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Adventure, fame and fortune all came the way of Sir Harry Oakes, the self-made prospector and mine-finder who transformed Ontario’s Kirkland Lake district into one of the world’s most famous gold camps. His outstanding achievement was the discovery and development of the Lake Shore mine, the first significant find in that area.
Lake Shore was the largest producer in the camp and, at one time, in the Western Hemisphere. From 1918 to 1965, it produced 8,499,000 ounces of gold at a recovered grade of 0.51 ounces of gold per ton milled.
Oakes was born in Sangerville, Maine. He embarked on a prospecting career several years after graduating with a B.A. degree from Bowdoin College in Maine.
For over a decade, a young Harry Oakes roamed the world searching for gold. He went first to the Klondike in 1899, and then to Alaska, New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, Mexico, Africa and the American West. He took a keen interest in geology, and observed that much of the gold in the Kalgoorlie camp of Australia was in the form of tellurides. While in Colorado’s Cripple Creek camp, he again saw gold in tellurides in a rock called porphyry. Those observations, and learning the difference between porphyry and granite, were soon to stand him in good stead.
Intrigued by news of discoveries in the Cobalt and Porcupine areas, Oakes returned to Canada in 1910, only to find ground near those discoveries staked. After hearing about granite-that-might-be-porphyry occurring east of Swastika, he headed off with his prospecting tools and $2.65 in cash. Within days, he found porphyry containing a small, weakly gold-bearing quartz vein outcrop on the south shore of Kirkland Lake, which he arranged to have staked.
Oakes continued prospecting, and found another promising group of claims. Out of funds, he teamed up with two brothers, Tom and George Tough, to stake this prospect. By mid-1912, the partners found a rich vein in porphyry, and by year-end, high-grade ore with tellurides was being mined. The Tough-Oakes mine, the first in the camp, later became the Toburn mine.
With money from that success, Oakes returned to his original discovery and began sinking a shaft. The original showings were not impressive, however, and it became difficult to keep the project funded. Convinced that the property contained extensions of gold-bearing veins found on neighboring claims, he formed a public company, Lake Shore Mines, to raise money and continue work.
Oakes’ diligence and tenacity paid off in early 1918, when a crosscut intersected a high-grade section of the vein later known as the “Main Break”. The richest part was later found to occur on the Lake Shore property, in places 100 feet wide and ultimately mined to an 8,000-foot depth.
In recognition of his achievements, Oakes was named a baronet in the King’s Birthday Honours List of June, 1939. His career was aptly described by The Northern Miner as “a monument to the opportunities of gold mine prospecting in Canada”.