The initiative of Jack Hammell to harness the potential of the airplane opened the floodgates to mineral exploration in Canada’s north.
It was Hammell’s ambition to “crack open the north,” and he did that through his pioneering use of aircraft to move men and materials to areas previously accessible only by dogsled in winter or canoe in summer.
In the late 1920s, he was instrumental in forming Northern Aerial Minerals Exploration. NAME, as it was called, pushed back the frontier of Canada’s north by operating a fleet of 10 aircraft from a string of 34 bases stretching across Canada’s north to service a crew of 200 prospectors. Out of NAME grew the predecessor companies that became today’s Canadian Airlines.
Although that massive and singular effort did not result in any mine development in the far north, it was a NAME prospecting party that discovered the Pickle Crow gold mine in northwestern Ontario.
NAME was the genesis of exploration in the north that resulted in some of Canadian mining’s greatest accomplishments through the exploits of the bush pilots who came to be identified with mineral exploration in Canada.
The saga of NAME was the epitome of Hammell’s vision, perseverance and force of character, but his other accomplishments were many.
His first major success came when, in 1915, he backed the prospectors who staked claims on the eastern shore of a northern Manitoba lake they named Flin Flon. It took several years, but Hammell’s perseverance while other backers came and went prevailed and the Flin Flon claims evolved into one of the biggest mining operations in Canada producing upwards of 70 million tons of zinc-copper ore.
The project that most clearly carries Hammell’s stamp, was the Howey gold mine in the Red Lake district of northwestern Ontario.
In 1925, Hammell went to Red Lake to inspect a new gold discovery made by Lorne Howey. By the time an agreement had been reached, it was winter. With lakes frozen over, the task of moving supplies in 200 miles from the railroad appeared impossible. However, Hammell was able to negotiate with Ontario’s forestry department for the use of seven aircraft. Supplies were then airlifted into the distant mining property marking the introduction of aviation to the business of exploration and development.
For years, despite its low gold grade, Howey Gold Mines was profitable and a mainstay of the Red Lake camp.
Hammell was born Dec. 6, 1876, in Beeton, Ont., but spent much of his youth in the United States. For a time, he pursued the career of a professional boxer under the name of “Kid Walton” and even tried his hand at newspaper reporting.
He returned to Ontario during the Cobalt silver boom where he quickly acquired a grasp of mining and developed a keen ability to raise financing.
During his lifetime, Hammell was responsible for developing scores of mines with eight of them being profitable producers. At the time of his death, they had paid out close to $200 million in dividends.
He was a lover of art and his home at Oakville, Ont., housed many masterpieces – works by Titian, Rembrandt, Gainsborough and others. He was a confidante of Prime Minister Mackenzie King, exchanging correspondence with him regularly.
Hammell died in 1958 at the age of 82.