way to the Arctic. Warburton Pike, the big game hunter, gives a description of these rocks in the account of his travels. Some years after the book appeared, the geologist, Dr. J. B. Tyrrell, considering these rocks in conjunction with the known Coppermine formation some distance to the westward, expressed the opinion that the whole northern margin of the Canadian Shield facing the arctic is of outstanding economic importance. Whether any other metals than copper and lead will be found there only the future will decide, but the presence of Animikie slates and limestones indicates in his view the possibility of the occurrence of silver such as was found at Silver Islet and Cobalt.

That reference to possible silver deposits in the barren lands is of interest because the same geologist discovered and defined The Pas Mineral belt in 1896. He was followed three years later by Dr. D. B. Dowling who completed the mapping of the area. Before a Senate committee Dr. Tyrrell called attention to the outcroppings of Huronian-Keewatin rocks between the Saskatchewan and Churchill rivers, observing that as they were the same kind in which valuable minerals were found in Ontario, they had large possibilities. But that was in 1907 when mining in the Shield was still in its infancy

Two prospectors, however, Messrs. Hackett and Woosey, reading Tyrrell’s report, went into the Ileed-Wekusko lakes district north of The Pas in 1914 and discovered valuable free gold de* posits. Next year the prospectors, Mosher, Creighton and Dion, who had worked up northward from Amisk Lake, were shown some pieces of sulphide ore by an Indian named Collins whose hunting territory lay around FlinFlon Lake. The prospectors, recognizing that a large deposit of this ore such as that described by Collins would be valuable, at once proceeded to Flin-Flon and staked that amazing deposit. The discovery of the Sherritt-Gordon deposit at Cold Lake about forty miles north followed. A railway was built in to FlinFlon by the Whitney interests to handle the 20,000,000 tons of copper-zinc ores blocked out there and valued at $224,000,000. The line is now being continued on to the Sherritt-Gordon property where an equal tonnage is available.

This is probably one of the best instances on record of valuable discoveries being made by prospectors after reading the conservatively worded statements of geologists regarding the possible presence of minerals in a district. Geologists never say that minerals will be found in such and such a place. What they do say is that the rocks here are identical with the rocks there which are now yielding millions of dollars annually, and that if the conditions of origin were the same in both cases there is a possibility that minerals may be found here also. To put it briefly, an intelligent prospector who will take the trouble to read the numerous reports of the Geological Survey will find information enough to guide him in prospecting in any of the pre-Cambrian areas indicated in a geological map of the Shield, and the probabilities are that a careful prospector stands a good chance of making a discovery if he has experience enough to know what he is about.

The largest mineralized “island” of pre-Cambrian age where mining has been carried on is the 5000 square mile territory lying equally in Quebec and öntario that includes within its borders the Porcupine, Kirkland Lake and Rouyn areas.

The Hollinger mine in the first district has a gold production double that of the state of California, its output up to 1926 amounting to $114,000,000. The Porcupine camp as a whole in a fifteen year period yielded $185,000,000.

The gold ores of Kirkland Lake are twice as rich as those of the Porcupine, carrying values of sixteen dollars a ton as compared with eight dollars in the former, while just across the border in Quebec the Noranda mine in Rouyn township now ranks third among the giants of the copper world producing wealth at the rate of $900,000 a month, and having $300,000,000 in ore reserves, thus ousting the famous Calumet and Hecla of Michigan from its former third rank among the major coppers.

All these immensely rich mines are located along established lines of transportation, because active prospecting has been confined to easily reached districts. With the exception of Sudbury they are all recent or comparatively recent discoveries. 'They are all located in Keewatin-Huronian remnants which appear to be more numerous along the railway lines in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec than elsewhere in the Shield, but that is because the barren lands and Ungava have not been prospected or geologically examined in any systematic way as yet. All the railway lines in the mining districts just mentioned literally ran into rich mineral deposits which have since yielded amounts equal to the cost of building those lines. That remarkable fact has led to a saying in railway circles that it is a safe bet to build a railway almost anywhere in the Canadian Shield, as such a venture would provide its own tonnage in minerals besides the market value of the ores.

In spite of the neglect of the north, the known occurrences there of mineralbearing rocks are sufficient to justify the belief of mining men that a wonderful future lies ahead of the entire Shield and that in time it will be the scene of the world’s greatest mining activity.

Iron By the Billions of Tons

TAN THE east coast of Hudson Bay are deposits of galena and iron which have been known since the fur companies first established posts there. The year 1929 will see trains running in and out of Churchill and ships from Europe and Eastern Canadian ports unloading in the Bay. The mineral wealth which has been lying idle so long will then be transferred to the category of available assets. An iron and steel industry rivaling that of the United States, with vast water powers to supply its furnaces with electricity, is the promise which these iron deposits hold out to the industrial world of Canada.

The exposed iron beds in the Belcher islands, the principal group of a series that follows the trend of the coastline sixty miles out, total 110 miles in length. The same beds which are continuous under the sea toward shore outcrop again in the cliffs of the Nastapoka chain of islands a few miles off shore along their entire length, that is to say, for 120 miles. Some of the islands of this chain are literally masses of iron ore. The geologist, Dr. A. P. Low, who is the recognized authority on the Ungava peninsula, took photographs on these islands of beds eighty feet thick of almost pure magnetite, and observed that it was impossible to estimate the quantity of iron ore in the Nastapoka chain. It was apparent to him, also, that the deposits in quantity and quality compared favorably with the immense deposits worked to the southward of Lake Superior. Specimens of rock from different parts of Ungava were found to be identical with those from the east coast of Hudson Bay; with the ironbearing rocks from the south and west of Lake Superior, and with the rocks of Sudbury and Cobalt. What is equally interesting is that specimens brought from the shores of Great Bear Lake are also identical. When all of the above were placed side by side there was found to be so close a resemblance among them that they were indistinguishable without reference to the labels.

These iron deposits are exposed along the waterfront and are immediately available. The Nastapoka River in a drop of 100 feet, as well as all the rivers on the east side, are potential sources of abundant water power.

What these iron deposits will be worth to the country when developed may be judged when it is realized that they occur in exactly the same formation as that in which the Mesabi and other deposits around the west end of Lake Superior are found. It will be recalled that since being opened up in 1892, that district has supplied most of the iron used in the United States, at one time as much as sixty-three per cent of it.

There is also a large amount of galena in the same zone quite handy to the shore. The Hudson’s Bay Company formerly used this mineral as ballast for its homeward-bound ships.

Captain Lucy, the well-known mining man, representing the Ungava Prospecting Syndicate, returned in the autumn of 1928 from Richmond Gulf and Little Whale River on that side where he staked three miles of the galena reef. One of his samples weighing 270 pounds consisted of almost pure lead. After several seasons of exploratory work in there, Captain Lucy believes that he has tied up the highest grade galena deposit yet uncovered in Canada. As it is not far from the waterfront and is favorably situated in the strata, the deposits can be mined economically.

Major L. T. Burwash, reporting upon that district in 1927 for the government of Canada, states in his diary that samples of a bright metallic variety of galena shown to him while there assayed as high as thirty-five dollars in gold, and carried 150 ounces of silver to the ton in addition to the lead values. A dull black variety contained fifty-four per cent lead which, without considering the gold or silver content, would give this variety a value of sixty-five dollars a ton. Major Burwash observes that owing to favorable conditions a mining area of some importance should develop in this district if the high values maintain in any considerable tonnage.

And More Billions in Copper

"DUT for lack of transportation the native copper of Bathurst Inlet and the Coppermine would be running Michigan, Rouyn, and other copper-producing districts very close.

An examination of a thousand miles of the Arctic coast by Dr. J. J. O’Neill revealed the fact that the Canadian Shield extends into some of the Arctic islands.

He relates that an old Eskimo, Mupfa, had in his possession a thirty-five pound piece of native copper, all that remained of a larger mass which had been reduced in fifty years by cutting off pieces for making various tools required by the old man’s family. Mupfa stated that he had discovered larger pieces at the same time on the grassy slopes of Copper Mountains, which, by the way, are undulations rather than mountains. Some of these fragments were so heavy that they could not be turned over except with the assistance of several men. Blond Eskimos told Stefansson that similar pieces were common in the interior of Victoria Island.

It was not many years ago that the farmers of Michigan were kicking up pieces of native copper in the soil. Then followed the discovery of phenomenal deposits. Since that time native copper worth $500,000,000 has been dug out of the mines, one of which, the Calumet and Hecla, has been contributing an output of $16,000,000 a year. In the north this metal is found in precisely the same formation as that in Michigan. To connect up these two widely-separated occurrences, we have the thousands of square miles of identically similar rocks mapped by Dr. J. B. Tyrrell between Great Slave Lake and Chesterfield Inlet. It is not necessary to labor the point, though a brief reference may be made to the extent the metals occur on the northern edge of the Shield.

Its distribution is remarkably uniform on all of the islands in Bathurst Inlet, as well as on the mainland where one mass was traced for more than two miles. The available tonnage according to Dr. O’Neill’s calculations would be six billion tons carrying up to one-quarter of one per cent of disseminated metal, with unestimated amounts in other forms. Veins are filled with plates up to half an inch thick, while others contain copper averaging one hundred pounds to the ton, to which must be added the sulphides. One layer of the latter six inches thick was one-half pure copper. The Copper Mountains are richer and carry larger deposits of workable material. Both regions can easily be prospected.

The Mounted Police report a third occurrence east of Bathurst Inlet, and the Eskimos four others, at least two of which along with that discovered by the Mounted Police, are slated for investigation.

Adequate transportation seems to be the one and only need to convert the whole north into a huge mining district, in which connection it is pertinent to say that the Hudson’s Bay Company contemplate establishing a tractor route from Wager Inlet on Hudson Bay to Cockburn Bay on the Arctic, for the purpose of supplying their Arctic and Mackenzie River posts from Fort Churchill rather than Vancouver, thus eliminating the long sea route by way of Bering Strait.

Copper-bearing rocks begin at the head of Chesterfield Inlet and continue west and north almost unbroken to the mouth of the Coppermine River. The inlet penetrates the northern plains for a hundred miles and is navigable its entire length. There is nothing to prevent railways being built through the copper country, thus opening a sub-arctic mining district, which from the surface indications is far more promising than anything previously known.

The winter climate, the severity of which has been unduly over-emphasized, is no worse than that of Winnipeg. What is forgotten is that it is a land of láng summer days, with actually more hours of sunshine than Ottawa, an excess over the Dominion capital that varies from 250 hours at Fort Chipewyan to 600 in the neighborhood of the Arctic Circle. So far as climate is concerned, anyone who can live in comfort in any part of inland Canada can live with an equal degree of comfort in the north.

In the words of Dr. G. H. Blanchet, of the Topographical Survey, who made a recent reconnaissance as far as the Coppermine River, there is nothing in the nature of the length of the winters to prevent settlement or to prevent capital from exploiting the economic resources in due season. It is unwise, he says, to consider any district or resource as permanently beyond the limits of economic development because of its location. The question of reaching this new mineral empire of the north has now been simplified by the development of Fort Churchill as a railway and ocean terminal.

This is the age of metals. No less an authority than Dr. Charles Camsell, who heads the Geological Survey of Canada, makes the significant statement that the world in the last twenty-five years has used more of its metals than in the whole of its preceding history. The insistent demand for greater quantities stimulated the development of mining in the Canadian Shield. Canada’s growth in population, which will be augmented by a heavy overflow from the United States before many years are over, will create a cumulative demand for metals which will run parallel with the cumulative demand of the world markets. There is no doubt of the result. The Canadian Shield will be more intensively and extensively examined, prospected, and mined than ever before, and it is not too much to say that Canada may one day be regarded not only as the world’s most important breadbasket, but as the richest repository of metals the world has ever known, an enviable position which will be almost entirely due to the leading place held by the Canadian Shield as a producer of metals.