Sunday, June 6, 2010

Spring SKIP Week 6 - Pioneers and Early Industrialism

Mother Nature smiled on us yet again for our final SKIP program of the Spring session. After a morning of much-needed rain, the sky faucet was turned off just before we began, so we didn't get soaked!

This meant we could carry on with Plan A for the day: a hike to the Silver Queen Mine site. Intrepid Interpreter Tim Wood returned to lead the program, kicking things off at the Lally Homestead by revving up our imaginations and taking us back in time. Millions of years ago this area was covered by a sea. Eventually the water gave way and huge mountains were eroded and changed over thousands of years. Glaciers came along and carved the land and mountains even more, scraping away most of the good soil around here and dumping it in other parts of Ontario, leaving behind lots of rock and boulders for the people who would eventually come to live in this part of the Canadian Shield known as the Frontenac Arch.
Next we moved on to the ruins of the barn foundation at the Lally Homestead, where he described how settlers were enticed to come here in the early 1800s with promises of a new life and free land and other wonderful things! How surprised they must have been when they left one hard life to make an unpleasant sea voyage to a wild land where they had to work and toil harder than ever to survive. In this land of rocks and trees, farms had to be cleared and the crops they grew were usually just enough for them to feed their families.

We headed down the mine trail, where we learned that one way farmers could supplement their income was through mining. Prospectors came to the area in the mid-1800s and when they found outcrops of gneiss, such as this one where Tim is standing, it was usually a good sign that there were profitable minerals below, such as feldspar, mica (which Tim is holding) and appatite. These minerals were all mined here up into the early 1900s.

Another major early industry was lumbering. One of the most sought after trees was the white pine, useful not only for buildings erected by the settlers, but also used in the masts of ships. This area once had forests of enormous trees. One of the earliest sawmills in the area was located a few kilometres away on Hogg Bay in the park - the Burgess Mill.

Soon we were at the Silver Queen Mine, where first we peered into the depths of a side drift to see how the miners had to drill by hand to make progress toward the minerals. Next Tim demonstrated (using some handy branch props) the process of "double jacking." Miners held onto a large drill while others wielding sledgehammers would hammer it into the rock - not an easy job!

We couldn't go down into the mine yet because it has not been opened for the season, but we urged everyone to come back this summer for a tour. (Once regular programming begins, schedules will be posted on the main Friends website.) We headed to the top of the mine, where we could peer down into the "glory hole," the main pit where the minerals were extracted using an ore bucket. At first horses would have been used to pull the bucket up, but eventually the Silver Queen acquired a steam engine, which would have made things a bit easier.

(As an interesting aside, we noted the enclosure that houses the steam engine was filled with a variety of plants, including lovely wild strawberries, that couldn't be seen outside of the fence. These plants are protected by the fence from animals, such as deer, coming along and nibbling them.)

The last stop on the trail was the bunkhouse. Tim took us inside and showed us how the miners would have lived. Then we stepped outside for a quick game of "Simon Says," and suddenly a cook from the past appeared! He took us back in and sat us down to explain the rules of the bunkhouse: no talking, no drinking, no playing cards, no fighting! He also enticed us (sort of!) with an explanation of his varied menu - oatmeal and potatoes for breakfast, potatoes and oatmeal for lunch, and oatmeal and potatoes (and beans if you're lucky) for supper.

We scooted back down the trail to the clubhouse where we enjoyed some delicious snacks from our own "cook," Beth, who was Skipper for the day. She treated us to a sampling of ginger beer (non-alcoholic, of course).

A big thank you to Tim for leading the program, along with our volunteers for the day: Beth, Jane, Judy and Steph. Of course we have to thank our great participants for joining in on the fun this spring! We enjoyed your company and hope to see you at the next session this fall! (If your friends are interested in being included on the notification list for SKIP, send an e-mail to

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