1 ̶ Wearing Two Hats
If this post sounds as if it’s not about Greenstone history, please be patient and continue reading.
On Monday evening, April 13, 2015, the Municipality of Greenstone held a public meeting at the central office to hear comments about proposed amendments to Geraldton’s Official Plan and Zoning By-laws. If you heard about it beforehand, you are one of a handful who did. It was not well publicized by the Council nor by Premier Gold Mines Limited, almost as if they were hoping very few people would show up.
Well, very few did.
I was one of the few. I attended wearing two hats ̶ that of a citizen and that of an historian.
There were actually two public meetings, one after the other. The first proposed amendment would re-zone a large swatch of land within the boundaries of Geraldton from Rural/Future Mining to Rural/Residential. The second would re-zone an enormous area from Rural (I think) to Mining (Industrial).
Re the first amendment: Premier Gold is proposing a residential subdivision on the southwestern shore of Barton Bay, Kenogamisis Lake. Premier Gold proposes 33 large lots between Old Arena Road and the shoreline, west of the residential area of Little Longlac Townsite. You can download the details here: http://1drv.ms/1JZOk5y
As a taxpayer, I sought reassurance that I would not be paying to develop the new subdivision. The Municipality is committing to running a water line to it, and to maintaining an access road. That, I was reassured, was the total financial commitment of Greenstone taxpayers.
Wearing my historian’s hat, I raised two concerns. First, just a few hundred metres from the proposed subdivision is the old Elmos mine. I will tell you more about this historic site soon. There is one gaping three-compartment vertical shaft on the Elmos property, 500 feet deep. There is not even a fence in any kind of reasonable shape to warn people away from this pit. Now, if that subdivision were actually developed, and if people were actually to choose to live there (and I have personal opinions about that), the western end of Barton Bay will see a lot of water-based recreational activity. Adults might be smart enough to avoid this area of hazards (and there is more than an open shaft which can cause injuries), but the site would be a beacon for children in kayaks or paddleboats, or racing around on snowmobiles.
Second, the whole western end of Barton Bay (and not just the old mine site) is littered with prospecting and mining artifacts. They date back to the 1930s, the era of the Little Long Lac mining camp that led to the creation of Geraldton. A very few artifacts will date back to around 1900, when prospectors were prowling the area in search of the holy grail of that era ̶ iron ore.
Premier Gold is proposing an archaeological assessment of the property it wishes to develop. The consultant recommends a Stage 2 assessment of the property which does not include the Elmos mine site. And, the consultant’s report suggests it will focus on pre-settlement evidence (i.e., evidence of the presence of Aboriginals). In response to my question, the consultant (on speaker phone, and not necessarily speaking for the company) said the archaeologist(s) would also look for mining artifacts.
I pointed out that a track trestle used to join the old Elmos mine to the south shore of Barton Bay. That timber trestle has since collapsed into the Bay, posing an additional water-based hazard.
Re the two maps accompanying this article, they are extracted from the consultant’s report. I have identified the location of the old Elmos mine with an X. You can see how close it is to the proposed subdivision. The consultant has identified “mining hazards” associated with the old Little Long Lac mine (near Hwy. 584, where the road crosses Barton Bay). The site of the old Elmos is not identified, and neither are the mining hazards associated with it, yet it is much, much closer to the subdivision than the old Little Long Lac. The consultant also refers to the underground workings of the Little Long Lac; there is no reference to the underground workings of the old Elmos that extend towards, and perhaps under, the subdivision. The report states that “no archaeological sites have been found within one kilometre of the study area” (p. 10), which suggests the Elmos mine has been overlooked.
The last image here shows the open shaft as I photographed it in November 2011.
As for the second proposed zoning amendment, from Rural (I believe) to Mining, it would re-designate two residential areas, MacLeod Townsite and Hardrock Townsite, as well as other sites. Good luck finding online either the consultant’s report or the amendment itself. As an historian I asked about the Municipality’s plans for the historic headframe of the old MacLeod-Cockshutt mine (at the junction of Hwys. 11 & 584) and the nearby relatively new Discover Geraldton Interpretive Centre. Mayor Renald Beaulieu reassured me that the headframe would be relocated (new location still undetermined), and that there were plans (as yet unspecified) for the Interpretive Centre.
One citizen in attendance asked what would happen to his residential property at Hardrock Townsite if it were re-zoned as Mining and Premier Gold did not proceed with its plans to develop a mine. There were no other questions about that proposal. I personally found it strange that no one present represented Kenogamisis Golf Club, with its magnificent 18-hole course, which would be re-zoned as Mining. Perhaps the officers have received personal reassurances. Or perhaps they didn’t know about the public meeting.
If you haven’t heard about the old Elmos mine’s very existence, you are not alone. There are hundreds of old mines (not all of them producers) and prospects (economic mineral discoveries) in Greenstone region, and no historian has yet identified them all.
You might want to monitor the Facebook group Greenstone History as the history of the region unfolds.
2 ̶ Founding of the Mine
[After the discovery of the Little Long Lac mine on Barton Bay in 1932, Tom Johnson and Tony Oklend did not rest on their laurels. Here are Johnson’s words about his next discovery: “About ten days after making the Little Long Lac find, Oklend and I went to the point on the west arm of the lake where the portage from Mosher [Lake] comes out. Finding plenty of evidence of gold, I organized a party and we staked 18 claims. Then we consolidated the claims in a group, with our eighteen claims, Paddy Barry’s claim, Archie Gilles’ claim and Charlie Ellis’ three claims making up the property. This was optioned to the Lake Maron [Marron?] company who, after doing some work and staking other claims, formed the Long Lac Lagoon Mines.”
The Elmos mine would eventually be established on the Long Lac Lagoon property. The old Elmos mine is referenced today as the Talmora Longlac, its last corporate name.]
Work to Follow the Lagoon-Mosher Deal
Finances Being Raised For Shaft Sinking on Consolidated Properties
[ from The Port Arthur News-Chronicle, 10 April 1936]
The merger of Mosher Long Lac and Longlac Lagoon, announced in this paper last Thursday, was arranged by Percy Hopkins and Tom A. Johnson, two of the originals who have had much to do with the development of the Little Long Lac field. It has yet to be approved by the shareholders of Mosher.
Finances are now being raised by Messrs. Hopkins and Johnson to permit the sinking of a shaft on the consolidated properties in order to open up these veins at depth. The site of the shaft is likely to be on the old Mosher ground, just east of the Longlac Lagoon line, where there is plenty of high ground available. Those familiar with the results of the drilling entertain high hopes for the development of a good tonnage of medium grade ore.
This consolidation will give the new company, Elmos Gold Mines Limited, outright ownership of a solid block of seventy-nine claims adjoining on the south of Little Long Lac Gold Mines. The new company has a capitalization of 3,000,000 shares of $1 par value, with 1,500,000 shares issued, all of which are to be pooled for eighteen months, except 150,000 shares which were issued for cash to complete payment for part of the properties.
Elmos Gold Mines Limited, therefore, starts business with no obligations and 1,500,000 shares in the treasury. There are camps and supplies on both the Longlac Lagoon and Mosher sections of the property. The Mosher claims are patented, and some of the Longlac Lagoon claims, and sufficient work has been done to patent a number more.
The new company’s holdings are believed to contain nearly the whole of the major fold in the structure in which the Longlac Lagoon veins are located. In the course of over 20,000 feet of diamond drilling on the Longlac Lagoon property four parallel veins were intersected a short distance apart, and several other parallel intersections were also cut. These veins lie south of the boundary of the Little Long Lac Mine, and strike approximately east and west. Some of the best intersections obtained were close to the Mosher boundary, and undoubtedly they extend into this property. Visible gold was found in a number of intersections, and conditions were, generally speaking, quite similar to those found in the adjoining Little Long Lac Mine.
[The shaft of the Elmos was sunk not in the location referenced above, on the “high ground” of the south shore of Barton Bay, but on a virtual island rising only a metre or two above high water level. The Elmos mine did become a gold producer, the eighth in the Little Long Lac gold field, but it never did produce “good tonnage”.
As you can imagine, “Elmos” is a composite word comprised of “el”, from the first syllable in “Ellis”, and “mos”, the first syllable in “Mosher”.]
3 ̶ Early Operations
Elmos Gold Mines, Limited, was incorporated in March 1936, but operations did not begin until February 1938. The mine site comprised three virtual islands in the western part of Barton Bay ̶ I say “virtual” because they were not true islands. They were all part of the mainland across from the south shore. In the beginning, the only access was by water.
Both the westernmost “island” and the central island had a shoreline on their southern sides; a marsh with no solid ground surrounded them on their western, northern, and eastern sides. The easternmost island had a marshy connection to the central island.
The company prepared to sink a shaft in 1938 on the central island. The Northern Miner stated “The shaft itself is sited on a small rock island and rock from the shaft is being used to provide location for the necessary plant buildings.” In other words, waste rock would enlarge the small island for the necessary infrastructure.
The three-compartment shaft comprised one manway and two compartments for a cage and a skip. The manway compartment provided an emergency exit via wooden ladders if the hoisting equipment failed. The cage in one compartment carried men up and down, the skip in another compartment carried ore and waste rock up and materials down. When one was going down, the other was going up. During this period, the mine employed an average of 29 men.
Buildings on the central island included a hoist house (to operate the cage and skip), a boiler house (with a steam engine to power the hoist), a compressor house (to power the underground drills and to provide miners with air), and a magazine (to store explosives). A diesel-driven generator provided electricity for the compressor. On the westernmost island (described as “the large island”), the company built a bunkhouse and cookery and a single residence.
A narrow wooden bridge (like a trestle, described as 700 feet long) connected the large island to the central island (site of the mining plant), and another bridge (1,000 feet long) connected the large island to the south shore of Barton Bay. [These distances need verification.]
The mine manager was Arthur Kendall, who as it happened also managed the Northern Empire mine in Beardmore and the Magnet mine to the west of Geraldton. The head office of the Elmos mine was at the Northern Empire. The corporate setup was as follows: Newmont Mining Corporation of New York controlled the Northern Empire mine, which in turn controlled the Elmos.
In 1939 the shaft was deepened to 544 feet, with a level at 315 feet and at 515 feet. At these levels, the miners “drifted out”, meaning they made horizontal tunnels under the lake bottom to locate and retrieve the ore. This phase of underground mining is called development. During this period, the mine employed an average of 38 men. Underground operations ceased on October 31, 1939. Miners had hoisted 2,668 tons of ore and stored them near the shaft in a “dump” (pile).
Why did operations cease? According to a thesis for a Bachelor of Science degree, the causes were “a depletion of funds and failure to find ore on the new 515-foot level”.
The next year, the Tombill mine made a bid for the Elmos property. Tombill Gold Mines, Limited, had a producing mine adjoining the Bankfield mine on the west, which in turn adjoined the Magnet mine on its west. The Tombill, discovered by the ubiquitous Tom Johnson, was named for Tom and his brother Bill. In 1940, both were directors of the Tombill mine, so it is poetic justice that Tom would sit on the board that controlled the old Elmos, a mine he had discovered in 1932. The head office of the Tombill was in Geraldton. Still, the Newmont Mining Corporation controlled 49% of the Tombill. The Tombill acquired the Elmos in early 1941, but no mining occurred on the Elmos property until 1942.
In the winter of 1941-42, the Hydro-Electric Power Commission provided power to the mine. The line ran from the south shore to the Elmos property. The Tombill installed a fifty-ton mill on the central island. (The mill was capable of processing fifty tons of ore per day.) Mining operations resumed on June 30, 1942 with W.S. Hargraft as manager. He also managed the Tombill and Magnet mines. Miners added 2,272 tons of ore to the dump. At the same time they “picked” the dump, meaning they sorted through the ore pile and put 3,947 tons through the small mill using a flotation-amalgamation process. Some pure gold was recovered, but the mill produced mainly “concentrates” (highly enriched ore), which were transported in ore cars across a new track trestle to the south shore. A document in July 1942 described “a light bridge some 400 feet long and . . . cars running on a narrow gauge track”. From thence trucks took the concentrates to the Magnet mill for extraction of pure gold by a cyanidation process. This track trestle was a new bridge connecting the south shore directly with the mining plant.
Mining reports suggest why Newmont Mining took an interest in the Elmos property. In September 1941, the Northern Empire in Beardmore shut down. In 1942, the Tombill was using the last of its ore reserves, and its mill was processing what it had on hand. So, the decision was made to recover what precious metal it had on the Elmos property in the ore dump, and to enlarge the dump with more development work. The fifty-ton mill was acquired from the abandoned Northern Empire, and the decision made to use the Magnet mill to process the concentrates.
The B.Sc. thesis states “war conditions made further operations unprofitable”, and the mine closed on November 29, 1942. One war condition was certainly the shortage of manpower during World War II. Another was the shortage of venture capital. The mine was mothballed until 1947. Meanwhile, the Elmos property came under the control of a new company, Talmora Longlac Gold Mines, Limited, which incorporated in November 1944.
4 ̶ Last Operations
Talmora Longlac Gold Mines, Limited, became a corporation in November 1944, embracing 9 claims of the former Elmos mine (acquired from the Tombill mine) and 4 adjoining claims east of the shaft from Mosher Long Lac Gold Mines, Limited. Compare the size of the property with the Elmos mine in the beginning: 57 claims.
Mining operations commenced on June 6, 1947. The underground workings were dewatered (mines left unattended fill up with water. In 1942, during operations, pumps were handling 180 gallons a minute). Miners continued drifting (tunneling on a horizontal plane outward from the shaft), crosscutting (making side tunnels), and raising (creating vertical tunnels or shafts, often at an angle). Miners hoisted 2,936 tons of ore for processing in the reconditioned mill, still on site. The mine employed an average of 22 men. W.S. Hargraft still acted as manager.
Operations continued in 1948 . Miners hoisted another 2,687 tons of ore and milled them. An average of 27 men were working. On April 30, the mine shut down. For good. In 1949, Mosher Long Lac Gold Mines took back its 4 claims, and Tombill Gold Mines acquired all remaining assets.
“Gee, it must be nice to own a gold mine, or even a piece of it.” That’s what most people think. The history of the Beardmore-Geraldton gold field must give the thinking person pause. Many mines had very short lives. In many cases, investors threw their money into bottomless pits and never saw a return. Recent history bears this out. Since the revival of gold exploration in this region in 2007, hundreds of millions of dollars have been expended and still no new mine.
The old Elmos mine had a very short operating life: 21 months in 1938-39 (with no gold production), 5 months in 1942, and 11 months in 1947-48. What did mining operations cost? We do have figures for the 11 months in 1938: $38,525.52 for plant and equipment, and $98,120.04 on underground operations. Remember that operations in 1938-39 produced no gold.
What was the return on investment? The old Elmos began producing in 1942: 1,017 oz. in gold and 36.5 oz. in silver, for a total value of $39,168.
In 1947, there is no record of production, and we can safely assume that the production of precious metals occurred in 1948. In 1948, the mine produced 398 oz. in gold and 30 oz. in silver (from a total of 5,623 tons of ore), valued at approximately $14,000. (Gold price was fixed at $35 an ounce.)
So, total production at the old Emos mine was 1,415 ounces which, along with a few ounces of silver, was valued at approximately $53,168. Compare that figure to the cost of plant and operations in 1938 alone.
Just a sidebar: In 1947, the Maylac mine (the old Hutchison Lake mine) sent some of its ore to the Talmora Longlac for milling, and the rest to the Hard Rock mine.
Another sidebar, from the B.Sc. thesis referenced earlier: “Amalgamation resulted in the recovery of only 40.232 ounces of gold, but 150.205 tons of flotation concentrate were shipped to the Noranda smelter and 358.222 ounces of gold recovered, making a total of 398.45 ounces.”
To put the production of the Talmora Longlac in perspective, in 5 years of production, the Tombill mine produced 68,739 ounces in gold and 8,595 ounces in silver. The Little Long Lac, in 22 years, produced 605,449 ounces of gold and 52,750 ounces of silver.
And the MacLeod-Cockshutt produced 1,366,404 ounces of gold and 90,864 ounces of silver in 28 years.
Yes, as a gold mine, the old Elmos was a disappointment ̶ a major-league flop. However, today the Elmos is a priceless historical asset to the Greenstone region. Besides being a cautionary tale to investors and mine developers for all time, it is a unique site. How many people in Canada ̶ hey, in all the world ̶ can point to a tiny little mine established on a tiny little island which had to be enlarged with waste rock to support itself? Okay, there is the old Silver Islet mine off the Sleeping Giant peninsula in Lake Superior. That mine is still world famous . . . even though that tiny little island has all but washed away. But how many tiny little mines on tiny little islands in all the world were connected to the mainland by a flimsy little bridge that you couldn’t even drive a horse and wagon across, let alone a truck?
Yeah, you got it. And we got it . . . here in Greenstone. And the consultants and the authorities today think that the old Elmos has no historical value. They actually say that, in print.
Go on, now . . . Think of a reason why the old Elmos mine cannot became a major attraction in Greenstone . . . in Canada . . . in all the world . . .
Okay, we’ll settle for two out of three.
5 ̶ Hazardous to This Day
Old mines can be dangerous places.
A few years ago, I accompanied a geologist to an old mine site near Beardmore. As we stood on a hilltop razed by the Great Fire of ‘99, we found some evidence of the former mine. I asked, “Okay, where’s the shaft?”
He didn’t know, he said, and he wasn’t going to walk around until he had a better idea where to look. He didn’t say this, but I know that an old shaft can be disguised by brush or weeds or by rotting planks covered with dirt. Even if you know where the shaft is, there may be spots around it that have been hollowed out by erosion, and stepping on such a spot can drop you into a chute that ends with a drop down a shaft.
I know that old mines are dangerous places, yet I am driven by an historical curiosity, and have risked my health and well being and maybe even my life in many an old mine site.
Most mine shafts have long been filled with ground water. Still, the water may be several metres down. Even if you can swim, you may strike something lethal when you fall, and even if you stay afloat, the walls will probably be too slick to allow foot- and hand-holds.
What I’m saying is, unless you have a compelling reason to explore an old mine site, stay well away.
The old Elmos mine has an open vertical shaft, gaping to the heavens, but it still took me a while to spot it. There is a lot of brush and woody debris on site. I didn’t dare creep close enough to it to determine how far down the water was. I did creep close, though, but if I’d been thinking clearly, I would’ve worn a harness and tied a rope to some tree or concrete structure before I ventured near. But I was too excited.
The Geological Survey of Ontario (aka the Ministry of Mines operating under different names) did, once upon a time, make an effort to inventory open shafts in the Greenstone region. In 1987, I published a book, Muskeg Tours, that provided an armchair tour of historic sites in the Little Long Lac gold camp. I identified and reported several open shafts. Whether due to my efforts or not, the Ministry arranged for contractors to cap many shafts with concrete slabs. However, there are still open shafts across the whole region.
At the old Elmos mine, if you look hard, you can find strands of rusty barbed wire that did once fence off the open shaft. I know of one old shaft, a few minutes from downtown Geraldton, that is covered with rotting boards and surrounded by a sagging barbed wire fence. And, my research a few years ago identified an abandoned shaft near town on a property that was being explored by stripping and diamond drills. I advised the Ministry but made no effort to actually find the pit myself. As I said, exploring old mine properties is dangerous.
At the old Elmos, the physical features include an open shaft, concrete foundations, remains of collapsed wooden buildings, a distinctive timber structure, the remains of the ore dump, a few upright sticks of the bridge that joined the central island to the large island, and something I call the causeway. The causeway projects into Barton Bay like an elongated pier. It is, of course, constructed of waste rock hoisted from underground and rock left over from the milling process. This feature is not described in any of the reports I have seen, but I surmise that, besides being a dump for waste rock, it was intended as a replacement for the track trestle if the mine had proven successful.
My recent research has disclosed that there is another shaft ̶ on the easternmost island. It is the opening to a raise. A raise can be a vertical or an inclined shaft. Reports indicate that miners constructed this raise from the 500-foot level, in stages. It was described as an escapement or escape raise. In other words, it was equipped with wooden ladders to provide an emergency exit for miners. A Ministry document, “Hazard Lands Report”, dated 1984, states “no record of closure of escape raise”. In my visit, I did not check out that easternmost island.
It appears there are two shafts that need to be prominently marked and permanently capped. In the early ‘70s, there was a lot of mining activity at the west end of Barton Bay. Remember that, circa 1900, prospectors had identified enormous iron ore potential at Little Long Lake (Kenogamisis Lake). The only access to Little Long Lake in those days was canoe; the Wright brothers had not invented flying yet, and the only east-west railway, the CPR, ran along the north shore of Lake Superior.
In the early ‘70s, Algoma Steel Corporation, Limited, of Sault Ste. Marie, decided to take a closer look at the iron formation in Barton Bay. They extracted a 300-ton bulk sample from the big island northeast of the old Elmos mine site. They intended to subject the sample to metallurgical processes to determine the milling potential. One report estimated an ore reserve of 300 million tons. Algoma Steel planned to employ open pit mining.
Well, that iron is still sitting in the ground. But, here’s how the Elmos played a role. Ministry files tell an interesting story. Algoma Steel filed a complaint with the Ministry. One of their employees “went into the hole on a skidoo”. The hole was the main shaft. The employee was “not injured [,] just scared”.
In May 1971, someone erected a barbed wire fence around the open hole.
News flash: that fence is no longer effective.
And that escape raise has never been fenced.