A door to the past: Inscriptions offer a glimpse into Canada’s mining history

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Ingenium – Canada's Museums of Science and Innovation
A close-up image of the Dome Mine door, which gave miners an informal place to record their thoughts.

Though we can learn a lot about an artifact through research or by using our five senses to engage with it, there will always be an intangible dimension that resides in the imagination. 

A worn two panelled, grey-brown wooden door is covered with graffiti.

Dome Mine door

This door embodies over 100 years of mining history in the Abitibi gold belt. It stood in the Dome Mine — located near Timmins, Ontario — for decades. Now part of Goldcorp Porcupine Gold Mines, the Dome Mine operated nearly continuously from 1910 to 2017, making it one of Canada’s oldest and most significant gold mines. The Dome Mine is important not only because of its longevity but because of its multi-generational impact. It is often described as “the Dome School of Mines” because many CEOs and key figures in Canadian mining worked at the Dome in some capacity.

An underground refuge chamber is equipped with a table and benches. The space is dimly lit by several small light sources.

A refuge chamber inside the Dome Mine, where miners would safely wait for rescue in case of a problem.

The door came to Ingenium in 2018. Anna Adamek, Ingenium’s former Curator of Natural Resources and Industrial Technologies, had the opportunity to visit the Dome Mine on the last day before its closure in order to select artifacts for the national collection. While walking through the passageways with some of the miners, one person remembered the door. Covered in graffiti left by miners over the century, the door facilitated ventilation in the mine. It also gave miners the chance to record their thoughts; inscription topics vary from noting the first snow to acknowledging political assassinations. 

Once in our care, Ingenium curators and conservators were determined to learn more about the door and about the inscriptions upon it. We brought the door to the Canadian Conservation Institute, where we learned that the oldest graffiti dates as far back as 1910. However, even though we were able to learn more about the door’s physical and historical properties, we remained curious about the miners who wrote upon it. Who were they? What were their lives like at the mine? 

A close-up image shows multiple hand-written inscriptions on the light-coloured surface of a  wooden door.

A close-up image of the graffiti on the Dome Mine door.

Working closely with Carleton University Professor David Dean and his Public History MA students, some of the inscriptions on the door were brought to life. In the Narrativity and Performance class, each student was given an inscription and tasked with developing a backstory for the person who wrote it. Though the stories are fictional, they are grounded in research and in the door itself. 

A group of graduate students from Carleton University stand around an old door covered in graffiti. In the foreground, two people crouch down to read the inscriptions.

Master of Arts in Public History students from Carleton University engage with the Dome Mine door in the Ingenium Conservation Lab.

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Rebecca Dolgoy

Rebecca Dolgoy is the Curator of Natural Resources and Industrial Technologies at Ingenium