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Chapter VII: Buchans: Company Town in Transition

Drifting underground at Buchans, c. 1928. (VII/4.)
Mining towns have formed the background to many a play and song, poem and story. The very words conjure up visions of fabulous fortunes, reeling prospectors and shaking saloons. Although one could, with imagination, have applied similar images to Tilt Cove, Betts Cove and Little Bay years ago, the mining prime of these places has long since departed. The more recent mines at Wabana and St. Lawrence also now lie idle. Only Buchans(3) remains as the last large mining town of insular Newfoundland.

On 24 March 1903, Newfoundland's Prime Minister Robert Bond received a letter from Mayson M. Beeton of England which read:

"On behalf of Messrs. Harmsworth of London, England,...I have come to this Colony for the purposes of ascertaining whether there are available any timber lands and water powers suitable for the erection of pulp, paper and lumber mills of the capacity we want for the supply of our requirements at home... We are willing to agree that if, at any time, minerals should be discovered and worked on the said lands granted to us, a royalty of 5% of the net profits derived from such mining operations will be paid to the government."(1)

This letter represents the first document in the dossier of the Buchans mines.

The 'Messrs. Harmsworth' were Alfred and Harold Harmsworth (later the lords Northcliffe and Rothermere respectively), publishers of London's Daily Mail and Daily Mirror. They wanted to establish a pulp and paper industry in Newfoundland because they feared that their existing newsprint shipments from Scandinavia would be disrupted in the event of a major European war, which in 1903 seemed imminent.(2) Beeton initially intimated that the Harmsworths would accept land around either the Red Indian Lake and Victoria Lake watershed or the Grand Lake and Deer Lake watershed. However, upon learning that large portions of the latter area belonged to other concerns, Beeton specifically requested the former locale; the Harmsworths, said he, expected total control over their selected concession.

Total control is what they got. On 7 January 1905, Beeton and the Harmsworths incorporated the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company Limited (A.N.D. Co.); five days later the Newfoundland government granted the company exclusive timber, water and mineral rights for 99 years to a 2320-square-mile area surrounding the Red Indian and Victoria lakes.

The terms of the A.N.D. Co. grant stipulated that within three years the company had to have a survey completed of the concession boundaries. Hardly had the concession agreement been ratified by the Newfoundland government on 15 June 1905 than the A.N.D. Co. hired Sullivan and Canning, Chemists and Surveyors of St. John's, to survey the grant and also to assess its mineral potential. The company in particular asked surveyors to look for deposits of sulphur, it being an essential ingredient in the pulp-making process.

The survey company mounted a prospecting party consisting of two men. One was William F. Canning, the firm's junior partner and an assayer who had studied mining engineering at McGill University.(3) The other man was a Montagnais-Micmac Indian named Matthew or 'Matty' Mitchell.

Frustratingly little is known about the life of Matty Mitchell. He was born in Halls Bay, lived in Bonne Bay in the early 1900s and hunted around that time near Norris Arm. He knew the Newfoundland interior intimately and in 1908 guided a small party of people and an imported herd of Lapland reindeer along the 400 miles from St. Anthony to Millertown under formidable weather conditions.(4) Despite this paucity of information, Matty Mitchell's place in history is secure, for it was he who found the Buchans River orebody that gave rise to the Buchans mines.