1821 Pioneer Iron Town

At last the giant furnace was in blast. From the top of the limestone ridge, Charles Hayes  (1751-1844)viewed his little empire in the bush.

The whole village was a hive of activity. There, from the banks of the Crowe River, a great truncated pyramid of limestone rose 30 feet up against the cliff. Hayes' "fillers" trouped, one by one, along the gangway to dump their barrows of charcoal, limestone and ore down the chute that led to the chimney.

Twilight was always the best time to feel the power of the works. The Crowe River drove it all. The great water wheels groaned and pumped the bellows, which forced the blast, which fired the furnace, which melted the iron ore. Flames shot up from the furnace and sparks blew across the village. At the furnace base, the molten iron was drawn out into troughs and men in leathers led the flow into side troughs. From the ridge, the glowing iron looked like a sow feeding its piglets. The molten flow hardened into bars - "pig iron".  Later,  it would be carted to Kingston to meet the British schooners.

As night came on, the fierce glow from the chimney stack grew until, as one of the villagers had complained, the whole place looked like it waserupting - an eruption, maybe,  but a controlled one. That was the whole point. It was as if a little volcano had been built and harnessed to create wealth, not devastation.


Here was an island of progress and commerce in a sea of forest. Hayes had built Upper Canada's first Irontown, 15 miles from the nearest community. He had found a mountain of iron ore six miles away. His miners had begun to tear it down and bring the ore by barge to Marmora. Here he had built his dam, his mills, his village, and at its heart was the great blast furnace.

                                                            Movie featuring Andre Philpot describing Blairton in the 1820s

Now, at the start of this six-month long 'blast', the ironmaster's thoughts were more on the miracle of it all, than on the difficulties. The mine at Blairton could produce "an inestimable amount" of ore of the finest quality. By the time he had completed his second furnace, the ironworks could produce two and one half tons of iron on a day. It was the biggest and best ironworks in Upper Canada, and Marmora was our first Pioneer Iron Town.

The iron deposits in south-east Belmont were first recorded as early as 1816, when Captain Wm. Owen, chief hydrographer for the Great Lakes area, noted them on his map of the region. A few years later, on December 2, 1819, Reuben Sherwood wrote to Thomas Ridout, Surveyor-Ceneral of Upper Canada, reporting in the survey of Marmora Township, Hastings County, that"the North shore of Crow Lake abounds with iron ore of the best quality" and within a year Charles Hayes, an enterprising Irishman, had contracted with the government to provide a quantity of "iron ballast" from these deposits, and arrived in Marmora to carry out this work. As it happened, Mr. Hayes did not realize until he inspected the site that the ore bed was "out of the limits of the reservations made for such purposes", and in response to his further petition an Order-in- Council was adopted in October 1821 proposing that a survey be done of Belmont and Methuen Townships, whose boundaries, he knew, contained the great ore bed on which he relied. Soon after the survey was completed in 1823, Mr. Hayes acquired the deeds to the land surrounding the iron deposit. Unfortunutely he encountered insurmountable difficulties in carrying out his contract, not the least of them the problem of transporting the ore from such a remote part of the province to the eventual market. Mr. Hayes was just the first of a series of unsuccessful attempts to develop the mine in those early years.

Mr. Hayes' land patents,  covering 8534 acres in Belmont Township (including the "Big Ore Bed"  in Lot 8 Con. 1)  were issued in 1824.  Within months he had relinquished his holdings to Peter McGill, Anthony Monahan and Robert Hayes,  and the following year,  Messrs. McGill & Monahan surrendered their Trust to Charles and Robert Hayes,  who in turn sold back part of the property to Mr. McGill.  Neither operator succeeded in solving the problems, however.

For further research:
"A Species of Adventure" by A. Philpot
Hardcover, 142 pages, illustrated with original sketches and photos, Appendix of letters by Charles Hayes. Cover illustration by Sussanna Moodie - Miners in Marmora Available at the Marmora Historical Foundation

Susanna Moodie sketch of Marmora Mine

From his obituary,  we know that John Jones, 1772-1862,  born in Wales,  was one of the first iron founders of the Marmora Works.

The son of John Jones in Marmora was Edward Albert Jones (1847-1927).

James Quinn,  1794-1832,  settled at Lot 15. Concesion VI on a land grant,  with his wife,  Catherine.  He is believed to be one of the earliest employees of the Ironworks.

St. Matilda's plaque, 2009.

St. Matilda's plaque, 2009.

In 1831 the Marmora Foundry Company was incorporated, inspired by a prospective market for military and naval supplies and the government's plan to make the market for iron ore wares more accessible. In 1839, a Commission report recommended moving the penitentiary from Kingston to Marmora to enable convicts to provide labour in the mines. Neither of these schemes bore fruit. It was not until 1847, when Joseph Van Norman purchased the Blairton property for $21,000. that there was any further action,  but although he got the furnace going in 1848, and for a short time made sales at $30 to $35 per ton, carting the ore a distance of thirty-two miles to BelIeville, "over rocks and log crossings and roads so rugged that waggons were constantly broken", this venture too was doomed to failure, and Van Norman was forced to close the mine and works, losing everything.

Joseph Van Norman

Other short-lived attempts followed, notably in 1856 when an English company,  purchased the mine along with 20,000 acres of land to be used as a "fuel reserve". A large amount of this land located in Belmont was sold off at 30 cents per acre, but the mine manager had little understanding of the process of treating iron ore and this operation too was halted.

David Bentley - manager of the works c.1882. The residence referred to herein is 18 McGill Street.

The Ironmaster

©James Gordon 1995 SGB Productions - Performed on C.B.C. Radio

Well the Ironmaster said,
Get those fillers to the tunnel head,
Have the guttermen ready in the casting house tonight;
Get that water wheel turning,
Blast those bellows till the fire burning
In the furnace is a blinding white.

Ironmaster Hayes
Swears that one of these days,
He's going to melt that Blairton Mountain down,
He's going to make Marmora an Iron town.

It's a twisted, rutted hell,
A sea of mud from here to Belleville,
Along that trail some jokers call a road.
And it's far too far . '
To haul those iron bars
When an ox-cart is the only way to go.

Ironmaster Hayes
Swears that one of these days,
He's going to melt that Blairton Mountain down,
He's going to make Marmora an Iron town.
In a barge down at the wharf,
There's another hundred tons of ore ,
But that big chimney's standing dark and cold.
For though his iron heart was willing,
Hayes could never make a shilling
That molten metal was not a pot of gold
And the Ironmaster cried,
"Boys, I tried and I tried ,
but this cursed country's beaten me down
I'll never make Marmora an Iron Town." '

Chrles Hayes, Marmora Herlad (3).jpg