Smoke billows southwest of the Geraldton townsite in July 1936. Beside the Presbyterian church is Murphy’s Lunch, which became the Geraldton Tea Room, and now Popeye’s. Mascotto’s taxi garage acquired the name Goldfield Taxi. It still stands, with a new facade. Greenstone History album.

3  ̶  The Gold Era

In the summer of 1936, forest fires swept through the Little Long Lac gold field and threatened to wipe out most mine sites.

On July 4th, one fire started southwest of Barton Bay; another, just east of Geraldton townsite near the railway. Over the next few days, firefighters managed to save most of the mine infrastructures. The author’s official history described women and children of the Hardrock mine townsite retreating to scows piled high with furniture in the lake. In the Geraldton townsite, looking south, observers reported smoke billowing from the vicinity of the mines, and at night the horizon glowed red.

Hardrock station, east of Geraldton, was evacuated. “Some 20 mothers with crying children boarded the train for Port Arthur. The remainder of [Geraldton] residents elected to stay. The train stopped at Kenwell siding to take on 25 women and 22 children, families of men working at the Bankfield and Tombill mines. Fires raged on the south, east, and west sides of the properties.”

Hardrock station and numerous buildings were reduced to ash. Railway ties were burned for a considerable distance east and west.

A water tank car with 15 box cars stood by to evacuate residents. People piled furniture and household effects in the streets and on the station platform. Wagons and wheelbarrows stood by. “At one point, for ten solid minutes burning pine needles bombarded the buildings, causing considerable alarm.”

On July 16th, the first rain fell, and on July 24th, the Ontario Forestry Branch declared the Geraldton Fire under control.

Second Street Southeast in Geraldton during the fire, looking east. The street has yet to be graded. Greenstone History album.

In another history, the author describes the Kenwell siding road in 1987: “It is a solid road running for the most part on high ground. A few dips in the route provide interesting moments for a mountain bike. Watch for at least one collapsed culvert on the right side (east side) of the right-of-way. The road is ditched on either side, but the ditches have been overgrown for 40 years or more.

“Just before the track, the road crosses the [TransCanada PipeLines] right-of-way. There is room to turn around at the track, but there is no evidence of a siding which existed here at one time. The main evidences of man’s presence are Hydro and telegraph lines and a partially demolished shed.”

In the summer of 1936, about the time of the great Geraldton Fire, the Department of Northern Development gravelled the locally-named Bankfield highway. This “highway”, an automobile route, started on the south shore of Barton Bay at the Little Long Lac mine. It ran west along locally-named Arena Road, looped north around the Magnet mine, passed through the “slimes” or mine tailings of the Bankfield mine, climbed the ridge on which the Tombill mine sat, and reached the Jellicoe mine.

During the Geraldton Fire, the Bankfield highway was deemed impassable, and so the Kenwell siding road was utilized to evacuate families of mine employees to the railway.

Bankfield Gold Mines, Ltd., became a producer in 1937, shutting down in 1942. It produced 65,991 ounces of gold and 7,411 ounces of silver.

Tombill Gold Mines, Ltd., became a producer in 1938, shutting down in 1942. It produced 68,739 ounces of gold and 8,595 ounces of silver.

Jellicoe Mines, Ltd., became a producer in 1939, and shut down in 1941. It produced 5,620 ounces of gold and 515 ounces of silver.

The question remains: how was the name Kenwell assigned to a siding north of the Bankfield mine. This author has a theory about that, and one must be warned that this is pure speculation.

The “well” portion of the Kenwell place name may be a reference to Robert Wells, co-discoverer of the Bankfield mine.

On November 4, 1934, George McDaid died in a railway accident at Sturgeon River Bridge. The railway bridge crossed the Sturgeon River just 5 miles east of the community of Jellicoe. McDaid had partnered with Robert Wells in the summer of ’34 to stake claims at Sturgeon River Bridge. And McDaid’s sister, Rebecca, was married to Robert Wells. And at the time of the accident, Mrs. Rebecca Wells was residing at Bankfield mine with her husband.

The “ken” portion of the Kenwell place name may be an allusion to John W. MacKenzie. MacKenzie was manager of the Bankfield mine starting in 1934.

The name of MacKenzie was already assigned to a station in the Kinghorn Subdivision, but Googling failed to identify a CNR station named Wells. This line of research proved a dead-end.

In 1939, the Kinghorn siding was renamed the Bankfield station. And the former Bankfield station became Macwell station. Why was the name Kenwell dropped on train schedules? Again, research failed to find another CNR station named Kenwell.

The name Macwell is a composite name, like Geraldton (Fitzgerald and Errington were the financiers of the Little Long Lac mine). There is no evidence the name Macwell existed before 1939. Could the name Macwell be a combination of MacKenzie and Wells? John W. Mackenzie retained the title of manager of the Bankfield mine from 1934 until the mine closed in 1942.

A 1939 CNR timetable shows Bankfield displacing Kenwell at Mile 26.1, and the name Macwell taking the location of the former Bankfield.

Here’s another thought: could the name Kenwell also be a composite name? The name Kenwell has a history that dates back centuries, but could the railway flag stop, Kenwell, be a combination of MacKenzie and Wells?

The name Kenwell was not bestowed on the siding until 1935. The sister of the late George McDaid was Mrs. Rebecca Wells, married to Robert Wells, and she resided at the Bankfield mine. After the death of her brother in November 1934, did John W. MacKenzie elect to commemorate both the MacKenzie name and the Wells name by naming the siding Kenwell?

One can only speculate.

A bigger mystery is why the place name of Kenwell still persists. There are hundreds of people in Canada with the surname Kenwell. And there are dozens of streets and businesses that incorporate the name Kenwell. There is no extant place name Kenwell. Yet the place name of Kenwell persists.

Google Earth map showing the obsolete name Kenwell, and the unnamed stream that runs between the Jellicoe and Tombill mines.

Old-timers, of whom the author is one, still recall the Kenwell siding. The name Kenwell was officially dropped in 1939. It appears on no map after 1939. When calling up a Google Earth map of the Bankfield area, the name Kenwell crops up. On the Internet, one can still type in a request for the weather in Kenwell, and it will come up. It is the same weather as Geraldton.

The weather forecast for Kenwell on December 7, 2021.

One thing is certain.

As long as there is an Internet, there will be a place called Kenwell.

That’s immortality of a sort.

Log cabin built by Percy Gillis in 1934 and possibly located at Kenwell. Photo courtesy of Jim Fredrick, taken in 1948. Fredrick says his mother, daughter of Gillis, lived there from 1934 to 1939. Gillis worked at some local mine until moving back to Thunder Bay to work again in a grain elevator. Note the square log walls, hole in the roof (for a chimney?), and windows boarded up. In the background are other structures, including something like a half-wall cabin built of round logs. The railway asked for the log building to be removed from its property, and Gillis obliged by dynamiting it.

Conclusion . . . That’s all, folks!


Edgar J. Lavoie,  . . . And the Geraldton Way. Town of Geraldton: 1987, Geraldton, Ontario.

Edgar J. Lavoie, Muskeg Tours: Historic Sites of the Little Long Lac Gold Camp. 1987, Geraldton, Ontario.

E. B. Borron, “The Basin of Hudson’s Bay” in Ontario Sessional Papers, Vol. 17, 1885.

Google Earth maps.

Canadian National Railways timetables.

Map No. 26b, “Part of Thunder Bay District traversed by the Canadian Northern Railway”, to accompanya report by A.G. Burrows in Ontario Bureau of Mines, Vol. 26, 1917.

Map No. 44d, “Little Long Lac Gold Area, District of Thunder Bay, Ontario”, Ontario Department of Mines, Vol. 44, 1935.

Annual Reports, Ontario Department of Mines, Vol. 43 to 50, 1934 to 1940.

John Mason & Gerry White, Gold Occurrences, Prospects, and Deposits of the Beardmore-Geraldton Area . . ., Ontario Geological Survey, Open File Report 5630.

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