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The Uranium Mines of Cardiff

March 22, 2024

An H.R. Oakman postcard of Paudash Lake, with Bicroft Uranium Mine in the background, postmark 1971.

By Guy Scott

The Bancroft area of north Hastings County has a long history of mining ventures. Mother Nature endowed the region with a bonanza of minerals, many of them very rare or obscure. Within a 50-mile radius of Bancroft, there are 1600 identified minerals. Despite this bounty of nature, Bancroft is not a mining centre. Most of the minerals are obscure, minor or of no commercial value. But this was not always the case. A lot of mining booms (and busts) litter the history of the area. One of these stories relates to the great uranium boom of the 1950s.

It all started in the 1800s with the discovery of the element radium. Its practical use was that it glowed in the dark, but it was believed to help fight cancer. It was a very rare element, and it took 750 tons of rock to get one gram of radium. By World War I it was fetching $170,000 per gram. To encourage prospecting for radium, the Ontario government offered a reward of $25,000 for any discovery of radium in the province. This reward was huge in 1914 and led to lots of prospectors combing the hills of the Bancroft area. Small strikes were made all over the area, and especially in Cardiff Township. The Richardson Mine was opened along the IB&O Railway in Cardiff and samples were taken on and off throughout the 1920s. The most successful product was “radium water,” a natural spring water that was supposed to be very healthful. It was actually bottled and sold in Toronto!

But the big impetus occurred during World War II. Scientists had been experimenting with splitting atoms to release huge amounts of energy and the primary element for this procedure was uranium. Since uranium and radium were found together, interest in the Bancroft deposits was revived. Prospectors combed the entire area with their Geiger counters to find radioactive minerals for the war effort. The big mine at Crystal Lake was started in the hope the elusive mother lode of uranium lay under the lake. But the most promising spots were in Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories. Ed Dorado Nuclear at Port Hope processed much of the uranium that was used for the Manhattan Project that led to the first nuclear weapons.

After the war, uranium was still in demand. Amateur prospectors including G.W. Burns began to nose about some rumors of a mine near Centre Lake in Cardiff Township. In 1955, a company called Bicroft Uranium Mines was formed to exploit this strike. It won a contract from Eldorado Mining for $35,000,000 worth of uranium and the Cardiff Rush was on. A large mine with crushing mill was built at the Bicroft site. To house the workers, the village of Cardiff was built nearby. A second site called the Dyno Mines was opened further west along the old Burleigh Road. Two other large mines, Greyhawk and Faraday were started closer to Bancroft.

Uranium mining was a dangerous profession. In the five years of the uranium boom, 10 miners were killed in the mines. Most died from falls or rock collapses, but at least two died from carbon monoxide poisoning. The Cardiff uranium was primarily shipped to the USA where it was used for nuclear weapons. By the 1950s, more uranium was being used or electrical generation in CANDU reactors.

The boom didn’t last very long. Greyhawk Mine was the first to close, after only two years of operation. The Dyno Mine followed in 1959, followed by Bicroft in 1963 and Faraday in 1964. The market had collapsed and prices with it. New mines in other parts of Canada and the world were producing larger quantities at cheaper prices, flooding the market and driving down prices to the point the Bancroft mines couldn’t compete. The good concentrations of uranium were gone after a few years, and it became uneconomical to keep the mines going. It had been a good run while it lasted. The Dyno Mine had extended 1710 feet underground. The Bicroft Mine had 28 miles of side drifts. And the Faraday Mine had shipped $54 million worth of uranium. The sudden demise of all four mines shocked the community of Bancroft and led to worries about the area becoming a ghost town. Cardiff village in particular was worried about the loss of its raison d’etre. Numerous attempts were made to save the industry, but the world markets had spoken and the mines were abandoned.

The Faraday Mine was reopened in the 1970s. The rest of the mines were rehabilitated or cleaned up to stop dangerous radiation. Today three sites are accessible for rock hounds.

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