The Tett Mica Mine

Mica was mined in several areas of Frontenac County, within deposits located in Bedford, Loughboro, Hinchinbrook, Olden, Oso, and Storrington Townships. The mica mines near Devil Lake were located mainly in Bedford and Loughboro Townships, in the area which is now part of Frontenac Park. These included the Antoine Mine (so-named after Francis Edward Antoine, the Indigenous owner of the property), and first developed in 1895 by T. Taggart on Antoine Point at the head of Devil Lake. Others included the Warfel Mine (developed by W. Warfel; the mine is identified in current maps as the “Waffle Mine”) near Kingsford Lake, the Crab Lake Mine near Crab Lake, the McNamara Mine near Tetsmine Lake, the Amey Mine near Little Salmon Lake, the Birch Lake Mine, and other mines near South Otter and Slide Lake. The Tett mine was located near Lynch Lake. The mine, which was operated under the name “J. P. Tett & Bro. Mica Mine,” was undoubtedly the largest mica mine in the Frontenac Park area. During the years of its existence, the mine employed an average workforce of ten. The mine opened in 1899 and it was reported in 1901 that the Tett mine was, for a period, the largest producer of mica in the province. It was a short-lived distinction, however. As noted by Christian Barber in his history of Frontenac Park: 

The Tett mine’s production was dramatically eclipsed by that of the General Electric mine at the east end of Sydenham Lake. But over the course of twenty-five years – not all of that time at a period of record-breaking extraction – from 1899 to 1924, the Tett mine at Lynch Lake produced ninety-nine tons of mica with a value of $27,279. By comparison, the General Electric mine produced 5,781 tons of mica, worth $827,765, between 1900 and 1948.

Initially, mica was separated into papery sheets, useful for panels in oven doors, portholes in ships, and safety glasses. It was also ground up for lubricants. The use of mica by American manufacturers as an insulating agent in electric motors created a strong demand for the mineral in Canada, particularly during the time of production at the Tett mine. The amber mica (phlogopite), often found in the Canadian Shield’s southern regions, was in demand for the thinness of its layers and its transparency.

At the time, mining practises were quite different from today. Mica was mined using drills and blasting. Miners would drill one day and blast the next. Drills, both operated by hand and powered by steam, were used. In hand drilling, one person would hold the steel drill, while another would hammer it with a sledge. Each time the drill was struck it would rotate slightly, and with each strike, the hole would be progressively deepened. Progress was slow, and the blacksmith would frequently have to sharpen the drill. After the holes were drilled, they were packed with black powder which was then detonated. At the Tett mine, they utilised a steam drill as well as hand drills.

After blasting, the mica then had to be extracted. The rocks containing the mica would be raised to the surface using a capstan winch which would be powered by a horse or, in later years, by a steam-driven pump. After blasting, “muckers” would collect the rock pieces produced by the blasting, separate the ore from the waste, and raise the mica to the surface. Mined mica required cleaning and trimming by “cobblers”. Once the mica was brought to the surface, it was initially cleaned (or “cobbed”) at the mine, separating the sheets of mica from the rock. The larger pieces were trimmed into the mica “plates” used by industry. These initial sheets of mica would generally be about ¼ inch in thickness.

From the mine, the mica was then hauled by three-horse teams to Bedford Mills, where it was further split, sorted, and cleaned in a dedicated mica shed which had been built by converting part of the sleeping annex. The best pieces of mica – 5 inch x 8 inch chunks or larger – were shipped by the Tetts using their tug and barges to Canadian and international markets. This grade of mica sold for $5.00 per pound. After the first grade was shipped, the dumps were then worked over to retrieve all chunks worth saving, to make up loads of the smaller pieces. Finally, the dumps were worked over several more times, as smaller-sized pieces could be ground, making the mica useful in the manufacture of such products as roofing material, wallpaper, and lubricants, and hence marketable.

The trade in mica by the Tetts was thriving until about 1907, but was reported as only fair by 1910, when the Tetts temporarily closed the mine down. During 1913, the mine was actually operated under lease by Messrs. S. C. and W. E. Ennis of Kingston; work that year, however, was confined to prospecting for new veins. Tett records show that in 1914 thirteen barrels of mica were sold for $925.54, prices were dropping, and plans were again being made to close the mine. The Tett mine was inactive in 1916 and was initially closed in 1917. It was operated under lease for a few more years, finally closing for good in 1924.

Mica mining at the time was dirty, dangerous work. However, it supplied those residents of Devil Lake and area who worked at the mine a needed source of income after the closure of the sawmill and grist Mill at Bedford Mills. There is little evidence of the mine to be found today, as the forests of Frontenac Park have regrown, effectively hiding almost all traces of the mine.

John Gray

1 Christian Barber, Their Enduring Spirit. The History of Frontenac Provincial Park 1783 – 1990, Quarry Press, Kingston, ON, 1997, p.315