August 2011

Eye on Business

The “who” that kicked it all off

By C. Ian Kyer

The Fasken Brothers


Robert, Alexander and David Fasken | Courtesy of Fasken Martineau

David and Alexander Fasken were key players in the development of the mining industry in Canada. The obituary prepared by Excelsior Life Insurance on the death of Alex in 1944 read: “David and Alex Fasken, in the late 1890s, were among the first to see the possibilities of mining development in Northern Ontario.”1 They participated in the development of silver mines in Cobalt, gold mines in Porcupine and base metal mines at Flin Flon, and helped fund exploration elsewhere. Their combination of business judgment, entrepreneurial energy, foresight, money-raising capabilities and legal expertise proved an important asset in the successful opening of Northern Ontario and other areas.

Although they were lawyers and successive managing partners of the law firm that still bears their name, the brothers had a long-standing commitment to the Canadian mining industry. When David died in 1929, the Toronto Star ran the headline “David Fasken, Wealthy Mining Magnate Dies.”

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Ontario government wanted to encourage settlement in the Clay Belt west of Lake Temiskaming and began to build the Ontario Northland Railway. In 1903, silver was discovered on the route and the Cobalt Silver Rush began.

The Fasken brothers played a key role in the successful development of these prospects. When the discovery was made, David acted quickly, and with E. P. Earle of New York, formed the Nipissing Mining Company Limited to finance its development. They secured claims covering over 846 acres. By 1908, the provincial geologist reported that Cobalt was “not only the world’s largest producer of silver, but it absolutely controls the market for cobalt.”

David served for years as Nipissing’s president and one of its directors, and by the time of his death, Nipissing was the largest silver-producing company in Canada. He was also a director and a substantial shareholder in La Rose Consolidated Mines and Trethewey Silver Cobalt Mine, each of which had mines at Cobalt.

The development of Cobalt as a major mining centre in Canada may seem to have been inevitable, but it was not a smooth road to success. The commercial development of the discoveries required significant amounts of capital, and the location and development of sources of power and other utilities, including air transport, in what was then a remote and rugged locale. David Fasken proved to be important in securing both.

The success of the Cobalt discovery spurred further exploration. In 1909, gold was discovered in the Timmins area. This time it was Alex who led the way. He represented the syndicate that obtained the option to exploit the claims and took an active role in the management of the new company, Dome Mines Limited, which he incorporated. He was a director and later became its vice-president. When the story of Dome Mines was written, Alex was called one of the “dominant personalities in the company structure.”

The brothers were key members of the syndicate that grubstaked the 1914-1915 exploration along the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border. This would lead to the founding of the town of Flin Flon in 1927 by Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting (modern day HudBay) to exploit the large deposits of copper and zinc in the region. David was also part of the group of Canadian and American millionaires that formed the Canadian Mining Exploration Company, which in 1912 was said to have 400 properties under consideration.

During David’s life, his younger brother Alex was his right-hand man. They worked together on many projects. On David Fasken’s retirement from business in 1919, Alex continued their many enterprises, including an involvement with Nipissing, of which he became president. Alex also helped found and incorporate the Ontario Mining Association.

1 Press release from Excelsior Life Insurance Company, September 1944.

C. Ian Kyer, a former partner and now counsel to Fasken Martineau, holds a PhD in history and is a noted and highly respected IT lawyer and the founder of the Canadian IT Law Association.

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