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(From 'GOLD' Magazine 1940)


Before the specific histories of the two mines on McKenzie Island are recounted, a rather lengthy, but very interesting excerpt from Gold: Magazine of Canada's North, January, 1940, is provided in order to set the historical stage of the developments on McKenzie Island.

The Legend of Red Lake

The history of early Canadian development tells of a country rich in legend and story, often handed down by the Indians from generation to generation, finally passed on to the white man in the days of the fur traders and Hudson's Bay posts. Many of our northern settlements, lakes and rivers have their names founded upon legends associated with their early history, and thus it is with Red Lake.

Red Lake, it is said, draws its name from a legend that, long years before the white man came to shatter the silence of the wilderness with his "thunder stick", Indian hunters once came upon a great animal foraging along the shores of a lake far inland from the great lake to the south (now Lake Superior). Thinking the creature was the "Matchee Manitou" or evil spirit, they slew it and its blood flowed into the lake, dyeing the water red. Thus, the lake became "Red Lake" and so it remains to this day.

Early history also records that Red Lake played a certain part in the definition of our boundaries. Mention is made regarding negotiations which took place back in 1761 between England and France, as follows: "according to the lines of its limits traced by the Marquis de Vaudreil, when the Governor surrendered Canada to the British, and comprehends on one side the Lake Huron, Michigan and Superior, and the said line drawn to Red Lake, etc. "When the line was traced, it was found that there were two Red Lakes and it was decided that the Red Lake, of which Isaac Long preserves the Indian Legend, and the scene of present-day mining, was too far north to constitute the boundary of Canada.

Although Red Lake has only been recognized as a mineral-producing district during the last twelve-odd years, nevertheless, its history goes back for at least one hundred and fifty ears. About the end of the seventeenth century, the Hudson's Bay Company established a post, known as Red Lake House, close to the present recognized site of the old post on the shore of Red Lake. The records state that it was a lonely post, deep in the wilderness, familiar only probably to the Indian tribes who brought their furs to the post to be traded for the products of the white man's civilization. The furs were then taken out by way of Hudson's Bay or down the Great Lakes. It is interesting to note that Red Lake is marked on Arrowsmith's Map (1795-1802) and Gullrock Lake is marked as Prince of Wales Lake. Since the post was well to the north away from the regular trade routes, few of the great explorers visited it, and no records were apparently kept at the post.

Dr. Bell passed through the Red Lake country on an expedition to the Beren's River district in 1883, but apparently failed to take any interest in the mineral possibilities of the area, and it was not until 1893 that any particular attention was devoted to Red Lake. That year, Dr. D. B. Dowling of the Dominion Geological Survey followed the course of Dr. Bell and spent some time in exploration of the Red Lake district. His initials and the date 1893 are engraved on a rock in Pipestone Narrows. Four years later, in 1897, a party of adventurous Englishmen and Irishmen, headed by a Canadian named R. J. Gilbert, operating under the name of the Northwestern Ontario Exploration Co. Ltd., worked their way to Slate Bay and, finding course gold on the high ridge about a quarter of a mile back from the Bay, they staked several claims. After staking, they proceeded to make their way out to record their claims, but, as they were disembarking, Gilbert's revolver slipped from its holster and, as he bent to pick it up, it discharged and his powerful form crumpled at the feet of his companions. In the intense heat of summer, it must have been a trying experience for the little group of men who had to haul the remains out to the railway over the long Red Lake trail.

After Gilbert's death, however, other members of the party returned to the scene of the find and, in spite of the remoteness of the strike, comfortable camps were established, the claims surveyed and a shaft sunk on the property. Apparently, those in charge became discouraged, though, for the work was discontinued and the project abandoned.

There is practically no record of anything of interest in connection with the development of Red Lake until 1912, when the Provincial Geologist issued a report that the Keewatin rocks of the Patricia district should furnish deposits of gold, iron and other ores. Considerable interest was aroused by this report and a young graduate of Queen's University, Norman Davis, scouted over the country with an Indian guide and took a number of samples near what is now the Howey mine. However, misfortune overtook this venture, as it did Gilbert's, and while Davis and the Indian guide were making their way out, their canoe, loaded with samples and supplies, was capsized and they lost everything and were forced to tramp for two days through the bush to the nearest camp. Apparently, they never went back.

And so another ten years elapsed. Surveying parties from the Ontario Department of Mines were pushing their way steadily northward. By 1919, the country as far as PP Lac St. Joseph had been mapped by Dr. Bruce and a survey of the English River was authorized with the concession that, should time permit, a side trip to Red Lake should be undertaken. The examination of the English River section was completed as far as Pakwash by July and so Dr. Bruce was able to spend several weeks looking over Red Lake. He found that a prospecting party from Winnipeg was located by the Lake at that time and that they had staked a quartz galena vein on the Shore of East Bay. News of the discovery was published by the press and as a result there was an influx of prospectors into the district in the fall of 1922, all believing that the discovery was one of native silver and had been made under conditions that heralded, perhaps, another Cobalt.

The names of most of those who went in to Red Lake at that time have been lost, but among the first were Gus McManus, Jack Williams of Quibell and Sam and Kenneth McDougall from Sioux Lookout. It seems that there was very little prospecting done, however, and when silver failed to materialize, the claims were allowed to lapse. The party headed by Gus McManus is said to have found some quartz stringers running back from the water's edge where Red Lake runs into the Chukuni River and these were found to carry free gold, so, on this location, on the 7th of October, 1922, McManus staked several claims, and to him must go credit for the first recording of gold claims in the Howey section of the Red Lake district. Meanwhile, Dr. Bruce had completed his preliminary survey and had found geological formations of sufficient interest to warrant a thorough survey to be made the following year. His report, published in 1924, was eagerly awaited by prospectors whose interest had been aroused by rumours about Red Lake and who only needed the report as confirmation before they acted.

Early in the summer of 1925, a group of citizens in Haileybury grubstaked Lorne Howey and his brother-in-law, George McNeeley, to prospect in Red Lake. They were accompanied by Ray Howey and W. F. Morgan, working for McIntyre Porcupine Mines. During spring and early summer, they had a fruitless search. Late in July, Lorne Howey cut his foot and he and his partner camped on what is now Howey Bay. Ray and Morgan went on up the lake. One day, while hunting deer close to camp, they came upon a spot where a large tree had fallen and its roots had torn the earth from the rock underneath. Here they found quartz stringers containing free gold. Thus, the first gold was discovered, close to where the mill now stands.

There is another story told. According to it, the party, working their way out in late July, were camped on Howey Bay. Finding a small quartz stringer at the water's edge, they started prospecting. Soon Ray heard the blows of an axe and rushed over to his brother - "the excitement of finding free gold caused them to literally weep for joy as they faced each other". "Looks like we got it!", exclaimed Lorne. "Ain't that what we came for?", suggested the more stoical Ray. "Now come see what I got."

The brothers had made their finds simultaneously. Ray and his partner, Morgan, struck a line halfway between the two finds and staked the nine west claims for the McIntyre Porcupine, while Lorne and George McNeeley staked the claims to the east. So goes the story and it is probably reasonably accurate. Although an effort was made to keep the find a secret, the news leaked out and, although winter was fast approaching, once again a great gold rush was on and interest in Red Lake was quickly running at fever heat.

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