Residents of Greenstone, Ontario mourn as a decades-old monument is about to give way to a gold mine

The 700 kilometer stretch of Highway 11 that winds through a vast expanse of Northern Ontario is home to many unique roadside attractions, from the “world’s tallest snowman” to polar bears and loggers.

But after this week, the landmark that welcomed residents and tourists to Greenstone will be gone.

The headframe of the old Macleod-Cockshutt mine, which was built in the 1930s at the junction of highways 11 and 584, is being dismantled by Greenstone Gold to make way for a new open pit gold mine that will is expected to begin operations in mid-2024.

“He represents home, safety, love, and he also represents our mining town’s heritage and history,” said Hilaire O’Brien-Walter, who was born and raised in Geraldton (now merged with Municipality of Greenstone).

O’Brien-Walter grew up on the same street as the headframe, which is the structure that sits above the entrance to a mine shaft.

“When you’re driving down that freeway, towards Geraldton, it’s the only thing that says to you, ‘Yeah, you’re home, you’re only a few minutes away. “”

“Torn Down in the Name of Progress”

Northern Ontario experienced a major gold rush in the early 1900s, bringing miners and their families from all over to settle in the region. At the height of the gold boom in the mid-1930s, the Little Long Lac area – now known as the Greenstone region – in northwestern Ontario became famous for its deposits, said Edgar Lavoie, writer and historian from the Greenstone region.

It was in 1934 that the original shaft was sunk at the Macleod-Cockshutt mine, although not much happened for the next two years, Lavoie said. In 1936, tragedy nearly struck when a “great fire” threatened to wipe out all the mines and towns in the region, he added.

Disaster for the booming mining community was averted, but the headframe of Shaft No. 1 at the Macleod-Cockshutt mine burned down. It was rebuilt in 1937 and has stood outside Geraldton for decades, guiding people home and helping extract $1.5 million in gold from its mining shafts, according to Lavoie.

“We now have an 85-year-old structure that is being torn down in the name of progress,” Lavoie added.

LISTEN | Greenstone, Ont., residents share what it means to lose this landmark:

Superior Morning7:54The Macleod-Cockshutt mine headframe in Greenstone, Ontario, collapses

A major landmark is falling apart in Northwestern Ontario, and it leaves a big hole in the hearts of many Greenstone residents. Logan Turner brings this story. 7:54

Greenstone City Council agreed to sell the landmark to Greenstone Gold in 2017 for $1.4 million, Lavoie said, paving the way for the company to remove the headframe — in addition to moving parts of it. provincial highway and demolish a neighborhood – and clear space for the new mine.

Yet seeing the workers begin to dismantle the headframe surprised many in the community.

“It’s really heartbreaking. It’s a very sad day here,” said Tim Milne, who has lived most of his 48 years in the community. “Many generations see this as something that should always be there.”

The headframe of Shaft No. 1 at the former Macleod-Cockshutt mine has stood outside Geraldton, Ontario for more than eight decades, marking the way home for residents of the community. (Submitted by Greenstone Gold)

Milne said he brought his family to say goodbye to the monument, before deconstruction began. His children already knew most of his headframe stories, but Milne wanted to share them once more.

One of them particularly stood out. The headframe caught fire in May 2000, but he and other community firefighters were able to stop the fire from spreading.

“We were able to save him then, but we can’t save him anymore,” Milne said, struggling to hold back tears.

Monument to commemorate

Milne said he and others at Greenstone wanted to see the landmark moved, but that was not possible, according to Christine Petch, assistant project manager for Greenstone Gold.

The company commissioned a study in 2016 to determine if it was possible to relocate the entire headframe, but Petch said the engineering report came back saying it wasn’t an option due to the age and condition of the structure.

Instead, she said, the company will consult with community members over the coming months to determine how to commemorate the structure’s history.

“We recognize that he is near and dear to many residents…and we plan to honor Macleod’s headframe,” Petch added.

What form that will take remains to be seen.

Workers at mining company Greenstone Gold began dismantling the Macleod-Cockshutt headframe in April, but the company says it is salvaging as much material as possible and plans to commemorate the monument. (Submitted by Greenstone Gold)