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Discovering Ontario’s Industries: Mining

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Ontario has been in the mining industry for around 200 years. Minerals found in the province include base and precious metals, such as gold, nickel and copper, and non-metallic minerals including salt and gypsum. According to Ontario.ca, Ontario is in the global top 10 for the production of nickel and platinum group metals (which include platinum, palladium, rhodium, iridium, ruthenium, and osmium.)

Mining in Ontario began with prospectors staking personal claims, but modern mines are large operations with expensive, technologically-advanced equipment. According to the Ontario Mining Association, the industry supports 26,000 direct jobs and 50,000 indirect jobs.

Mines have played an important role in the history of many northern towns. For example, it has been an essential part of the City of Greater Sudbury’s identity for nearly 140 years.

Sudbury’s copper deposit was discovered in 1883 during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The mineral rich Sudbury Basin continues to be explored by Glencore, KGHM and Vale at eight different sites.

When mining operations began in Sudbury, the ore was found to have both copper and nickel in it, which was a problem because there was no way to separate the valuable metals. A process was developed over the next few years and both the copper and the nickel began to be mined successfully.

Nevertheless, the prosperity gained from these activities is not without consequence. The mining and processing of sulfide minerals contaminated and acidified Sudbury’s soil. For years the city had little vegetation and much air pollution. Because of this barren landscape, it was known as “moonscape” and the slag heaps there were a training site for NASA crew members to prepare for their moon missions in 1971.

To clear Sudbury’s reputation, the local government made restoration works a priority and the resources companies also attempted to mitigate their impact. The first major emission-control program was initiated in 1972, the same year that the Inco Superstack went into full operation (Inco was later acquired by Vale.) KGHM, Glencore and Vale are partners of the City of Sudbury’s Regreening Program, which received The United Nations Local Government Honors Award in 1992. The program has reduced the acidity and improved the fertility of 3,400 hectares of land and planted more than nine million trees since it started in 1978. Its next target is to improve biodiversity in the reclaimed area and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.

The Inco Superstack at Sudbury
The Inco Superstack at Sudbury

According to Canadian Mining Journal, the joint effort among watchdogs, policymakers, scientists, and the corporate sector has created a collaborative spirit coined “the Sudbury recipe” – an ecosystem that spurs discoveries in the industry. In May, MIRARCO Mining Innovation, the research arm of Laurentian University, received federal funding for its study of a computational model to improve mining safety and productivity.

Although Northern Ontario is rich in metallic minerals, the rugged landscape of the Canadian Shield continues to challenge the industry. Many northern mineral deposits are difficult to reach. For example, a region in the Far North, named the Ring of Fire, is estimated to have a highly valuable chromite deposit as well as significant nickel, copper and platinum deposits. One of the closest communities to the Ring of Fire is the Webequie First Nation, which has agreed to advance exploration in this mineral zone with resource company Juno Corporation.

The mining industry doesn’t just focus on extracting ore from the ground. According to the Ontario Mining Association, the province processes more than 50 per cent of the metals it mines, along with minerals such as nickel, cobalt and copper from other provinces, the United States and Australia. Processed minerals are used in a variety of products from jewellery and coins to aluminum sheeting and copper tubing.

The Ontario government is also working with local communities to make sure that the construction of the road and mines in the Ring of Fire are in the best location for the mining companies, the communities and the environment. In May, an Indigenous-led environment assessment process on the Northern Road Link began. This project will connect the Webequie Supply Road and the Marten Falls Community Access Road, allowing the Webequie First Nations to access the Ring of Fire mining site and the provincial highway system.

Those who seek to learn more about Ontario’s mining technology can visit the Dynamic Earth exhibition in Sudbury’s Science North centre. Visitors will see the Big Nickel, Sudbury’s iconic sight and the world’s largest coin, take a guided seven-storey underground tour to learn about the industry’s evolution, and engage in a simulated mine rescue adventure.

The Big Nickel at Science North centre
The Big Nickel at Science North centre

As Canada’s leader in mining, Ontario must continue to innovate to extract minerals effectively and sustainably to ensure that environmental and community health are not compromised.

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