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Timmins History


Archaeological and historical studies indicate that the first people to settle in the Timmins area were nomadic tribes such as Ojibwa and Cree dating back to 7000 BC.

Timmins is situated 680 km north of Toronto and was founded as a company town in 1912, the nearby towns of South Porcupine and Schumacher were formed in 1911.

During the late 17th century, explorers and fur traders established outposts in the north to capitalize on the fur trade. The Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company later developed several trading posts along major routes in northern Ontario. The rivalry between these two trading companies resulted in the need to get their furs to market as soon as possible and this led to the development of the Porcupine Trail, a trading route that connected the Abitibi River to the Mattagami River and passed directly through present-day Timmins.

In reaction to favorable provincial Geological Survey reports, construction of the railway northward, and major silver discoveries in Cobalt in 1907, the region became a popular destination and home to dozens of prospectors eager to explore the areas around Porcupine Lake. After several false starts, in 1909 two prospectors discovered the "Golden Staircase", a rich vein of gold that led to the Dome Mine. Within days the Porcupine Gold Rush began, and a huge mining camp formed at Porcupine Lake, a few kms east of modern Timmins.

The Porcupine Camp is one of the first localities in the world to have its entire history documented by photography:

Shortly after the completion in 1911 of a new spur line of the Temiskaming & Northern Ontario Railway, the Great Porcupine Fire swept through the camp, causing great loss of property and more than 200 deaths.

The Town of Timmins was founded by Noah Timmins in 1912 following gold discoveries in the Porcupine Camp. By 1912 the Hollinger, MacIntyre, and Big Dome Mines were founded. The new town had already grown larger than the original mining camps to the east on Porcupine Lake and the camp attracted men and women eager to find their fortune in gold mining. Starting in 1907, the area became home to dozens of prospectors who explored the areas around Porcupine Lake and the Frederick House River.

On June 9, 1909, Harry Preston slipped on a rocky knoll and the heels of his boots stripped the moss to reveal a large vein of gold, which later became the Dome Mine. This vein was several hundred feet in length and was 150 feet wide.

The news was now out, and prospectors started flowing into the area.

In October 1909 Benny Hollinger, a young barber from Haileybury, and his partner, Alex Gillies, started prospecting in the area. When they met the Wilson expedition they were told that all the good lots were staked for at least 6 miles (9.7 km) west. So they went west, past the already staked-out claims, until they came upon an abandoned test pit near Pearl Lake where Reuben D'Aigle had given up three years earlier. The two were exploring the site when Hollinger dug into a mound that demonstrated how unlucky D'Aigle was:

... Benny was pulling moss off the rocks a few feet away, when suddenly he let a roar out of him and threw his hat to me. At first I thought that he was crazy but when I came over to where he was it was not hard to find the reason. The quartz where he had taken off the moss looked as though someone had dripped a candle along it, but instead of wax it was gold.

They staked twelve claims near their discovery. Because different sponsors had staked them, they flipped a coin to determine how to divide them. Hollinger won the toss and took the six claims on the west. This discovery became the Hollinger Gold Mine which was founded in 1910.

Noah Timmins, who had early started successful silver mine in Cobalt, purchased an option on Hollinger's claims and immediately started work on setting up mining operations. He set out in December 1909 from mile post 222 on the Temiskaming & Northern Ontario Railway (T&NO) with a crew of twenty men, two teams of horses, and two tons of supplies. Following an old lumber road, they had to blaze their own trail where the road had become overgrown. They arrived at the mine site on New Year's Day, 1910, and within weeks began mining gold.

By the end of the 20's the Hollinger was the largest gold mine in the British Empire and paid annual dividends of more than $5 million.

In the 1930s Hollinger Consolidated Gold Mines built 250 houses which were located in one area of the Town of Timmins. These houses remained in place right up until the late 1970s. The three room homes were designed and built identical to each other in every respect with the exception of the impregnated tar paper the covered them. Every second home was green with a red roof and the other was red with a green roof.

The Hollinger mine was so big by the 1960s it had almost 600 miles (970 km) of tunnels

The rail system which began to operate around Timmins in 1911 accelerated the growth of the Camp. Until then, travelling to Porcupine was done by canoe and foot from Haileybury. That same year, two days after the first train arrived in the Porcupine, the entire Camp was destroyed in the fire of 1911.

Due to the importance of the gold discoveries, very few people abandoned the camp and the area was rebuilt within two months. The 1920s and 1930s were prosperous years. The Great Depression did not adversely affect the economy of the area. Jobs were available from any of the mines and lumbering facilities and farming also offered opportunities for the residents of the area. A third important event in the history of the Camp was the decline of the gold mines in the 1950s. Until then, the community had been sheltered from the Great Depression and its effects on the economy. The discovery of base metals in the 1960s increased the value of the industry and today the city continues to prosper because of numerous additional gold deposits and important zinc, copper, nickel, and silver finds.

The McIntyre Mine, discovered by Sandy McIntyre, was the last of the most important gold discoveries in the Timmins Camp. Many other gold mines would open up in the area around the Porcupine Camp in the next 60 years. However, no other gold mines discovered to date have ever equaled in value of importance, than the first mines in the Timmins area, called the Big Three. Most of the people who came to the Porcupine area settled around Porcupine Lake and the Dome which is situated one mile from the lake. Four miles down the road, around the McIntyre Mine, the hamlet of Schumacher was established, which was named after Frederick Schumacher who was a supplier of 'miracle medicines' in a dry camp used as medicinal therapies.

In addition to its fame as a gold center, Timmins has been home to two of Canada's most famous musicians, Stompin' Tom Connors, and Shania Twain who started their careers singing at the Maple Leaf Hotel.

Reuben D'Aigle

Reuben Bennett "Sourdough" D'Aigle (1874-1959) was a Canadian prospector who made numerous discoveries in the Klondike, Ontario, Quebec and Labrador. Although successful with several of these ventures, he remains best known for missing the Porcupine Gold Rush by only a few feet, a huge deposit being discovered directly beside one of his abandoned test digs. His last major discovery was a major iron deposit in Labrador, although he was unable to personally develop the site due to the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which dried up development funds. He was so well known that his death was mentioned in Time Magazine, who quoted his easygoing take on his losses in Labrador; "I was just there a darn sight too soon, but I have certainly enjoyed myself."

D'Aigle was born in Chipman, New Brunswick. In 1898 he decided to join the Klondike Gold Rush, at this point in full swing and unlikely to make any newcomers wealthy. Taking the slow route, he travelled via ship from New Brunswick around Cape Horn. Travelling up the Yukon River he went past the major goldfields and prospected the Kayukuk, a tributary in Alaska. At Cleary Creek he found a small gold camp getting set up, and eventually staked thirty claims in the area, one of which proved to be the richest in the area. When he sold out his claims seven years later he had to wheel his gold to a waiting steamer in a wheelbarrow.

He deposited his winnings in Seattle, and started looking for new fields, but nothing seemed to be worth investigating. He returned east when he heard of the silver rush in Cobalt, Ontario, but when he arrived all the good sites were already staked. Instead of looking for new sites in the area, as he had in the Klondike, he returned south and enrolled in a new geology course at Queen's University. While better learning his trade he poured over survey reports in the library. He eventually found one that seemed enticing, a report of gold in the Porcupine Lake area filed in 1898.

As soon as the course ended he collected a set of gear and headed north. Picking up a Metis guide, Billy Moore, they canoed up the Mattagami River to the Porcupine area and started surveying the entire area. Although they noticed lots of gold, it was in the form of small flakes embedded in quartz, as opposed to the easily mined nuggets he was used to from the Klondike. This was far less impressive, but he nevertheless decided to return the next year, in 1907, with a larger team to make a more thorough sweep, this time digging into the quartz mounds that dotted the area. Although they were again successful in finding gold, no one in the party considered it worthwhile mining. Eventually they simply gave up, dumped their tools in one of their test pits, and headed south. It is one of the great ironies of mining history that the pit was only feet from another quartz mound that was described as "dripping" gold. The team that found it later stated that a heelprint from one of D'Aigle's team was clearly visible, impressed into the gold they never noticed.

Stories of gold in the Lower Quebec area had interested Noah A. Timmins and Reuben D'Aigle who had been grubstaked by Timmins heard these stories. In 1910 he showed up in Sept Iles and questioned a Montagnais Native, Pierre Rich, about these stories. Using his own capital he hired other Montagnais and prospected for few years until his money was exhausted. In 1919 he was employed by the Ungava Exploration Company and was the first prospector to identify the huge deposits of iron ore around the Wabush Lake Zone in Labrador, Newfoundland.

Noah Timmins

Born in Mattawa, Ontario, Noah Timmins, along with his brother Henry, David Alexander Dunlap and John and Duncan McMartin, acquired the LaRose silver mine in Cobalt, Ontario. Although the family company explored stakes and mining operations all over the world, the greatest find was the important Hollinger Gold Mines in Timmins, Ontario, the city that bears his name.

Noah and his nephew Alphonse, a mining engineer who had studied at the Royal Military College of Canada negotiated with Alex Gillies and Benny Hollinger, who had uncovered the Hollinger gold mine. Alphonse described it: "It was as if a giant cauldron had splattered the gold nuggets over a bed of pure blue quartz crystals as a setting for some magnificent crown jewels of inestimable value." On the strength of his nephew's information, Noah committed himself to paying $530,000.

In 1987, Noah was inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame and is an inductee of the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame.

Noah Timmins died in 1936 while vacationing in Palm Beach, Florida.

Four of Timmins' great-grandchildren are notable entertainers who formed the alternative country band Cowboy Junkies.

The Dome Mine