Mica, Phosphate Plucked from ‘The Massasoggy’ to Scoffield Camp and Everywhere Between
May 10 to 14 is National Mining Week and this industry continues to play a critical role in our national economy, while also enabling today’s modern, high-tech, low-carbon society (in addition to creating thousands of good- paying jobs from coast-to-coast-to-coast).
Around our township there is a rich past, however, the mining industry itself has been largely relegated to the pages of history. Buck Lake is a prime example, with its rich mining history, the final chapter of which was written more than 60 years ago.
One of its best-known and earliest pioneers was heavily involved. Jabez Stoness, who is better known for being the first driver and longest to hold the reins of the Perth Road stagecoach (in addition to a few other ventures and activities), was among an early group of residents to profit from mining on his land in the area.
Perth Road Launched Mining Boom
The mining boom around Buck Lake began in earnest after Christopher Roushorn discovered lead in the area around what is now Perth Road Village.
The Frontenac-Draper Lead Mine opened soon after and between 1866-1870 the No. 1 shaft was sunk to 80 feet and 2,000 tons of ore was mined. By the time the 1878 Meachem Map was produced, there were nine phosphate mines operating on waterfront lots around Buck Lake and its principal outflow, Massassauga Creek.
The owners of these properties included Stoness, whose property was on the north side of the mouth of the Massasoggy.
The other property owners with active mines on their land as of 1878 included: H. Sears, David Sears, C.W. Darling, Jas. Darling, Jos. Darling, Thos. Galliger, L. Cobett, and Pat Gahan.
Initially Stoness worked his property solely for phosphate. In about 1878-79 he leased the mining rights to Webster and Co. – a large mica mining conglomerate that controlled numerous mines as well as two of the three main mica cutting works in the province with facilities in both Perth and Sydenham. Shuttered a year later, the Buck Lake
Revived in 1894 as Stoness Mine
Mica Mine as it was then known, included a main shaft measuring to a depth of 30 feet.
In 1894, Stoness personally revived the property after encouraging several investors to join him in bankrolling what would now be called the Stoness Mine and it began producing high quality mica at a time when the world needed it most. It would go on to become the largest mine ever to operate on Buck Lake.
From the Province of Ontario’s Report of the Bureau of Mines 1901, the market conditions had been ideal for Stoness when he reopened the mine: The interest in mica mining has grown to an extraordinary degree, due to the high prices for this mineral which prevailed until recently, and also to the fortunate circumstance that very remarkable deposits have been discovered in eastern Ontario …
The Frontenac-Draper Lead Mine (just outside what is now Perth Road Village), drew its workers from several townships around the area when it was in operation. We know the names of several of the workers from Loughborough Township who worked in mining-related activities during 1878.
The Mine Manager of the day at the Frontenac Mine was John Hancock. He lived in Perth Road, but had been born in England and only moved to Canada in 1873.
Some of the other 1878 Loughborough Twp.- based mine workers as well as their related occupations, nationality and ages included:
➢ Arthur Bishop, miner, Perth Road, born in Canada 1833 (45 yrs);
➢ David Chambers, engineer, Perth Road, born in Ireland 1861, moved to Canada (17 yrs);
➢ JW Freeman, miner and farmer, Lough-
borough Twp., born in Canada 1850 (28 yrs);
➢ John Guthrie, miner and farmer, Perth Road, Photo courtesy of Sun-Mar
born in Canada 1847 (31 yrs);
➢ DA Ruttan, miner and farmer, Perth Road,
born in Canada (date missing);
➢ Norman Switzer, carpenter and miner,
Sydenham, born in Canada 1841 (37 yrs); and,
➢ PW Freeman, Canada Co. Land Agent, Lough-
borough Twp., born in Canada 1824 (54 yrs).
Especially for the lower-level workers, mining in the later half of the 1800s was quite lucrative.
At a time when a labourer in Kingston or a typical farm hand could expect to earn about 90 cents a day, miners commanded 20 to 30 cents more for a total of $1.10 to $1.20 a day
|Mica’s Many Uses|
Mica was used in a variety of ways, including in sheet form in early electric toasters and oven windows or scrap mica could be ground to make a lubricant, but primarily mica was desirable as an insulator.
“My grandfather was the foreman at Lacey Mica Mines north of Sydenham,” said Terry Clark. “Most of the mica went to General Electric in New York State. The men would scratch their name and address on the mica sheets and the men at GE would send back letters and they became pen pals.”
Sydenham was a key location for the entire mica mining sector.
“The sorting sheds where in the village across from the park on Sydenham Lake,” added Clark.
The mines there were also world famous for their massive, high quality mica.
“According to a booklet published in 1964 by the Ontario Dept of Mines ‘Crystals of up to seven feet across were mined,’ from the Lacey operation,” said Dave Ferguson. “I understand one of the largest ones from the Lacey Mine is in the Smithsonian Institute (in Washington, D.C.), and also locally another one is at the Miller Museum at Queens.”
East of Sydenham Among Best Districts
The most highly productive localities are east of Sydenham, Frontenac county, and 10 to 14 miles south of Perth in Lanark county. In these districts are some mines of considerable dimensions, and innumerable small pits worked in a desultory way by farmers.
A marked feature of the mica industry is uncertainty of output. A mine may suddenly acquire prominence as a large producer of exceptionally fine material, and in a few weeks or months the outlook may grow so discouraging that the mine will be abandoned. Again, mines which have been thus abandoned have been re- opened by courageous prospectors, with the result of discovering bonanzas.
|The Height of Mica Mining on Buck Lake|
According to the Province of Ontario’s Report of the Bureau of Mines 1901, here is an extremely detailed description of Buck Lake’s largest mine ever – the Stoness Mine – as it existed at or near its peak of operation:
“A syndicate consisting of Messrs. Robert Kent and Joseph Franklin of Kingston, and Mr. Jabez Stoness of Stoness Corners [now Perth Road Village], now control what was formerly known as the Buck Lake mica mine, located on lot 4, concession XII of Bedford. It is at the northeast end of Buck lake, about 9 miles from Stoness Corners … The shaft is now 440 feet deep on a 45-degree incline toward the north northeast. There is also a vertical shaft 100 feet deep into the workings at the southeast end of the stoping chamber. Hoisting is done with a 20- hp engine, winding a 7/8-inch steel cable, drawing a kibble mounted on a four-wheel truck. Steam is derived from a 50-hp water tube boiler. Drilling is done by steam drills. The lower part of the mine is quite dry, but water nearer the surface is drained to a sump at the bottom of the 100-foot shaft and is pumped to the surface by a Northey pump, 4 1/2 by 2 3/4 by 4 inches. The average cross-section of the incline is 16 by 40 feet, and the stope varies from 30 to 40 feet in width, with an irregular elevation, at places reaching to a height of 60 feet. Above the mine is a building divided into rooms for the boiler, hoist, storeroom, and for mica trimming. Dynamite is stored in a frame magazine 400 feet east of the shaft, with a hill between. A dwelling house of 8 rooms has also been erected 300 feet north northeast of the shaft. The output of mica from this mine has been a ton a day for many months. The crystals of mica here are of exceptionally large size, and very free from blemishes. The body of the vein consists of pink calcite, the mica occurring along the walls between the calcite and this bounding pyroxene. The trend of the vein is about north northeast, cutting the gneissoid country rock. The mine is said to be the heaviest producer of fine mica in Ontario. The manager is Mr. Joseph Franklin, with Samuel Hunter as foreman. The number of workmen employed is 30.”
Mica Oversupplied, Prices Crash
This was most certainly the case with the Stoness Mine. Despite its success, the mine would close in 1902 after mica prices crashed due to new suppliers coming online in the U.S. (previously the largest market for Canadian mica) and cheaper options of almost equally high quality also arriving from India. The Stoness Mine re-opened intermittently over the next three years but was closed for good in 1905.
It is hard to get an exact fix on the value of mica for the full course of South Frontenac’s mining history. An historical report produced by the Ontario Government in 1968 provides a few benchmarks from this era.
➢ The Tett Mine located on Lot 4, concession VIII, Bedford Twp., operated in 1899, 1900, 1902, 1907, 1908, 1913 and 1924. During that time, the total production was 99 tons of mica with a value of $27,279.
➢ In 1906, on the southeast shore of Devil Lake, the Antoine Mine was worked by Jabez Stoness and the Kent Brothers of Kingston. It produced 27 tons of mica worth $8,000.
➢ In 1920, on Lot 2, concession XI, Bedford Twp., a pit sunk by George Green of Perth Road yielded 2,756 pounds of mica valued at $2,676.
➢ In 1934, W.W. Lee and son of Bedford Mills worked Lot 13, concession V, Bedford Twp., and produced 320 tons of scrap mica valued at $2,855, and 2,400 pounds of trimmed mica valued at $480
By 1940s Mica Mining had Largely Vanished from Ontario
By the 1940s, Buck Lake’s mica mining era had largely passed and many of the mines in the area had long been sitting dormant with only a few intrepid souls still involved in the business around the area.
In 1946, the Marks family began mining the Crab Lake site in what is now Frontenac Provincial Park.
Father Oliver Marks had been first hired at the General Electric Mine (originally the Lacey Mine) near Eel Bay of Sydenham Lake in 1901.
He was joined by his son Ray among others and together they worked the property for eight years. They would blast on Mondays and Wednesdays. Tuesdays and Thursdays were spent hauling ore back to their farm for trimming during the winter.
They sold all of their mica to Walter Cross in what was then Hull, Que. One-foot by one- to two-foot crystals two inches thick were worth 90 cents a pound. A one by three crystal paid out at a rate of $1.25 a pound. The biggest sheets, four- foot by six-foot, commanded up to $5 a pound.
The last known mica miner thought to have been actively working on Buck Lake was an American named Frank Feddigan. He lived on the lake year-round and mined mica from a mine said by a former worker to extend beneath the lake from a property on Roost Lane. He sold his land on Buck Lake in July 1960 after his wife Margaret grew very ill and the pair moved back to the U.S. for her to seek treatment.
– If you’ve got a piece of history related to the lakes of South Frontenac Township that you’d like to share in a future edition of Our Lakes, please email editor @ourlakes.ca.