Red Lake

Red Lake, Ontario, incorporated as a municipality in 1998, population 4,094 (2021 census), 4,107 (2016 census). The municipality of Red Lake is located in northwestern Ontario on the shore of Red Lake, 555 km northwest of Thunder Bay. The municipality is the result of the amalgamation of the former townships of Red Lake (incorporated in 1960) and Golden (established in 1985), and the unorganized territory governed by the Madsen local services board. Red Lake consists of six communities (Madsen, Red Lake, Balmertown, Cochenour, McKenzie Island and Starratt-Olsen) that sprang up around the area's gold mines.


Red Lake was originally the site of a Hudson's Bay Company fur-trading post (1790-1822). Its modern existence stems from gold mining. Survey work in the area was first carried out by the Geological Survey of Canada in 1883, but no mineral discoveries were recorded until 1897. Even then, the remoteness of the region prevented serious mining activity until 1925. At this time claims registered by Ray and Lorne Howey and George McNeely touched off a major gold rush. Over 1,000 prospectors flooded into the area. At the peak of the boom in the 1930s and 1940s there were 12 producing mines.


Gold mining stagnated during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and the number of mines in the region was reduced to a handful. The 1980s brought renewed activity with four new mines, but they were all short-lived. There’s now one operating mine in the area, in Balmertown. A highway reached Red Lake in 1946, opening the area to tourism. Timber extraction also adds to the economic mix.

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