The announcement was made on a spring day in 1964 by the Texas Gulf Sulphur Company. The news astonished the Canadian mining industry and it was the biggest thing to happen to Timmins, Ontario since the discovery of gold 55 years earlier.
The story actually began on Thursday November 7th, 1963. Texas Gulf exploration geologist Ken Darke directed a diamond drill crew where to set up for drilling on the mineral anomaly known as Kidd 55. The very first drill hole was K-55-1. The exploration crew was set up in the northeast section of Kidd Township, roughly 24 kilometres from Timmins Town Hall.
Aside from a handful of drillers and geologists, no one else would witness the incredible events that would happen the next few days in that drill shack, as core samples from hole no. K-55-1 were being pulled out of the ground and placed in core boxes.
As the story goes, one of the samples displayed a streak of solid copper nearly a foot long. Ken Darke knew immediately he was standing on a major discovery. It would become the world-class Kidd Creek orebody with copper, zinc, lead and silver; so huge and so rich it was regarded as a geological freak of nature. It was a good Friday in Timmins, although no one in town knew it yet.
It would be another six months before Texas Gulf formally announced the discovery on April 16, 1964, causing whoops of joy, kicking off a major staking rush as well as a rush on buying shares in any company anywhere near the Kidd Township discovery.
It would become the discovery that guaranteed the economic stability of Timmins that continues to this day, according to several observers. It would also be the catalyst for a massive wash-trading scandal that would see Viola MacMillan, the long serving president of PDAC, sentenced to jail … but that’s another story.
People who remember will say Timmins was a much different place all those years ago. The economy was sound enough, thanks to the presence of half a dozen gold mines, but there was also a sense of apprehension in the community.
“Things were not that great because Hollinger was on the verge of closing. They were winding down their operations,” recalled Dan Kelly, a former city alderman and broadcaster.
“There were no discoveries to speak of in the Timmins area. There wasn’t much exploration going on outside of Texas Gulf.”
Indeed, in 1963 Hollinger Consolidated Gold Mines let its employees know that there was a Termination Payments Plan in place. Hollinger was continuing to make a profit, but only because of federal subsidies from the Emergency Gold Mine Assistance program. Employee turnover had reached 30 per cent. More miners were looking for greener pastures.
The fall of 1963 and early winter of 1964 had a lot of people wondering if Timmins had much of a future, Kelly remembered.
But it changed in a heartbeat on April 16th, 1964 with a brief message from Texas Gulf that flashed over the news wires, saying a major discovery of copper, zinc and silver had been made.
“BIG ONTARIO FIND OF ORE CONFIRMED,” said the headline in the New York Times on the front of its Business and Financial section. “Canada Mine Officials Elated By Report of a New Ore Find,” said a sidebar story.
Kelly remembered that the town went over the top with happiness and optimism and it was manifested in a rush at the local stock brokerage offices, where pensioners and housewives were madly buying up all available shares.
At the time, Kelly was a popular broadcaster at CKGB Radio in the Thomson Building on Cedar Street. The decision was made to get him closer to the action.
“During the Texas Gulf Discovery I moved all of my equipment over to Doherty Roadhouse (stock broker) and did the stock quotes every half hour from there, for about six months,” said Kelly.
“I had a desk in there. And all the prominent mining people in Ontario passed through those doors in that six months,” he remembered.
Newspaperman Gregory Reynolds remembers meeting many of those people. As the mining beat reporter at The Timmins Daily Press, Reynolds was assigned to get the stories behind the story of what was the world richest base metal discovery.
“It set off the wildest stock exchange trading explosion in Canadian mining history,” said Reynolds. Trading at the Toronto Stock Exchange hit what was then its highest ever mark – 16.6 million shares.
He said the sense of optimism in Timmins was most evident in the early days in the stock broker’s offices.
“The three brokerage houses in Timmins were doing fabulous business,” Reynolds remembered.
“It was the best news for Timmins. You couldn’t get a hotel room anywhere in town. You couldn’t hire a diamond drill; they were all working. It was just unbelievable.
“We had a staking rush that was fabulous. People staked everything that was within 20 miles north, east, south and west of the discovery hole.”
Reynolds also remembered that Timmins prospectors Don McKinnon, John Larche and Fred Rousseau had staked huge numbers of claims north of the city. From there, he recalled, they set up in a suite at the Empire Hotel to shop out their claims to the highest bidders.
“That suite ran 24 hours a day as a hospitality room,” Reynolds remembered. He added that many out-of-town geologists parked themselves in the room and slept there since all other rooms in Timmins were booked up.
“The staking rush lasted throughout the spring and summer of 1964 and then that winter there was a tremendous amount of diamond drilling on the properties that Rousseau, Larche and McKinnon had sold, plus all the other companies that jumped in and staked as well.
“So it was a good winter of 64-65, but nothing else was ever found except that original mine which was famous throughout the world. Russians came to see it. The South Africans came to see it. Australians came to see it. Everybody wanted to find a new Texas Gulf. The geology was unusual and it had mining people from around the world scratching their heads,” said Reynolds.
Reynolds said the new Kidd mine was up and running by 1966, something he said would never happen these days, with all the regulatory hoops and hurdles mining companies must cope with. He said the good times were beginning.
“Timmins was booming. It took five to seven years for all the exploration to be conducted on the mining claims that were staked and sold back and forth.” He said and that meant a lot of money was being spent in Timmins.
On top of that was the fact Texas Gulf was hiring hundreds of people and paying well. Texas Gulf was never unionized, said Reynolds, adding that the company had a corporate policy of paying the highest local wages and treating employees like family.
“That attitude was brought to the mine here and it immediately drove up the wages of the surrounding gold mines.”
Another change he said was that in order to keep their own workers, local gold mines had to change their attitudes towards the community.
Instead of saying they had ore reserves of two or three years, Reynolds said the gold mines had to open up and reveal they had ore reserves of six, seven and eight years. It was the kind of thing that would make a gold miner think twice before crossing the street.
“That gave security to the Town of Timmins, when it came to budget time. They were no longer worried that Dome, or Pamour or Broulan Reef was going to close in the next two years.”
“That all changed the economic base of Timmins. It became more secure. And therefore people were spending money, they were expanding businesses, they were opening the new businesses. The boom in the mining sector quickly spread to the retail sector and even to the property sector, he said, which sent the value of properties upward.
“There was that feeling of confidence; people saying, hey we’ve got a future and it’s not just a couple of years, we’re going to be around a long time. Texas Gulf is going to be around for 20 years, they’re paying big money, they’re spending big money in the community,” said Reynolds.
He said company officials also got involved in the community, active with the chamber of commerce and sitting on many local boards and charity organizations.
“THOSE WERE HEADY TIMES”
Former mayor and veteran city councillor Mike Doody said the discovery changed everything in Timmins. As the son of a prospector, Doody had moved to Timmins from Val d’Or and had been working as a broadcaster in Timmins for five years when the discovery when was announced.
“You know when you think about it, those were heady, heady times,” Doody recalled.
“The brokerage houses were jammed with people. Everybody wanted to get in on everything going on, all the small mining properties were somehow tied to the Texas Gulf property,” he said.
“At night, in the evenings, the downtown was full of people and what was on everybody’s mind, people were talking about the big find by Texas Gulf. Everyone knew it was the saviour of Timmins,” said Doody.
He said in time another issue that arose from the discovery was the question of where Texas Gulf would locate the smelter.
“It was a huge, huge issue at the time,” he said.
Doody recalled that Cochrane South MPP Bill Ferrier fought and argued, with the support of Timmins city council, for the smelter to be built in Timmins, and eventually that came to be.
“There was a lot of pressure put on Texas Gulf over that. But then Texas Gulf was also a great company for this community too. Once they got going, they were very good to the community,” said Doody, adding that it fostered positive changes in Timmins.
Change was obvious according to Dan Kelly
“Within a year of the Texas Gulf discovery, when the mine opened, you could see the whole complexion of Timmins change,” said Kelly.
“People fixed up their houses. At one time, some houses just had tarpaper on them and shingle paper. You could see the whole community was brightened up. People had more confidence in the town at the time.”
Change was also remembered by well-known Timmins resident, the late Grant Chevrette, who worked at the time as news director at CKGB Radio. In later years, Chevrette would become the Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Timmins.
He said there was a malaise in Timmins in some circles in the early 1960s as it was apparent that the Hollinger gold mine had cut back on exploration, a sure indication that the mine’s final days were on the horizon.
Chevrette said even though there was talk of the Hollinger closing, he said Timmins still had optimistic people. One of them, he said, was his father, Ludger Chevrette.
“I can tell you a story. My father worked underground at the Aunor Gold Mine. He left the Aunor in the late 1950s because he was concerned about his health. He went into prospecting. He worked in Quebec and was in charge of a crew there,” Chevrette said.
“My Dad only came home at Christmas time. I remember him coming home one Christmas, and this was before Texas Gulf, and he said that Timmins had to have more ore than any other place in the world, and that there would be major finds here,” Chevrette remembered.
“Shortly thereafter Texas Gulf was announced. And the following Christmas when he came home, I said to him, I said Dad you were right. And he said, Son there will be more major discoveries in the Timmins area,” Chevrette recalled.
“Of course, there was a staking rush. Everybody, his aunt and his uncle was out there staking claims, looking to tag onto Texas Gulf. It was just phenomenal, you know,” he said.
Working at CKGB Radio, Chevrette took part in some of the live broadcasts from the stock brokerage houses every day in late 1964. He remembered one businessman, who was not normally a market player, deciding to invest some money in the market.
“So be bought some shares, and the next morning he was in the stock market office when the market opened. He turned to his friend and said ‘I don’t believe this. I just made five thousand dollars from yesterday to today’. And this was in terms of 1964 dollars,” Chevrette laughed.
Chevrette said it was a life-changing moment for the community of Timmins. He said had it not been for the discovery in Kidd Township, Timmins could have fallen into the slump seen in many other small mining towns.
“There would not have been the incentive for mining exploration companies to come here and look around. And I doubt if there would be the Hoyle Pond, or the Lake Shore Gold … Texas Gulf was the catalyst for all the new mining exploration in the Timmins-Porcupine,” said Chevrette.
“This led to Timmins being what Timmins is today. There is no other single factor since the discoveries of the Hollinger, the McIntyre and the Dome mines that was so important; it gave Timmins a new lease on life.”
A BRIGHT FUTURE
Greg Reynolds would agree. He is definitely bullish on Timmins.
“Timmins has always had a mine in production since 1910. There has not been a single day that there hasn’t been a local gold mine in production. Having a huge base metal mine like Kidd to back up the gold, made Timmins strong economically.
Reynolds mentioned that western economies have struggled with several recessions in in late 1970s 1982, 1991, 1993, 2001, 2002 and then 2008.
“But Timmins didn’t really feel these recessions. Timmins became a supply and service centre for the mining industry,” he said.
And while mining is still hugely important Reynolds said Timmins has diversified and is no longer totally dependent on the old boom-and-bust cycle.
“Timmins is a regional centre that has an educational base, it has a shopping base, it has a supply and service sector. It can proudly say it has made the transition into a regional centre with a bright future and Timmins is going to be around for a long time.”