In his day, Robert J. Jowsey was known as the dean of mine makers. He was indeed a charter member of Canadian mining, a true, “dog-team and canoe” prospector, whose career flourished through the frenetic heyday of the Cobalt silver rush, the goldfields of Kirkland Lake, and the base metal plays in Manitoba. As well, in a magnificent display of patriotism, he developed a magnesium mine to aid the war effort in the early 1940s.
Born in Eardley, Que. in 1881, Jowsey went no further, academically, than elementary school. After working at a few mines, he teamed up with Charles Keeley and John Wood in 1907 and discovered the Keeley mine.
Soon after, for a syndicate headed by Noah Timmins, Jowsey later discovered the orebody that became a big producer for Kirkland Lake Gold Mines. The mine yielded $36 million worth of gold during its 40 years of production.
After serving in the First World War, he was attracted to Manitoba and, together with Thayer Lindsley, took over the prospect that eventually became the Sherritt Gordon mine. His list of credits also includes the San Antonio gold mine (1932).
But the God’s Lake development created in the midst of the Great Depression proved his crowning achievement. The deposit was 400 miles from Winnipeg, served only by plane or a circuitous water route. The closest railway point was 130 miles away. Winter freighting over frozen muskeg and water provided supplies. And power was supplied via a 40-mile-long power line from a $700,000 plant – all of which was financed and built by Jowsey and his crews. The mine lasted 10 years.
During the Second World War, Jowsey learned magnesium was in critically short supply. Although he secured a dolomite deposit near Ottawa, producing metallic magnesium commercially was unknown at the time. Jowsey heard about Dr. Lloyd Pidgeon’s research into a process for the recovery of magnesium from dolomitic ores. He funded further pilot-plant tests that proved successful only to find that despite the metal’s scarcity bureaucrats in Ottawa were less than enthusiastic. Undaunted and in typical Jowsey fashion, he went straight to the top, to C.D. Howe the Minister of Munitions and Supply, who approved a production plant. The plant was run at cost through the war. Following the attack on Pearl Harbour, the U.S. government replicated the Pidgeon process, lent to it by the Jowsey interests, in several plants.
Jowsey also served the industry, becoming the third president of the Prospectors and Developers Association in 1934.