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AHN, ROBERT HENRY, mining promoter; b. 1848 in Bristol, England; m. first 1876 M. E. Davies of Staffordshire, England, and they had two daughters; m. secondly Jane Herson; they had no children; d. in Buffalo, N.Y., on 30 November, probably 1909 but possibly 1911 or 1913.

As a small-time, fly-by-night promoter, Robert Henry Ahn was typical of a class of entrepreneur common in his day, men who jumped from one mining camp to the next, drawn by usually elusive, get-rich-quick possibilities. Some struck gold; others earned reputations as defrauders. Ahn seems to have fallen somewhere between these extremes.

He reportedly first worked in manufacturing in Britain, but in the 1870s he was bitten by the mining bug, which took him to Australia, New Zealand, California, Mexico, and, lastly, Canada. Styling himself variously as a mining expert, a mineralogist, and a mining broker, he settled in Toronto in 1888, focusing his activities on nickel-copper mining in northeastern Ontario. In 1893 he claimed, probably with some exaggeration, to have opened up 22 mining properties in the Sudbury region during the previous five years. He was involved, mainly as resident general manager, in companies such as the Algoma Gold Mining and Reduction Company of Nickel City (a stillborn community approximately 15 miles west of Sudbury), the Commercial Mining Company of Sudbury, the Fairbanks Consolidated Mining Company of Ontario Limited, and the Emmens Metal Company of Pennsylvania.

None of these ventures was very successful, and in virtually every case the association with Ahn ended in rancour. In the instance of Algoma Gold, he earned the undying enmity of one of Sudbury’s most ardent proponents, Æneas McCharles. Himself a colourful mining entrepreneur, McCharles accused Ahn in 1892 of having “done more harm to the mining interests in this district than any other man.” Ahn, he claimed, had inveigled funds out of tenderfoots from Toronto to build a reduction works at Nickel City, but he “knew nothing about building any more than about mining.” The result was an unworkable plant, constructed by men who were paid wages of 75 cents on the dollar, and that only after the threat of a lawsuit.

McCharles’s estimation was publicly endorsed by others, including Stephen H. Emmens of Emmens Metal, and it was not surprising that in 1893 Ahn withdrew from the area. By mid decade he had turned his attention to the goldfields of the Lake of the Woods district. In contrast to his Sudbury days, when he had sought investment from southern Ontario and the United States, Ahn now looked to Britain for capital. He was initially successful. He acted as local superintendent for such British companies as the Anglian Mining and Finance Company Limited and the Dominion Gold Mining and Reduction Company, which after its incorporation in August 1895 acquired more than a dozen properties and immediately erected the Rat Portage Reduction Works. Ahn also developed gold-mining properties under the name of the R. H. Ahn Company of Rat Portage (Kenora). By 1897 Dominion Gold was languishing, in part because of Ahn’s management. Meanwhile, he had moved on to other Lake of the Woods ventures, including the Mikado Gold Mining Company, the Crown Point Mining Company Limited of Montreal, and the Gold Reefs Company Limited of Montreal, all of which were of short duration.

The early 1900s found Ahn back in the Sudbury district, this time promoting the Gold Gravel Dredging Company. He had acquired licences to properties on the Vermilion River and proposed to undertake placer-mining, employing a dredging system developed in California and New Zealand. Although he periodically reported progress, this initiative was no more successful than his other efforts.

Just as the first part of Ahn’s life is shrouded in mystery, so is his death. In 1914 his second wife applied to the York County Surrogate Court to distribute his estate, which consisted solely of the valueless Vermilion River mining licences. In the documentation accompanying the application, the day and the place of death remains the same, but the year varies from 1909 to 1911 to 1913.

Matt Bray

Robert Henry Ahn is the author of The Sudbury nickel and copper mines, Ontario, Canada (Toronto, 1893); a copy of this pamphlet is preserved in the INCO Arch. (Sudbury, Ont.), box 940-06.

AO, RG 22, ser.305, no.28060. Daily Journal (Fort William [Thunder Bay], Ont.), 12 Sept., 12, 26 Oct. 1896; 18 Sept., 14 Dec. 1897. Globe, 19 Nov. 1892. Journal (Sudbury), 26 March, 29 Oct., 5, 12 Nov., 31 Dec. 1891; 25 Feb., 21 April, 22 Sept., 6, 20 Oct. 1892; 15 Aug. 1907. Sault Star (Sault Ste Marie, Ont.), 26 Jan. 1905. Toronto Daily Mail, 3 Dec. 1890; 19 Sept., 3 Nov. 1891. Canadian album (Cochrane and Hopkins). Canadian Mining & Mechanical Rev. (Ottawa), 11 (1892): 7, 129, 200; 12 (1893): 15. Canadian Mining Rev. (Ottawa), 15 (1896): 22; 17 (1898): 36. Engineering and Mining Journal (New York), 72 (January–July 1902): 319. Ont., Bureau of Mines, Report (Toronto), 1895–1900, 1902–3, 1908.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Matt Bray, “AHN, ROBERT HENRY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 25, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ahn_robert_henry_13E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ahn_robert_henry_13E.html
Author of Article: Matt Bray
Title of Article: AHN, ROBERT HENRY
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1994
Year of revision: 1994
Access Date: October 25, 2014