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Schumacher built on mining, immigrant workers

‘The big thing is that you’ll find that people who are from Schumacher are very proud to say they’re from Schumacher‘

It has been 110 years since Schumacher was officially declared a town. Like much of the Porcupine Camp, Schumacher was built because of the mining industry.

But the history of the community, which is home to the landmark McIntyre Headframe, is also the story of families who successfully immigrated to Canada.

Lisa Romanowski, Vera Romanowski and Ed Pupich of the Schumacher Arts Culture Heritage Association (SACHA) are well versed in the community’s history.

Pupich detailed how the town was built out of necessity.

“You know where Pearl Lake is? Pearl Lake was surrounded by about seven different mining claims,” he explained. “The McIntyre. The Coniaurium. The Jupiter. Schumacher, Platt Vet and Fergus. These were all claims from around the lake and back from the lake there was the Vipond Mine and Rea Hill Mine.

“They wanted a town site, but there was no land, these were all mining claims. Mr. Schumacher sold to the government his land to make lots. And the only stipulation was that they name the town Schumacher.”

Frederick W. Schumacher was born in Denmark in 1863 and moved to the United States in 1872, where he later earned a pharmacy degree. After hearing of gold finds in the Porcupine Camp, he visited the area and bought up a large track of land. Prior to his land dealings, what is now the Schumacher area was known as Aura Lake.

“Then the McIntyre Mine under J.P. Bickell started buying all these smaller mines,” Pupich said. “The first one they bought was Jupiter, then Fergus and then Platt Vet. They never bought the Coniaurium, they stayed with Rea and went by themselves. But they bought the Vipond.

“Then the Hollinger abutted, they started buying Moneta and so on. So, you had the two big mines abutting each other. That started from 1910 to 1912.

“We were a town incorporated, Schumacher, before Timmins. They were a few years later. We were just surrounded by mining claims. Some petered out and others got purchased by the larger mines and they got bigger and bigger.”

Lisa Romanowski outlined some of the residential history of the area, including a family-owned house.

“Some of the first houses that were built, you actually had to get permission from Mr. Schumacher to build,” she said. “The Romanowski house, is one of the first houses. It goes back to 1915, 1916 based on photos. A lot of the buildings in town are still the original buildings from when it became a town site.”

With the gold mines booming, workers immigrated to Schumacher.

“As the mines got bigger and bigger, they needed more people to work the mines,” Romanowski said. “The McIntyre in particular, I know from our family side of it. On the Romanowski side, they were in German work camps during World War II. At the end of the war, the mine hired men from overseas. ‘We have a job for you. You can come to Canada. You’ll get your papers. You’ll have your right to work.’”

But moving to Canada wasn’t easy. It usually meant coming over to build a stake so the family could move later.

“I know my grandfather Ed Romanowski came with five or six other men from Poland, who had to leave their families behind,” she said. “They came here, they stayed in a rooming house together, they worked the McIntyre Mine underground for a year and saved up money. Then as they each got enough money, they started branching out and into their own apartments, bringing their families across.

“My dad (Henry Romanowski) was the baby of four, but he was the only one born in Canada. I think there are a lot of family stories like that. A lot of people with the Polish names and the Croatian names as well.

“So, you had people looking for a better life and we had places to work. Some of the men came first and established themselves, then they brought their families as soon as they could.”

Pupich explained the long-standing Croatian connection with Schumacher.

“In the 1930s, Schumacher had probably the largest concentration of Croatian people of any town in Canada,” he said. “Her (Lisa’s) other grandparents, my parents, my dad came over in ’32 but his father in ’22. He started the El Dorado Hotel in Schumacher. That was the Pupich hotel.”

The founder of Schumacher was also known for his generosity, including creating a holiday tradition that still lives today.

“The other thing with Mr. Schumacher was his legacy of gift giving to the children of Schumacher,” Romanowski said. “I think it started in 1916, when the school was originally supposed to be built. Then the school didn’t open when it was supposed to because of the pandemic (Spanish flu), so it was sublet as a hospital for a couple of years.”

The Porcupine Advance, in its edition of Dec. 27, 1916, described that event.

“The children of Schumacher must surely now believe in Santa Claus for not a single one of them was missed in the gift giving this year,” the story read. “At the annual Christmas Tree and Concert of the Schumacher Sunday School there was a delightful present for every child in the town, the gifts being provided by the thoughtful generosity of F.W. Schumacher.

“In making the donation, Mr. Schumacher’s only condition was that not a single child should be overlooked and accordingly a careful census was made, showing 270 children under 16, for each of whom suitable gifts were secured.”

The gift giving that was started more than 100 years ago lives on due to the F.W. Schumacher Foundation.

‘Every year, every child in Schumacher received a gift that was funded by Mr. Schumacher,” Romanowski said. “In the early days, he had a hand in actually picking out the gifts, and the few times he was actually in town and presented the children with their gifts. There are still some older residents who may recall they may have seen him once or twice.

“It’s changed over the years. When I was younger, we often used to get our gifts at Schumacher Public School. Now my nephews … they get them at the McIntyre Arena, where there’s usually a little event. The last couple years, with the pandemic, the firemen have been doing it door to door.

“It was just one of those traditions that’s very much a Schumacher thing. It’s very much one of those identity things. We had somebody who thought ahead to plan for this to continue on for as long as it could.”

When all the nearby communities were amalgamated into the City of Timmins, the community changed.

“Amalgamation did not help Schumacher,” Pupich said. “We lost a lot of things they didn’t have in other areas because of amalgamation. For lack of a better term, Schumacher is the forgotten ward of Timmins. It’s ignored most of the time. It’s forgotten. Not all the problems, like the downtown closing up, are the fault of amalgamation, but that helped.

“Changing the highway, changing the railway and all these other things. We lost a lot. We lost the park. We lost our ball fields. We lost our football field. We lost the swimming pool. We lost the memorial library. It goes on and on.”

Despite the changes, Schumacher has managed to maintain its own identity. It is rich in history.

“Schumacher gets a bad reputation sometimes,” Romanowski said. “But at the heart of it, the families who have been here for a long time, and even some of the newer families who wanted to come in and establish themselves, you have good neighbours.

“You have neighbours who watch out for each other. You walk the dog and get to know people that you talk to, just like any community.”

To help remind residents of their heritage, and share it with newcomers, SACHA was formed in December 2011. The organization publishes a newsletter three times a year called The Spirit of Schumacher. As the editor, Romanowski makes sure to have articles and photos about the community’s past, present and future.

“We partnered with the Schumacher Lions Club on two fairly big things in the last two years,” she said. “Last year it was the Schumacher International Peace Park, down at the McIntyre Park, where the peace poles of the various cultural groups.

“And then this year we are working on Schumacher Summer Concert Series with the Lions Club and Sebalj Music. It was kind of nice the last couple years we had music in the parks, with the Hollinger Park under construction. The idea was the Lions have this beautiful pavilion, they’ve done so much work to restore the park, let’s try to get some people in there.”

SACHA also partnered up with Just Beecause Chocolates and Confectionary to get headframe chocolates made.

“We did it for SACHAs 10th anniversary last Christmas and give them away to seniors at the Lions Club (annual) seniors dinner,” she said. “And we got enough to provide to the firemen so every child who got a Mr. Schumacher gift got the little chocolate headframe, with a little tag explaining what SACHA is.”

The group also had Schumacher souvenirs produced, such as COVID masks and coffee mugs. With the pandemic lessening, there is hope of bringing back community events, such as some free skating.

“Prior to COVID, we had the Schumacher Social for adults at the Croatian Hall,” Romanowski said.

The group and their supporters will keep striving to preserve and strengthen community spirit in Schumacher.

“The big thing is that you’ll find that people who are from Schumacher are very proud to say they’re from Schumacher,” she said. “It’s not very often that you’ll hear a person from Schumacher say they are from Timmins.

“And that’s part of keeping our identity as well.”

For more information about the Schumacher Arts Culture Heritage Association, visit the SACHA Website at and its Facebook Page at .