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Chapter II: Fever of the Copper Ore

Typical miner's 'tilt' complete with clothesline. (II/8.)
We of the well-informed 1980s can scarcely appreciate the dubious view that most mining speculators from a century ago had of Newfoundland. Nor can we in this scientific era fully understand the jaundiced opinion that laymen had of geologists, mineralogists and their like. Prospectors were generally regarded as more eccentric than enterprising: one Scottish gold-seeker in Newfoundland was described to St. John's authorities in the 1860s as being a "poor demented creature who went about hammering at the cliffs but otherwise he appeared to be quite harmless."(1)

James P. Howley, director of the Geological Survey of Newfoundland from 1883 to 1917, wrote in 1898 that:

"In the earliest stages of the Newfoundland mining industry, all sorts of drawbacks had to be encountered and overcome...mineralogical knowledge of the country, impossibility of procuring skilled labour except from outside...but beyond all a blind and unreasonable prejudice...which amounted almost to a prohibition of any attempt at mining enterprise...."(2)

The overwhelming success of the Tilt Cove mine changed all this. As news spread of the immense profits being made by Charles Bennett and Smith McKay, prospectors and mining entrepreneurs began to converge upon Notre Dame Bay. When Bennett became Newfoundland's anti-confederate premier in 1870 and on 25 April 1872 abolished mining royalties completely, even the most reluctant speculators were stirred into action.

The subsequent rush for mining claims in Notre Dame Bay continued unabated for several years. Once an experienced mine expert staked a given property the surrounding territory was immediately blanketed by the claims of people knowing nothing of geology or minerals. Some claims were staked on non-existent land while others with alleged coastal frontage turned out upon survey to be situated miles inland.

Thus began the Notre Dame Bay copper boom. It peaked in the 1880s, died out with World War I and left in its wake over two dozen copper mines, the combined output of which transformed Newfoundland briefly into the world's sixth largest copper producer. During the boom years, literally scores of mining companies sprung up in and beyond Newfoundland for the sole purpose of wresting ore from the rocks of Notre Dame Bay. Local newspapers reported mineral discoveries with such frequent and cheerful exaggeration that, reading them, one has the feeling that mining ran a close second to weather in daily conversation.

"Wisha! mines is the greatest of blessins,
And I wants jist to tell ye now why it is,
Sure the counthry is pregnant all over,
With metal they call the "Proprieties."

"I was axed to take shares in a mine -
Says I, it's no harm for to try, it is,
We may hit on a lead or a vein
Of that illigant stuff the Proprieties.

"So I sends off some men for to blast -
It is done on the quiet and sly, it is;
For there's other folks watchin' our moves,
That are bint on the search for Proprieties;

"Well, we climbs up the side of a hill -
Faith tis meself that can't tell how high it is -
And we puts in a dhrill for a blast
In a lead for the copper Proprieties;

"And we hammers and hammers the dhrill.
And at every hard sthroke sure a sigh it is,
'Till we gits down about half a yard
In the rock for the lovely Proprieties.

Well, we gits out our powdher and fuse,
When says Mick, "Musha now thin how dry it is!"
Says I, we'll soon wet it, my boy,
When we lights on the copper Proprieties.

"So the blast is set off, and the hill
It is gone to ould Nick now, sky high it is;
But the divil a sign could we see
Of that illigant stuff the Proprieties.

"Well says I, let us dhrink for success,
It is no use at all for to cry, it is.
Sure there's quartz in the rock there, says Mick,
And he pints to a vein of Proprieties.

"Well, they say that in Brigus there's gold,
But what's that when compared with varieties?
Sure we've iron and copper and lead,
And silver, with copper Proprieties.

"We have mundick and sulphur and tin,
And all you've to do is to try, it is,
You'll find brass and amalgum and zinc,
Catalina stone too, and Properties.

"Arrah! sure thin you don't doubt my word -
Would you be afther sayin' a lie it is -
Spake aisy! Sure gold too we found
In this beautiful vein of Properties.

"The Specimint's gone to be thried,
Oh! Musha! and isn't it I it is
That will scather the told that I make,
From this illigant mine of Proprieties."(3)

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