Gold fields and ghost towns familiar in district history

“Gold Fields and Ghost Towns” is the name of a regular segment on the popular satellite TV network, “Lone Star,” which I follow with some personal interest because although that setting is British Columbia and the Klondike, we have a similar background right in Rainy River District.
Of course, I’m thinking of Mine Centre and, before that, Old Mine Centre on Shoal Lake near the once-promising Foley Mine where, periodically, some investor will send in diamond drills for another look around.
It’s been more than 70 years since the old excitement flared up in full force although there was a fellow named Houston from Texas on that scene more recently.
Right at the Foley diggings, there were plenty of fresher holes as well as the deep main shaft from the 1930s and huge concrete foundations of the famous mine’s old mill. Complying with government rules, there also were barbed wire fences for safety around the holes.
Taking that scene by itself, it would be easy to imagine scores of miners busy for years. But that was only one mine site among at least half-a-dozen around Mine Centre that were once in production.
I never heard of anyone becoming a millionaire on account of Mine Centre although I met several old prospectors who still were enthusiastic after many years had passed.
A Mine Centre expert I knew while a boy was aptly-named Arthur Stone, a university-trained geologist, it was believed. He left me a sack full of rock samples that were tagged with facts and value estimates for identification.
I was too young then to appreciate much of this, though, and soon Arthur was dead in a double drowning with his partner, “Doc” Smiley, after their canoe had tipped over in Shoal Lake.
Where else? They never left that corner of their career and undoubtedly had made it a full living before it took their lives.
All the way from here eastward down the border lakes, including Rain Lake City, there were stories from both American and Canadian mining men, but I believe the Mine Centre area—only 40 miles away—had them all beat. It held the greatest concentration of mines probably found anywhere west of the Sudbury region, although the pickings were more profitable north of Kenora in the Red Lake field (its mines are still active).
Up there, I wandered onto a working mine site one day, had a meal in the cook shack, and took in other stories, I learned contractors were engaged underground and being paid by the ton of ore extracted.
Mine Centre mines merely used their own workmen and usually not many. While my family lived there, the mines included the Golden Star (directly across Bad Vermilion Lake from our own log cabin) and the Paccito mine, where my father was employed for $3 a day by Angelo Paccito, who had Porcupine, Ont. experience.
Then there was the Olive mine, five miles west down the railroad, where the McMillan brothers of Rose Bell were busy. Rose was into mining herself to some extent, her husband being Harry Bell Sr., our district mining recorder with an office in the Fort Frances Courthouse for anyone with mining instincts to visit.
Oh yes, there were smaller diggings where our “one man gold mine,” Russell Cone Sr., had sunk shafts and produced promising ore samples. He had been busy along the road south between the village and the Foley mine at various locations with romantic names such as The Lucky Coon and the Manhattan, although Russell Sr. was not known to have struck it rich.
His son, Russell Jr., who makes his home in Fort Frances since following our old prime minister, Pierrre Trudeau, into Colorado. He became well-educated, both in practical ways by owning mining machinery and from studying at university.
So if you meet young Russell, who isn’t very young anymore, he can really supply lots of gold mining stories.
Like anything else concerning ventures for profit, though, it took money to make money—even 70 years ago when Mine Centre had enjoyed its boom period!
Old mine operators I met were always referring to someone down east as backers, investors, or brokers, but those fellows rarely visited Mine Centre. (One was named Brooks, and by coincidence only I’m sure, had the same name as an early papermill company officer here).
You still can find people who remember Mine Centre at its greatest and can point out the fine rock-covered home that the tragic prospector Arthur Stone built. That’s east of our old school at the start of the Foley road.
And I’m afraid I listened to him too long and the old gold curse grabbed at me, also. It could have turned out for me like the northern poet wrote: “There are strange tales told by the men who moil for gold”—and not all completely sensible stories, either.
My family became involved with a gold mine one desperate time. Then they realized that for too many, the idea was too preposterous for any sensible living.
We never looked back seriously, but Mine Centre still can beckon at times. Yet I’m like the fellow I met who went to school there with me and I asked only last week if he ever went back.
Well, I can feel somewhat guilty over forgetting about such an exciting period in our lives, but maybe we won’t ever return! No matter how Mine Centre pulls at our heartstrings!
• • •
Now a new page is being written in the old Mine Centre gold saga since prospector Jack Bolen has cornered practically all of the claims and mining properties ever recorded in the area.
He has been at it for 18 years, with high hopes of untangling all of the many, many deeds already in existence. “We know that Mine Centre is extremely rich in gold,” Jack declared.
• • •
Lorne Caul of Crozier, whose horseback experience goes through whole generations of his family, expects to add considerably to his horse herd for next riding season.
There are horses he may purchase south of the border, encouraged by the good start he made renting mounts last summer in Bergland park, where he also included one llama!
The South American llama worked in very well, but it grew such a thick pelt by winter that Lorne could hardly shear it—even with sheep shears!
• • •
So we received probably as much snow this past week in two heavy snowfalls as we could measure for all last season.
Now this may not have been such a bad thing because we used to believe more snow accompanies milder temperatures, although last winter was kind to us on both accounts.
But in this country of dependence on thick ice for car and truck travel, cold weather is welcomed by many and heavy snow cover might make for dangerous travelling.
A few winters ago, a trucker took along his wife and little girl for a Sunday ride and the ice didn’t hold as his heavily-loaded machine broke through. His wife could escape through the window, and he handed her the child before jumping out himself.
By that time, his load of pulpwood was floating around the truck.
But, first things first! He spotted a cabin above them and they could reach it and put on a fire before walking out. Friends returned with him to build a tripod and winch out of his truck, then even saved much of the wood.
Sunday drives up the lakes in wintertime are not for sissies!

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