Museum Musings: Beaver Lake Gold Mine Company

Bill Smiley Archives Photo. A.H. Woodman circa 1910.

When writing about the years from 1910 to 1913, Gary Abrams, author of Prince Albert:  The First Century 1866 – 1966, stated “In every year many handsome houses were erected, particularly on the west hill which became the choice district it has since remained.”

The Henderson Directory for 1914 referenced Prince Albert as “The City Beautiful of Saskatchewan and of Ideal Homes”.  Slow but steady growth, from 8,000 persons in 1911 to 13,500 residents in 1913, led the Directory to suggest it was “steady and sane” growth.

When leading tours, or talking about the Prince Albert of those years, those attending often ask questions about the apparent wealth of the local residents of the early 1900s, both pre and post World War One.  I have even found information that Prince Albert had more millionaires at that time than in any other community in the developing provinces of western Canada.  So far, I have been unable to substantiate that information.

The lumber industry and land speculation very obviously played a major role in this accumulation of wealth. In 1913/14, the Prince Albert Lumber Company employed over 2,000 men locally and in their lumber camps.  A total of thirty-six real estate agents and companies were listed in the 1914 Henderson Directory, suggestive of the large number of real estate transaction which were occurring.  Fourteen barristers in 10 legal firms existed that year.

One item which caught my eye was an entry for Prospectors and Surveyor’s Supplies.  There were two:  J.B. Kernaghan, and Manville Hardware Company, Limited.  These companies were the likely suppliers of men such as Daniel Mosher, Tom Creighton, Joseph Morrier, and the Dion brothers, men who were chiefly responsible for the discovery of the mineral wealth around what is now known as Flin Flon.

From the early teen years of the 1900s, geologists and mining engineers had been visiting northern and eastern areas of Saskatchewan, and were convinced that the mineral wealth was both vast and rich.  Men like mining engineer F.W. Chalmers, St. Clair Snell, and British Columbian F.M. Wells, a mining prospector near Prince Rupert, spoke publicly and to the media as they passed through Prince Albert on their way to, or from, the Pre-Cambrian Shield.  Others, such as Professor E.L. Bruce, from the Geology Department at the University of Manitoba, later confirmed what they had suggested.

In 1914, Daniel Mosher met up with Daniel Milligan, a farmer from the St. Louis district.  Milligan had been a part of the gold rush in British Columbia in 1900. When he and Mosher joined forces, they decided to set out for Beaver Lake (now known as Amisk Lake, amisk being the Cree word for beaver).  A group of investors from Toronto, who eventually took half of their profits, provided the necessary money to cover their expenses.  It was early in the year, and the two Dans followed the break up of the ice about 400 miles (approximately 650 kilometres) down river from Prince Albert.  When they arrived, they met four other prospectors, Tom Creighton, Jack Mosher, and the Dion brothers.  They decided to join forces, and discovered gold in the milky-white quartz.  Together, on May 14th, they staked out about 300 acres, a claim which was later sold, eventually ending up in the hands of a company known as the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Company.

Of note is the sale of the property which was reported in the Daily Herald on May 5th, 1916.  Five claims made by Zed Crittenden and E.R. Cullity were sold for $200,000 (a value of approximately $5,600,000 today).  The Beaver Lake Mining Company property sold for $3 million (about $70, 125,000 in today’s money).  The buyers were a conglomerate from New York, where investment money was more readily available as the United States was not yet involved in the World War.

In July of 1916, D.A. Hall, the MLA for Cumberland, toured the Beaver Lake mining area over two weeks and reported that because of the activity there it could be expected that a railway would be built to service the area.  He was certain that, once built, the operation of the railroad would be based in Prince Albert.  At the time, the gold fields were being financed by two large American companies with unlimited capital.  It was believed that the body of sulphide ore found there was the largest such deposit on the continent.  Three diamond drilling rigs were being operated, one for one company, and two for the second company, and they had revealed the ore was of excellent quality and quantity.  An assay of the ore had shown an average of $12 a ton could be expected, while even if it were only $7 a ton it would be a worthwhile prospect.

Reports from 1917 show just how worthwhile the project was.  That year, copper which was shipped to the smelter at Traill, B.C., amounted to 3,500 tons.  Copper was priced at 25 cents per pound, which resulted in a total of $332,500 ($7,925,670 in today’s funds).  In addition, there were 2,000 tons still stocked on the mine site.  The same year, they shipped 28 ½ tons of gold ore, valued at $81.23, for a total value of $2,323 (approximately $55,370 in today’s money).

Of note is that the advent of the First World War had resulted in delays with respect to the development of the mine.  Money for investment in mining became more difficult to obtain.  In March, 1915, by way of an order-in-council, the Government protected the claim on the property from cancellation.  This order was renewed in 1916, and again in March, 1917.  At that time, the claims were largely in the hands of Prince Albert investors, including lawyer James H. Lindsay, real estate agent James H. Sanderson, surveyor Joseph Morrier, and real estate agent and auctioneer Alfred H. Woodman.  The controller of the mineral lands branch of the Interior Department once again extended the protection on the claim to July 11th, advising the local mining recorder, D.J. Rose, of this extension by telegram.  Local investors were thereby protected from major losses.

Individuals who are interested in learning more about Saskatchewan’s first and only gold rush community, and the Prince Albert connection, might want to take a guided tour of Beaver City on Amisk Lake. The interpretive experience, led by historian Les Ostryk, includes an exploration of the site, views of the remnants of the community, and a discussion of its history. Further information about Prince Albert’s connection to this story is available in the Bill Smiley Archives at the Prince Albert Historical Museum, 10 River Street East.