After “copper” had been discovered at Sudbury, American businessman, Samuel J. Ritchie, acquired mining properties in the Sudbury area. He assumed his lands had major financial potential because of the visibly high copper content. He learned, however, after 1,200 tons of the ore had been shipped for processing to the Orford Copper Company in New Jersey, that the ore contained four-and-a-half percent copper and two-and-a-half percent nickel with no known way of separating the two metals.

An English research metallurgist, John Gamgee, eventually solved the problem and rendered the deposits profitable. Gamgee, continuing his research with man-made nickel alloys, developed a rust and bullet resistant nickel steel alloy which the American and other national military agencies soon popularized. A second process, the Thompson/Orford, was developed for the same purpose. While these activities were under way, the government of Ontario appointed a Royal Commission on May 16, 1886 to report on Ontario’s mineral resources and ways to develop them.

The Charlton Royal Commission of Ontario's Mineral Resources

The half century from 1890 to 1940 was, perhaps, the most dramatic in the history of prospecting and mineral development in Ontario. Important discoveries were made of silver and gold. The immense deposits of copper and nickel uncovered in the Sudbury Basin enabled the International Nickel Company to emerge as the world’s primary nickel producer. Some of the precious metal deposits discovered in Ontario proved to be among the richest in the world.

Successful mining corporations such as Hollinger, Lakeshore, Noranda and Falconbridge were developed. They retained their Canadian identity; their head offices in Toronto contributed to its emergence as a national and international financial centre. During the same period Ontario put in place mining legislation that became the model for other jurisdictions.

Click Here For Further InformationA key event in the half century — 1890-1940 — was the publi- cation of the report on the province’s mineral resources prepared by the Royal Commission chaired by John Charlton. This report, a well-organized 566-page document, is a veritable encyclopaedia of information on the development of Ontario’s mineral industry during its first century. The primary recommendation of the Commission was that an Ontario Bureau of Mines be established. The central work of the Bureau, as viewed by the Commission, was to be the systematic mapping of areas contiguous to new discoveries to encourage further discoveries and to develop “camps” of several mines to justify the government’s infrastructural costs.

The Ontario Bureau of Mines was established in early May 1891 with Archibald Blue, who had served as Secretary of the Royal Commission, as its first director. Thomas W. Gibson, who was among the first employees of the Bureau, served as Ontario’s Deputy Minister of Mines for a quarter of a century. One of his unique contributions is his volume, Mining In Ontario which although published in 1937, is still one of the most comprehensive reports and reference sources on mining in Ontario during most of its first 150 years. What their colleagues in the Geological Survey of Canada have done and are doing for Canada, the Ontario Bureau of Mines is doing for Ontario.

Click Here For Further InformationIn addition to creating the Bureau of Mines, the government of Ontario established the School of Mining and Agriculture at Kingston on May 27, 1893; it offered special courses of instruction for mineral assayers, mine foremen, prospectors and others engaged in the mining industry. Within five years, after it was incorporated into Queen’s University, the School was offering complete degree courses in geology and mining.

In 1892 amendments were made to the legal arrangements that governed prospecting and mining in Ontario.

Laws Governing Prospecting and Mining in Ontario

During the first half century in the history of Ontario (known then as Upper Canada) there was no formal legal code governing mineral development or prospectors. From 1845 onwards, however, the Union government of Upper and Lower Canada made regulations governing the search for minerals. An exploration fee of $100, a large amount of money at that time, was in effect until 1867.

A series of legislative acts from 1864 to 1867 established the legal rights of prospectors and miners. The Act of 1868 authorized owners of private lands to mine their properties for gold and silver. Prior to that time the sites could be mined only for base metals. Others who paid the necessary licence and royalty fee of $1.05 per year could explore and mine public lands for any base or precious metal. This removal of legal impediments on prospectors and miners in their search for gold and/or silver was a great incentive for them. Additional legislation was passed between 1868 and 1906. The legislation of 1906 was particularly significant.

While earlier legislation sought to encourage mining activity by abolishing all royalties and prior restrictions, the object of the Mines Act of 1906 was to provide simple means to secure interests in mining claims. That Act was also intended, once work requirements had been satisfied, to ensure certainty and security of title and the simple and speedy settlement of disputes concerning the ownership of mining claims.

The Mines Act of 1906 established a legal and governmental environment, hospitable to private-sector mining activities, which contributed to substantial domestic and foreign investment in Ontario mining ventures. It abolished all crown royalties on production, authorized the appointment of mining recorders and the granting of a miner’s licence, now known as a prospector’s licence, which gave prospectors exclusive rights to stake and work upon designated Crown lands not otherwise in use. The Act also established staking and recording procedures and authorized the appointment of a mining commissioner to decide disputes. The 1906 Act governed prospecting and mining in Ontario during most of the 20th century including its first three decades in which an unprecedented series of major mineral discoveries were made.

Major Mining Developments 1890–1940

By the early 1890s two separate methods for the processing of nickel and copper ores from the Sudbury basin had been developed The Orford process had been confirmed by the Orford Copper Company of New Jersey. The Mond process developed by Dr. Ludwig Mond, a successful chemical manufacturer, and his associates in Cheshire, England had also been proven. Mond offered to sell his patent to the Canadian Copper Company which declined to buy it. He then purchased mining properties in the Sudbury area and in 1900 the Mond Nickel Company Limited was incorporated and subsequently began operations.

Click Here For Further InformationFrom the outset of mining activities in the Sudbury area, the Canadian Copper Company gained a commanding lead in the field. As the market for nickel and its alloys was developed, it became increasingly obvious that uniting all activities in the nickel industry in a single organization would be highly advantageous. In 1902 the International Nickel Company was incorporated in the state of New Jersey through the amalgamation of the Canadian Copper Company, the Orford Copper Company, the Société Minière Caledonienne and other leading companies engaged in one or more of the branches of the nickel industry.

In July 1916, The International Nickel Company of Canada Limited (INCO) was incorporated. Control of all mining, smelting and refining processes of the United States International Nickel Company was transferred to the Canadian company. The Mond Nickel Company, retaining its independence, also emerged as a significant producer of nickel and related products from the Sudbury basin. INCO and Mond controlled the world’s nickel industry during the first quarter of the 20th century. The two corporations eventually merged in 1928.

During the quarter century in which INCO emerged as the world’s leading nickel producer, important discoveries of precious metals were made in northern Ontario at Cobalt, Porcupine Lake, Timmins, Kirkland Lake and later at Red Lake and Pickle Lake. These discoveries took Canada into the first rank of the world’s producers of gold and silver.


In 1902, when the construction of the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway (T & N O) a project of the Ontario Government to assist the development of communities in northern sections of the province, had reached about 104 miles north of North Bay, two chance discoveries of silver were made — one by two men, James H. McKinley and Ernest J. Darragh, working as timber cruisers, and another by blacksmith Fred LaRose, employed in railroad construction. These two events led to other important discoveries. Willett Miller, Ontario’s recently appointed chief geologist, who was among the earliest to arrive at the site of the new discoveries and who later named it “Cobalt,” was amazed by what he found. Some of the veins he examined were extremely rich in native silver and an associated mineral identified as cobalt. There were “chunks of silver as large as cannon balls” beneath the moss.

Click Here For Further Information     Click Here For Further Information

Within a year work was under way on three separate mines and in the years that followed more than one hundred mines came into production in the vicinity of Cobalt. Only a small number of these mines were long-lived, but their joint operations raised Canada to fourth place in world production of silver, known colloquially as “the poor man’s gold.” The contribution of Cobalt, however, went far beyond the mere discovery and production of silver.

The relative ease with which discoveries were made by untrained bushmen and the rapid cash sales of the mining rights they had gained stimulated numerous individuals in the Cobalt camp to become prospectors. The Cobalt experience produced another huge dividend. A vigorous, competitive source of small business “grubstakers” or syndicates began to develop in Ontario among individuals willing to provide funding for prospecting farther afield. In addition, the readily accessible Cobalt camp was visited by technical officers of the Ontario and Federal Governments and consultants for investors. Some of these experts contributed through “camp fire lectures” to the sharpening of the prospecting skills of their eager listeners. Many, including both prospectors and grub-stakers, profited from the Cobalt experience as the potential extent of Ontario’s mineral wealth was explained to them.

Cobalt has been justly called “the cradle of Canada’s mining industry.” It enhanced the prospecting and mining capabilities of Canadians and was soon followed by important discoveries at other places on the Precambrian Shield.