“There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills"
"Business is good" in the producing gold-mining camps of Northern Ontario
THE fact which most impresses the visitor to Northern Ontario's gold camps is that business is good. Kirkland Lake and Timmins came into being for the purpose of mining the commodity by which all man-made values are established—gold. Hence words and phrases coined to describe overproduction, price declines and their corollary, hard times, are not to be found in the lexicon of the two great precious metal camps.
There is some unemployment, but it is by no means acute. Many a prospector who searched the back country for gold is idle today and is hibernating near the producing mines, hoping for better times for his guild. Crews formerly employed in developing prospect properties on the s----
fringes of the great producing areas were thrown on the mining world’s labor market when the crash came. The same native instinct which points the out-of-work actor’s feet toward London or New York brought them into the prosperous gold towns to seek work and to mingle with those who talk the lingo of the N orth.
Others, odds and ends of human flotsam, scenting the heady perfume of distant fields, where the grass is reported as greener and more nutritious, have wandered in from the outside to create a new platoon of unemployed not even indigenous to the country.
But despite these painful items, conditions in the gold camps are good.
Canada’s producing gold mines have never been in more favorable position than they are today. Not only is there urgent need for
bullion we can fabricate, but actual shortage of gold is predicted when the output of the greatest producer, the Transvaal, undergoes forced curtailment in the near future. Consequently increased production and greatly increased underground exploration are the order of the day in Canada’s mines. Additions to underground and surface personnel have taken up much of
the unemployment slack. New depths are being plumbed. New levels are being opened. Milling facilities are being increased considerably in different parts of the Dominion. Canadian gold mines hum with activity as production carries us into second place among the nations.
Meanwhile, despite market crashes and brokerage scandals, there are signs of healthy convalescence in the gold-prospecting world. Like most cathartics, the medicine administered to halt the business of mining the public’s bank account by ruthless pseudo-promoters was not pleasant to the victims, nor to the investor who lost what is graphically described as his shirt. There were wailers who cried that the dose was too stiff to be assimilated and who declared that the clean-up should have come from within, under rigid government supervision, so that the righteous would not suffer with the sinners. But you will not find much sympathy with that
point of view in the North. There had to be a new start, and it was made by the use of remedies which when administered proved sufficiently drastic to either kill the patient or cure him.
The cure is beginning to work. In December the
Ontario Government opened large Northern areas for prospecting, a move likely to be followed by other provinces. Here and there in the gold country promising properties and old-timers like the Tough-Oakes are being reopened. Groups of earnest men whose financial plans went galley-west in the days of crash and scandal have since learned that funds can still be found for a gold-mine-in-the-making which gives the investor an even break. Mine-making money isn’t as easy to find as it used to be, nor does it flow so freely, but it has not ceased to exist.
Other properties have come into the control of
interests moving along the lines of the new idea, which is based on the general theme that mining should have first call on the treasury, not the promoter. In regions such as the Bannockburn-Metachewan district valuable surface discoveries have been made and are being
explored to depth by diamond drills. First signs of the
new gold-hunting era are visible in the North. And
gold gets the call because
there was never anything radically wrong with the patient’s condition, once the cathartic had been applied. There is no world surfeit of gold.
A Hustling Mining Camp
aliveness is in the air that the traveller breathes as he drops from the step of his pullman to the station platform. A sense of puzzlement hangs over Rouyn, as though the boom camp of not long ago did not know what to do with itself next. N oranda has the atmosphere peculiar to communities which have grown about a single industry. But the pulse of Kirkland Lake has a steady, lively beat.
As one travels down the Nipissing Central toward the gold country there is a difference in the intangible texture of life itself. More people are on the move. The Sleepy Hollow quality which pervades Clericy and the hamlets to the north of the Rouyn field—hamlets once so busy, but now so still—disappears and is replaced by the tempo of human activity as Cheminis is passed and the train clatters through Dobie and Larder Lake into Kirkland.
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“There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills”
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The Kirkland Lake back country has its heartaches too, heartaches every bit as uncomfortable to the victims as any that ever came out of Rouyn or any other camp. Gentlemen who would believe whatever the salesman said on the phone have been taken to the cleaners, as the technical term has it, with all the gay abandon which marked the wildest catsand-dogs which professed to be “on a direct line with Noranda.” But whereas the surface-stripping industry is almost a forgotten trade in the Rouyn field today, in the country beyond Kirkland Lake there are signs of life in the air. For this is the gold country and the world needs gold.
As one passes through the streets of the camp he is impressed by the hum of life which pervades the community. The shops are busy. People are moving in and out of the banks with a bustle which indicates more serious business to transact than the urgent request for an overdraft
or the plea for renewal oí a note. Miners in their scores pass along the streets with their dinner pails when the shifts are changing. Children in droves slide on the side-street hills. Women with shopping baskets on their arms walk briskly from store to store. On the skyline are the mill buildings and shaft-houses of the Sylvanite, the rejuvenated Wright-IIargreaves, that golden behemoth called Lake Shore, Teck-Hughes and, in the middle distance tow'ard Swastika, the head frame of Kirkland Lake Gold, deepest down of them all.
This is a mining camp. It will never be anything else. Its buildings and streets straggle here and there in the accepted manner. It is not citified, as Timmins begins to be. The hotel—no one can meander through the North and call his travels complete if he has never slept in that excellent hostelry known through the length and breadth of the country as the Ash Can—lacks the pretentious potted
palms and rooms-with-bath of Noranda’s spick caravansary, but it has a quality of its ow'n which it draws from the town, for the Ash Can is Kirkland Lake in miniature. This is a mining camp, not a dude city, and Kirkland Lake would have you know it.
There is good reason for the bustle and hustle and the peculiar touch of pride that is the town’s, for its prosperity has not been founded on the shifting sands of easy come, easy go. Its three principal mines, Lake Shore, Teck-Hughes and Wright-Hargreaves, produced gold to a value of $15,800,000 in 1929, an increase of 250 per cent over the operations of the three properties in 1926. Production rose again in 1930. Increased milling facilities and the uncovering of new' ore reserves to store up for the future will see even greater heights passed during 1931.
Consider the record of this golden triumvirate.
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In 1918, its first producing year, Lake Shore set a mark of $416,000. By 1926 this output had been multiplied by six. In 1930 a figure of almost $8,000,000 per annum had been reached, while the sponsors of the mine confidently expect that gold to a value of $10,000,000 will be brought from the workings during the current year. The mine’s tonnage has recently been increased from 1,300 tons of ore daily to a figure in excess of 2,000 tons. It is confidently declared by enthusiastic townsmen that 2,500 tons per diem will be the record set during 1931 and that supremacy as Canada’s greatest gold producer will .be wrested from Hollinger, hitherto undisputed wearer of the crown. Lake Shore is the aristocrat of the camp and an aristocrat among gold mines.
Teck-Hughes began operations with an output of $66,000 in 1917 and reached the million-dollar mark in 1923. The figure of $2,781,000 was established in 1925 and the five-million-dollar mark was passed for the first time in 1929. In the month of May in the current year Teck tonnage will be stepped up to 1,250 tons daily from a former figure of 900 tons, and new figures for production and value will be set.
The record at Wright-Hargreaves is even more impressive when all the facts are taken into account, though the figures are lower in actual total. The mine went into production ten years ago with an output of $468,000 in gold. In 1930 production was in the neighborhood of $2,500,000; not an imposing picture, perhaps, when considered beside the record of such a show place as Lake Shore, a mile along the road. But wait. There was a day, not long ago, when the prospects for the future were not too rosy. Known ore bodies had been drawn on heavily. The quality was going down. New bodies were not being brought in and there were rumors that the mine was petering out. Dividends were paid in 1927 and in 1928, but each dividend wrote a deficit into the books. And then came a man called Maurice Summerhayes.
Public Regaining Confidence
HE LOOKS more like an English squire, or a fox-hunting man, than a mining engineer. In stature he is of middle height. His tweeds are well cut, and neat leggings encase his calves. He is impeccably tidy and speaks as softly as a woman. Maurice Summerhayes is not the North Country mine manager beloved of the popular fictionists, perhaps, but he has mining brains and he has rejuvenated the sadly slipping WrightHargreaves. As a first curative, dividends were suspended while the new resident manager set to work to find out what was the matter with the mine and whether, as a matter of fact, there would be any mine in a year or two. That did not take long. The policy of predecessors appeared to have been to denude the mine of the ore in sight and convert it into cash. Summerhayes does not express himself on this point, for he happens to be a modest gentleman, but the matter has not been lacking public discussion in the recent past. The new engineer proceeded to forget about the known ore bodies and flung his battalion strength into the search for new ore and exploration of known bodies beyond the limits to which development had taken place. As a result, rich new ore reserves have been opened and the mine has returned to a dividend basis on its production, while adding to its reserves for the future.
I talked of mines and mining with Summerhayes in his office hard by the Wright-Hargreaves shaft house and caught from his lips the same gems of wisdom which have come from every worthwhile mining man met in the North. This is what he told me:
“You can’t go wrong on Northern Canada if you look at it from the right i vantage point. Ups and downs must
come along from time to time, but the mineral wealth of the country is always there and it can’t be taken away by anyone but the miner.
“Mining is an intensely speculative industry in its early stages. You won’t find a real mining man in the world who isn’t ready to lose everything he has to prove or disprove his belief in his own mining property. The Canadian public has shown its faith by investing hard-won savings to search for metals and develop new mines, always in the hope that fortune is just around the corner. Unfortunately the world is full of birds of prey, and a good many of them fasten themselves on the fringes of the mining world to take advantage of public optimism and convert it into cash for themselves.
“Because of these things we came to a dead end. The public lost more than its money. It lost all faith in the promoter of new mining companies, because it was impossible to tell the good from the bad in the wealth of superlatives which glutted every prospectus. That phase will pass, if it isn’t passing already. Mining investment has needed a new deal. Convince the public that the game is honest and there will soon be players again.”
That is what everyone says in the North. I doubt if you could find a corporal’s guard on any underground shift in Kirkland Lake composed of men who have never been taken for a ride—for many a ride in most cases—by promoters of mineral mavericks up and down the line from Rouyn to Porcupine. And you won’t find one who cares a snap about losing when he knows that the cards ran fair.
Down in one of the levels of the Lake Shore I talked with a shift boss while we waited for the cage that would carry us into the lower workings of that wonder mine which Harry Oakes carried on his shoulders until it became one of the greatest coiners of wealth in our country. We sat on a box of drill materials and fell to talking of the mining market that was and the stocks he had played. There was Soso, he remarked and spat tobacco juice. Soso had cost him two weeks’ pay. He supposed some fellow in Toronto had spent it taking his sweetie out to dinner. Then there was Whosis. But Whosis was different. Whosis had been run right. The money was spent on the property, and nobody could be blamed because the funds ran out before they could tell whether they had the stuff or not. Fie had always liked that property, had the shift boss, and he always would like it. In fact if enough money could ever be assembled to revive it, he guessed he might be ready to dig again; and there were a good many of the same opinion in Kirkland Lake.
The North doesn’t worry, so long as it gets a run for its money.
“A Gr-r-rand Place”
A TOUR of inspection of such a warren of wealth as Lake Shore may not unfold a panoply of geological splendor to the lay eye, but it cannot be bettered as a first primer lesson in human precision and in the well-ordered methods which sire profits. My companion for the expedition was a dour but genial gentleman of Glasgow, a member of the engineering staff, McPhee by name, whose burred syllables lived up to all the high repute of the Broomielaw brand. From the moment when we donned hard-boiled miner’s hats in the shaft house until surface was regained we moved in a world of system, moist and dripping wet in places, but as well trimmed as that of any banker’s office on King Street or Place d’Armes.
The cage, controlled from surface, flies down its perpendicular slot in. the rock, halting at local level stops with all the sang-froid of a tram on Portage Avenue. Bells clang. Signals are exchanged between the control aloft and the cage-boy. In the working levels the traveller makes his way through a maze of catacombs, past cars laden with rock and empties,
exchanging greetings with passers-by who march beside or between the tracks in the long crosscuts in the fashion of men bound on definite missions. Everyone has his job to do and gets on with it. Everyone knows where everything is and how to get there. No petty major-domos stand about heckling the household troops. There is work to do and it gets done.
Clambering the slimy ladders in manways leading up from the working levels into the stopes, often sixty and seventyfive feet above the floor, new scenes of activity are found to impress the visitor with the orderly progress of mining that is mining. Mounted in vast caverns, high above the crosscuts and drifts, drills rattle into the face of the rock and make way for the charges which blow down new tons of gold-bearing ore. The song of the drill dies. Detonation follows—not while the visitor sits smoking a cigarette, by the way —and mucking crews follow the drillers to fling the boulders into chutes built to carry ore down to the level of the tram lines below. Chocks hold the chuteloads back until the ore cars are waiting for their golden burdens. Electric locomotives haul away their trains of precious metal to be hoisted aloft, crushed and carried to the mill on surface, where cyanide processes set in motion the separation of gold from dross until, at last, only the pure basis of all man’s trade and commerce remains.
“Och, aye,” quoth McPhee, unbending from the boulder on which we had been sitting, up in a stope, while we talked of these many things. “Och, aye”—I can think of no other way to spell the phrase —“it’s a gr-r-rand place!”
I gathered that Scotsmen like to work in gold mines. There is a moral satisfaction in being close to the real thing. And it is a grand place, this Lake Shore mine. The visitor may not be a geologist, but he cannot wander through its caves and caverns without realizing that we have a mining industry in Canada that is based on extracting nature’s wealth, and that it is entirely removed from the sly caprices of sleek gentlemen who never saw the outside wall of a shaft house but have garnered millions to their own account by virtue of the Canadian public’s belief in the wealth of their country.
'T'HERE is vast psychological difference
between the community viewpoints of Kirkland Lake and Timmins. The former is a mining camp, pure and simple; the latter is an up-and-coming city, with a golf course, at least one modern hotel, the sort of main street that one sees in Moncton or Medicine Hat and with civic pride to burn. Timmins is camp-proud, every whit as camp-proud as Kirkland Lake, as it has reason to be with such stars of the golden firmament as Hollinger, McIntyre and Dome lighting its urban skies. But Timmins swanks a little because it is so swell, while Kirkland Lake swanks because it isn’t.
As in Kirkland Lake, conditions of life in Timmins are good. As at Kirkland Lake, three gold-mining leaders are the backbone of the community’s prosperity.
Hollinger, prize pigeon not only of the Porcupine district but for years unassailed leader among Canadian gold producers, leads the way. Ore reserves at the Holly, according to recent figures, rank above a value of $47,000,000, and as this is written there is word of new discoveries at depth to add to this great sum. Including the year just closed, almost $55,000,000 have been paid in dividends by the mine. Ore recovery is improving constantly and mining operations alone are netting regular dividend rates, without recourse to the profits accruing from the company’s investment trust.
McIntyre went into production in 1912 with a first year’s gross output of $101,555. Year by year production has grown, often
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by leaps and bounds, the two-milliondollar mark being passed in the financial year closing at the end of June, 1920. The milestone of the third million fell behind in 1924. In the twelve months ending March 31, 1929, a gross value of almost four and a half millions of dollars came from the treatment of 538,165 tons at the mill. At this writing McIntyre ores in reserve are valued at $20,000,000. The company has paid $8,997,908 in dividends since 1915, while total production up to the end of September, 1930, rated a value of $43,738,869. A new mill is under construction with capacity for 2,000 tons daily, to take the place of a 1,500 ton unit, which will give a new fillip to the mine’s production and, incidentally, to earning power.
Dome returned to production early in November after a year of idleness due to the burning of its mill, the new unit having a daily capacity of 1,500 tons. Dome has present ore reserves of 1,600,000 tons and production, up to the burning of the mill, had totalled $46,599,378. In regard to the disaster which visited itself on Dome a
year ago one factor is worthy of more than passing attention, inasmuch as it gives a key to the inherent stability of producing mines and the Canadian mining industry as a whole.
Supposing fire destroys the plant of, say, a textile manufacturer, what happens? Delays follow for new construction and for the installation of new machinery. Meanwhile competitors are enabled to take advantage of the catastrophe and sell into the market foimerly occupied by the now defenseless operator. Once new factories and machinery are put to work, the victim is likely to discover that he must begin anew from scratch. But the effects of fire visited on mining buildings do not run to these unhappy lengths. In Dome’s case the mill burned and the mine closed down while a new one was built. When the new mill was completed production began again. The market for the output of the mine had not disappeared, nor could it be stolen. The raw materials which existed on the day of the fire were still below ground, waiting only the miner and his tools to bring them to the surface. Meanwhile there was a breathing space,
during which the management had opportunity to explore its workings and claims for new ore bodies and to add to those already known. Here is a key to the true stability of Canada’s mining industry. Once metals are found no man can take them away from us.
I have said that there is a wide difference in the communal psychology of these two gold camps, but basically their views on the North’s most important subject, gold, are identical. Optimism is the keynote of each. Conviction that there is nothing in Canada, if in the world, to equal the riches of Northern Ontarios gold fields is stamped on every face in the streets. Willingness to delve into personal savings at any time for a flutter in the newest golden hope, willingness to lose so long as the dealer is honest, willingness to believe again and again; all these are written into the credo of the North country, where everyone knows that a pot of gleaming dollars hangs from the rainbow’s tip.
“There’s gold in them thar hills.” You can’t live near gold and not be an optimist.