The Craigmont Corundum Mine & Village Story

In 1876, Corundum crystals (Aluminum Oxide AL2O3) were discovered by Annie and her father Henry Robillard on the mountain near their home (referred to as “Robillard Mountain”) as they were looking for cranberries on the flats of Conroy’s Marsh of the York River. Corundum is one of the hardest minerals on earth, second only to diamonds. It was an abrasive and used to cut and polish steel and a hardener in the making of steel wheels for locomotives and train cars. Due to its unique qualities, corundum was also used for grinding optical lenses.

In 1899, the newly formed Canadian Corundum Company leased the mining rights to 1,400 acres and began to develop the site at what would later be known as “Craigmont”. The first mill was a pilot project, which started in April 1900 and produced 20 tons of ore per day. It proved to be a success and in February 1904 a new larger mine was opened. It was the largest ore-concentrating mill in Canada with a capacity of 300 tons per day. The crushing mills were the heaviest and most powerful ever built in North America. The ore was drilled from the rock at the top of the mountain and transported by stone boat to a tramway that fed into the processors. The mine used 25 to 30 bush cords of wood every 24 hours in its’ three boilers to produce steam for drilling the rock and operate the concentrators. The finished product was a 75-100 pound canvas bag filled with “sand like” ore. A short rail line was built on some of the tailings to a loading dock for boats on the York River. There were two wooden sheds there to store the bags of corundum until the steamers arrived. The ore was then transported to Barry’s Bay by boat and barge such as steamers “Mayflower”, “Ruby” and “Geneva”. It was then loaded onto boxcars of the Canada Atlantic Railway and shipped to England, Germany, Belgium, France and the USA. In 1906, the mill produced 2,914 tons and sold for $209,973 – equivalent to over $30 million today. Canadian grain corundum sold for $220 per ton or equivalent to $10 per pound today.

Craigmont was named after Benjamin Alexander Craig, the Vice President and first General Manager of the company. The neighbouring sister mine “Burgess” was named after his wife’s maiden name. The miners worked at both mines and ore was processed at one or another mine to even out each mill’s capacity. Craigmont had seven managers in six years. Some were H. E. Haultain, D. A. Brebner, Mr. Bartlett, E. B. Clarke and Mr. Roche. The mine company was reorganized several times and had other names such as Manufacturer’s Corundum Company in 1909, Corundum Ltd. in 1918 and War-Time Metals Corporation in 1944.

The mine at its’ peak in 1906 employed over 400 men, many emigrated from Europe due to a shortage of local workers. The town had 2000 people living in boarding houses and single homes. The miners earned $1.50 a day working a twelve-hour shift. The town site was divided into two sections – “lower town” near the mill and “upper town” about ¼ mile away to the west. The town had a community hall complete with stage, general store, church, post office, school, 2 tailors, surgeon, professional photographer, and a telephone system. The homes were frame construction and had five rooms and a summer kitchen at the back. There was also a stage coach traveling to Combermere three times per week.

On February 3, 1913, a fire completely destroyed the mill. Some say that frozen dynamite was stored near the boilers and the blasting caps were nearby and a spark from the boiler ignited the caps. Mr. Canon, a blacksmith died while shoeing a horse near by and Seymour Henry was blown off his feet and ruptured his eardrums from the blast. He was never able to hear again. The cost to replace the mill in 1913 dollars was estimated to be $500,000 so it was never rebuilt. The mine operation was then transferred to the Burgess Mine and another mill in Jewellville, near Palmer Rapids. However, a smaller mine operator came in and worked the tailings until June 1921 and a new mill building was built for this purpose. They reprocessed 25,580 tons of tailings from which 755 tons of graded grain was produced from 1918 to 1921 under the name Corundum Ltd.

In 1944, with a new demand for the ore for industries during WWII, a new mine building was constructed in May of that year and corundum was milled until 1946 producing 200 tons a day from the tailings. Bill Kelly was the boss.

The mine consisted of a drilled horizontal mine of approximately 220 feet into Robillard Mountain as well as several “open pit” sites up the side of the mountain. The mine is now home to thousands of bats. These sites can be easily explored today. As well, several concrete and stone construction partial buildings can be seen.

There were four fatalities at the mine in the early years. They were Bill Tracey, Mr. Mulfantine in 1908, Mr. Canon in February 1913 and Jim Regan on July 27, 1946.

Today, Craigmont and Burgess Mines are essentially ghost towns. There is only one of the original buildings left at Craigmont and that is a stable once owned by the Regan family and now home to a reclusive monk. After the mine closed, many of the miners and families went north to other mine areas such as Cobalt and the homes were either destroyed or moved nearby.

This is the story of the once largest corundum mine in the world!