Sturgeon River Stampede

LESLIE McFARLANE November 15 1934

Sturgeon River Stampede

LESLIE McFARLANE November 15 1934

Sturgeon River Stampede



LET'S HAVE a look at Jellicoe, one-time Canadian National Railways divisional point east of Port Arthur.

About a year ago the hotelkeeper at Jellicoe thought he was having a big day if half a dozen guests showed up for meals. If a stranger appeared in Jellicoe the populace turned out en masse to gape at him. If half a dozen strangers appeared at the same time, Jellicoe seemed positively crowded. Jellicoe, in short, was one of those forgotten towns to which wisecracks dealing with cemeteries and the woodpecker menace are applied by amused visitors. In its day it had been a good little railway town, but when crack trains of the National system were diverted to the Transcontinental line at Nakina via a short cut-off from l ong Lac to the East, the railroaders departed and Jellicoe was left to accumulate rust, weeds and an atmosphere of discouraged resignation. A daily mixed train plied between Port Arthur and Long Lac, but its doleful hoot only served as a mocking reminder of the brave days when Jellicoe thought rather well of itself.

It’s an odd world. Jellicoe makes the front pages regularly nowadays and throbs with life. Jellicoe has experienced something more than a resurrection. This is a reincarnation.

The one-time ghost town of the railroaders is now a mining camp.

The hotel that once served as many as three, or perhaps four, meals in a day now serves between three and four hundred. And there is another hotel too, newlv-built. The company shacks that were once falling to pieces are all rented and occupied. Two new restaurants have been built within a month. Scores of tents have mushroomed along the right-of-way. Airplanes zoom overhead, settle down and take off again with such monotonous regularity that no one pays any attention to them any more. In the hotel every double room is occupied night and day, men sleep on the floor, on chairs, behind the counter, anywhere. The telegraph operator has a cailus on his key finger. The siding is loaded with freight. The trains to Jellicoe are jammed to the vestibules. And everyone talks mining.

Perhaps it would be more appropriate to sav that everywhere

one hears mining talk, of which the following are samples: . . so I took a few samples back to camp and panned them. Talk about color ! Coarse gold there in the pan. . .” “■ . .no ginger ale for me. I like it straight. . .” “. . . the field man for one of the big companies wras in the other day, and when I showred him the vein he said it was one of the finest showfings he had seen in fourteen years. . .”

“. . . so when we hit Bamum Rapids I said to Bill, ‘Keep her nose straight or we’ll dump,’ but I hadn’t got the words out of my mouth before the canoe slewed around and

over we went. Forty dollars worth of groceries and all our equipment gone. .

”... and there at the portage who should I run into but Tim Carberry. Last time I saw him was in Rouyn, back in twenty-four. He hollers at me, ‘Why, you old. . . ’ ” “. . .I’ll check to the pat hand. .

“. . . they wanted me to give them an option on the whole group for five hundred dollars cash, but I told them to go take a flyin’ leap into the lake. . .”

. .1 remember one day back in the Porcupine—it happened way back in the summer of 1911. .

And so on, as men’s talk in mining camps will go for ever and for ever. Jellicoe is a mining camp now.

It’s a jumping-off place for the Sturgeon River country and busi-

ness is booming. Sturgeon River has stolen the show in gold mining’s biggest year. Sturgeon River, a tortuously winding stream that flows from its headwaters above Lake Superior in a devious northwesterly direction until it reaches Lake Nipigon, has leaped from obscurity into fame as the scene of a real old-time stampede with modem improvements.

Perhaps time and subsequent discoveries and development will link them together, but the Long Lac field, which dates back to 1931, and the Sturgeon River field are distinctly separate areas at the moment. The Long Lac country, from which Sturgeon River has annexed the spotlight in the 1934 gold show, lies south of the Port Arthur branch of the C.N.R., eastward from Jellicoe to Long Lac station. The Sturgeon River country lies north of the tracks from Jellicoe to Lake Nipigon. The town of Jellicoe, therefore, is at the junction of two goldfields in a mineralized belt that apparently sweeps in a southeasterly direction from Lake Nipigon to Big Long Lac.

The Long Lac area, with specific emphasis on the Little Long Lac country—for there are two Long Lacs—deserves a story to itself and I hope to tell that story in a subsequent article.

Seldom in Canadian mining history has a new area been staked so solidly and so swiftly as has the Sturgeon River field. In a wide belt extending from the railway bridge to Lake Nipigon, it has been staked without a break since June. And now tons of supplies and equipment are pouring into the field by air and water transport, drilling and sinking programmes are proceeding on a score of properties, exploration work is advancing on dozens more, options are being snapped up by old-line gold companies and syndicates, the activity attendant on proving the new field is going into high gear and all is set for a big winter around Jellicoe.

From sad experience I can testify that it is a risky business to come out in print with any claim that so-and-so was the authentic founder of any camp. There is always some oldtimer to get up on his hind legs in meeting and loudly assert that he staked claims there back in the eighties—or earlier. In the course of a few days around the Ixing Lac country in September 1 was confidentially told the authentic, inside stories of the original Long Lac and Sturgeon River discoveries, by no less than seven sincere informants who not only contradicted each other but wrarmly chided me for my folly in even listening to the other authentic and inside yams.

The Discoverers

TT IS THE writer’s job to sift the wheat from the chaff and spot a liar half a mile aw-ay on a sunny afternoon, but when everyone is obviously honest in his belief that his is the one and only true story, the difficulties become more than a little confusing.

Prospectors are salt of the earth, as a class, but they are as jealous of their credit for new discoveries as a movie star is jealous of his billing. And small wonder. It’s a rough life and a hard life. When you have slogged through muskegs and run white water and packed over portages and endured black flies, frostbite, disappointment and even hunger for a dozen years or so, it’s a bit exasperating to make a strike at last and then read a new's story that calmly hands the credit to some fellow ufho came into the picture three months

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later. On the other hand, good prospectors aren’t inclined to push themselves into the foreground and talk about themselves to newsgatherers.

Up in the Sturgeon River country, however, there seems to be a reasonable degree of unanimity on these points, which may be of historical interest some day if the new camp lives up to half the predictions being made on its behalf.

Jack Green and Greg Brennan, of Tashota, discovered gold on the Sturgeon River in 1931.

Rene Maloney and Charlie Taylor, of Haileybury, started the present rush in May of this year.

Prospectors who had been in the district more than thirty years ago had completely overlooked the gold occurrences. It is an amazing fact that iron locations were staked in both the Little Long Lac and Sturgeon River areas several decades before the present gold finds. The Little Long Lac Mine, now on the verge of gold production and the most promising projierty in the Thunder Bay district to date, was actually staked as an iron prospect years ago and abandoned.

Jack Green and his partner, Greg Brennan, went down the Sturgeon River in 1931, at about the time “Hardrock” Bill Smith was making the first gold discovery in the Little Long Lac country. Green and Brennan camped at Twin Falls and staked claims about half a mile north of the river. They panned gold on the property, did some assessment work and then moved on.

No one was particularly interested in the Sturgeon River area until this year, when Maloney and Taylor decided to prospect around the country where Green and Brennan had made their find. Taylor has prospected around Tashota and Kowkash, north and south of the Transcontinental, for several years and had been one of the first men into Little Long Lac, directly on the heels of “Hardrock” Bill Smith.

Early in May, before the ice was really out of the river, the pair pushed out from the railway bridge at Mileage 34 U>, about seven miles east of Jellicoe, and wrent down the Sturgeon River by canoe. They were travelling together but working for separate interests—Maloney for Karl Springer Explorations, and Taylor for Walter Segsworth and associates of Toronto. They are both young fellows, Maloney in his early twenties and Taylor in his early thirties.

“We had to break ice here and there on the river to get through,” Taylor told me. “Snow was still heavy in the green bush, so heavy in fact that we had to confine our prospecting to the burnt lands.”

It was in one of these old “burns” that Taylor made a find on May 17, about two miles south of the river, when he discovered a rusty quartz vein that showed good coarse gold at the first panning. Around this find the eastern part of the new field was subsequently staked.

Taylor and Maloney went on to Twin Falls, where they looked at the original Green-Brennan find and panned gold from small seams for a distance of nearly a mile on each side of it. There was gold in the country, no doubt of that, but they were looking for something bigger than they had yet seen. So they camped at Twin Falls and prosjiected north.

By agreement, Maloney swung around in a circle to the westward while Taylor went north and circled toward the east.

Maloney was on his way back to camp that night when he accidentally swung his pick into a clump of moss. It rang like a bell—the ring of steel on quartz. Maloney stripped away some of the moss and uncovered a vein. More moss was tom away. The vein was seven feet wide and well mineralized. He was pop-eyed with excitement, broke off samples and headed, shouting, for camp.

One of the samples was crushed and pan-

ned. A spoonful of coarse pale gold settled j to the bottom of the pan.

“Great glee in camp that night,” re| marked Taylor succinctly. “Even the roar ! of the falls couldn’t put us to sleep: we were i so excited. Next day we were up early and ! started staking.”

They staked six claims each for their resj pective interests, and then went back up river to Jellicoe to report by mail to their 1 principals. A prospector who has just made a find can be as communicative as a tongue! tied clam, and when Maloney and Taylor I started back down the river again with more ; supplies they thought they had kept their secret well.

How the Rush Began


4 American who made the first find in Little Long Lac, saw them pulling out of Jellicoe and began to wonder. There was j something in the wind, he figured; so he got i his partner, Art Cockshutt, and they set out in pursuit. This is a fair example of exactly how a gold rush is born. Smith and Cockshutt spent six days on the river trying to locate the camp of Taylor and Maloney. It wasn’t until he found a shipping tag on a portage that Smith knew he was on the right track. Taylor had erased his name from all the shipping tags on the supplies, but Smith used his mineral glass and managed to decipher the name.

Later Smith and Cockshutt found a canoe near Twin Falls, went ashore and merrily proceeded to track Taylor and Maloney two miles through the bush, marching in on the astonished pair in camp with jovial if unprintable remarks on the absence of a blazed trail.

It doesn’t take long for news to spread in the prospecting fraternity. Two hours later i came Karl Springer, coming in on the strength of Maloney’s report. The parade was on. Behind Springer came Alex Mosher, Anson Cartwright, Murray Watts, Bill Ferguson—“and many others,” as they say in the social columns. The first plane reached the Sturgeon River country when “Doc” Oakes and Austin Dumond flew in to a small lake three miles away. This was during the first week in June, and dozens of prospectors were taking part in the staking bee before the middle of the month.

The Sturgeon River rush, in its early j stages, was unusual in that nearly everyone made promising finds. The discoveries were not confined to any one locality, but continued to north and south along the length of the river. So numerous were the veins that old-timers were reminded of the Porcupine. The most spectacular find was made by a prospector named Tom Brown, who uncovered a narrow but long and richlooking vein near Bamum Rapids in midJuly; and when news of this got out, the Sturgeon River trek jumped out of the ordinary rush class. It hit stampede proportions. Prospectors poured in. The recording office at Port Arthur found its facilities heavily taxed to handle the new rush of business. By September the staff had been increased three times. Hundreds of mining licenses were issued, hundreds of claims were recorded. The air hummed with stories of new strikes, deals, options, purchases, disputes and all the rest of it.

At first the staking followed the river in a belt four miles in width. Then the prospectors began going farther afield and the belt widened. A find was made at Windigokan Lake, to the south of the Sturgeon River, and there was a stampede in that direction.

At this writing the ground has been staked solidly to Lake Nipigon, the stampede has swept into the country on the west side of the lake and is still rolling on. Jellicoe, tw'dve miles away as the crow flies, found itself headquarters of the Sturgeon River stampede, with prospectors flocking

j in from all parts of Canada, tents being j pitched, every inch of accommodation at a premium, trains crowded, supplies rolling in by every freight. Powerful old-line mining companies set a temporary stamp of approval on the field by snapping up options on j promising ground. So far as the general 1 public was concerned, news of the stampede j did not really brfcak until the middle of September, when the story hit the front pages and launched the inevitable flux of amateur prospectors who couldn't distinguish diabase from conglomerate, the alert businessman anxious to get in on the ground floor of a new camp)—and the unemployed. Scores of them .tumbling off every freight train.

The airplane, of course, has played a big part. Machines were making as many as fifteen flights in a day, winging men and supplies to the little lakes near the river. The airplane, in fact, has been a necessity, because the Sturgeon does not adapt itself ! to water freighting save by canoe. The river is rough, tough and nasty in spots, with ! at least two notably bad rapids that have j already taken a big toll of groceries and j equipment. Several freighters have dumped, i and many ardent gold seekers have had a ! ducking. Fortunately the stream has ; claimed no lives so far.

It is told of Jock McFarlane—no relation —that when he went overboard in one of the rapids and was swept downstream he managed to cling to a rock, waist-deep in riotous white water, whereupon his first concern was for the safety of his money, which was getting wet and might become soggy and even unfit for further use. So Jock carefully put his wad of currency on the rock. A little later, happening to glance down, he was horror-stricken to see that the vagrant waves washing over the rock had already snatched away the greater part of his roll. Jock managed to save the rest of the money but the shock had been so great that he came l>ertlously close to heart failure, and the incident is therefore recorded as the nearest approach to a river fatality in the history of the stampede. I do not vouch for the truth of this story, for prospectors have a way of embroidering and improving upon folklore as it is passed along, and the association of a Scotsman and an upset canoe may have appealed too strongly to the imagination of some blithe narrator with a penchant for hitting at the Scot.

Development is Beginning

TT IS TOO EARLY to make predictions about the Sturgeon River area. It is a tradition of our craft that when you write about mining you are dealing with material containing quite as much potential dyna-

mite as religion or politics. Every prospector thinks his own show is the best in the field and that the new field is the greatest of them all. Their enthusiasm is apt to be contagious. Nobody looks sillier than a mining writer who has tossed his hat in the air over some new discovery, with shrill yips about “a new Klondike” or “another Kirkland Lake,” only to have the bubble burst with a dull pop. Mob psychology plays a big part in gold rushes and values become distorted in the general frenzy. Conservatism should be the watchword of the unbiased writer, lest he too should become caught up in the swirl and left on the rocks of disillusionment along with a few thousand mining-stock investors who took him at his word.

There will inevitably be wildcatters floating promotions, with no more than the magic label “Sturgeon River” to catch the eye of the credulous. No new camp need resent the publicity that includes this warning, for if Sturgeon River has the goods it cannot be held from its destiny by all the wildcatters on earth. There have been many discoveries and many of the finds hold great promise. The actual staking of claims, however, has been the chief occupation of the summer, and only on some of the major finds has there been any surface development of consequence. This winter will see establishment of many permanent camps and inauguration of numerous diamond-drilling and shaft-sinking programmes. Day in and day out, airplanes are bringing in tons of lumber, machinery and other equipment to all parts of the field. When snow falls, activity will come to the bewildered hamlet of Nezah, a few miles west of Jellicoe, from where an old lumber road is being extended into the mining area in the expectation of handling possible future traffic.

Experienced prosectors made the finds. Experienced mining men are on the ground. Exerts representing some of the biggest mining companies in Canada will be engaged in the work of proving the edibilities of the new field. Ample capital is available and plenty of money is being sect. Should the camp reach the production stage, it is within easy access of ewer and transportation facilities. Development difficulties, if promise on the surface is borne out by results below the ground, are negligible as cornered with the problems that have confronted other mining camps. Sturgeon River has passed through the first phase of every new field—the rush stage. It now enters the next. A year hence, will Jellicoe be a thriving town looking forward to a rich future or will it have settled back to slumber again after a golden dream? Who can tell? The rocks and the bed of Sturgeon River hold the answer.