Dome Mine


Photo of mill
The mill at Dome Mine, ca. 1912
Private collector

Back in 1909, Jack Wilson staked claims on a considerable amount of property in the Porcupine area. After Wilson’s party used up all their licenses, they began to stake claims illegally. Then they went to Haileybury for more licenses, which turned out to be a good thing since any prospector could have taken them over, including the owners of the site of the future Dome Mine. That same year the Canadian Copper Company purchased the site with a down payment of $75,000.

By the following year the company held over 240 acres of patented land, where a small, new mill produced 24 ounces of gold. A townsite grew up around the mine. Most employees commuted from South Porcupine before the townsite opened.

The Temiskaming & Northern Ontario Railway (ONR) reached the site in 1911. Tragedy followed a week later. On July 11th, after the fanfare of the new rail link finally subsided, the Porcupine Fire raged through destroying Cochrane, Porcupine, South Porcupine and most small mining camps (including the Dome’s), with a loss of 73 lives *. Within months they rebuilt the mine and had it back in operation. They added a 40-ton stamp mill and were soon processing 400 tons of ore a day.

By 1915, with all payments cleared, it was time to expand ore reserves. The result was the Dome Extension purchase, the Foley-O’Brien, along with 3,000 acres of land in Tisdale, Whitney, and Shaw Townships. They maintained production levels until the end of the war when labour shortages became more acute. All underground development ceased in 1919. Work slowly resumed the following year. Extensive development of the Dome and Dome Extension properties until 1929 when fire raged through the wooden mill. Rebuilding took place within a few months.  Following cleanup, the mine yielded an unexpected bonus of $534,848. in gold.

Prosperity continued during the 1930’s. By 1935, the mine employed 790 people. Only one event in 1936 spoiled an otherwise fine decade. As production expanded, it came near the edge of a 160-acre property owned by one Fred Shumacher, an Ohio based speculator. The ore body naturally continued into Schumacher’s property, but the ore couldn’t be touched. Although this was a small piece of land, Dome had neglected to consolidate it into their empire.

Shumacher purchased the property in 1909 for $8,000 and then offered to sell his claims in 1911 for a modest but profitable $75,000. Dome refused to cut a deal. Dome finally changed their mind but it was too late. The first offer of $75,000 that Dome refused led to a counter offer of $150,000. As Dome kept underbidding, Shumacher’s price kept doubling. Each time Dome inquired about the property, the price doubled. It was impossible to intimidate the man. He had them over a barrel and didn’t care. By 1936, Dome finally capitulated and purchased the property. Shumacher ended up with $1.25 million and 20,000 Dome shares (valued at $600,000) for his tiny parcel of land. The property paid for itself after a mere 4 acres of exploitation. Since then the Dome Mine (and Extension) proved to be one of the greatest gold mining properties in Canada.

In its early days the mine spurred a townsite directly north-east of the mine. It developed in an attractive and orderly fashion, while a secondary townsite sprang up directly south of the mine and in a less organized way. It became known as Little Italy. There was a post office (no records), a store, small school, station and health care centre with up-to-date conveniences. Mining structures included a tall red shaft house and large mill. The Dome Extension townsite, created during the twenties. They laid out the townsite during the 1920s in a single rectangular block. It contained respectable single and double dwelling homes. By 1961, 508 residents still called Dome mine property home.

Ironically what killed the town was not a mine closure, but a mine expansion. In the early 80’s, they drew up plans for the massive super pit. The project cost over $150 million and would necessitate a large area for a vast low-grade open pit operation. They ordered all the residents out. They then demolished both the Dome townsite and the Dome Extension site.

The Super Pit replaced the former Dome site. The old site, bulldozed in the early 90s, serves as a dump for mine tailings. After three generations, the spirit of of a community was destroyed. But the name Dome will survive for years.

* There was speculation that perhaps 200 people perished in the Porcupine fire. There were no official counts of the many transients who scoured the surrounding bush prospecting of developing distant claims.

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