Everyone knows I love old photos as you can tell so much about the area by studying people and backgrounds– and today, I was privileged to view and touch part of Lanark County in person.
It all began with a phone call from Raymond Blackburn from Middleville last week about a photo of the old Caldwell’s Mill in Wilbur. To make matters even nicer, Raymond is the late Cameron Lalonde’s brother-in-law, and John Camelon (Camelon Hurricane Lamp story) had referred me to him.
Today he and his lovely wife Ruby dropped in and showed me the photo. Raymond said his father had found it when he took down an old log structure and he wanted to know more about it. I knew immediately where it was and I told him a bit about it, but I kept taking pictures of the photo so I could share it with everyone.
Wilbur Mine-Photo by:clay70 2010
The Wilbur Mine was one of Lanark County’s largest success stories when it came to iron mining, and it operated from 1886 until 1911. It was an underground operation extracting ore and producing 125,000 tonnes of ore from 1886-1900. Since almost everyone in town worked for the mine, the area was abandoned after the mine shut down and the post office closed in 1913. Both the Wilbur and Boyd Caldwell Mines have been abandoned for over a hundred years and both sites are overgrown and returned to nature. Beaver ponds etc. have removed almost all traces of the community–especially the old workings.
Of course it all goes back to a favourite family of mine: The Caldwell family. There is no doubt this family had their fingers in everything in Lanark County, and it has been noted they made some money with the Wilbur Mine. Boyd Caldwell, who I have mentioned a few times, put in a little time in a second mine which what was called Clyde Forks/Boyd Caldwell Mine. (Lavant iron mine is on lots 3 and 4, in 12 and 13 concessions) They also operated a steam sawmill (*see the Raymond and Ruby Blackburn photo) built near the new railway Boyd Caldwell built at Wilbur. The development of steam power provided a greater degree of mechanization. Scrap lumber from the mill provided a source of fuel for firing the boiler. The Caldwell’s were the stuff powerful 80s TV mini series were based on — they were in– and then they were out— and Boyd went back to Lanark and got elected to Parliament.
Flooded mine shafts-Wilbur Mine-Photo by: eric 2010
In February of 1887 a terrible accident occurred in the Wilbur mines at 1.30 on a Thursday morning. At that time a huge scale of earth, weighing many tons was without an instant’s warning, precipitated from the roof upon a number of miners, who were working around the skip car. Those who escaped instant death raised the alarm, which was quickly responded to. They went to work rescuing those still alive and recovering the bodies of the men that were killed.
Louis Clow and Joseph Revell, being only partly buried, were seriously hurt. Five men, John Burton, foreman, Thomas Woodruff, Julius Bagot, Wm. Carver and James McCormick, were directly under the centre of the mass when it fell, and all were taken out dead. Long before the bodies were recovered the wives, children and other relatives of the unfortunate dead had assembled at the mine, and many heartrending scenes occurred.
The verdict was: had the roof been properly supported by timbers, the accident would not have occurred. But it did not stop there. On the 3rd of September 1887 there was a terrible explosion which broke the leg of a youth named Dunn in two places. The other workmen escaped. On December 13-1889— *Donald’s sawmill at Wilbur Station, on the K.and P. R. was burned. The loss was $94,000– but their insurance was $9400 and in February of 1890 Wilbur mine was closed and then reopened again.
Hopper along rail spurs-Wilbur Mine-Photo by: eric 2010
Now, there are only three home left. According to Jordan Smith who has a great blog about mines called Dualsport Diary a few locals in the 50s decided to take a crack at mining there again. They spent three years surveying, drilling etc. –all for naught. About that time folks began to disappear. Not because they were heading back to a more prosperous future—but not one trace of them were ever found. Six other people suffered the same fate. All of them were near the mine and then they weren’t. Police, dogs and locals all searched for them and they were never found- save a few personal items. One wonders if they just didn’t fall into some dark mine hole. After all, the ore zones were once accessed by a combination of small open pits and an underground inclined shaft which operated to a depth of 300 feet.
*Photo-Caldwells Mills- Wilbur Ontario-Ruby and Raymond Blackburn collection
So what is happening to the long lost photo above from Wilbur that Ruby and Raymond Blackburn showed me today? They are donating it to the Middleville Museum– after all, we are not makers of history, we are made by history. (Martin Luther King)
July 14 1882–The Caldwell’s steam sawmill here commenced running on Monday last, and the “hum” of the circular saw can now be heard in this vicinity. In 6 few weeks the mill will be ran -both night and day. About 30 hands in all will be employed. Mr. Pollock, the courteous agent of the firm, informs us that a shingle mill will be added after a time which will continue running during the winter months, and will give employment to a number of additional workmen
Wilbur–The community had houses, boarding houses, a school, a store, and a population which varied between 100 and 250 persons. When the mine closed in 1911, the 1911 census records indicate 68 persons were living at the mine site and 2 others worked at the mine, but lived at Lavant. Of these 68 persons 30 worked at the mine, six of whom were miners, and one a driller. Others were firemen, engineers, teamsters, mechanics, labourers, carpenters, and an accountant, plus wives and children.
Jan 3 1890-–At Wilbur Station a few days ago, two cars, while being loaded with lumber and dabs for A. Caldwell & Son, Kingston, broke away, ran down the heavy grade about a mile, and were derailed by cow, which met instant death. The cars were badly shaken up.
Sept 12 1890–The Presbyterian congregation of Wilbur, Ompah and Mundel’s school-house held a union picnic in John McKenzie’s grove, about four miles from here, on Friday, Aug. 29th.
May 22 1891–Bush fires have been raging for several days along the K & P. Railway, in the vicinity of Folger, Livant, Flower and Wilbur. Near the latter place great destruction taken place and several buildings have been burned. For miles the smoke is so dense that nothing can be seen near the railroad. The residents have been kept busy trying to stop the flames. A great deal of cordwood. cut last winter, has been consumed. Rain is needed to stop the destruction. The station at Flower narrowly escaped destruction yesterday from the flames from the bush on fire, but was quenched finally without serious damage, not, however, before the operator on duty, Miss Lyon, had received a bad scare.
June 28 1889–Alfred Webb, of Wilbur, went to Kingston to attend court on June 11th, and disappeared the next day. He cannot be traced. His wife and family of seven children are greatly distressed. Foul play is feared.
July 12 1889-UPDATE-Alfred E. Webb, of Wilbur, tells a queer story. Some time ago he disappeared from Kingston, where he was looking after a lawsuit he had on hand. In a letter to his lawyer he says he was in court on Wednesday, June 12th, but how he got out of it he cannot tell, nor does he know what happened to him for eight days afterwards. When he came to himself he was a long way on the other side of Gananoque. He found a huge bruise on his breast, with the skin rubbed off. He got home on the 26th.
Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.
Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News and now in The Townships Sun