Sunday, June 5, 2016

Lost Mines of Lanark County - Part 4: The Places and the Players

The mines we’ll look at in more detail have connections to the following communities just west of Ottawa. All but Calabogie fall within Lanark County.

The area east of a north-south line running through Almonte and Carleton Place consists mainly of exposed limestone formations, including the unique Burnt Lands Alvar a few kilometers to the east of Almonte. The limestone here reveals only a few of the most primitive marine fossils (e.g. shellfish and trace fossils) but lacks the spectacular fossils of later eras because the glaciers long since ground away all the more recent fossil-bearing layers.  

To the west of this line rises the Canadian Shield, which forms an obvious ridge just outside Almonte and runs north to Pakenham along the Mississippi River valley. This ridge once formed the western shore of Lake Champlain, an inland sea that connected to the St. Lawrence River valley and the Atlantic Ocean after the last ice age about 12,000 years ago. Visible evidence of the ancient shoreline today includes the broad sand deposits along the Old Perth Road just west of Almonte, which were once beaches probably teeming with seals, walruses, and other creatures. Today the Lanark highlands is full of swamps and lakes that formed in the pits and valleys scoured out by the glaciers in the hard, impervious rock.

The geology of Lanark County promoted the formation of mineral deposits with industrial value. In the early 1800s, government surveyors exploring the area discovered this extensive mineral potential. They noted that compass readings were affected in some areas where the geology was known to be conducive to iron ore formation, suggesting the presence of significant deposits.

Mapping studies over the next few decades revealed a trend of north/south strikes, particularly along the area that eventually became the route of the K&P Railway. Some of the major mines that we’ll examine are indicated with red dots in the picture below; the dots along the left follow the K&P. For the most part these are iron mines, but deposits of silver, gold, copper, and other minerals were also identified. The discovery of potentially rich mineral deposits, combined with the waning square timber industry and the rising pulpwood industry, set the stage for developing roads, rails, mines, and settlement in Lanark County.

By 1871 construction of the K&P was well underway. As it pushed north, small communities around the pulpwood and mining industries sprang up. Some politics was involved as well: the original route of the K&P was well to the north of its current route in the area of Lavant Station. 

Note on the map the location of "Iron Mine" in the bottom left corner. This is the Wilbur mine. The community marked "Lavant" is not to be confused with Lavant Station, which was  incorporated by William Caldwell as "Iron City" in 1881 when the railway arrived.  

The influence of one of the local industry magnates—probably Boyd Caldwell or his nephew William (who was pursuing a mine near what became Flower Station)—got the route pushed south to its present location. Compare with the map above. 

Who were the Caldwells?

To understand the mines you need to understand the people behind them. The Caldwell name is unavoidable in this context. There were many Caldwells: they were movers and shakers, and many of them had the same name—which creates a lot of confusion when trying to understand exactly who did what. The Caldwells must’ve recognized this ambiguity, because sometimes they added or changed their names to help distinguish each other. As best as I can figure out by correlating reliable dates for births, deaths, and reports, these are the key Caldwells with respect to the mining story.

A key insight is that it was the cousins Thomas Boyd Caldwell and William Clyde Caldwell who had the main mining interests. Fortunately, both had distinguished political careers (federally, Thomas; provincially, William), which means there's a good public record on their activities. Unfortunately, their political record overshadows their personal business record and makes it hard to sift out any details about the mines. My sense is that their interest in mining was very much a sideline activity, with politics and running their main timber and woolen mill interests being their main focus. 

Thomas’s father, Boyd, began mining the Wilbur site in January 1880, before the arrival of the K&P in 1881. I haven’t been able to find much detail about mining activity at Wilbur before 1880, although some test pits were probably dug. Indeed, mining reports for 1884 note that early development had long since been abandoned and that little was known about prior activity beside some anecdotes from speaking with the Caldwells. The Wilbur mine will be covered in a lot more detail in a future post.  

The ambiguous names also create some mysteries about which descriptions relate to which mine sites. At the time, everyone knew who “Caldwell” was and understood the proper context when referring to “the Caldwell mine”. The available record often doesn’t clarify which mine is the subject; there’s just a reference to yet another “Caldwell” mine. This is further compounded by the frequent change in ownership of different mine sites, some eventually bought back by earlier owners. Throughout this evolution, even a mine that is named in a contemporary record may not reflect the true ownership. Locals probably knew it by one name, and people elsewhere may have used different names. Figuring out which descriptions relate to which mines requires building a timeline of activity at each location, reviewing ownership records, and correlating with other dated information. I’ve attempted to do this where possible and my story reflects my best understanding of the record.

In addition to their timber operations, Boyd Caldwell and his son Thomas ran the Appleton woolen mill, the ruins of which are still visible today at the falls in Appleton.

Alexander Caldwell, Boyd’s brother and himself a timber baron, built “Clyde Hall”, a beautiful stone home in the town of Lanark. 

An interesting footnote to this story is the dispute Boyd Caldwell had with Peter McLaren, another timber baron in the region. At issue was who could access waterways for the running of squared timber which was sent down the rivers to eventually reach the Ottawa lumber yards. At the time, waterways such as the Mississippi, Fall, and Clyde Rivers in Lanark County were privately owned—usually by the timber barons. The dispute eventually reached one of the highest courts in England and was finally won by the Caldwells, establishing the principle that waterways are open to all. As a result of this case, Canadians today enjoy access to most waterways and lakes across the country.

Here’s a picture of the K&P locomotive #9, the “Boyd Caldwell”, which probably dates to around 1886-1887. Boyd Caldwell died in 1888 so it’s likely this locomotive was named for him rather than his son Thomas Boyd, who would only be in his early 30’s and probably not yet wealthy (or socially established) enough to have his own eponymous toy.

Not to be outdone, in 1887 William Caldwell (who was 14 years older than his cousin Thomas and already an MPP) also scored himself a personalized locomotive, the K&P #10.  By this time the K&P railway to Renfrew had been complete for three years, so what better way to celebrate?

In the next post we’ll look into the mining technology of the day because it serves as another important basis to understand the historic record, and to interpret site features.


  1. I'm not sure how I stumbled on your blog, but I'm glad I did. I love your posts on mining in Lanark County. I look forward to the next one.

    I've been bicycling in this area for many years, and so many of the names you mention are familiar. Although I primarily ride on paved roads, I have ridden parts of the K&P trail, from Barryvale southwards. It's hard to believe that the small Clyde and Fall rivers were used to run lumber.

    Leona Gray (of Ottawa)

    1. Thanks--really glad you're enjoying it! Definitely more to come... stay tuned!