Life of a Miner

Local History Down the Line

Local History Down the Line
I was recently browsing through the Bruce Mines Museum archive room that I have been re-organizing and digitizing the contents of for the past few years.  I have barely scratched the surface of what needs to be done.  What a treasure trove of history!  I came upon an old binder of minutes from the Bruce Mines Harmony Women’s Institute.  In the back was an article, hand-written, that one of the members had copied from the Sault Star, dated Tuesday, December 2, 1924.  The mines had been closed for many, many years at this point, but the article gave me a perspective of what it was like to be a miner back in the days when the mines were thriving in Bruce Mines.  The author is unknown.  I have also inserted several photos that you can find on-line at: http://www.virtualmuseum.caSearch for “Bruce Mines A History of Copper”.

Local History Down the Line
“I want to tell you about how the miners worked and what some of them would do to make – no, not make, but get, more money.  I know whereof I am going to write because I have seen it done.

Almost all the mining was done on contract by the miners.  On the first Saturday of every second month which was known as “Take Day”, the officials would auction off the different contracts for different parts of the mine.  The drifting (tunnelling) would be at so much per linear foot at a certain height and width.  The sinking of the shafts and wings to be a certain size at so much per foot in depth.  The Stopping was let at a certain price per cubic fathom – why the fathom I don’t know – which would be 216 cubic feet or 8 cubic yards.

Local History Down the Line
The miners would gather around the office at about 3:00 p.m., the captain would ask who would level at a certain price per foot, take on a drift on a certain shaft.  If there were four men – (only two men could work at a shift in a drift) – that would do the work for the price mentioned, one of them would say he would take it and he would call out the names of his three partners.  Then the captain would name a shaft to be put down deeper which would require 6, 9 or 12 men, or a “winyes” to be sunk from one level to another.  Then the different stopes. 

Local History Down the Line
If there should be any work offered that was not taken the company would hire men by the month to work in those at $31.00 per month.  The next Monday was known as “Maye Monday”,  (why that name I do not know) when the miners would gather around the blacksmith shop and receive their allotment of tools that they would need for the next two months.  Drills, striking hammers, sledges, picks, shovels, claying bar and iron tamping bar, all of which would be charged to the contractors.  The drill steel was measured and marked for identification.  They also received their week’s supply of powder, fuse and candles.  Some of the miners would spend a half day setting up their striking hammer and grinding the face of it to suit them.  They were men who knew how to use a striking hammer.  We do not see many such men now.  Any striking hammer that has a piece of wood in it for a handle goes with the boss as well as with the men on the next “Take Day” what tools were returned the miners would get credit for them. 

Local History Down the Line
The first month of two months that the contracts would be for, the miners would be paid $31.00 and at the last of the second month the captain would measure up the work done for the two months and the miners would be paid in full for what they had done less the $31.00 received.  I have known cases where the last pay was not $20.00 and of others that were over $100.00.

Local History Down the Line

Local History Down the Line

The day after “Maye Monday” the miners would start to work 8 hour shifts, start at 6 a.m. and work till 2 p.m., the afternoon shift was from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. and the night shift was from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.  The day shift would manage to get underground by 7 o’clock then they would congregate on different levels, chat and smoke until 7:30 when they would disperse and stat to work.  They would work real hard until 10:30 or 11 o’clock when they would blast the holes drilled, then they would all gather together again in some drift and eat their “crib” – lunch – and smoke for half or three-quarters of an hour.  By that time the smoke from the blast would be cleared away, they would go back, clean out the ore blasted and leave the place ready for the afternoon shift men.  They would tie the dull drills in slings, have them on their shoulders, climb the ladders to the surface and walk half a mile to the blacksmith shop, arriving there about 10 minutes to 2 p.m.  One of the Captains would be here so he could see who was going to work as well as who had been working.  At 2 o’clock the bell would ring and the men would go home.”

Local History Down the Line

A preliminary sort was done in the mine, separating wall rock and ore rock. The ore would then be placed in the kibble buckets in the mine, hoisted to the surface to the head frame, and dumped by the 'lander'. The kibble buckets were hoisted to the surface by manpowered windlass, or after the shaft became too deep, the horse powered whim.

Skip cage found at bottom of shaft.
Skip cage found at bottom of shaft.
This skip cage (pictured left) was found in the bottom of the Taylor Shaft when the water was pumped out in 1968 by the Huron Bruce Mines Ltd.  It had been in the mineshaft since the mine was closed by the Mond Nickel Company in 1921.  Small ore cars were wheeled into the skip cage at the 150 foot level of the Taylor Shaft and then hoisted to the surface.
Restored Taylor shaft.
Restored Taylor shaft.

Local History Down the Line
Jane Smith has been interested in local history and genealogy for several years and has volunteered many hours in an attempt to digitize as much local history as possible.  She is enrolled in the Genealogical Research Studies program at St Mike’s college through the University of Toronto and has started a home-based business called “ALGOMA ANCESTRY SERVICES”, helping others discover their family histories.  She can be contacted at jstrumsmith@gmail.com.