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Part 2: Canadian T.V. Ignores Ontario's Rich Mining History

03/09/2014 01:17 EST | Updated 05/08/2014 05:59 EDT

This is part two of a two-part series. The first part can be found here.

6) Aboriginal Conflict and Involvement in Ontario Mining

The mining industry is the largest private sector employer of Aboriginals in the country. There are many, successful examples between First Nations communities and mining companies including, Glencore/Xstrata's Raglan venture in northern Quebec, Vale's Voisey's Bay mine in Labrador and Cameco's uranium mines in northern Saskatchewan, just to name a few.

However, the high-profile conflict between junior explorer Platinex Inc. and the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation (KI) over the Big Trout Lake Property and other clashes in the middle of the last decade started a chain of events that have made significant changes to the province's mining sector with mixed results.

In 2008, six KI leaders including Chief Donny Morris were imprisoned and ultimately became martyrs while the company was given $5 million to relinquish their claims. Subsequently the province withdrew 23,000 km2 of land that included KI traditional territory from claim staking. Other conflicts with juniors ensured, the most recent being Northern Superior Resources.

The Ontario Mining Act has been updated to ensure changes to prospecting procedures and proper Aboriginal consultation by junior explorers but problems remain. The Far North Act which is bitterly detested by Aboriginal communities and supported by southern environmentalists, forces half of the territory in the Far North to be set aside for parks. Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), which is one of the most important Aboriginal organizations in northern Ontario, has nine resolutions opposing the Act.

Without a doubt, most First Nations in northern Ontario want sustainable mining development viewing the sector as a way to create jobs and significantly improve living conditions on most reserves.

But the continuing conflicts keep occurring and the present Ontario government seems unable to resolve some fundamental issues that threaten to significantly reduce mining investment in the province, especially in the promising geology of the Far North. This is why Aboriginal conflict and potential involvement in the mining sector have become the sixth most important event in Ontario mining history.

5) Peter Munk: Canada's King of Gold

Amazingly, Peter Munk knew little about mining as he previously developed resorts in the South Pacific and owned a high-fidelity stereo system company which went bankrupt. In 1983, with a small oil exploration company which was losing money, he decided to buy a half interest in the Renabie gold mine near Wawa and a piece of an Alaskan placer miner which together produced 3,000 ounces that year.

In 1984, he bought Camflo Mines with operations in northwestern Quebec, but more importantly, acquired an experienced mine management team that would help Barrick takeover mines in Ontario, the United States and around the world. A significant success was the Nevada Goldstrike mine in 1988 when company President Robert Smith saw its huge potential.

Munk's greatest success was the acquisition of Placer Dome in 2006 during the foreign takeovers of some of Canada's legendary miners that included Inco, Falconbridge and Alcan, ensuring that the world's biggest gold operations would still be controlled by Canadians.

His possible worst was the buying copper producer Equinox Minerals in 2011 which had a subsequent writedown of $4 billion. Investors were very concerned that the copper miner would considerably dilute the company's primary "gold producer" status that commands a premium in investment circles.

While the past few years have not been kind to all gold and base-metal miners, Munk has taken a significant beating in the media for the underperformance of Barrick stock. At last year's AGM, the soon to retire Founder and Chairman of the Board reminded disgruntled shareholders that for most of the company's existence, he has made them extremely well-off and to judge his entire career on the current downturn would be short-sighted and that the company would turn around.

Notwithstanding his recent trials and tribulations Peter Munk, who has been very generous with his wealth - giving millions to establish a cardiac centre in Toronto - has successfully created the world's biggest gold company and definitely deserves the number five spot on the ten most significant events in Ontario mining history.

4) Elliot Lake: Boom, Bust, Boom, Bust and Hope

Over the past 60 years, tiny Elliot Lake has experienced a very volatile and complicated history.

From vital military importance during the cold war and a health care crisis of dying miners, to a pleasant retirement community and world-class mine restoration and revegetation, the uranium mining industry in Elliot Lake encapsulates the worst and the best of Ontario's mineral industry.

After the atomic bombs were dropped Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the Second World War, uranium become one of the most sought after and strategic commodities in the world.

Two men, mining promoter/financer Joseph H. Hirshhorn and geologist Franc R. Joubin are responsible for the discovery of the Elliot Lake uranium mines. Both became millionaires and went on to explore, and discover other mineral deposits.

The 83 mining claims that entrepreneur Stephen B. Roman purchased during the frantic staking rush of 1953, contained the world's largest uranium deposit and was the basis on which he built Denison Mines and its affiliate Roman Corporation.

Between 1956 and 1959, Elliot Lake was the most important supplier of yellowcake (uranium) to the U.S. military from no fewer than twelve operating mines. Building one mine in an isolated wilderness - abet only thirty kilometres from the trans-Canada highway - would have been quite an accomplishment. Consider the logistics of twelve, eleven with their own mills treating 35,000 tons of ore a day.

In 1959, the United States declared that it would no longer buy uranium from Canada after 1962 creating the first of many bust and boom. During the 1970s, federal plans for CANDU Reactors and Ontario Hydro's interest in atomic energy encouraged the town to expand again. However, by the early 1990s depleted reserves, competition from much richer deposits in northern Saskatchewan and low prices caused the last mines in the area to close.

During the 1970s, uranium miners in Elliot Lake became alarmed about the high incidence of lung cancer and silicosis, and they went on strike over health and safety conditions. In 1976, the Ontario government appointed a Royal Commission to investigate health and safety in mines.

Chaired by Dr. James Ham, it became known as the Ham Commission which made numerous recommendations that were adapted by the industry and resulted in the passing of the firs Occupational Health and Safety Act in 1978.

The community's population has bounced with several boom-and-bust cycles from the 1950s to the 1990s, from a high of about 30,000 to a low of about 6,600. Today the community with roughly 11,000 people is known as a retirement haven due to extensive marketing and the low cost of homes that were vacated when the mines closed down.

3) Timmins: Porcupine Gold Rush Still Going

The third most important event in Ontario mining is the Porcupine Gold Rush of 1909. It was the first major gold rush in Ontario with three legendary mines discovered by separate prospecting parties a few miles from each other. These extraordinary discoveries made by Benny Hollinger (Hollinger Mine), Sandy McIntyre (McIntyre Mine) and John (Jack) Wilson (The Dome Mine) led to the development of one of Canada's premier mining camps and the founding of Timmins, the second largest mining town in the country.

Unfortunately Hollinger, McIntyre and Wilson never made great fortunes, however Noah and his brother Henry Timmins - after whom the town is named - bought the original Hollinger claims and along with other partners built one of the most famous gold mines in the world. During the Hollinger's 58 years of production, 19.5 million ounces of gold were dug out of the ground, ranking that mine as the largest producer in Canadian history.

Noah Timmins went on to help finance the Noranda Horne smelter in Quebec and many other gold mines throughout the country. Henry Timmins son Jules was the driving force for developing the iron ore mines located in the isolated region of northern Quebec and Labrador. He convinced six American steel companies to form a consortium to fund the project which eventually became the Iron Ore Company of Canada.

The Porcupine was the largest gold rush in North America, far exceeding both the California and the Klondike discoveries. The Porcupine mining camp has produced about 69 million ounces of gold over the past century and new mines are still being found. Jack Wilson's legendary Dome Mine which also started production in 1910 as an underground operation has now been expanded by owner Goldcorp to include the super open pit. It is the longest running gold mine in Canada and has produced 15 million ounces to date.

By 1930, Canada became the world's second-largest gold-producer with Ontario responsible for most of that output - 1.7 million ounces out of a national total of 2.1 million ounces. The population of Timmins exploded growing from 3,800 in 1921 to 14,200 in 1931 and doubling again during the Depression to a city of 28,500 by 1941.

A major copper/zinc/silver deposit was discovered at Timmins in 1963. The Kid Creek Mine is still in production and is considered the deepest base-metal mine in the world at its current depth of 9,100 feet. Mine owner Glencore-Xstrata has invested $120 million to extend production until 2017 and deepen the mine to 9,600 feet.

Currently, the Timmins gold camp, part of the enormously rich Abitibi greenstone belt that stretches in an east-west direction between northeastern Ontario and Northwestern Quebec is experiencing enormous exploration activity and new gold deposits are being discovered.

2) Sudbury: Canada's Most Important Mining City

Very few people can argue about the final two most important events in Ontario mining history, but there could be some contention over first and second place. Truth be told, it's almost a "statistical tie" between the Sudbury Basin and the Cobalt Silver Boom.

But if we must make a choice, Sudbury comes in at number two and Cobalt number one, by just a fraction of a second if this was a horse race!

The Sudbury Basin, which is still the richest hard rock mining district in North America, was discovered in 1883 during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, by blacksmith Thomas Flanagan. He did not gain financially from his good fortune even though the site was turned into a mine by Pembroke merchants, Thomas and William Murray. Thomas Frood, Rinaldo McConnell, Francis Crean, Thomas Cryderman, Henry Ranger, and James Stobie are among the many amateur prospectors who found valuable deposits that would eventually become mines, but most did not become rich from their discoveries compared to many in the silver and gold camps.

Sudbury is a pollymetallic ore body composed of nickel, copper, platinum group metals, cobalt and other minerals. Due to the complexity of separating these metals, the camp was very quickly dominated by American and European investors due to the high capital costs of development and technologies.

Ohio-born businessman Samual J. Ritchie was the driving force who really started mining production in the basin with the founding of the Canadian Copper Company in 1886. A subsequent merger in 1902 with the New Jersey-based Orford Copper Company, which had the vital technology to separate the nickel from the copper, lead to the creation of the legendary International Nickel Company.

Nickel is an exceptionally strategic metal, used in all forms of military hardware including tanks, battle ships, planes and ordinance. For much of Sudbury's history, its economic prosperity was closely tied to global conflicts and until the 1970s, up to 90% of western nickel supplies came from the basin. Inco's well-respected metallurgical research and development, conducted in the U.S. and Europe, created high-tech alloys for turbine engines - ushering in the jet age - and many of the key components for nuclear submarines and other industrial applications.

During the 1950s, the metal was in such short demand that the U.S. government stockpiled nickel. A 1954 U.S. Department report stated that nickel was "the closest to being a true "war metal," and that "it deserves first priority among materials receiving conservation attention."

During the cold war hysteria, from 1955-1963, the fear of communist infiltration of the established local left-leaning Mine Mill union resulted in a prolonged struggle for control with the new right-winged Steelworkers union. The violence included car explosions, riots, fist fights and intimidation. In 1962, the Steelworkers finally triumphed in a very close vote.

For 130 years, no other resource community in Canada has impacted the national conscience quite like Sudbury. A devastated local environment that resembled the moon, lengthy strikes, acid rain pollution, U.N. recognition of successful revegetation, and foreign ownership debates during the 2006 takeovers of Inco and Falconbridge by Brazilian-based Vale and Swiss-based Xstrata respectively, constantly kept the city's mining issues on the front pages of the country's newspapers.

Today Sudbury boasts a more diversified economy - primarily from public sector investment in the health, education and tourism fields and a federal tax centre - however it still has a globally significant cluster of mining supply and service companies, post-secondary mining education and research facilities that have turned the community into an international Silicon Valley of the hardrock mining.

1) Cobalt: The Cradle of Canada's Mining Industry

Many historians have often called the Cobalt Silver Boom of 1903 "the cradle of Canada's mining industry." Cobalt enhanced the prospecting and mining capabilities of Canadians and most importantly, provided the necessary financing for future mine development. The camp's close links to the Toronto stock exchanges and banking community, significantly helped that city become a global mine financing powerhouse.

Prospectors, mine developers, managers, engineers, financiers and bankers all learned their trade and gained valuable insight from this frenzy of mining activity. In addition, during the first decade of the 20th century, important technological advances in mining and metallurgy were being discovered and applied at Cobalt.

The "Cobalt fraternity" would fan out throughout the rest of Ontario and the entire country, with the knowledge gained in the silver mines, and not only discover many other important deposits but also establish and spread the country's reputation in mining technology.

Furthermore, the "Cobalt fraternity" would pass down their knowledge to their children and grand children. In Canada's mining circles, one will often find a family link that will lead back to Cobalt or the other gold and base-metal booms that followed.

It all started with the publicly funded construction of the provincial Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway - today's Ontario Northland that the McGuinty government foolishly wanted to sell - to help colonize and economically develop the rich clay-belt region of northern Ontario.

There were basically three early discoveries that started the silver rush. The first was by contractors James H. McKinley and Ernest J. Darragh who were providing lumber for the railroad. On August 7, 1903, they were scouting for suitable trees when they noticed a pink stain on a rock cut. They sent their samples to a Montreal assayer who reported native silver assaying at an astonishing 4,000 oz of silver to the ton.

The second discovery came a few weeks later in mid-September when blacksmith Fred LaRose allegedly threw a hammer at a fox. The hammer missed the fox but broke off a chunk of rock to reveal a vein of silver that eventually became the LaRose Mine which would go on to produce 26 million ounces of silver.

Tom Hebert made the third discovery that eventually became the "Big Nip" mine, the largest producer in the camp at 91 million ounces, by the time it closed in 1950.

The Cobalt discoveries made news headlines throughout North America. The frenzy of Cobalt mining stocks even spread to New York in 1906 when police had to break up mobs of people frantically trying to buy silver mining shares on Wall Street.

Since it only took an overnight train trip to get to Cobalt from Toronto, the town was basically considered a colony of the Ontario capital. And Toronto's King Eddy Hotel which opened in 1903, was the prime spot where any business connected to the silver camp was conducted. Very quickly, King Eddy bell boys and desk clerks got used to carrying heavy luggage filled with rock samples and disheveled and rough looking prospectors walking through the opulent lobby.

During the Cobalt silver rush, the Northern Miner - the bible of the industry - started publishing but eventually moved to Toronto and the Haileybury School of Mines, which was established to meet the demands for educated mine workers, first opened its doors in 1912.

Roughly 100 mines were developed over the life of the camp producing an astonishing 460 million ounces of silver. The boom reached its peak in 1911 when silver production hit an all time high of 31.5 million ounces. There were still a few small mining operations in Cobalt in the 1990s but today there is only silence.

The Cobalt boom was directly responsible for a number of other world-class discoveries over the next few decades that included the Porcupine in Timmins, Kirkland Lake, Gowganda, Red Lake, Rouyn Noranda, Val d'Or and many, many others.

Without a doubt, the transformative events during and following the Cobalt Silver Boom defined Canadian mining, which is why it is the number one event in Ontario mining history. The annual Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention during the first week of March - the largest gathering of people connected to the mining sector on the planet - is an enduring legacy to McKinley, Darragh, LaRose and Herbert and to all the other prospectors that followed.

Toronto Media Ignores Northern Ontario's Rich Mining Heritage

So why has the Klondike Gold Rush been so thoroughly embedded in Canada's historical conscious while the Cobalt Silver Boom is largely unknown and why is no entertainment programming about northern Ontario's rich mining heritage with its enormous wealth of amazing stories - a good question to ask the leadership at the CBC and the rest of the all powerful Toronto media.

Stan Sudol is a Toronto-based communications consultant, mining policy analyst and owner/editor of www.republicofmining.com

Proposal for an Ontario Mining History Book for the Next Generation

Thirty years have passed since the last comprehensive history of Ontario's mining sector was published. Born and raised in Sudbury, and working one summer underground at the old Inco Frood-Stobie Mine and a year at the Clarabelle Mill, has given me a passionate interest in this dynamic industry my entire life.

I have been attending the Mining Hall of Fame dinners for almost a decade and realize that sadly, many of the key people who made enormous contributions to the industry are getting older and passing away. It's integral to capture their stories now. For about 15 years, I have also been writing or publicly speaking about mining which puts me in a key position to write an updated history of Ontario mining.

I have developed a strategic public education proposal and draft outline for an updated history of Ontario mining that also includes the varied and many challenges the sector faces at the beginning of the 21st century, especially from the provincial government changes to the Mining Act, environmental opposition, First Nations, TSX regulations and a host of other issues.

I am looking for a group of mining patrons who would be willing to financially underwrite this two-year project that will highlight this extraordinary sector which has and will continue to create such enormous wealth and prosperity for society. In addition, there is a media outreach component with this initiative due to my newspaper column writing.

This is the first part of a two-part series

To further discuss your financial participation in this project that will leave an educational mining legacy for future generations please contact me at stan.sudol@republicofmining.com