The Haileybury School of Mines (HSM) was born out of the legendary silver camp in Cobalt, eight kilometres south. Silver was discovered in Cobalt in 1903, and the community quickly became world famous for its riches, far exceeding Klondike gold towns. Cobalt became known as “the cradle of Canadian mining” not only for its wealth, but also the catalyst that raised Canadian mining to world class levels. These developments included financial (Cobalt profits encouraged financiers to fund subsequent mining elsewhere); technological (pioneering techniques were developed locally to refine minerals from the Canadian Shield ore); social (many of the prospectors, miners and financiers from Cobalt moved to other mining communities in Ontario, Quebec and beyond); and educational. The Haileybury School of Mines was established to provide technically-trained miners, and generations of its graduates went on to develop mines all over Canada and throughout the world. Graduates speak highly of its diverse curriculum and the career opportunities HSM provided them.
The idea to start a local mining school began with the need to meet the increasing demand for miners with technical training in the Cobalt silver camp. With over one hundred mines at the peak of the rush, industry quickly realized the pressing need to find individuals with expertise, not only in typical mining methods but also in milling, metallurgy, surveying, and engineering aspects of mining.
Much of the credit for the school’s growth belongs to Asbury Wilson, the first principal of Haileybury High School, who arrived in 1910. His vision brought part-time mining classes to Cobalt and to the basement of Haileybury High School. Many young boys enrolled in the new program, but heightened demands for military enlistments for World War I soon dampened early expectations of growth.
Following the war, a major effort followed to develop the mining program and bring practical components to its curriculum. In 1919 a new building known as ‘The Mill’ ( adjacent to the high school ) was completed providing a permanent home for the mining school. Labs were furnished by northern mining companies and included modern milling and metallurgical equipment suitable for extraction of both gold and silver ores.
In 1931 the original mill building was expanded with laboratories for Mineralogy-Geology, Physics, Chemistry, Fire Assaying, and Drafting. Increased enrolment filled the classrooms with eager young boys anticipating future careers in mining camps throughout the Ontario. The twenty-year period prior to World War II saw a number of graduates materialize as pioneers of the Canadian mining industry. These individuals helped shape the destiny of Canada.
The onset of World War Two brought drastic social and economic changes and the School of Mines could not sustain necessary enrollment. In 1944, the Royal Ontario Mining Commission recommended that the former School of Mines be acquired by the Province of Ontario and a new vocational training school, the ‘Provincial Institute of Mining’ (P.I.M.) be opened.
Ossian ‘Ossie’ Walli, an industrial chemist and former vice-principal of Timmins High and Vocational School, was hired as the new principal. The P.I.M. greeted forty-two students on opening day, September 4, 1945. Twenty-six veterans, representing every branch of the service, arrived in colourful attire including army greatcoats, navy bell-bottom trousers, and air force flying gloves and boots. Facing difficulties in securing suitable employment after the war, veterans chose the P.I.M. to bridge an educational gap in their lives. Students with a high school diploma could graduate in one year.
By mid-October, more than 80 students had enrolled and applications through the Department of Veterans Affairs (D.V.A) continued to arrive. The Board of Governors approved the hire of two additional faculty members, and then two more, to accommodate the expected 150 students in the new year. In May 1946, the P.I.M. conferred its first graduates to the mining industry.
By 1950, declining veteran enrolments resulted in only five D.V.A. sponsored students. The institute lengthened the original course by one year and initiated a strong national recruitment program designed to encourage younger students from high schools. By 1954 all students required a minimum grade twelve diploma for admission.
That same year mining engineer John Frey began his teaching career at the P.I.M. Frey’s arrival coincided with a booming Canadian mining industry which led the school to construct a 1,600 square-foot addition in 1959. Despite the addition, with its added floor space, the P.I.M. was forced to implement a waiting list for incoming students.
An alumni association, formed in 1959, grew to include more than six-hundred graduates by 1963. Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan began admitting three-year Haileybury graduates into their mining program thereby allowing them to complete a degree with two additional years of study.
A feverish demand for mining graduates throughout Canada in the early 1960’s indicated a potential first year enrolment of 200 students. Uranium mines in Elliot Lake, I.N.C.O. in Sudbury, and a host of new base-metal mines across the country collectively heightened the demand level for skilled, educated P.I.M. graduates.
Principal Walli’s connection with Williamson Diamonds Ltd. and the Anglo-American Corporation created a significant international link. In 1966, students from Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, and South Africa arrived on campus, marking an important milestone for the “World Famous” HSM.
In 1967, as Canada celebrated its Centennial, the Ontario government reports recommended an refurbishment of the province’s many vocational institutes, which included Haileybury’s P.I.M. Initial plans to make the HSM a centre for Canadian mining research were swept aside by a much larger initiative to incorporate it as part of a province-wide, community college system. Loyal supporters of the mining school were dismayed by this decision. As a trade-off, the school received approval for a five-fold expansion to its facility and the introduction of instrumentation as a second program. Premier John Robarts’ announcement, in the spring of 1966, confirmed the $3.5 million project. A new college, named Northern College, was created to bring together the P.I.M., Kirkland Lake’s Northern Ontario Institute of Technology (N.O.I.T.), and a new proposed campus in South Porcupine.
On March 1, 1967, Ossie Walli ended his duties as principal of the P.I.M., but took on a new role as the first President of Northern College. After 44 years in education, Walli retired in 1969. Long-time faculty member, John Frey, was appointed new dean of the Haileybury School of Mines. Frey passionately continued the work to maintain the reputation of the school for the next 22 years. He retired in 1989. The Haileybury School of Mines enjoyed healthy enrolment figures during this period and continued to be a major player in the mining industry.
Ossie Walli was inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame following his death in 1991. In recognition of his exhaustive work and dedication to the school, he received an honorary doctorate and the distinguished I.N.C.O. medal.
The years since Dean Frey’s and Walli’s retirements saw a significant downturn in student enrolment. To counter this decline and sustain the viability of the program and the campus, Northern College introduced a number of new programs including Business and Office Administration. This was followed by a cluster of Veterinary Technician-related programs which today dominate the student population at the Haileybury campus.
HSM training programs for the mining industry are very active, offering training for in-demand skills such as Basic Underground Hard Rock Miner Common Core, Mill Process Operator Common Core, and Surface Miner Common Core. The Surface Diamond Driller Assistant Common Core program has been very successful, not only in Kirkland Lake (where students train on our own surface diamond drill, purchased with support from Fednor, the Northern Ontario Heritage Foundation, and Atlas Copco), but as far away as Nunavut. The college’s close relationship with the mining industry includes financial and equipment donations, advisory committee membership — as well as graduate hires — from other programs at Northern’s various campuses.
The post-secondary mining engineering technician program now uses a new approach to address the changing needs of its clientele and the Canadian mining industry. Since the Fall of 2007 curriculum delivery has been available via both formal in-class teaching and a combination of online, modular training and spring field school components. This method promises to uphold the quality standards, breadth of curriculum and innovation of HSM’s mining training – proud hallmarks of the institution from inception.