A Review of Early Gold and Other Mining in Canada


Presented by James Douglas Haig McCannell

James McCannell

James McCannell 2014


James McCannell is Canada’s oldest active geologist, (geochemist and engineer as well), born in 1916 in Port McNicoll.

His first mining experience was a job underground as a helper on a rock drill at the Shawkey Mines, Val D’Or, Québec in January, 1937.  While attending Western University, Mr. McCannell worked during the summer of 1939 at the East Malartic Mines Limited and the summers of 1940, ’41 and ’42 at the Malartic Goldfields as the assayer. He graduated from Western in 1943 with honours degrees in geochemistry and geology.

On September 4th 1947, Mr. McCannell joined an organization  Mining Geophysics, a private company owned by Dr. Norman Keevil, a professor of physics at the University of Toronto. Mining Geophysics had just signed a contract with Gulf Oil to carry out ground work in Canada to test the geophysical results of their new airborne magnetometer.  Mr. McCannell’s two-year contract with Mining Geophysics terminated at the end of August, 1949.  Although Mr. McCannell was offered an attractive position as a geologist with Gulf Oil, he had made up his mind to open a mining consulting practice in Toronto.  This led to some interesting contacts, both in Canada and New York City and brought him in contact with some outstanding men such as Bernard Baruch.

While working on various projects in Central America, in 1953, Mr. McCannell was invited to Nicaragua to meet the then President General Anastosia Somoza Garcia to discuss the financing of several of the General’s geological prospects. However the General was assassinated in Sept. 1956.

“Well, I’ve had quite a career in mining. I’ve worked in about 30 countries. I have the best record of any geologist I’ve ever known – for mine finding.” Mr. McCannell found the only mine in Haiti, when in 1955 he diamond-drilled under an old Spanish adit dating back to the 1800s, and found 126 feet of rich copper-zinc ore, with credits in gold and silver. He has worked in every province or territory in Canada (except PEI, which has no outcrop). “I’ve walked for thousands of kilometres through the bush all the way from the Yukon to Labrador.”

Source: Taken from “Canada’s oldest active geologist”, Western University Alumni Gazette Fall 2014.

The following article was composed and dictated by Mr. McCannell and reflects the many reports which he made for investors and mining companies. 

A Review of Early Gold and Other Mining in Canada

The following article reviews the early history of Canadian mining, particularly the period between 1934 and 1941. In that last year Canada had a total gold production of 5,345,179 ounces, but it is not clear whether this figure includes any of the gold produced as a by-product from base metal mines.  In 1941 there were 39 producing base metal mines, with 27 producing gold as a by-product.

Precambrian Shield

The most predominant geological feature with respect to mining in Canada is the Precambrian Shield. The Shield is a complex series of rocks, crystallized from the molten core of the planet, and forms the petrographic surface of over 50% of Canada.  The remainder is the western Cordillera region and the immediate Paleozoic sedimentary areas adjoining to the east.  This Cordillera forms the mountainous regions of B.C. and Yukon Territory.

Rocks forming the Precambrian Shield underlie the sediments of the western provinces and the James Bay lowlands.  In the Rocky Mountain trough on the east side of the  Cordillera, these sediments can be as much as 10,000 feet in thickness but thin out to a few feet along the front extending northwesterly from Lake Winnipeg through Lake Athabasca, Great Slave Lake and Great Bear Lake.  In the James Bay lowlands, southern Ontario and Québec as well as the Maritime provinces, the Paleozoic sediments rarely exceed 3,000 feet in thickness.

The rocks of the Precambrian Shield basically consist of a wide variety of coarse-grained granitic types, varying from highly basic peridotites to siliceous granites.  They include extensive areas of rocks that resulted from volcanism and sedimentation, as well as a wide variety of coarse-grained intrusions originating from the basement complex, and forming structures such as dykes, sills and batholiths.  The areas underlain by these later formations are referred to as greenstone belts and provide most of the host rocks in Canada for the deposits of metallic mineralization.  The Canadian Precambrian Shield and associated Cordillera regions probably provide the most attractive areas for hosting metallic minerals on this planet.


Precambrian Shield (Source: http://farm6.staticflickr.com)

  Early Gold Discoveries

The first gold discovery in Canada was made in Nova Scotia in 1858.  It created a great deal of excitement locally and several showings were quickly located; however, no economic developments of significance resulted.  Ontario’s first gold discovery was made in 1866 on a property near the village of Eldorado, north of the town of Madoc in southeastern Ontario.

In the 1890s several gold discoveries were made in British Columbia, particularly in the south-central part of the province in areas such as The Bridge River, Highland Valley and Slocan.  The event referred to as the “Trail of ‘98” was a gold rush into the Dawson area of the Yukon, resulting in a large number of small placer operations.  Although a considerable amount of gold was produced over the next few years, no major mining development was established.  In the meantime, during the mid-1890s, companies such as Pioneer Gold Mines and Bralorne Mines were developed in the Bridge River district of south-central B. C. and became substantial gold-producers for a number of years.  Mention should be made of the gold discovery in the Caribou region of B.C. in 1860, which resulted in a major gold rush, and followed the big gold rush of 1848 at Sacramento, northern California.  Many of the miners from Sacramento flocked to the Caribou.

The early discoveries of many of the mineralized deposits in Canada were accidental, such as the Sudbury Basin and Cobalt, which were a result of railway construction.  Most of the others, however, such as Porcupine and Kirkland Lake, were surface exposures only requiring the removal of a small amount of moss or glacial till.

Sudbury Basin



(Right) Sudbury Basin Geology    (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sudbury_Basin)

The Sudbury basin is the second largest crater on Earth and is thought by some to have been created by a massive comet hitting the planet 1.8 billion years ago. The basin is 100 miles in circumference, 39 miles long, 19 miles wide and 9.3 miles deep.

The large impact created a zone of weakness that allowed the planet’s inner liquid magma, containing nickel, copper, platinum, palladium, gold and other metals, to surge upward to the basin. (In fact, norite, formed with the cooling and solidification of magna or lava, is the basal igneous rock of the Sudbury Basin). Several locations along the circumference have noteworthy mineral deposits. As a result the Sudbury area is one of the world’s major mining communities.


                                           (Above) Ontario Mining Locations, 2015 (Source: http://www.oma.on.ca/en/ontariomining/resources/OntMiningOperations2014.pdf)

The first large mining development in Canada was the discovery of copper and nickel in the Sudbury area. This discovery was made in the early 1880s during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and later International Nickel (INCO) was formed.  The forerunner of INCO was the Canadian Copper Company, formed about 1890, to develop a copper/nickel showing in southeastern Ontario on a property north of Madoc.  In 1902 the Canadian Copper Company moved their operation to Sudbury and in 1916 several small companies in the Sudbury basin were merged to form the present-day INCO.



(Right) (Source: https://uwaterloo.ca/earth-sciences-museum/resources/mining-canada/mining-history-sudbury-area)



Falconbridge Nickel Mines Ltd., incorporated in 1928 and formed by Ventures Ltd., became a major mining enterprise in the Sudbury basin.  The company also carried out mining exploration and development projects in several other regions of Canada.  For many years the Sudbury basin provided 80% of the world’s nickel requirements.

The next large Canadian mining venture was the development of sulfide deposits at Trail, British Columbia, which date back to the early 1890s.  These deposits were largely lead and zinc with variable amounts of silver, tin, antimony, bismuth, cadmium, indium, and gold. Consolidated Mining and Smelting was formed in 1906 at which time it was 51.5% owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway.  The operation quickly became the largest mining and smelting operation in the world.

Silver at Cobalt

The 1904 discovery of silver at Cobalt during the construction of the Ontario Northland Railway was a major contributor to the development of the mining industry in Ontario.  Following this discovery, for the next 20 years Cobalt was generally referred to as the silver capital of the world.  This mining camp became the staging-ground for the training of a large number of mining personnel such as prospectors, promoters, engineers, geologists and miners, and they carried out their knowledge of all phases of mining to many parts of Canada.

Following the Cobalt discovery, gold was discovered in the Porcupine area in 1908 and in Kirkland Lake in 1912. Both of these camps produced several large mining operations, which made the province of Ontario a major producer of gold.  During these early years extensive prospecting was carried out in several areas, especially in Ontario, Québec and Manitoba.  Two significant results of this prospecting activity were the discovery of gold and base metals in the Rouyn-Duparquet area of Québec and in the Flin Flon area of northern Manitoba.  Both of these discoveries resulted in large mining and smelting operations.

Gold Price increase of 1934

There was probably nothing in the early history of Canadian gold mining that had a more significant effect on the industry than the increase, by the American government, in the price of gold from $20 to $35 per ounce in 1934.  Following this increase, the developments of the Canadian mining industry surged ahead with unprecedented activity.  Prior to 1934 there were approximately 17 producing gold mines in Canada, but by 1941 this number had increased to 147 operating gold mills.

More Ontario Gold Mines

Areas such as Red Lake, where prospecting had been carried out during the 1920s, had only resulted in two mines; the Howey Gold Mine at Red Lake and the Jackson-Manion Mine at Woman Lake, 35 miles to the east.  By 1937 the Red Lake area had at least 7 mines in production, including the Dickenson Red Lake, New Dexter Red Lake (later Campbell Red Lake), Madson Red Lake, Cochenour Willans, Hasaga, Starrat Olsen, and Mackenzie Red Lake.

This same excitement to increase gold production was experienced in Porcupine-Timmins, where mines such as the Hollinger, McIntyre, Dome, Coniaurm, and Paymaster had been in production for several years.  In a short period of time, a dozen additional gold mines came on stream and included the Moneta Porcupine, Preston East Dome, Aunor, Delnite, Broulan Reef, Hallnor, Pamour, as well as several other smaller operations.


(Left) “At a core shack in Hoyle Township near Timmins, Ontario, south of Pamour Gold Mine, while directing a diamond-drilling program for a claims group; June, 1968.  One of six times I proved that the presence of gold in drill core was the result of a ‘salting job’”.


In Kirkland Lake, along what was referred to as the “Golden Mile”, there were 6 operating mines, including the Lakeshore, Teck-Hughes, Wright-Hargreaves, Macassa, Sylvanite, and Toburn.  In 1934 the development spread east with producers such as Kirkland Lake Gold, Upper Canada, Omega, Kerr-Addison, and Chesterville, as well as the development of several other properties with indicated ore reserves.  By 1960 the Kerr-Addison mine had replaced Hollinger as Canada’s largest gold producer.

A known mineralized belt east of Lake Nipigon and extending 70 miles from Beardmore through Geraldton to Long Lac had been a source of prospecting interest in the past but became very active following the gold price increase in 1934.  Within 2 to 3 years, 5 gold mines came into production.  These included the Northern Empire Mining Co. Ltd., incorporated in 1932, Leitch Gold Mines Ltd., incorporated in 1935, both near Beardmore, MacLeod-Cockhusett Gold Mine, incorporated in 1933, Hardrock Gold Mine, incorporated in 1935, both near Geraldton, and Little Long Lac Gold Mine, incorporated in 1933, near Long Lac.  These five mines were the major producers but several other properties installed 100 to 150 ton-per-day gold mills in the region.  These included Bankfield Consolidated, Magnet Consolidated, Tombill and Theresa Gold Mines. New Mosher Long Lac, Roche Long Lac and Jellicoe Mines were also active, shipping ore for custom milling to local gold mills.

In addition to the main mining camps mentioned in the foregoing, widespread prospecting was carried out during the 1930s in various parts of Canada, often with positive results.  Four producing gold mines in Ontario resulting from this work were the Central Patricia Gold Mines Ltd., Pickle Crow Gold Mines Ltd., Renabie Mines Ltd. and Jerome Gold Mine Ltd. All 4 of these mines were in reasonably remote areas.

The Central Patricia and Pickle Crow Mines were located at Pickle Lake, 65 miles east of Red Lake. Central Patricia was incorporated in 1931, had a 400-ton per day gold mill and mined ore with an average grade of 1/3 ounce per ton. Pickle Crow Mines, incorporated in 1934, installed a 400-ton per day mill and started production in 1935, treating gold ore averaging 1/2 ounce per ton.  The Renabie Mines Ltd., incorporated in 1941, was located 25 miles northwest of Chapleau in the Sudbury mining division.  The company installed a 300-ton per day gold mill, later increased to 450 tons per day.  The ore body was unique in that the host rock was granite.  The ore averaged 1/4 ounce per ton.

The Jerome Gold Mines Ltd., incorporated in 1936, was located 60 miles west of Shining Tree at Opeepeesway Lake.  The company, controlled by Mining Corporation of Canada Ltd., installed a 500 ton per day gold mill but the operation was closed in 1945 with remaining ore reserves reported at 344,000 tons, grading 0.19 ounces gold per ton.  There were many additional gold prospects throughout Canada with encouraging exploration results but the interest in developing gold mines gradually faded in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  Interest in resource development at that time became much more directed toward uranium, petroleum and base metals.


(Left) “Flying in from Ignace, Ontario, in the 1970s, I prospected on several properties on Sturgeon Lake.  Once, I flew to White Otter Lake on tour, to visit nearby “Wilderness Castle”, hand-built alone by a Scotsman fulfilling his dream but who drowned and never moved in.”




(Right) “Loading my gear, tractor, and trailer in Port McNicoll for a trip to several mine sites south of Timmins, Ontario, by way of highway, logging roads and bush trails.” (1960s).


19b-002                 19a-002

(Above) “Examining old gold showings in sampling trenches near an old Lake of the Woods mining pit as consultant, so one of my promoter clients could decide whether to buy the claim. February, 1980.”

The “Cadillac Break” in Québec

Another area that received much attention resulting from the 1934 gold price increase was what was generally referred to as the “Cadillac Break” in northwestern Québec.  This structure extends east for 75 miles from Rouyn-Noranda through the towns of Cadillac, Malartic, and Val d’Or to Louvicourt Township. Noranda Mines Ltd. was incorporated in 1922, and with its associated concentrating and smelting complex, went into production in December, 1927.  The Noranda area, in conjunction with the Duparquet mining region 20 miles to the north, formed a very important mining belt.  The predominantly copper/zinc ore bodies of the entire area frequently carried very significant gold and silver values as by-products.  In addition, there were several small gold operations; for example, the McWatters Gold Mine, incorporated in 1932.


(Above, the Malartic  mining area, Québec. Source: Canadian Mines Handbook, 1959, Northern Miner Press Limited

Subsequent to 1934, the entire ‘Cadillac Break” became an extremely active scene of mining exploration and development, resulting in a number of reasonably large gold producers.  These included the O’Brien Gold Mines and the LapaCadillac Gold Mines at Cadillac, the Canadian Malartic Gold Mines, the Barnat Mines, the East Malartic Mines, the Sladen-Malartic Mines, and the Malartic Gold Fields Ltd., all near the town of Malartic.

Further to the east, there was the Shawkey Gold Mining Company, the Sullivan Gold Mines, the Greene Stabell Mines, the Siscoe Gold Mines, the Lamaque Gold Mines, and the Sigma Mines, all in the Val D’Or-Bourlmaque area.  Further east again was the Golden Manitou Mines and the Louvicourt Gold Field Corporation.


(Above) Shawkey Gold Mining Company Limited, Val d’Or, Québec; 1937





(Left) “My first (six-week) mining job rock-drilling underground blast holes with Jack MacDonald (right) at Shawkey Gold Mine; 1937”






(Right) “1937 New Year’s Eve Shawkey Gold Mine bunkhouse party”. (JM centre).



“From time to time one of my co-workers would have a musical instrument. One performance I remember was by ‘a little Frenchman’ in one of the many bunkhouses, who played several pieces on his accordion to please the various nationalities present; one of which was my favourite Scottish song ‘Road To The Isles’.”



 (Left) “In my Shawkey Gold Mine bunkhouse room, 1937, studying for Kirkland Lake high school examinations to gain extra credits required for entrance to Western University’s honour science courses”.





(Right) “Sampling at a rock trench, April, 1938, as Shawkey Gold Mine assayer”






(Left) “Assayer in 1941 for Goldfield Mine Limited near Malartic, Québec”.






 (Left) “View of temporary mining camp of Roybar Copper Mine on frozen Lake Chibougamau, Québec 1947. Ski-planes arrived and tied up at the dock.  On shore sit a heated shed piping heated water 500 feet to the diamond drill shed, and fuel drums for the drill’s gasoline engine.  The log cookery sits upper left, bunkhouse on right. I was geologist in charge of drilling for Leta Exploration, which held options on Roybar claims.”




(Right) “Crossing a 2-mile portage at Opamiska Québec in 1948, working for Mining Geophysics Company.”  Both my backpack and I each weighed 150 lbs.  I avoided summer-job students who could carry 75 lbs until they tipped the canoe 3 times.”




13a-001    13b-001

(Above) “Leaving Roberval on Lac St. Jean, Québec and arriving at Fenimore camp on Ring Lake, Québec to examine Fenimore Iron Limited’s Ungava Bay concession for an August 1952 field report.”

There were at least 500 companies formed, and exploration, including diamond-drilling, was carried out by most of them; as well several shafts were sunk, with associated underground work. The area still remains a very attractive gold exploration break.

 Early Mining in Manitoba

The principal early activity in the province of Manitoba was the discovery in the late 1920s of the copper/zinc ore bodies at Flin Flon.  The main ore body actually straddled the border between Manitoba and Saskatchewan.  The Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co. was incorporated in 1927 to develop this project, and for several years could be said to control the mining developments in the area.  The company carried out intense exploration and discovered several economic base metal ore bodies throughout the general region.  There was very little gold exploration but most of the copper/zinc ore bodies developed by Hudson Bay Mining carried appreciable amounts of gold and silver.

The San Antonio Gold Mines Ltd., located 140 miles northeast of Winnipeg, was incorporated in 1931, although it was discovered in 1911 and originally staked in 1922.  Various syndicates held the property in these early years, one of which established the first production in 1927.  Following the incorporation of San Antonio Gold Mines Ltd. a proper gold mill was installed and regular production proceeded.  The adjoining property of Forty-Four Mines Ltd. was intermittently mined by San Antonio and merged into that company about 1962.  Following 1934, prospecting was carried out in several areas of Manitoba, including God’s Lake, Wekusko Lake, Island Lake and many other parts of the province.

Yellowknife Region

The Yellowknife camp located on Yellowknife Bay on the north side of Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories, became an important gold region in 1935. Three main gold producers resulted, including Giant Yellowknife Gold Mines Ltd., incorporated in 1937. Burwash Yellowknife Gold Mines staked the original claims in 1935. The property located on the west side of Yellowknife Bay, went into production in 1938 with a grade of ore averaging between ¾ and 1 ounce gold per ton.

The Con Gold Mine owned by the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Co. of Trail B.C., was incorporated about 1936.  This mine was located a few miles south of the Giant Yellowknife and also produced a very good grade of ore.

The Discovery Yellowknife Mines Ltd., incorporated in 1945, was located 65 miles north of the Yellowknife settlement.  In addition to the 3 producing mines, there were numerous gold prospects throughout the region and several additional companies were incorporated.  Many of these companies carried out various amounts of exploration work including mapping, trenching, diamond-drilling and even shaft-sinking and underground work.

Mining Activity in British Columbia

The economy of British Columbia turned very positive in the mid-1950s with most of the interest directed at mining, forestry and indications of large deep natural gas deposits in the northeast part of the province.  Much of the new mining activity was directed to large low-grade copper deposits in the Highland Valley area between Kamloops and Merritt.  Most of the grades of the copper ores were between 0.35% and 0.5% but sometimes up to 1%.  The ore zones however were very large, often ranging up to 100 million tons, and carried small amounts of molybdenum.  Gold was not a significant by-product associated with these deposits.  The mining projects in this area included such companies as Valley Copper, Bethlehem, Lornex, Highmont, Brenda and Craigmont, to name a few.  Mining interest spread over most of B.C. in the following years with hundreds of prospects, mostly low-grade copper with some associated molybdenum and gold. The typical Cordillera topography usually made access to the various regions extremely difficult and costly.  The province will remain a very attractive mining region well into the future.





(Left) “Examining a silver showing as a private consultant retained by two Toronto Bay Street promoters interested in a prospect at Lynn Creek, British Columbia; June, 1952.”



Geophysical Technology

In later years, locating a mineral deposit frequently required not only geological knowledge but also the use of geophysical instruments.  In the past 70 years great advances have been made in the development of geophysical technology.  The use of instruments such as seismic and gravimetric devices is now routine in the petroleum industry.  Down-hole gamma-ray neutron and electronic surveys are now frequently required procedures in oil and gas well-drilling.  Prospecting for base metals and uranium has been greatly assisted by the use of both ground and air-borne geophysics.


(Left) “My partner Mining Engineer Ted Cryderman, right, and myself examining reactive rock detected by Gulf Oil’s flying magnetometer at one of several sampling stops along our 50-mile Chibougamau River canoe trek, preparing a field report in August, 1948.”



(Right) “My crew slashing a canoe passageway through brush and tag Alder trees on Opawica Lake to establish a base camp while working on our magnetometer project in the late 1940s.”



The instruments used for these types of surveys include the magnetometer, resistivity, and a wide range of electronic devices for the base metals and various types of Geiger-counters and scintillometers for the detection of radioactivity.  In the search for gold however, unless there is sufficient magnetic or electrical conductive mineralization present, geophysics is of little use.  The geologist or prospector is then required to rely on his or her knowledge of geology as well as previous experiences.



(Left) “Lodged in a storage shed for about a week at an abandoned mining camp on Lac Relique, Québec, where I geologized (studied and mapped) properties for Gulf Oil Company, proving the effectiveness of their flying magnetometer”.




In spite of the number of gold-bearing areas that have been discovered to date, the Canadian Precambrian Shield still presents vast opportunities for mineral exploration. As much of the area is covered by wetlands and glacial drift as well as younger barren Paleozoic sediments, many of the favorable geological features are not exposed.  In spite of extensive fieldwork carried out in the past, much of it was done with limited budgets and encouraging results were not always thoroughly investigated.

Gold’s Prospects

During the difficult years of the 1930s, it is interesting to note that the two countries that suffered the least with unemployment were South Africa and Canada.  These two countries were the world’s largest producers of gold at that time.

There are people today who are keen students of the world economy and current monetary developments who believe that the current (July, 2016) price of gold at $1,300 per ounce could reach $5,000 within 5 years. If an increase of $15 (75%) per ounce in 1934 could create the mining interest that followed, what might be the interest with the price of gold increasing to $5,000 per ounce?


James McCannell, August 2016

                                  James McCannell August 2016

Note: All photographs are from the private collection of James McCannell unless otherwise noted.

This entry was posted in CPR, history, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A Review of Early Gold and Other Mining in Canada

  1. ernest hobbs says:

    great story .i have shares from gold bar mines,limited dated feb.15th 1937. Any value to them.
    ernest@hobbs .org

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