Derelict home in the workers' townsite©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
Nearly a decade before the CPR traversed the north-western district of Ontario; prospectors had already discovered the glint of gold and copper. As early as the 1870's it was well known that high-grade copper existed by the shores of Burchell Lake, however the isolation of the site proved far too unfavourable for its development. With the advent of a rail link, through the charter of the Ontario & Rainy River Railway in 1902, the New York and Canadian Copper Company Ltd. finally established the Tip-Top mine in that same year. That December the O&RRR rail link was completed just a few miles north of the mine. An arduous trail was brushed to allow passage to Kashabowie Station. Shortly thereafter a narrow gauge railway was strung out to the mine site.
By the following year (1903) the Tip-Top Mine was operational and produced a respectable 768,000 lbs of copper, valued at $30,720. However the deposit proved to be elusive when only 72,000 lbs, valued at a mere $7,200, were mined during 1906-07. Operations were quickly suspended until copper prices improved. With the commencement of the First World War, copper prices had once again increased dramatically and in 1916 the Tip-Top resumed operations. In its first year it produced 56,000 lbs of copper, however the following year it boosted production by extracting over 420,512 lbs of copper, worth $84,677. However uncertain ore reserves coupled with spiralling inflation, caused by the war, forced the firm the Tip-Top to suspend operations permanently in 1918. The copper prices plunged in 1919, indefinitely shattering the hopes of reopening the mine.
Two decades later, during the Second World War, a vital need for iron, copper, and nickel prompted a few companies to explore the area. In 1942, the Frobisher Exploration Company Limited extensively surveyed and drilled the old Tip-Top Mine. The following year an ore body was uncovered containing at least 1 million tons of ore, grading at an average 2 per cent copper, but the property was never developed beyond that.
Following a second upsurge in copper prices, this time as a result of the Korean War, the property was purchased by the Coldstream Copper Mines Limited. From 1954-57, the firm sunk a three-compartment shaft, erected the shaft house, and mill complex. Construction was staged from Kashabowie Station on the Canadian National Railway and further development was facilitated with the construction of Highway 802 by the provincial government. In June 1957 the mine officially began production, and the mill began to process 1000 tons of ore daily. In February 1958, the company was in financial difficulty and temporarily ceased operations. During its brief eight months of operations the firm had produced nearly 4.5 millions lbs. The following year, the company was reorganized as the North Coldstream Mines Limited, and its working capital was greatly increased. Burchell Lake was about to enter its glory years.
As early as 1956 the CML had approached the government about developing a townsite for its employees. Initially two other mines in the area had also submitted requests for townsites, one of which included plans for housing over 1,400 employees close to Burchell Lake. However by 1957, CML was the only firm still interested in developing the townsite. Accordingly the provincial government granted the company the right to incorporate a townsite for 250 employees entirely within the mine's boundaries.
In 1959 work was underway on the construction of nearly 30 homes, a large bunkhouse, and a managerial townsite at the mine site itself a quarter mile away. Additional services were planned to bring some form of an urban setting. A two-room school was built, along with a BA service station, and Koski's General Store. A post office opened in 1961. Recreation facilities included a baseball diamond, doubling as an ice rink in the winter and of course a baseball field. In 1960 production resumed at the mine and within a year 331 residents called Burchell Lake home. Within two years the population grew to surpass to 400 residents. As additional housing demands increased the company added mobile homes to the townsite.
After the firm's recapitalization and a resumption of operations in 1960 the mine was ready for large scale production again. In March of the same year the shaft was deepened to 1400 feet and 9 levels were opened. Production was steadily increased and by year's end nearly 11,500,000 pounds of copper was mined, a record for the property.
With ample ore reserves, coupled with a steadily rising price for the commodity, North Coldstream's was in an enviable position. In 1966 however the company's fortunes had changed drastically. The mine's proven ore reserves quickly eroded as the average rich copper grades soon began to falter. Shortly afterwards copper prices also began to plummet and North Coldstream's ore reserves proved barely adequate. The company found itself in a serious financial dilemma and August 1967 the mine was shut down permanently. The firm closed its books with a handsome profit at hand and wound up its affairs. Seeing no prospective buyers for the mine or townsite the company simply walked away from the site.
The townsite eventually found a taker and after years of neglect, the management homes were salvaged and renovated into handsome summer cottages. The workers homes however, like the mine, were left to decay silently. Over a decade ago, the provincial government ordered a clean up of the mine site. The mine buildings were removed and the site was extensively rehabilitated. However to this day, padlocked behind a rusty fence, sit the empty bungalows, the ghosts of a bygone era.
In its life time the Burchell Lake Mine hoisted 2,728,000 tons of ore, totalling 102,300,000 lbs of copper, along with trace amounts of gold and silver, worth over $34,430,000.