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From the discovery of the famous Kirkland Lake Break that hosted seven producing gold mines, to the launch of The Globe and Mail newspaper, William Wright has played an important role in Canadian business history. The Wright Hargreaves mine was one of the largest in the Kirkland Lake camp, turning out almost five million ounces of gold, and its profits were used to build a major mining company with interests across Canada.
Wright was born in England, and came to Canada in 1907, after serving in the Boer War. He went north and had a variety of odd jobs before trying his hand at prospecting in the Cobalt and Porcupine mining camps. He was as poor as the proverbial church mouse when he went into the Kirkland Lake region the scene of an earlier but fruitless rush to prospect for gold with his brother in law Ed Hargreaves. The two men spent as much time hunting for food as they did looking for promising ground to stake.
In July of 1911, Wright came across a quartz outcropping, and although it was almost dusk, he quite distinctly saw free gold in reddish feldspar porphyry. Three claims were staked, two of which were directly on the “Main Break” or fault line of the area. This initial discovery was the first rich find that established the Kirkland Lake camp. In the weeks that followed, the partners staked more claims. A married man, Hargreaves sold his interest in the claims almost immediately. Wright was single and held onto his interest, thus ending the partnership.
As with most successful prospectors of his day, Wright had an uncanny sense for staking the right ground. He also had the fortitude and determination to hold and work the claims over a period of five years, despite a lack of funds and, often, harsh conditions.
The ground staked by Wright eventually led to three mines Sylvanite, Lakeshore and Wright Hargreaves and gold totalling 13.5 million ounces. Sylvanite was sold, however, when Harry Oakes wanted one of Wright’s claims for his Lakeshore property; Wright had the foresight to exchange the claim for shares and a vicepresidency. The mine that Wright is best known for is the one that bears his name, the Wright Hargreaves. Despite numerous hardships and the lure of selling his claims for instant cash, Wright hung onto this property even through the war years.
In 1916, then almost 40 and a millionaire, Wright joined the Canadian army and served overseas until the end of the war. He enlisted as a private, and remained so by choice, several times turning down the opportunity of promotion. Upon his return, he turned Wright Hargreaves into one of Canada’s premier gold mines, which operated from 1921 to 1965.
In 1936, Wright founded The Globe and Mail, which became Canada’s national newspaper. In his later years, he shunned the limelight, took an interest in raising horses and community work, and kept a close eye on mining developments in Canada.
Wright is reported to have kept a packsack and prospector’s kit in the closet of his bedroom in his Barrie mansion until the day he died. It has been said that money did not really change the man, or his nature, because he knew that if he ever lost it all, he could hit the bush again.