THE MURDERED MIDAS OF LAKE SHOW
A Maclean's FLASHBACK
ON JULY 8 in 1943 Sir Harry Oakes, Bart., was found murdered in his bed in Nassau, the Bahamas. The killer had beaten him about the head and then dumped insecticide over the bedding and set fire to it. When the body was found it was only partially burned but the fan that whirred quietly in the room had blown feathers from the ticking all about and they floated in the hot sticky air, clung to the charred corpse and settled lazily on the bedside table beside the false teeth and a can of foot powder.
It was a particularly grisly murder and it shocked the effete little British colony. When Sir Harry’s son-in-law was indicted for the crime the Press moved in. Details of the murder and the trial which followed crowded war news on front pages in four countries. There were pictures of Oakes, Eunice, his wife, and pretty, dark Nancy—their oldest child—who had married Marie Alfred Fouquereaux de Marigny against her parents’ wishes. There were pictures of the accused De Marigny, of the other four Oakes children, Sydney, William Pitt, Shirley and Harry Philip, of pinkplaster Westbourne, his home, where the crime had taken place, of the half dozen or so other estates Oakes maintained in the Bahamas, and of the two detectives summoned from the States by the Duke of Windsor (then governor of the colony) to solve the murder scientifically.
Special correspondents reported that Freddie de Marigny liked the crooning of Jean Sablón, but liked opera better, that Lady Oakes sipped medicine during her testimony and that Nancy and her husband had a festive dinner complete with champagne the night Freddie was acquitted of his father-in-law’s murder.
It made wonderful copy—spectacular, bizarre, exactly to the public taste. Furthermore Oakes had been as colorful a figure as anyone could wish and his life just as spectacular and bizarre as his death.
For he had prospected the globe, Kalgoorlie to Baja, for 15 hard years to bring in at the end of it Lake Shore, second biggest gold mine in Canada; he had scratched six years for funds to develop the mine he’d staked, and wound up ranking with Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan.
He spent more than half his life in rawhide boots and lumberjack shirts, slept in caves and lean-tos and pup tents, trenched and single jacked and swung an axe, shared quarters with rattlesnakes and fought black flies. Before he died he bought his suits on Savile Row and his underwear from Sulka, had mansions in Kirkland Lake, Niagara Falls, Bar Harbor, London, Sussex, Palm Beach, as well as the estates in the Bahamas.
He spent hundreds of thousands on philanthropies and pet projects if he got the idea himself. He hated anyone who fattened off his fellowmen. He hated, too, being told what to do with his own millions.
He was a short (5’6}4") violent man, charged with energy. The pictures printed when he died showed him thickset and heavy in his expensive suits, with a massive head and a shock of pepperand-salt hair. At 68 he still had the tight, the almost coiled, look about him he’d had when he was lean and muscular. The insistent brown eyes
A man who wants gold has got to fight for it. Harry Oakes fought the black-fly bush, and disappointment and then the financiers. He won his gold and all that it can buy. But he found that didn’t include happiness
may have had something to do with it. People still can’t agree about him but they never could ignore him.
He was born plain Harry Oakes on December 23, 1874, in Sangerville, Maine. In 1892 his father, a well-to-do CPR civil engineer, sent him to Bowdoin College, at Brunswick, Me., to take medicine. Harry switched to straight arts after he discovered a doctor’s average annual income was $3,000. When he graduated he announced: “I’m going to find a gold mine and make my fortune.”
He marked time briefly as a Carter Ink Company agent. He hated it. In 1898, the year of the Klondike gold rush, he headed north.
For the next 13 years he trudged across the world and back wherever there was gold. After the Yukon he prospected in Alaska, Manila, Australia, New Zealand and Death Valley, California. In between he surveyed, farmed, took contracts for crosscutting, shaft sinking and timbering—anything to rustle a grubstake to keep goihg.
All he got out of it was anecdotes. He would buttonhole friends for the rest of his life and tell them about the time he and his Danish partner were blown ashore in a sailboat on the coast of Siberia and arrested by Cossacks, or the hot noon in Colorado he crawled into a cave for a siesta and awakened cheek-by-jowl with a nest of rattlers.
The yams became part of the Oakes legend, along with all the stories—contradictory and often half-fabricated--woven around him by others. There are at least four versions of his first appearance in the Kirkland Lake camp, where he eventually made most of his millions.
Gold Gleamed in the Snow
Some say he picked Swastika at random off a map; some that he was thrown off the train when he couldn’t pay his fare. Others claim he headed there deliberately after thoroughly casing the area. Still others tell that he fell in with George Tough on the train to Kapuskasing and got off when he did in order to finish a bottle of Scotch.
At any rate he got there. He headed north from Death Valley when he heard of the silver strikes at Cobalt and the gold strikes at Porcupine and he got off at Swastika—five miles southwest of littleknown Kirkland Lake—in June, 1911. He had about $3.
Over dinner that first day in Swastika he announced flatly that he was going to make a one-man mine—a mine financed and brought to the dividend stage by the staker. The development of a mine is a specialized problem in finance that most prospectors don’t want to tackle. They told Oakes he couldn’t do it. That was enough to spark the obsession that drove Oakes for 24 years.
He attached himself to Tom and George Tough’s camp but prospected alone. It’s rough country, with muskeg, slash and black flies where a man once died in the camp after being chewed raw by flies. But Oakes was hard-bitten and a good bushman.
He worked east from Dane and north to Lake Victoria. He also checked in at the Matheson recording office on the standing of some early claims at Kirkland Lake. Bill Wright, pioneer of the camp and later financial backer of the Toronto Globe and Mail, had struck gold there, in the first
find of what is now the rich Wright-Hargreaves Mine. The district looked good.
George Tough learned that the claims would fall open at midnight January 7, 1912, and decided to restake them. On the night of the seventh George got Harry Oakes out of bed and into five pairs of pants. It was 52 below. They started off briskly, staked Ihe five claims they wanted, plus six more, and thereby nosed out Bill Wright who arrived by freight from Matheson at 4 a.m.—too late.
The five claims made up Tough-Oakes Gold Mines and awoke the first real interest in the Kirkland Lake camp. With Jack Tough, another brother, they began shoveling aside snow and moss to look for the Wright-Hargreaves extension. Within three days they found rock with strings of gold on one side and a lump as big as a 5c. piece on the other.
But Oakes wasn’t there that day. He had gone down to Maine to peddle the claims for $1,200. None of them knew anything about mine development and the idea was to stake, sell out and get money to go on prospecting. The Toughs called Oakes back and kept on working. One Sunday in April—the same week an English engineer said they’d never have a mine—George backed in under
a spruce tree to sit out a shower and stumbled on a second vein. Oakes wasn’t there that day either. He got back at night from Haileybury.
They started sinking a shaft. Suddenly they hand-drilled into high-grade ore. They bagged it, hauled it out by canoe and team, and freighted it to a New Jersey smelter. In 1913 they shipped ore averaging $440 a ton C$8.97 a ton was average gold ore in Ontario this May).
Oakes worked furiously in camp but a lot of the time he was in Cobalt trying to wangle backing, or in Maine hitting his family for all they could spare. They always came through. Oakes gave them stock in return.
He was still prospecting, too. He had his eye on the south shore of Kirkland Lake, to the west of Wright-Hargreaves. Through the summer of 1912, in company with Ernest Martin, he prospected the area. The pair got discouraged enough to talk of giving up and going to California.
One day in July, while Harry was in Haileybury, Ernie chipped at a quartz outcropping that ran down into the lake. When Harry walked in from Swastika Ernie said he’d found free gold.
Harry Oakes may have brought in two mines, as the story goes, but in Continued on page 47
Continued on page 47
Continued from page 13
neither case was he around to make the initial discoveries.
Their strike that day was the start of the fabulous Lake Shore Mines which by the end of 1949 had produced $221,629,784 worth of gold and by March, 1950, had paid $100,300,000 in dividends.
Oakes recorded two claims and wangled the option on an adjoining one for $100. These three, plus a claim staked by Bill Wright and a fraction of 10 acres, made up Lake Shore.
Lake Shore wasn’t just a mine to Oakes; she was his love. He was to find that the love affair demanded sacrifice, devotion, faith, works—and money.
The ore at Tough-Oakes was spectacular but spotty and Oakes decided to get everything he could out of it to plow into the new mine.
Clem Foster, pioneer of the Cobalt silver camp, was brought in and sent off to England to sell stock. The shenanigans that followed make a handbook on chess look simple. The sale of stock brought on a four-way litigation that tied up stock and proceeds for seven years. Because Foster had taken unto himself a secret commission for the sale Oakes insisted on fighting him through court till 1921. He finally collected $40,000 for fraud—and talked about the swindle for the rest of his life. He even sent cheap reprints of the judgment to 300 or 400 mining friends.
Harry Oakes had faith in Lake Shore but he couldn’t convince anyone else. Charles Denison, of Buffalo, wouldn’t take it for $85,000. Noah Timmins, Sir Henry Pellatt and Jack Hammell of LaRose and Pickle Crow Mines, turned it down. The grocer preferred giving outright credit to taking shares at 30c. for supplies. Oakes’ assayer wouldn’t take part of his salary in stock because he wouldn’t gamble on ore he knew was showing only $1 to $2 a ton. The mine manager did, and parlayed it into a fortune.
Oakes made sorties every week or so —to Toronto, Haileybury, Montreal, Cobalt, Buffalo—to peddle stock. He offered one of his personal shares for every two treasury shares but found few takers. In 1916 the Northern Miner ran a modest ad for Lake Shore shares at 40c. The shares are now selling for more than $12. In the 30’s they went as high as $60.
A Contract On Brown Paper
In camp Oakes worked with restless drive, fussing over development plans, building bunkhouses, a shaft house and tool house and the two-story mine office. He even landscaped the camp, leaving natural stands of birch and pine on the point. He loved trees. Some provincial forestry men arrived to cut a fire ring and he met them at the property line threatening to sink an axe into the first man to touch one of his
To the eternal problem of financing, World War I added other problems:
getting equipment, power, transportation and labor. Harry stayed at home when Bill Wright went overseas as a millionaire private. Lake Shore needed a mill. They’d been able to develop slowly through sale of stock, a lot of it to Oakes’ family, but now they needed a lump sum.
Finally Oakes caught the eye of some Buffalo financiers who already had interests in Kirkland Lake. He brought them up in a private railway car, wined them and dined them and sold them the last 500,000 shares of treasury stock at a 32 Hc.-a-share average. The agreement was signed on a sheet of brown wrapping paper.
The mill was started in 1917. The same year they finally located the No. 2 vein. This was real ore and at last in 1918 Lake Shore paid its first dividend. It has paid them steadily since— $50.15 per share to date.
There was a strike in 1919 but it was over by fall, the war was over, the mill was in operation and the mine was paying dividends. Harry Oakes had won his mine and he decided to take a trip around the world.
In 1922 he took a second world tour. This time he met tall blue-eyed Eunice McIntyre, daughter of a government servant in Sydney, Australia. She was on her way to England via Portuguese East Africa. Harry met her on shipboard, visited her sister’s home in Africa and volunteered to accompany her as far as Capetown when Eunice had to return suddenly to Australia for her father’s funeral. He didn’t get off the boat at Capetown and by the time they reached Australia they were engaged. They married that June. She was 24, he was 48.
Harry brought his bride to the Chateau on the point at Lake Shore and the children of Swastika collected money for a bouquet for Eunice. The wives of the mining men liked Mrs. Oakes fine.
Ten-cent Poker His Limit
They weren’t all as enthusiastic about Harry. He was violent and opinionated. A few of them thought he was a little mad. He would dance off in a shuffle while they were talking to him, and whistle under his breath. He flew into fits of temper and there were stories that he had fired seven men in one day because his skis had not been put where he wanted them. He had certainly got rid of every mine manager he’d had. He’d been known to spit seeds from his hothouse grapes across the room in front of dinner guests.
But he had also given toboggans to the school children at Swastika, skates to the children at Kirkland Lake and “Books of Knowledge” to both. He looked after his men well. He built a greenhouse so they could have fresh vegetables. Everything had to be the
In 1924 Oakes bought Walter Schoellkopf’s place at Niagara Falls and had it remodeled on Tudor lines. There were paneling from Cardinal Wolsley’s room at Hampton Court and a portrait of Sir John A. Macdonald, air conditioning, fireproofing, a water softening unit (the basement looked like the hold of a liner), and a swimming pool. Outside there were a five-hole golf course, a
conservatory which was being moved so it wouldn’t spoil the view of the Falls, and elaborate landscaping with lots of trees. The Oakes moved in finally in 1928. After her husband’s death Lady Oakes deeded Oak Hall to the federal government.
Harry Oakes had a gold mine, interests in several other mines, and an income of millions. He had a pretty wife and a family. He was a Canadian, naturalized in 1924. He was healthy except for the bronchitis that plagued him chronically. He didn’t smoke. He drank very little. He seldom gambled —ten-cent poker was his limit. He kept busy too. He attended directors’ meetings, played golf, went to boxing matches, got into the Chamber of Commerce, planted hundreds of trees, and traveled.
Sometimes he went for motor trips with friends, bringing the children along in another car with their governess. More often they visited the widespread estates they were acquiring— 15A Kensington Gardens in London, the shooting box in Sussex, The Willows at Bar Harbor, 131 and 151 Barton Avenue in Palm Beach. Sometimes he took the baths at Baden-Baden. Altogether he was away nine months of every year.
Although he was there so seldom he got excited about Niagara Falls. He thought of it as the gateway to Canada and had plans for moving all the factories away from the river bank and making the district into a parkland. He had already bought the Ohio Brass plant opposite Oak Hall and closed it down because the fumes got blown across to him when the wind changed.
Oakes gave the Falls the land for Oakes’ Garden Theatre, an athletic field, a parkway and a golf course. He also gave money to the Sanatorium and two days’ work to anyone who came asking for it. He would help children and anyone who tried to help himself.
But he couldn’t stand panhandlers. One of the reasons he’d come to Niagara Falls was to dodge the people who came to the mine to pester him for money. Now they followed him to Oak Hall. Cars lined the driveway so they finally had to install a gatehouse where the besieging forces could be screened. They scaled walls and accosted Oakes on his tours of the estate. He used to slip out the back way to get to the golf course unmolested. Begging letters came from Canada, Czechoslovakia, Montenegro, India, and all over.
This saddened Oakes and by and by he focused this displeasure on the government. He didn’t like being told what to do with his money.
Off to the Bahamas
He was probably the largest single contributor to the public revenues of Canada—maybe $3 millions a year. He figured he was paying $17,500 a day to live in Canada. What’s more he felt he couldn’t afford to die in Canada. Provincial inheritance tax laws provided that stocks be valued at market price on the death of the owner. Liquidation of enough stock to pay the tax could force the market down to a point where the estate would be wiped out. His family would owe the government about $4 millions, he was told.
Not only did the government take away Harry Oakes’ hard-earned money and ignore a plan he cherished for railway amalgamation, but it crossed him up about the senatorship. He backed the Liberals in the 1930 election understanding that he’d get to be a senator. The Liberals lost the election and he lost out on the senatorship.
When Mines Minister Wes Gordon phoned one night to hint that a tax
might be put on producing gold mines Oakes disclosed that he was thinking of leaving Canada.
In 1934 he wound up his affairs and took his family to England. In 1935 he resigned the presidency of Lake Shore and moved to Nassau. There is no income tax in Nassau. He kept control of the mine: holding companies and trust companies took care of that. In fact they took care of everything except his personal estate in the Bahamas.
In Nassau he started in on the same round of land acquisition, landscaping, travel and public works—a bus service and a plane service, a golf course, a polo field, work for the natives. He went shooting in Mexico or Guatemala and gave parties.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were his friends. He loaned them his estate while Government House was being prepared for residence. And he saw a lot of Harold Christie, a realestate dealer.
Chinese Checkers—Then Death
In 1937 he gave $400,000 to St. George’s Hospital in London and $50,000 more in 1939. In the King’s birthday honors that year he got a baronetcy. An enormous oil painting of Oakes in full courtier’s gear arrived at Lake Shore soon after to prove that he didn’t need a senatorship.
But even in this indolent paradise blows could fall. His eldest daughter— and his favorite—Nancy, just turned 18, ran off and married flamboyant Alfred de Marigny, Mauritian, yachtsman and chicken farmer. He was tall, lean and disillusioned-looking and it was his third marriage. Lady Oakes and Sir Harry changed their wills so that the children wouldn’t come into their inheritances until they were 30.
Sir Harry and De Marigny quarreled. One night when young Sydney Oakes was staying at the De Marigny’s Oakesappeared “like a madman” and ordered Sydney to leave. De Marigny called Oakes “a stupid old fool who couldn’t be reasoned with”; Sir Harry called him “a gigolo or worse.”
On July 7, 1943, Sir Harry had a small party. The guests played Chinese checkers until 11 p.m. then everyone but Christie, who was going out with Oakes in the morning to show some newspapermen around the new sheep ranch, left.
When Christie came in at 7 a.m. to waken Sir Harry he found him dead.
De Marigny was arrested the next day. The Crown tried to prove he’d been near Westbourne at the time of the murder. (he’d driven past it taking some dinner guests home), that hair on his arms and face was singed, and that his fingerprint was on a screen that stood by Oakes’ bed. Nancy stood by her husband through the trial. When he was acquitted she celebrated with him. She left him soon after and they were divorced in October last year.
The murderer has never been found.
Oakes’ will was filed for probate in 1944. His personal estate alone amounted to approximately $13,500,000. Lady Oakes got a third, the five children split the remaining two-thirds. Sydney inherited his father’s title. Nassau is still their home base.
Oakes lies buried at his boyhood home in Maine. At the simple funeral the local Universalist minister called him “an international figure whose vast enterprises span the continents.” There have been other epitaphs. A miner said of him, “The man that brings in one mine has written his name in Canadian history; but the man that brings in two . . .” And an old prospector said: “In a way he was like
Midas. He wanted gold so badly and where did it get him?” if