The Prospector

Mattie was famous as a prospector, and apparently was out prospecting in 1921 when he took ill and was forced to return to Corner Brook where he eventually died. His most notable prospecting adventure and one which alone would have made him famous was his discovery of the Buchans lode.

There have been several accounts of his discovery. The one below is from The Geological Association of Canada, Special Paper Number 22, 1981 - The Buchans Orebodies: Fifty Years of Geology and Mining; Principal Editor, Eric Swanson. The historical information in the Special Paper comes from a paper, Mining History Of The Buchans Area by George N. Neary.

Early Explorers of Buchans Area

.................In 1864 the Newfoundland Government instituted the Geological Survey of Newfoundland and appointed Alexander Murray as the survey s first director. James P. Howley was his assistant and, by 1887, had succeeded him as director. These gentlemen commenced a program of systematic geologic mapping of the island, Murray described Newfoundland as a wild and unopened country in which the interior could be travelled only with difficulty. He was dismayed by the fact that, except for admiralty charts of the coastline, there existed few topographic maps or surveys of the island. Using a theodolite or pocket sextant and a prismatic compass Murray and Howley charted their progress along the coastline and deep into the interior. The men made two excursions into the Red Indian Lake country in 1871 and 1875. Murray was in charge of the first and surveyed the valley of the Exploits River and Red Indian Lake. Howley led the second and, with Micmac guides, left upper Sandy Point in the Bay of Exploits on July 3, 1875, to survey and map his way along the Exploits River, Victoria River and Lloyd's River before continuing to the South Coast. He arrived at the telegraph station at Grandy Brook, near Burgeo, on October 27......................................pp 4-5

............................ The Harmsworths acquired the mineral rights in the hope that sulphur deposits would be found to fill the requirements of the paper making process in the new mill to be built at Grand Falls. Canning's task therefore was to reconnoitre the country under A.N.D. control search of sulphur or other minerals of economic interest. The Company had already hired Matty Mitchell as a prospector and guide.


Matty Mitchell

Matty was born in Halls Bay into a Montagnais and Micmac family. His forefathers were traditionally hunters and trappers and the wilds of the Newfoundland interior were their hunting ground. They travelled easily through the wilderness by waterways the length and breadth of the island along well-established routes from Conne River on the South Coast to St. George's on the West Coast and between these two points and Halls Bay on the Northeast Coast. For years they had served as guides to the island's explorers and geologists. Frank G. Speck. an authority on the Beothuck and Micmac Indians, wrote in 1922 that the old Mitchell family held a hereditary chieftaincy; on this account they had the privilege of hunting almost anywhere without hindrance. The family held proprietary hunting and trapping rights to an area around King Gcorge IV Lake. This lake is part of the headwaters of Red Indian Lake and was included in the lands leased to the A.N.D. Company. It is very probable that Matty had already worked for the Reid interests on railroad location surveys and in prospecting their fee simple lots. In the summer of 1905 he was in the employ of the A.N.D. Company and in mid August he was assigned to William Canning as his assistant.

Original Discovery

Matty Mitchell has been popularly credited with the original discovery at Buchans. The mineral occurrence was first noted in a report which describes the exploration work of William Canning in 1905. Unfortunately the author of the report, Canning, did not name the discoverer. Research has been unable to uncover any other concurrent reports relating the circumstances of the find or documentation that would serve to conclusively confirm that Matty Mitchell was indeed the discoverer. However, there is an abundance of confirming evidence in writings and in tradition. Furthermore, there is no record of conflicting statements or contradictory claims.

The first mention of Matty is made in an evaluation of the Buchans River Mine written in October, 1911, by Weed and Proben, Geological and Mining Engineers of New York City, which makes passing reference to Matty Mitchell as being the discoverer, George Frances Laycock, a highly reputable English mining engineer, was associated with the Buchans operations for many years commencing about 1907. An authoritaive account concerning mining development at Buchans, written by this gentleman in 1927, does not name the discoverer. He does lend weight to the popular belief by his statement: ". . . the original ore deposit which outcrops on the banks of Buchans River was discovered in 1905 by an Indian prospector employed by the Company . . ."

There are residing still at Buchans two old timers, Francis Perrier and Aubrey Goodyear (deceased December 17, 1979), both of whom had long active careers in association with the mining company since the very beginning of production They are both true pioneers of the Red Indian Lake coumry. They are to this day active and alert and colorful raconteurs of their memories of long ago. Francis Perrier, like Matty Mitchell, was a trapper, prospector and guide. He was in his mid-teens at the time of the discovery, knew Matty and was shown the prospect in 1906. He was a companion of Matty's oldest son, Lawrence. Francis relates the following: '"Matty with his son Lawrence and friend Jim Sheppard, carried out seasonal prospecting for the A.N.D. Company dunng the years 1904, 1905 and 1906. This prospecting was confined mainly to rivers and brooks. Matty had no education and Jim Sheppard. who had been to school, would draw rough maps of prospecting routes and mineral locations. Matty was paid $18 a month plus his food and camping equipment. At the end of the 1906 season, he was paid a bonus of $2.50, the equivalent value of a barrel of flour, for his discovery of the Buchans River deposit in 1905." Aubrey Goodyear. born in 1896, was junior to Francis Perrier by a few years. As a boy of 13 or 14 he worked for a few months at the Buchans River Mine as a stable hand. He fed and cared for the horses which, in teams of two, hauled supplies from Red Indian Lake into the prospect and hauled out bulk ore samples. He continued working for the A.N.D. Company as a helper on the kerosene boats which hauled booms of pulpwood down Red Indian Lake to the Exploits River and after freeze-up he drove a team of horses over the frozen lake transporting men and supplies for the various logging camps. He became a railroader in 1927 when the rail connection to the Buchans Mine was completed and served 33 years as a locomotive engineer with the mining company up to the time of his retirement in 1961. He describes the original discovery in this manner: "In 1905 Matty Mitchell, a trapper, discovered ore while boiling his kettle at Old Buchans (site of the prospect on Buchans River) The fire appears to have melted the lead and when the metal cooled Matty picked it up together with some other samples found nearby."

An item which appeared on December 31, 1927 in The Daily News, a newspaper printed in St. John's, had this to say about the discovery.

"An interesting story was told The Daily News last week in reference to the deposit of ore at Red Indian Lake. Some twenty-five or thirty years ago there was a Scotch marine engineer named O'Leary in this country, who requested the late John H. Freeman, a brother of Miss Mary Freeman and T.J. Freeman of this city, who was interested in minerals, to accompany him on a trip to Red Indian Lake. O'Leary had learned at Conne River, from the Micmac Indians there, that it has been handed down to them that on the route from Conne River to Halls Bay there was a considerable quantity of ore. These Indians had brought out some of this ore and given it to one of the French Priests at St. Pierre. This Priest, on his return to France in the winter, brought the ore with him and had it made into certain vessels which are now in the Church at St. Pierre. This occurred so it is understood, some eighty or ninety years ago. It is a matter of fact that Matty Mitchell, a Micmac Indian, and W.F. Canning. now of Bishop Field College, were together at Buchans when Mitchell pointed out to Canning where the ore was "

The statement that the Buchans ore was the same ore which was said to be known to the Micmac Indians many years earlier than 1900 seems a speculative one. There are other known ore occurrences along the Conne River to Halls Bay route.

Indeed a promising copper prospect was opened up near the Victoria River on the opposite side of Red Indian Lake shortly after the Buchans find. Nevertheless the story does lend credence to a theory, not widely held, that the Indians were aware of the ore and that Matty merely guided Canning to its location. We must conclude that it is almost certain that Matty Mitchell did prospect for the Anglo Newfoundland Development Company and did make the original discovery of ore at Buchans. We can say with even more certainty that he was the first to recognize its commercial possibilities and to bring this knowledge to the attention of potential developers.

It is sad to realize that such legendary figures can so quickly become all but forgotten, Matty's life was replete with exploits as a furrier, prospector and guide. Fortunately one of his guiding feats has been well recorded. In the winter of 1908 on a harrowing 400 mile trek he guided a herd of 50 reindeer with their Laplander caretakers from St. Anthony to Millertown. Matty was prospecting for gold on St. John's Island in the Straits of Belle isle when he became sick. He died in 1922 at about age 75 in his son's home in Corner Brook and so did not live to see his Buchans discovery become a successful producing mine..... pp. 9-11

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