A rare combination of geologist and entrepreneur, Jack McBean turned small, struggling companies into winners. He contributed to the success of the Upper Canada, Upper Beaver and Macassa/Tegren gold mines in Ontario’s Kirkland Lake region. He initiated exploration projects in the Arctic, which culminated in the discovery of the rich zinc-lead deposit that became the Polaris mine, the most northerly base-metal mine in the world. He turned Heath and Sherwood Drilling into a progressive company and was one of the founders of the vast Panarctic Oils organization.
Born in Ontario’s Glengarry County, McBean helped raise his younger brothers and sisters after his father died in 1936. In 1939, he obtained a degree in geology from the University of Toronto, adding to his knowledge with post-graduate studies at Queen’s University.
After being discharged from military service in 1945, McBean became the first resident geologist for the Ontario Department of Mines. A year later, he joined Upper Canada Mines as chief geologist. Shocked to learn that there was only enough ore for six months of production, McBean re-mapped the mine and assessed its potential. This work paid off when he discovered a new geological structure “the L vein” which quickly became the mine’s most productive source of ore, extending its life until 1970. Thus began McBean’s long and fruitful association with the Upper Canada organization. His effort to develop a gold deposit at a nearby property held by subsidiary Queenston Gold Mines was less successful. However, a mine was built in the early 1980s and named McBean in his honor.
In 1951, McBean took on a new challenge when he acquired Heath and Sherwood Drilling, a small company based in Kirkland Lake. Under his leadership, the firm became known for its technical innovation and carried out major programs at home and abroad.
In 1957, McBean returned to Upper Canada and soon found himself involved with subsidiary Bankeno Mines’ foray into the petroleum business.
Along with associate Dr. Geoffrey Charlewood, McBean met with Dr. J.C. Campbell Sproule, a recognized authority on the oil and gas potential of Canada’s Arctic. An exploration program was initiated in 1960 and took a unexpected turn with the discovery of lead-zinc mineralization on Little Cornwallis Island.
Lacking funds to continue work, McBean tried to get support from Cominco. He found success in1964 when the major signed a deal leaving Bankeno a quarter interest. Subsequent work showed that Polaris was one of the world’s richest lead-zinc deposits. However, low prices and government negotiations delayed the project until 1982 when production finally began under Cominco’s operatorship.
McBean and Sproule remained interested in the region’s oil potential, incorporating Panarctic Oils in 1966. The company was officially in business a year later with support from Cominco, Dome Petroleum and the government of Canada.
These diverse accomplishments demonstrate McBean’s ability to combine geological knowledge with business acumen and strong leadership abilities. His irrepressible zest for life shone through all his undertakings and won him many friends.