Black Donald Graphite Mine
Renfrew County, Ontario, Canada
Painting by Ruth McMillan in 1976
Shows the Head of the Rideau Canal Locks in Ottawa, Canada in 1893
March 17, 2010:
Thanks to Taylor Kennedy for transcribing the following !
And, Happy St. Patrick's Day, 2010.
OTTAWA CITIZEN - SEPTEMBER 4, 1958
Once-Busy Graphite Mine Site Ottawa Valley "Ghost Town"
By Fred Gorman
CALBOGIE, Ont. - This fall the Wager / Wagar family moves back to Calabogie for the winter, the
town site of Black Donald Mine will begin its third year as the only ghost town in the Ottawa Valley.
What was once a bustling little mining community 13 miles west of here, with a population of 300, 10
years ago, now is occupied by two families, and the summer residents of Whitefish Lake.
The discovery of the largest amorphous graphite mine in North America, (sole producer on the continent
after 1938), was made by accident 63 years ago, by a Renfrew County farmer.
John Moore, who farmed a flat along the Madawaska River near Half Mountain Chutes, slipped on a steep,
moss covered slope on the south shore of White Fish Lake while rounding up his cattle one rainy, June
in 1889. Rising painfully to his feet, following the accident, Moore noticed his fall had torn the moss
from a vein of solid graphite, eight feet in width! Returning next day with an axe, he chopped a hole
six feet deep in the carbon vein, securing some excellent samples of the black ore.
Interest in the graphite was light in the 1890's, and it was six years before he was able to interest
a mining company in his discovery. Following and examination of the property, the Ontario Graphite
Company made him a cash offer of $1,000.00 for his rights. Being a poor man, he jumped at this chance
to be rid of his "White Elephant."
Irvine Moore, whose grandfather discovered the rich vein of graphite in 1889, still lives in an unelectrified
farm home, three miles west of the town site. His wife teaches in the one room school, where in the 40"s over 60
pupils went for lessons.
John Moore must have lived to regret his hasty decision, for in 1896, mining operations were begun. Early
records not readily available, but production figures for 14 years scattered from 1900 and 1951, show that
the property he had sold for a song, made over 14 millions dollars for it's owners!
The eight foot vein soon widened to 70 feet and dipped beneath the level of Whitefish Lake. It was striking
northeast, indicating the main ore body would be entirely beneath the lake bottom.
An incline shaft was sunk, following the ore body to a depth of 90 feet. Everything was proceeding nicely,
until the heavy floods of the spring of 1901 brought disaster in form of a cave in, which completely flooded
all underground workings.
With the shaft abandoned, a new mill was erected, and an electric power generating station was constructed on
the river, three miles south of the mine. Transmission lines carried 4,440 volts to the mine and town site,
where it was transformed to line voltage for use in the homes. Black Donald became the first community in
the whole district to have electric power.
GENERATED ALL ELECTRICITY
Site of powerhouse, erected on Madawaska River in 1902. It supplied 4,440 volts to the mine and townsite, three miles
to the north. Black Donald enjoyed the only electric power and lighting for miles around. A second generator was
added in 1928 bringing the horsepower of the station up to 750.
Three years after the flood, Robert McConnell leased the property from Ontario Graphite, sinking two shafts
in an attempt to recover ore lost to the cave in.
Both his inclined and McConnell shafts were unsuccessful in locating the ore body, and he sold out in 1908.
George, William and R.F. Bunting, sons of an Alabama cotton planter, came to Canada in 1907 and found
themselves in the mining business the following year. During the first war, the mill was destroyed by fire,
and a new 18 ton refinery was built. The Patno vertical shaft was added, and a level put out under the old
workings encountering the main ore body.
The M.J. O'Brien Company, owners of the lumber empire south of Renfrew, made an unsuccessful attempt to add
a graphite mine to their extensive holdings, when a test pit was sunk to depth of 20 feet on an island in
the lake. The O'Brien limits adjoined the mine property on the east, and it was hoped the main ore body would
extend far enough in that direction that a second mine could be opened. A 20 foot cross cut at the bottom
of the pit, however, apparently showed such a little graphite that further exploration was unjustified.
All work was dropped.
Prior to 1900, all ore shipped, was carried by horse and wagon around the western end of Whitefish Lake,
to Mount St. Patrick road, through that village, and down to the railhead at Calabogie.
A total of 30 miles, Tandem wagons carried 10,000 pounds, while single teams could haul 40 bags. In winter,
the route was shortened by a few miles, crossing the lake on the ice. Sleighs meant the loads could be
doubled, and often 14 teams would be put into service on the shipments to Calabogie.
At the turn of the century, a road was built through the bush over a direct route, cutting the trip to its
present 13 miles. Trucks were started in 1930 and at the beginning only carried 40 bags.
By 1938, all available ore had been exhausted from the under ground workings, leaving only the huge support
pillars in the tunnels. The company reverted to reclaiming the old tailings which they began to pump from
the lake. This operation went on until 1941 when war pressures sent new blood into the operation.
Frobisher Explorations Limited were asked by the government to investigate the potential of the mine.
That winter, some 30 drill holes probed a total of 3,500 feet into the lake bottom, proving that some
40,000 tons of new ore remained. Frobisher bought the mine and renamed it Black Donald Graphite Limited.
Sixty men were employed in three shifts over the next 10 years. By 1951, production was up over 80
percent higher than the previous year.
One third of the ore was new, coming from the support pillars of solid graphite left in the old workings.
The balance was being reclaimed from old tailings. Newer separation methods were getting values of 60 percent
carbon from what had been considered waste. Some $390,000.00 was earned that year.
The final cave in came on a Sunday afternoon in July, five years ago Jim Bridges had returned to the surface
of the Ross shaft, from an inspection tour of the sump pumps on the 300 foot level. The hoist man was
complaining of the heat, and wanted to swap jobs.
Down behind his general store, Jack Wilson was taking some dinner scraps to his hound, who had been trying
valiantly to make himself heard in Mount St. Patrick! Filling the dog's dish, he whirled suddenly to the lake
where a mighty roar had begun. As he watched, a giant hole opened in the water, and what looked like Niagara
Falls began to tumble into the crater. For two full minutes the muddy water of the lake rushed over the ledge,
and then as suddenly as it had begun, the cataract was swallowed up, and only a dying whirlpool of debris
and foam marked the spot. A second later the back blast of air came blowing spray of mud, rock and debris
high into the air, to shower down onto the beach all around him. Only then did he fully realize what must
On the western edge of town, the old McConnell vertical shaft had long since been covered with heavy timbers
and a slab of concrete. It suddenly exploded as the compressed air column rose, blowing the timbers and
slab through the tool house which had been built there. Splintered wood showered for 100 feet around.
At the Ross pithead, air rushed up from the three hundred foot level, loosening the planks and blowing
sand and earth away from the timber cribbing for 16 feet and more.
Thus ended the colourful, 58 year career of the largest amorphous graphite mine in North America. A career
marred by the loss of only one life during its entire history, and during which it had earned nearly
$20,000,000.00 for its owners. Black Donald Graphite Limited continued salvage operations on a greatly
reduced scale until 1955, at which time every available pound of "black lead" had been refined and shipped.
SUMMER RESIDENTS ONLY
Art and Edith Wagar can usually be found on their front porch, reading or simply watching fishermen on the lake
below. Their daughter Corine, works in Calabogie, and commutes every day. They move back to Calabogie in the winter.
The other summer residents, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Olechowsky , and their two grandchildren spend most of the summer
at their summer cottages which they rent on the Madawaska River at the Half Mountain Chutes. Both men were
former miners, Wagar coming there from Timmins, Ontario, in 1923.
Transcribed by Taylor Kennedy
Names for Search Engine: Centennial Lake, Mountain Chute, Camel Chute.
E-mail Allan Lewis
March 28, 2010:
I read with interest the article sent in by Taylor Kennedy about the Black Donald Mines. I had JUST found out the day
before, that the man my great aunt Anna Prytula married was Stephen Walchuk / Wolchuk. This was on her marriage record
of 1925. On their marriage record it said he was born in Poland, and was a blacksmith at Black Donald Mines. I'm wondering
if Taylor has ever heard of that last name before in relation to the area.
Something happened to Stephen (death, maybe) for he and Anna were no longer together. For I find that some time between
1936 and 1944 Anna had married Bennie Manuqiewcz. Either Stephen died, or Anna did not like living up there at the Mines
... and left him...??? I don't know where she met Bennie...possibly Ottawa...
Anna Prytula died in 1945 of Tuberculosis. She and Benny had no children. I don't know if she and Stephen had kids or not.
Maybe Stephen died of T. B. too. Since Anna and Benny had no children, and Benny was not blood related, I have not
traced him to find out whatever happened to him. I think family lore has it that he left for Florida at some point in
his life, after Anna's death.
I can't tell from the marriage record if the o in Wolchuk is an o or an a...i.e. Walchuk. I was just wondering if this
surname was prominent in the area of the Mines, or if Stephen was just a hardworking man from Poland going to where the
work was in this new land.
Taylor and Karen:
It's possible that Stephen emigrated to the already-established Polish community in Wilno, Ontario, west of Black Donald Mines.
Is he in the 1911 census for Renfrew County?
I used to fish in the Calabogie - Black Donald Mines area. On the highway between Calabogie and Black Donald is The Polish Embassy -- a one-story hunting camp.
This is a very old hunting camp, made of logs I think. It is a landmark in the area and sits right on the South side of the Highway.
There is a sign on the building stating "The Polish Embassy" and a colourful painting of a dancing bear! It's unique in the area.
April 19, 2010:
Hi, regarding your article on Black Donald Graphite Mine, please change the information to read Ard and Edith Wagar and their daughter Corene.
Your note will be added but I cannot change the original story as I did not report it, just transcribed it.
The original reporter could alter his work.
... Taylor Kennedy
August 21, 2011:
Thanks to Taylor for the following. It relates to the Dodge family in Renfrew County.
OTTAWA CITIZEN - FEBRUARY 15, 1928
Graphite Producing Areas
The main graphite producing areas in Canada are centered in the Perth, Bancroft and Calabogie districts of Ontario
and the Buckingham and St. Remi areas of Quebec. Probably 75 per cent of the total graphite produced in Canada has been extracted from
the Black Donald Mine, 13 miles east of the village of Calabogie.
The largest production in point of value yet registered came in 1917, when 3,814 tons valued at $402,892 were obtained, the output in 1910
being valued at $74,087. In 1915 at $124,223, in 1925 at $158,763 and at $188,511 from 2,592 tons of ore in 1926.
OTTAWA CITIZEN - AUGUST 5, 1931
Closing Of Graphite Mines All But Seasonal
Black Donald Mines Were Not Flooded
RENFREW, Aug. 4 - An injustice has been done one of Renfrew county's leading industries by a large section of the Canadian Press.
It was said that owing to flooding of the graphite mines at Black Donald in Brougham Township, near Calabogie, those mines had
ceased to be a going concern. There was no flood at the closing of operations is but seasonal and temporary. These mines are
among the richest of their kind in the world, with an output going to all parts of Canada and the United States. Stock is all
in the hands of one family which has never offered any for sale. In the heart of a forest and on the banks of Whitefish Lake,
the mines employ 60 men three seasons of the year and 75 in winter, when cutting of wood for heating of mill and drying stock
goes on. Electric power to the extent of 700 h.p. is generated on the Madawaska, two miles from the mines.
These mines are among the very few graphite mines in the world, and in Canada have no competitor.
OTTAWA CITIZEN - OCTOBER 13, 1933 -- The Bunting family at Black Donald Mines
Buntings Are Great Batters
When it comes to facing stern realities, Mr. R.F. Bunting, owner of the graphite mines at Black Donald in Renfrew County, is a batter,
who simply will not strike out. Old Man Adversity can stand out there on the mound and pitch everything he's got, but this
affable industrialist just smiles and demonstrates that "he can take it."
The Buntings left all that the southerners of the States deem best in life to live on the rocky bluffs that mark the hinterland of
Black Donald that they might develop the tar graphite deposits that hitherto received but spasmodic attention from Canadians.
A mine of considerable potential value was developed with sedulous care and extreme patience, the product, found it's way to nearly
every market in the world then came the avalanche of business, prices and all those with hearts less stout, would have folded up
and returned to the comfortable south, but not the Buntings - they weathered the storms, they manned the pumps, they kept the
heraldic flag of their house flying, and now the miners are returning to the cavernous underground. Mr. Bunting thinks President
Roosevelt is doing a great job but he's convinced that the most important quality just now next to being a good Democrat is useful
Canadian citizenship with a high objective and they have demonstrated that the formula for usefulness and happiness can be found
far back among the islands of beautiful Whitefish Bay, where the rocks are made to stay and the fishes leap and play, just as
efficaciously as in the hearts of a nation or in the busy marts of men.
And thanks to Carol Gibson for the following:
I have a copy of The Black Donald Story. There are several references to Elizabeth Dubois-Hunt and there is a page devoted
to her which includes a picture of her husband, Dick Dubois. I scanned the page and hopefully have attached it correctly.
Thanks to Carol for this page from The Black Donald Story (page 167)
The picture also includes Jerry Dodge and Ambrose Dodge. I gather Ambrose and Elizabeth were siblings since Ambrose's parents
were Jeremiah Dodge and Bridget Bridgeman.
In 1965, presumably because of the flooding, Ambrose left Black Donald and built a cabin on Malcolm Lake in Ardoch Ontario which
is due south of Black Donald by 50-60 miles. He moved there along with two couples who had cottages in the Black Donald Mine
area and who were also displaced by the flooding. Unlike the others, he intended to live on Malcolm Lake full-time. The other
couples hailed from Ottawa and Pennsylvania, USA.
By 1965, he was about 70 years old and it was hard on him in the winter as there was no road into the cabin, only a lane behind a farm
which wasn't cleared. He stayed in Ardoch only one year. The farmer helped him move to Burritt's Rapids where he lived with relatives,
I understand. He died in the 1970's and is buried in the Mount St. Patrick Cemetery.
My husband and I have owned Ambrose's cabin since 1985. The farmer whose property he crossed told us that Ambrose was very good with
horses and liked to play cards. While I was always curious about him, I didn't find out more until I stumbled across of copy of
The Black Donald Story. When I showed the pictures to my neighbours, they recognized him.
Good luck with your research.
July 7, 2012:
Hello. I got your email addresses when I googled the Black Donald Graphite Mine.
I think my Grandfather may have worked in the mine in the late teens’ and early 20’s (1915+ to say 1930)
What would be the best way to “search” to determine if it’s the case.
He may have worked there and met the family of his first wife, and her family members may have set them up!
Thank you in advance
Hi Pat, Taylor and Karen:
Thanks for this.
I'd also like to know your Grandfather's surname, Pat. Maybe we can locate the family in the 1911 census. Also, there may be a
census record of the men who worked at the mine.
We might get lucky and find a great bunch of mine workers who would all be enumerated as living in a group at the mine site.
In my own case, I found out that my great uncle worked at Black Donald Mine from his marriage record. My great uncle worked
there about the same time frame as your grandfather. So try and get your grandfathers record of marriage, it will probably say
his occupation and where he lived at the time of his marriage.
By the way, what was your grandfather's name anyway?
I have found the following:
On his marriage certificate he was listed as
John Joseph Stofko
Labourer- Black Donald
He was 20 when he got married , and he was married in 1915. I think he met his first wife in Calabogie, as the marriage certificate
shows Calabogie as a place of residence.
This has been a lot of fun in learning who they were.
I have the Black Donald book and would be happy to look names up if you provide them.
Oddly enough, I was up there yesterday on an historic tour sponsored by the Cloyne and District Historical Society. We didn't get right
to Black Donald Lake but we were nearby in Camel Chute.
(This book is also available for reading in Ottawa ... see posting below dated November 15, 2012).
Does anyone know of a Polish trapper named Bill Kasar (unsure of spelling) who lived along the shore of “Whitefish Lake” approx.. 1960?
I think he was in his 80’s at that time. Or Steve and Mary Warnoff who had a cottage on Green Lake? Mary (can’t remember her maiden name)
had been a Black Donald resident as a child. (see posting and picture from Carol Gibson, dated July 7, below ... Al)
I am sorry that these surnames don`t ring any bells for me, but I am glad to see some discussion of the Black Donald area, and the Polish people.
I am not familiar with either of the lakes mentioned, as the scope of my reasearch surrounds Carleton and Lanark counties, with off-shoots here and there......
but not Whitefish Lake or Green Lake at this time.
However, I would be interested in knowing what other people have to add.....so if you can please click `reply all`when responding I will be thankful.
Searching Walchuk, Prytula, Gladysz, Gerylo, Gyrylo surnames
Read your story of black Donald mines
my grandfather and grandmother were born and raised there as were their children my mother being one of them ,
their names were Charles and Agnes Deslaurier, their children were Dan, jimmy ,Irene (hunt) Edna (Bowes) Mary(Sullivan)
for more info on black Donald mines try contacting Dan Deslaurier in Renfrew Ont.
... Ed Bowes
Attached is the scanned page of the piece on Bill Kazaar along with a photo of him. It's from the Rita Quilty book "The Black Donald Story",
pages 160- 161.
... Carol Gibson
November 15, 2012:
The following book is available at the Library of the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society:
Dewey Number: 971.381 QUI
Title: The Black Donald Story
Author: Rita Quilty
Publisher: R. Quilty, 1990
also, we have the following Cemetery Transcription:
Dewey Number: 929.571381 BAG MOS
Most Precious Blood Cemetery, Black Donald Road & Norton Road,
Conc. 12, Lot 20, Bagot Township, Renfrew County
recorded by Geraldine Kuehl and Dolly Allen
Search the OBOGS Library Catalogue for other local history and genealogy books.
September 27, 2015:
Thanks to Christine Daniels for the following:
I have just found something on the Renfrew County message board on Ancestry.ca.
Apparently, "Burnstown Publishing house is republishing the Black Donald Story as we speak, it should be available DEC/Jan - touch wood."
This was posted by Tim Gordon, who apparently is the publisher at Burnstown Publishing!