W. Austin McVeigh was one of ten children born to farmers working the land on Grand Calumet Island, Quebec, near Ottawa. It was here he developed his love of the outdoors and dreamed of the riches being discovered in places such as Cripple Creek, Colorado, and Cobalt, Ontario. Little was he to know that this humble beginning would lead to the discovery of two major mines and the formation of two respected Canadian mining corporations.
His love of the outdoors eventually led him to prospecting and, before World War I, he started searching for silver and gold in the Cobalt and Kirkland Lake areas of Ontario. During this time, he learned the basics of geology, mining and mineral valuation and developed a fine sense of sampling. In 1926, news of a gold strike sent him further west to Red Lake.
In 1936, McVeigh was prospecting around an active claim group in Red Lake and discovered a gold-bearing volcanic tuff and breccia formation. His thoroughness and precision while taking the cut channel samples paid off and the first hole drilled into the discovery intersected 27 feet assaying $7.00 gold per ton. This work led to the discovery of the Austin, McVeigh and South Austin veins that formed the Madsen mine. During its 38 years of operation, Madsen Red Lake Gold Mines produced more than eight million tons of ore and paid out more than $10 million in dividends to its shareholders.
In 1938, McVeigh went to Manitoba and began prospecting exclusively for Sherritt Gordon Mines.
In 1941, he was prospecting for gold about a quarter of a mile north of what would become Lynn Lake when he noticed iron staining in gabbroic rocks. The outcrop was stripped and sampled and yielded assays of 1.5% nickel and 1% copper. The remoteness of the discovery, almost 120 miles from the nearest town in the middle of a bog, dampened the company’s enthusiasm and further work was suspended.
Undaunted, McVeigh returned in 1943 and, with a magnetometer, outlined three other anomalies near the original discovery. Drilling commenced and the third hole intersected 84 feet of ore-grade mineralization in what was to become the Upper A orebody of the Lynn Lake mine. Eventually seven orebodies containing more than 14 million tons were outlined.
The nickel and copper deposits of Lynn Lake were among the richest deposits in the world at that time. Their richness enabled the establishment of a townsite, railway and mine complex and resulted in an estimated $14 million being injected annually into the Canadian economy.
The Lynn Lake development also led a surge in exploration, allowing Sherritt Gordon to prosper and become today’s Sherritt International Corporation, and Lynn Lake to develop into a hub for future mineral exploration in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
W. Austin McVeigh was a highly skilled and widely respected Canadian prospector and a mining legend. While famed for his discoveries at Red Lake and Lynn Lake, he made many other, lesser known, discoveries that were stepping stones to future mines. Equally important perhaps was the combination of tenacity, perseverance, skilled precision and intelligence with a quiet and patient manner. These traits made him an ideal teacher who instructed many young geologists and engineers of the time.