LONG LAC LOOMS UP . . .
How Long Lac Escaped Notice
“Why is it”, the sceptical layman may ask, “that it is only now that the long-suffering public are hearing about this Little Long Lac business?”
The answer is to be found, partly in the roots of Ontario’s mining history, and partly in the financial chaos which has prevailed throughout the greater part of the civilized world.
When gold was first discovered in Madoc Township, in eastern Ontario a flood of prospectors fresh from the Californian and Australian fields swept over that portion of the country and made new finds. As the years went by the margin of discovery was pushed northward until the Porcupine and Kirkland Lake sections developed into Ontario’s premier developments. Eastward to Rouyn and westward to the Michipicoten section goId mines sprang into being. The Long Lac district remained on the further reaches, an unexplored treasure land.
About the same time as the Richardson discovery in Madoc Township Peter and Donald McKellar of Fort William made their find at the old Huronian property in Moss Township which is now being operated as the Ardeen which is 65 miles north-west from the Head of the Lakes. The McKellars’ strike began a boom in mining circles which extended to Kenora in the Rainy River section and gave rise to numerous operations held by individuals and small incorporated companies. And still Long Lac’s potential wealth lay locked in Nature’s storehouse.
First Reports Not Encouraging
Probably another reason why prospectors did not pursue their golden dreams into the Long Lac district was the not very encouraging reports made by the various geologists and explorers who made hurried trips through the region by means of the old canoe routes that the Indians had established to the various trading posts around the James Bay slopes.
Dr. A. P. Coleman, that grand old dean of geologists, in reporting to the provincial Bureau of Mines on an exploration trip in search of iron in the territory east of Lake Nipigon made this comment in 1909 on Long Lac:
“When the railway is completed (Canadian Transcontinental9, now Canadian National) and the temporary traffic connected with its construction is at an end, there will be only the dwindling Indian trade to justify the existence of the two stores (Hudson’s Bay and Revillon Freres) unless white settlers come in, which seems improbable in a region so widely covered with swamps and muskegs”.
As recently as 1917 A. G. Burrows in reporting to the Provincial Bureau of Mines held out little encouragement for the prospector to explore the area around Long Lac and Little Long Lac. He states: “During an examination of this area no deposits of economic value were observed along the route followed. One is struck by the scarcity of rock of a porphyritic character which are so prominent in areas like the Porcupine and Kirkland Lake, and which have proved of importance for the occurrence of gold.” Later on in his report he states: “No geological work has been done in the country west of Little Long Lac almost as far as Jellicoe.”
Several other geologists gave a little more encouragement. Percy Hopkins has given the area much personal attention in the field and has been one of the most active figures in the camp’s development from Beardmore east to Little Long Lac.
Little wonder that prospectors were just a little chary of expending their time and money to nose into a country where the reports were so lacking in encouragement. All the more credit is due to the faith and persistence of Mr. Joseph Errington, M.E., head of the Little Long Lac operation, who took the gamble at long odds and won out in a spectacular and gratifying manner10.
The Effects of the Crash of ’29
Undoubtedly the financial debacle of 1929 is in some measure responsible for the heightened activity which is apparent in gold mining circles in general and Little Long Lac district in particular.
When as a result of the chaos of ’29 the peer and the squire in Merrie England awoke one morning to find their morning ham and eggs garnished with the news that England had gone off the Gold Standard, mining companies all over the world wavered in momentary doubt as to the final effect on the price of gold. Eventually, as gold was revaluated at a higher price per ounce, prospectors and geologists took heart and once more resumed the everlasting hunt for the glittering metal. Old properties which were formerly unprofitable took on a new complexion. The established fields were fine-combed for paying locations. New districts were sought out and staked. What could be more logical than that the experienced knights of the pick should turn their attention toward the virgin vastness of the Long Lac area?
Kowkash Discoveries Paved the Way
If the full truth is to be told prospectors working eastwards from the Kowkash11 mining division, sixty miles to the west, that really paved the way for the Little Long Lac show.
In E. V. Neeland’s report on the “Exploration of Northern Ontario” made to the Ontario Department of Crown Lands in 1900 he blazed the way for the prospector when he said: “The most promising district is the country on the Kawa-kash-kagama River below the Wawong portage. Several samples from small quartz veins showed traces of gold and it might be that careful prospecting would be rewarded.”
In 1915 a spectacular discovery of gold was made by E. W. King-Dodds in this very area nine miles north of Kowkash near Howard Falls12. Dodds made his discovery while walking over the rocky hill below Howard Falls which had been burned clean the previous day. The news of the find caused a rush of about 400 prospectors to the neighborhood and 75 or 100 claims were staked within three weeks.
As a result of this rush mines were eventually established, chief of which was the Tashota13 which is still in operation. Others are the Casey-Summit, whose rich orebodies are to-day attracting considerable attention: the McMillan; the Dik-Dik14 and the Johnson-Nipigon.
Later Discoveries Nearer Long Lac
A year after Dodds’ rich strike, Burrows, the provincial geologist, while crossing the Canadian National Railway one mile west of Jellicoe15, sampled a vein he found in a railway cut and found it to contain $4 in gold. This point is only about 45 miles west of Little Long Lac Mine16. It was not until 1928 that claims were staked for gold in this area by Powers and Silam south of the railway at Mileage 191/2 which led to a staking rush17. By 1929 the whole area was staked from Warneford18 to Blackwater Lake along the railway and over a width of 3 to 5 miles.
This new rush led to the establishment of the Newmont (Beardmore): Buffalo-Beardmore19 and Northern Empire20 developments. Buffalo-Beardmore has advanced to the stage where the owners are now planning a 150-ton mill.
Kowkash Old Timers in on Long Lac
Robert Wells and Tom Johnson, two of the prospectors who figured in the Kowkash rush, are now actively engaged in developments at Little Long Lac. Contrary to Greeley’s admonition to go west21, they found their pot of gold at the eastern end of the rainbow.
There is little doubt that by 1940 Little Long Lac and environs will be a producing camp of magnificent proportions. Transportation presents but little difficulty. Plenty of electric power is available. The personnel of practically every organization in the field is made up of thoroughly experienced mining men of high calibre. Best of all, indications of the presence of commercial ore are undisputable. The Little Long Lac area is the Ontario mining scene par excellence. Watch Little Long Lac and its neighbor areas grow!
(end of series)
9 The “Canadian Transcontinental” mentioned by A.P. Coleman was the Canadian Northern Railway, completed in 1915. It ran through Longlac all the way to Port Arthur, now Thunder Bay. In the early ‘20s, it became part of the Canadian National Railways system.
10 Tom Johnson and Tony Oklend discovered the Little Long Lac mine in late June 1932. Johnson telegraphed an urgent request to his prospector buddy, Percy Hopkins, in Toronto. Hopkins jumped on the train, saw the discovery, and made a handshake deal for ten percent if he should find a financial backer. Hopkins called in S.J. Fitzgerald and Joseph Errington, M.E. (Mining Engineer), the highest-ranking executives of Sudbury Diamond Drilling Co. Errington arrived on the scene by early August. The author describes the transaction in his book . . . And the Geraldton Way:
“So it was that on August 8th, 1932, three bush-stained men gathered around a smouldering wood fire in a tiny clearing on the south shore of what soon be called Barton Bay on Kenogamisis Lake. Squatting on logs, Joseph Errington, financier, and Tom Johnson and Tony Oklend, mine-finders, engaged in solemn conversation. Presently heads nodded in agreement, and the eldest of the three, Errington, fumbled in his pocket and produced a scrap of paper and a pencil. Deliberately the president of Sudbury Diamond Drilling Company scribbled a memorandum. In exchange for a ninety percent interest in the claims, the Company would pay the prospectors $50,000. Errington promised to pay them a $2000 installment and to deliver them the option papers by August 13th. He kept his promise.
In the fall of 1932, the drills proceeded to outline an ore body. The news of the discovery would spark a staking rush of an intensity and a magnitude that can scarcely be described.”
11 Kowkash was a station on the National Transcontinental Railway (NTR) between Armstrong and Nakina. After 1919, the NTR became part of the Canadian National Railways (CNR) system. Kowkash is a diminutive form of Kawashkagama, the river than runs north and crosses the railway east of Kowkash.
12 The Howard Falls occurrence is located north of the railway on the Kawashkagama River. Interestingly, Percy Hopkins described the vein just after its discovery: “The [quartz] vein has been traced 100 feet, over which it will average three inches in width . . . An abundance of free gold occurred for four of five feet along the vein . . .”. In 1916, a shaft was sunk to a depth of 56 feet. As is the case in most prospects, no mine ever developed.
13 The Tashota mine was discovered in 1923 south of Kowkash and Tashota, points on the northern line of the CNR. It finally began producing in 1935 under the name Tashota-Nipigon mine. Next door was property owned by Tom Johnson, called the Johnson-Nipigon occurrence, which never developed into a mine.
14 Tom Johnson discovered the Dik-Dik mine in 1931 (later renamed the Orphan mine). It is located on the north shore of Atigogama Lake, some miles south of the Tashota mine. The Dik-Dik is also north of the railway siding called Kinghorn, after which the CNR’s Kinghorn Subdivision is named. The Dik-Dik began production in 1935.
15 This showing in a railway rock cut, one mile west of Jellicoe on Blackwater Lake, is hardly significant. No mine ever developed within miles of it.
16 This mileage marker makes no sense. Ignore it.
17 This mileage marker makes sense if one is measuring from Jellicoe westward, because 19.5 miles west of Jellicoe is the location of the Northern Empire mine, and another mile beyond is Beardmore. There is some disagreement about the date, for T.G. Powers and P. Silam made the strike in 1925 which eventually became the Northern Empire.
18 Warneford is the CNR siding almost 3 miles west of Beardmore. So the area from Warneford to Jellicoe was heavily staked. As a matter of interest, in the Warneford area, Eddie Dodd staked the claim in the early ‘30s where he alleged he found the famous Viking relics. And Ted Elliot, the writer of this article for Gold, was the man who brought the existence of the relics to public attention in 1936.
19 The Buffalo-Beardmore “mine” was a promising prospect in 1934, but the company was incorporated as Buffalo-Beardmore Gold Mines Ltd. only in 1935. The next year a shaft was sunk, and sporadic work performed for some years, but no gold was ever produced. As a side note, a few years ago, the author and a geologist examined the property, located 2 miles southwest of Beardmore. I suggested we spread out to cover more ground, but the geologist nixed that proposal. “Stick to the trails and paths,” he said. “I don’t know where the shaft is.” With a misplaced step, an explorer could find his foot stepping into thin air. I always remember that advice when exploring old mining properties.
20 The company was incorporated as Northern Empire Mines, Ltd., in 1932, and went into production on March 14, 1934. The Little Long Lac mine poured its first brick on December 17, 1934. The Tashota and Dik-Dik mines started production in 1935. So, the Northern Empire was the first gold producer in the Little Long Lac, the Sturgeon River, and the Kowkash Gold Areas.
21 “Go west, young man, and grow up with the country!” is attributed to editor Horace Greeley of the the New York Tribune in the late 1800s. It was uttered at a time when the American West was seen as a land of opportunity as it emerged from the frontier phase. Canadians harboured must the same aspiration for the Canadian West.
01h Little Long Lac mine in 1936, looking southwest to the shore of Barton Bay, Kenogamisis Lake. View from the causeway and bridge that cross the bay and link the mine with Geraldton by road. Greenstone History Collection.
Masthead of Gold Magazine
01i Sketch map to key in location of the gold camps in Northwestern Ontario. Gold Magazine August 1934.
01j Edgar J. Lavoie’s book published in 1987.
01k 1916 Vol. 25, Part 1, “Kowkash Gold Area”, p. 288, Ontario Department of Mines.
01l Sketch map of Sturgeon River Gold Area. Gold Magazine August 1934.
01m Northern Empire mine looking east in 1933. The crusher and mill tumble down the hill to the railway tracks. The waste slurry is conveyed to the Blackwater River.
01n View of the Dik-Dik shaft area on August 18, 2009. If it weren’t for the fencing, someone who is bushwhacking could suddenly step into thin air. Author’s Collection.
01o Photo montage from Maclean’s magazine article, “Sturgeon River Stampede”, November 15, 1934.
Map of Little Long Lac, Sturgeon River, and Kowkash Areas