June 2014 Field Trip
Preserving and Promoting local history for the former Rideau Township
Log Fence

The Wilbur Mine

Photo from the 17th Annual Report, Bureau of Mines, 1908  

Wilbur Mine site 1907. The buildings in the left center with smoke stacks are the boiler and compressor houses. Appearing over the roof of the boiler house is the top of the headframe which housed the engine room for lifting ore from underground. To the right is the rockhouse, i.e ore storage bins with railway ore cars running underneath to be loaded with ore. Note the telegraph or telephone line on the right.  

Eventually the ore was mined out, or became too costly to mine, and the mine closed in 1911. The mine and hamlet were abandoned.

An interesting adjunct to the meeting was the presence of about a dozen people from outside of Rideau who came to learn about the Wilbur Mine or to share their experiences from working in the area. One of these people was the present owner of the mine site, Mark Chiarelli.

The meeting at St. Andrews

The meeting was well attended including people from out side of Rideau.  Always remember that the RTHS monthly meetings are open to all with an interest.

Speaker with Owen and Ron

Left to right, Jordan Smith, Owen Cooke, and Ron Wilson taking the opportunity to chat after the meeting.  

Jordan Smith is a science writer for a financial services company. Away from the office he is an energetic explorer of an array of "Lost Mines" in Lanark County. One such mine is the Wlbur Mine. Smith laid the foundation for a description of the history of the Wilbur Mine with an overview of the financing and construction of the Kingston and Pembroke Railway between 1871 and 1884, and how the construction of the Kingston and Pembroke Line opened up a vast terrain for mineral exploration along its right of way in the complex Grenville Geological Province south of Calabogie. Many potential mineral prospects were found. At least six warranted some level of exploration and development work. Most were iron prospects although one (Clyde Forks) contained barite and minor amounts of copper, gold and silver.

One of these iron deposits would become the Wilbur Mine which was discovered in 1880 and abandoned in 1911. The mine was located four kilometers south of the railway station at Lavant. A railway spur and a road were constructed into the mine site. A second railway spur serviced a nearby sawmill in the same time period. The Mine was in large part owned and operated by the Bethlehem Steel Company. The iron ore was shipped to the Bethlehem Steel smelter in Pennsylvania until 1900, and after that to the Algoma Steel Plant at Sault Ste Marie. For a time the Wilbur Mine was the largest iron mine in Ontario.

There was also a second iron deposit in the immediate area known as the Boyd Caldwell Mine which was owned and operated by the Caldwell Family of Renfrew. It was an underground operation extracting ore from the #7 zone.

Both the Wilbur and Boyd Caldwell Mines have been abandoned for over a hundred years and both sites are overgrown and returned to nature. The old workings are flooded and not accessible.

Speaker Smith has focused on mine genealogical or mine sleuthing field research at the Wilbur Mine site. He searched for road and railway right of ways, building foundations, ore and waste piles, mine shafts, abandoned machinery, talking to senior residents, and locating old maps, photos, and census records. He has integrated this research into reconstructing what the community and mine may have looked like.

The community had houses, boarding houses, a school, a store, and a population which varied between 100 and 250 persons. When the mine closed in 1911, the 1911 census records indicate 68 persons were living at the mine site and 2 others worked at the mine, but lived at Lavant. Of these 68 persons 30 worked at the mine, six of whom were miners, and one a driller. Others were firemen, engineers, teamsters, mechanics, labourers, carpenters, and an accountant, plus wives and children.  

Associated with the mine operations was an office, a powder magazine, a boiler house, a compressor house, a headframe, an ore crusher, an ore storage and loading facility, an ore weighing facility, and the railway spur line. The ore was hand cobbed, a process where the ore and waste rock were separated by hand, in all probability by women and children. The ore zones were accessed by a combination of small open pits and an underground inclined shaft which operated to a depth of 300 feet.  

How large was the ore zone or zones, what was the grade (percent of iron) of the ore being mined, and how many tons were mined annually or in total?  Production records do not exist, so the questions go unanswered. However, a 'best guess' by the Speaker was that three to seven thousand tons were produced annually during the mine’s heyday. An 1892 report indicates 100,000 tons of ore had been taken out of the Wilbur Mine.  

The The Wilbur Mine, Lanark County, Ontario

Presentation by Jordan Smith, May 20th, 2015
Article by Bill Tupper, photos by Susan McKellar