masthead image

Magpie Mine

History

Town site photo

The Magpie Mine around 1918.

Source: Land of the Big Goose

Three prospectors, by the names of Blackington, Burke, and Gibson, discovered a large iron deposit north of the Helen Mine in 1909. The Algoma Steel Corporation purchased the property and began trenching the main exposed vein, which was 60 feet wide and 2000 feet long. Diamond drilling indicated there was a large quantity of ore, averaging at least 33-37% in iron content.

In 1911 the Algoma Central and Hudson Bay Railway (later renamed the Algoma Central Railway), built a 12-mile spur line from Magpie Junction, so that equipment for the new mine, and smelter could be transported with ease. The mine, smelter and town site were all constructed in 1912. The site included the Magpie's head frame, the roasting plant, boiler house, a large machine shop, a storehouse, assay office and chemical lab, as well as the hoist house. Large beds were also prepared for the storing of coal and roasted matte.

In order to obtain power, a line was built to the Helen Mine's former powerhouse, until a hydroelectric plant at Steephill Falls was completed in 1913. However, one major obstacle would have to be surmounted before any mining could continue profitably. It was soon discovered that the iron deposits at the Magpie Mine weren't hematite, but siderite ore, which was harder to process because of its high sulphur content. Although the iron content was exceptionally rich, this type of ore had never been deemed profitable before. The mine was shut down in order for the engineers to redesign the roasting plant. It was operational again by 1914.

The roasting plant could produce matte containing 50 per cent iron that could then be processed at Algoma Steel's blast furnaces in Sault-Ste.-Marie. Shortly after reopening the mine produced 90,070 tons of roasted ore, but the general malaise in the North American industry forced the mine to close down after barely six months of operation.

The First World War (1914-1918) assured a ready market for young mine along with a high price for its product. The mine reopened again in 1915. The Magpie Mine was now the first siderite iron mine to produce any ores of this type commercially and profitably even though development costs had ballooned to over two million dollars, a small fortune for the time.

About 225 employees worked in the mine and the mill. The new mine soon supplanted the Helen Mine in production levels. By 1916 the Magpie had produced 211,000 tons of ore as opposed to the Helen's 110,000. Ores from the Helen Mine were roasted with those of the Magpie at the smelter on site. The highest output ever attained was in 1916 when over 210,522 tons of roasted matte was produced. From 1913-1922 the smelter produced 1.2 million tons of roasted ore.

Following the rise of inflation in the latter part of the war, the Magpie was forced to cut back its operations in order to meet costs. In 1917 the mine reduced its payroll to 173 employees and curtailed operations to one daily eight-hour shift. By 1918 the Helen had closed and the Magpie Mine became the sole employer in Northern Algoma.

In 1920, the roasting plant was shut down for a good part of year for general upgrading. Although it later resumed operation, by March of 1921 the rich ores that could be easily mined had petered out. The mine closed the following year. After clean-up efforts were completed, the last 300 tons of ore were forced out of the Magpie.

The town site, which Algoma Ore constructed for its employees, was a model town in its own right. Standing in a neat little row were 14 duplexes, all were serviced with electricity, water and sewers. Nearby stood another row containing three bunkhouses, a cookery and a dining hall that were used by the single men. Along the same row there was a hospital and a root house, while a company office stood in front the hospital. The company store sat beside the Warehouse and office, and a school was built between the family homes and office.

In 1912, when the town site first opened, nearly 300 residents called this piece of rugged bush home. When the mine reopened for good in 1915, the Magpie Mine counted no less than 600 residents. A post office that opened at the mine in 1913 lasted until 1922. When the mine closed in 1922, the smelter was kept intact due to the possibility of the Helen Mine's reopening. However this never materialized and the plant was sold and removed after 1926. The town site was also salvaged about the same time, ending an era forever.