Photo of cave-in
The area of the cave-in before it was finally sealed
©Jeri Danyleyko

Francis Charles Crean was a seasoned prospector who had discovered a number of copper/nickel deposits. Some notable properties he staked were the future site of the Elsie, Howland, Totten, and Crean Hill Mines.

Crean seemed to walk on rich ore wherever he went. One day while walking the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) “Soo” line, approximately 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of Sudbury, in Drury Township, he noticed a glint of Copper in the railways’ ballast. He also knew surveys of Drury Township were almost complete. Crean kept quiet for nearly two weeks. Following completion of the surveys, he applied for and received a 320-acre farming lot on Lot 2, Con 2, Drury Township. He quickly sold the property to local interests.

In 1889 those interests organized into the Dominion Mineral Co., the first Canadian group to attempt development of a copper-nickel ore body. They renamed the property for James Worthington, a large shareholder and director of the mine. He had also been superintendent of construction for the CPR, and gave the city of Sudbury its name, after his first wife’s birthplace in England. Ironically, Worthington built the railway line over the mine just a few years earlier. One only wonders why he hadn’t discovered it himself!

In 1889 preliminary work had begun on the Worthington property as well as a second property called the Blezard Mine situated north of Sudbury. The firm brought the Blezard Mine into production as early as 1890 and the Worthington Mine followed suit in 1891. A mill, built at the Blezard mine, treated the ores that came from Worthington. The mill produced copper matte containing 18-20 percent, and nickel matte containing 24-26 per cent, which they subsequently shipped to Clydarch Wales for further refinement. Although the Blezard closed in 1893, the mill carried on activities until they company suspended operations in 1895 and the company quietly folded.

Although the lands surrounding Worthington were terrible, a settlement took form at the mine site. They eventually established about 35 homes perched on flat ground or on rocky outcrops. After the mine reopened in the late 1890s, a few basic amenities such as a company store, station and a post office started up. By 1910, a few other stores sprouted up along with a hall, school, and two-storey hotel. During its peak years, Worthington boasted 400-500 residents.

In 1915, Mond Nickel Co. had purchased the mine to augment its nickel production for the war effort. They sent the ores to nearby Coniston for smelting. Although the post war years translated into a slowdown for the mine, operations continued until markets picked up again; that is until the tragedy of October 4th 1927.

On the previous evening shift William Mumford, the shift foreman, had noticed some unusual shifts in the rock. After descending to the 5th level, about 750 ft. down from the surface, his worst fears were confirmed. By 11 p.m., he called for an immediate evacuation of the workings. Everyone got out but an ominous pall hung over the town. The worst was still to come. At 5:50 in the morning, the mine workings collapsed on themselves.

Luckily there were no fatalities but one family lost their home in the ordeal. The mineshaft and station perched precariously close to the hole. The mine lost its powerhouse and the railway lost about 500 feet of track. After the initial shock passed, Mond Nickel announced that due to near depletion of the ore levels, they would not reopen the mine. They walked away from the town throwing 170 employees out of work.

From a high of around 400 residents, the community dwindled to a small service outlet for the “Soo” highway. A gas station, store, school, station and post office remained open to service the outlying farms situated just a kilometre and a half (approximately one mile) north of town. During the 1930’s anywhere from 60-90 residents remained, but Worthington would soon get a new lease on life.

In the mid 1950’s the Kidd-Copper Mine began development just east of the old townsite. The Totten Mine later followed suit. The mine was located barely a stones throw from the old shaft. By 1956 a modest 85 residents were living in the hamlet. In 1961 that figure had risen to 164. By the close of the 1960s a few additional homes, trailers and two stores (one was a company store), were present, along with nearly 200 residents.

This revival, however, was short-lived. Both mines eventually closed and the old “Soo” highway was realigned 1.5 kilometres south. After a few years most of the residents had left.

Until recently, only three homes remained occupied. They included a post office that serviced the rural area between Nairn-Centre to Whitefish. These houses have since been removed. It was possible to trace a few foundations through the entire area attesting to the resident’s attempts at defying geography. Just a few feet away from the now realigned CPR the old shaft house foundations lie behind a fence.

However everything old becomes new again. About 15 years ago the current owner, Vale, closed up the area surrounding the cave-in with plans to reopen the mine. Once again, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Worthington came back to life in 2014 with the reopening of the Totten Mine. The mine closed briefly for a few months, following an accident in 2021 when a scoop bucket jammed in the main shaft. Although it took a few days to recue the 39 miners, luckily there were no injuries. Vale estimates the mine can operate for another 20 years. Only time can tell.

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