Photo of townsite
The Wilbur townsite
©Jeri Danyleyko

The arrival of the railway in the mid-19th century, led to a huge boom in Ontario’s mining industry. Now that cheap, quick transportation was actually available, mining in remote and formerly inaccessible areas finally became economical. In 1881, the Kingston and Pembroke Railway, known as the KPR and later as the ‘kick and push’, arrived in eastern Ontario ready to tackle the rugged hills.

The mining companies established small communities around areas thought to contain rich deposits. Although most of the yields ended up being quite modest, the Wilbur Mine turned out to be an exception. Wilbur stood out as the success story on the old K & P. Between 1886 and 1900, the mine produced 125,000 tons of iron ore.

Boyd Caldwell along with his sons William and Thomas first established the iron mines at Wilbur on January 5, 1880. After working them for about a year, they leased a portion to the Bethlehem Iron and Manufacturing Company of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who carried out the bulk of the mining. They considered the vein to be of the very best magnetic ore. It varied in width from 10 to 30 feet. A Professor Chapman assayed the ore to be 65 per cent metallic iron. In addition to mines, the Caldwells also operated a steam sawmill, that provided employment to 50 men.

The K & P finally arrived in Wilbur in 1884. The railway ran a spur from the main line directly to Lot 4, Concession 12 in Lavant Township to the mines. The small community became official when Tom Caldwell opened a post office in 1884 named Wilbur Station. By 1886, the mines were being run by Kingston & Pembroke Iron Mines with Daniel Wiggins as the supervisor.

By the late 1880s, Wilbur had grown beyond a simple mining community to a sizeable village of about 250 people. It contained a Union Church, a school and a number of tradesmen including James Kelly, a carpenter, Daniel Tait, a blacksmith and Robert Wait, a shoemaker. Tom Caldwell closed the post office in 1890 but otherwise things carried on. Residents had to travel to nearby Lavant Station until 1901 when the Richardson family reopened the post office under the name of Wilbur.

The Wilbur mine operated until 1911. Since almost everyone in town worked for the mine, the community was abandoned after the mine shut down. The post office closed in 1913 and recent floods have obliterated almost all traces of the community. However, if you travel along the old KPR rail bed, you’ll find signs of Wilbur coming back to haunt you. The railway station nameboard, a building thought to be the rail station and a humorous sign post announcing your arrival in Wilbur still remain.

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