Joseph Errington embodied the spirit of mining prior to the Second World War as the country pulled itself out of the depths of the Depression in the 1930s and mining became a prime force in creating a prosperous and bustling postwar Canada. Errington’s fortune was based on the success of the Little Long Lac gold mine near Geraidton, Ont., but his most remarkable undertaking was the development of the Steep Rock iron mine west of Thunder Bay, Ont.
Errington was born in 1871 in southeastern Ontario where he attended high school. In 1899, he opened the Massey mine for Col. R.M. Thompson of New York, then president of the Canadian Copper Company. He also served as mayor of Massey, Ont., for six years.
In 1926, he teamed up with noted geologist Thayer Lindsley on a project in Sudbury, Ont., that fell victim to the Depression’s low metal prices. The project’s funds, however, went into the development of Falconbridge Nickel Mines in 1928, now Falconbridge Limited.
In 1933, Little Long Lac Gold Mines was incorporated with Errington as president and Lindsley as vice-president. From 1934 to 1956, when ore reserves were exhausted, Little Long Lac produced more than $22 million worth of gold and was the cornerstone of what became Lac Minerals.
As soon as the Little Long Lac mine was up and running, Errington began developing the MacLeod-Cockshutt gold mine, also in the Geraldton district. It went into production in 1938.
Acting on the theory that iron-bearing boulders had their origin under the waters of Steep Rock Lake, Errington formed a syndicate to raise funds and directed that the bottom of the lake be drilled. Although the initial holes failed to find iron ore, Errington persisted and eventually discovered extensive, high-grade deposits that extended under the water of the steep-sided lake.
Developing Steep Rock presented a formidable challenge. Bringing the first deposit his namesake mine – into production involved one of Canada’s greatest engineering feats. Two canals had to be dug to divert the flow of the Seine River and huge suction dredges were employed to pump out the water in the dammed off lake and the deep layer of silt on the bottom.
The Steep Rock mine became a priority project during the Second World War because of its strategic importance as a potential source of iron ore. After five years of effort, the first ore was shipped out in October, 1944. Errington, however, died in 1942 before it was completed.
During his career, he was an associate of the principal minefinders of his day – Thayer Lindsley, Jules Timmins, John Hammell and others – and was involved with many other mining projects. “Joe Errington belonged to the all-too-rare type of citizenship on which a young country such as ours must rely for its upbuilding and progress” one friend, Gen. D.M. Hogarth, said of him. “He was a leader of leaders. The more remote the scene of operations, the more numerous and difficult the problems, the more was he stimulated to overcome what to others would be unsurmountable obstacles.”