The only home left in Victoria Mines©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
In 1899, Ludwig Mond established the Victoria Mine, which was situated a little over four kilometres (three miles) north of the Canadian Pacific Railway's (CPR) Sault Branch. Mond's reasoning was simple. He had discovered what he believed was a superior refining technique for nickel. He offered the process to several steel makers, and refiners, who all turned him down. Mond decided to apply the process himself and purchased a number of properties in the Sudbury area. Victoria Mine, also known as the Mond Mine, was the first of the properties to see production in 1900.
To process the ores after roasting he needed a nearby smelter. He built one a short distance south of the mine on the CPR, at a separate town site called Victoria Mines. Ore was mined and transported from Mond (Victoria Mine) to the roast yard, situated halfway between the mine and the smelter. Other ores from the Garson Mine and the North Star were also processed here. Approximately 20 men were employed at the roast yards under contract, receiving 22 cents for each ton processed. Since there were no ore bridges at the yards, muckers (people who shovel ore) were hired to muck in and muck out all the ore. The ore was then smelted and shipped to Clydach, Wales (U-K), for refining and casting.
Initially cordwood boilers powered the smelter. That lasted until 1909 when power was strung in from Lorne Falls. After the smelter was upgraded from steam power to hydro-electricity its maximum output passed from 60,000 tons to 130,000 tons annually, thereby doubling its capacity.
A bustling town site grew west of the smelter on the north side of the line. At different intervals 300-600 people resided in the town. An extensive community was established and included no less than three boarding houses, one apartment building and 50 single dwellings. In addition, there were three general stores, livery stables, an officials' club house, butcher shop, barber shop, bowling alley, bake shops, a doctor's office, and the Mond offices. A post office opened in 1900, along with two schools, one public and the other separate. The mine posted both a sheriff and a police constable on site and constructed a jail to house all potential law-breakers. Three churches were also established, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and Anglican.
The CPR completed a station in 1904, which they later enlarged around 1908. A spur was added to service the smelter. There was also daily passenger service to Sault Sault Marie and Sudbury. A small section crew, posted nearby the station and water tower, serviced the railway yards.
The smelter employed 200 men by 1911, but plans for a newer and larger plant were already being drawn up. As the Mond deposit was now largely surpassed in production by the Garson Mine, it was thought to be more economical to roast and smelt the ore near its principal source. As well, the Canadian Pacific was linking its new Toronto line at Romford Juction 2.1 kilometres (1.5 miles) west of Coniston, which offered a lucrative connections to all four corners of the province. The smelter and yards were finally closed in 1913, and all machinery was transferred to the Coniston site.
In its short 13 years of operation the smelter had two major shutdowns; the first lasted from Dec. 2nd, 1902 to the end of 1904, with a brief spurt of activity in 1903. The second occurred in 1907 when the aerial tramway was partially burnt. Production was halted until the necessary repairs were made.
There were also three fatalities. The first claimed two lives in 1908 when the boiler suddenly exploded instantly killing both men. The two men had evacuated all the workers, but remained inside attempting to relieve pressure from the boiler when it blew up. The second incident occurred in 1911 when one of the workers, John Baby, was crushed by an overturning ladle or tipping bucket.
Within the year only a hundred or so residents remained. All the workers relocated to Coniston where a new and larger town site was developing. Many of Coniston's first homes were moved from Victoria Mines. The Anglican and Presbyterian Churches were moved to Coniston as well, where they are still used to this day. The public school closed in 1914 and students walked 4.2 kilometres (three miles) to the school in Mond. The separate school, which served a larger area, remained opened for several years longer.
Victoria Mines' one claim to fame was the birth of Hector "Toe" Blake, infamous coach of the Montreal Canadiens. During the 1950s, when Toe was in his prime, a few structures, along with the post office, which closed in 1956, could still be found on the town site. However, by the 1980s, only three structures remained, and since then one has disappeared. Today a company home and the separate school still stand, along with a few foundations and the smelter waste rock.