YE OLDEN TYME - Prospecting in the Early Days North of Basswood Lake

15 April 2019

Following is our first transcribed edition of "Ye Olden Tyme". Please see the April 14th blog for the introduction to these articles.


By J.B. Dobie

Komta Cottage, Basswood Lake, March 1926

To Editor of Algoma Advocate,

Dear Sir,

In a recent letter in which I told about Marcelle and his wolf story, space did not permit me to refer to the romance of prospecting which occurred in Gould Township years ago. Marcelle had discovered and staked a claim in Rose Township and while doing his assessment work there he was told of the existence of very rich copper in Gould Township carrying gold and silver in small values and over 30 per cent copper.

So Marcelle decided to go out there and prospect, and as soon as soon as he finished in Rose Township went out to Gould and built for himself a small shelter somewhere near Axe Lake. It was neither a shanty nor a hut, but was built like an A with cedar posts beveled on the ends and leaning against each other similar to the rafters on a roof, but the lower ends were on the ground. It was not high enough for him to stand in but he could crawl in and sit down or sleep, and it was long enough to afford him shelter, with an extra space at one end in which to store his provisions. It was covered with cedar bark and the combined floor and bed was made of spruce branches.

Into his shelter he would scramble at night and wrapped in his blankets would dream of the unrevealed wealth of Gould Township which he hoped to discover and give to the world for his own benefit, as well as that of the whole community. He cooked his meals of fried bacon, flap-jacks and coffee in the open, and in wet weather had a very long handle for his frying pan so that he could sit under shelter of his cedar bark roof and fry his bacon without risking the destruction of his shelter by fire whilst keeping himself dry.

It was while living under these conditions that Marcelle captured his first timber wolf, and the first one we had heard of captured in this part of the district. Up to that time we had not heard of any wolves in Algoma. The red deer began to appear about five years before that, but I do not think that the howl of a wolf had ever been heard in this locale before Marcelle made his first capture, which must have been twenty years ago as it was the last year that Mr. Dyment carried on lumbering operations out there. Archie Forest and Tom Brooks had both reported seeing wolf tracks the winter before, but very few of them, and people were skeptical, thinking that probably dogs had gone far away from home in their midnight prowls.

One morning Marcelle awakened and found the ground covered with snow. Having some birch bark and dry pine under cover for just such an emergency he soon had a roaring fire and the air was laden with the delicious aroma of coffee and fried bacon. After fixing up a lunch and starting out for the day he had only gone a short distance when he saw fresh wolf tracks on the snow. The wolf had possibly been attracted by the odor of the bacon as the tracks were very fresh. Marcelle decided it was no use to follow him then and having some poison with him that he intended to use for foxes he set out a tempting bait and on his return in the evening fried more bacon hoping that the wolf would be tempted to return.

Next morning the bait was gone, and Marcelle did not follow the tracks far until he found the dead wolf, a very large one, very thin and very old, as some of its teeth were gone and others loose. Marcelle dragged the wolf down to John McEachern’s cabin in Gould Township (on the north shore of the Mississauga River just below Axe Lake a couple of miles west of what is now Highway 129) and there the pelt was removed and later taken to Thessalon, and application made through Samuel Hagen, Justice of the Peace, for the Gov’t bounty which was then $15.00. The pelt had very little value at that time.

Marcelle then turned his attention to foxes and wolves, trapping and hunting all winter and for several winters, and succeeded in capturing quite a number of wolves and foxes. He also stored up some of the most blood curdling, hair raising wolf stories ever invented. However, he continued to prospect as well as hunt, but did not succeed in finding the rich copper vein he was so anxious to discover. He found and examined several nice copper veins in Gould, but as he had already staked low grade in Rose Tp. he was not satisfied with anything less than 30% copper.

Amongst the provisions which he had stored in his shelter was a bag of salt, 4 or 5 lbs., of which he had used very little, and while packing up to move elsewhere the salt was spilled on the ground inside of his shelter, and as time passed on and the red deer became more numerous they were attracted by the salt, crowded into the little shelter, knocked down the cedar poles and licked and pawed at the earth until there was exposed not far beneath the surface the beautiful gleam of the rich sulphide ore such as Marcelle had been looking for and over which he had lain and slept his nights while spending his days looking for it or hunting foxes and wolves.

In just such a simple manner though not similar at all, Mr. George Clark discovered copper at the Wellington location in Bruce Mines some 70 years ago. He was living in what is now called the Old Bruce, and as he kept a cow he had to go out and hunt for her in the evening. One day as he drove her home she slipped on the side of the bluff and exposed a vein of copper. Mr. Clark promptly reported it to the officials of the company, John Taylor and Sons, of London, England. It proved to be a very good vein of ore and added many years to the life of Bruce Mines, and yielded rich dividends to the Company. For the discovery Mr. Clark received a barrel of flour.

When the T. & N.O. railway was being built up into the north country, a blacksmith named Larose in the employ of a contractor, threw a hammer at a fox which was passing near his shop. The hammer missed the fox, but being large and heavy it struck with such force as to strip the moss of a rocky ledge and exposed a vein of native silver which became the Larose Mine and led to do so much investigating and prospecting that the Township of Coleman became one of the great silver camps of America.

Another romance of the Cobalt area was the finding of the Tretheway Mine on a property which had been examined and prospected by a number of men and rejected. There is a gentleman living not many miles from Thessalon, and a very fine and deserving fellow he is too, who would have owned the Tretheway Mines, but after days of careful examination, like others before him, he passed it up. W.G. Tretheway was in B.C. when the cobalt rush began and he came east and went to Coleman Township where staking was being done, happened on the property so many had rejected and stuck to it until he found native silver, and the property became the Tretheway Mine and Coniagas, out of which Mr. Tretheway made six million dollars.

The celebrated Conistock Lode, one of the great mines of the western States, was discovered by a grubstaked prospector who sold his interest for an old pony and outfit to enable him to find a better one. He found out too late that his pony cost him millions of dollars, and his discovery had become one of the world’s famous mines.

The romance of prospecting has only begun in Algoma and I feel sure Marcelle’s wildest dreams of wealth were only a small vision of the enormous riches yet to be revealed even in this part of Algoma. I was present one day with a number of men who owned mining claims and had visions of wealth. One was going to travel, another build a palatial home, and so forth. When Marcelle was asked as to his intentions he said, “Well sir, when I sells my mines I’m goin’ to buy some new underwear”.

I give him credit for his modesty and noble ambition. ….... J.B. Dobie