Mining is a major primary industry, as are agriculture, forestry and fisheries, but it differs in that minerals and rocks, once removed and used, cannot be replaced or regenerated. However, metals have a unique characteristic: when recycled they retain their original elemental properties. Some minerals and metals can be reused and recycled many times over. Since metal mining in Canada began 150 years ago, less than 0.03% of Canada's landmass has been used for mining. Of a total area of 1.01 billion ha, fewer than 0.4 million ha (less than half the size of PEI), are used for mining. Modern mining represents a temporary use of the land; once the ore deposit is depleted, the land is reclaimed for other uses, often recreation.
Mining touches every aspect of our lives. Without mined products, all that would be left of your home is the mortgage. Foundations are made of minerals, including limestone, sand and gravel. Bricks and tiles are made of clay; gypsum is used in drywall; windows contain silica; and paint contains barium, manganese, titanium pigments and talc. Linoleum contains calcium carbonate and lime is found in carpets. Copper pipes carry water and copper wiring carries electricity through the home.
Imagine work or school without the mined products that go into furniture, tools, electricity, computers, telephones, cars, buses or trains. Even our recreational activities depend on mining. Golfers improve their scores with graphite drivers, baseball players swing for the fences with aluminum bats, skaters skim over the ice on blades made of complex alloys and hockey players pass and shoot with graphite sticks. When we play outdoors we wear sunscreen that contains zinc and when we take photos of our favourite activities we need the silver that is a major component of developing and printing pictures.
Mining has been practised since the prehistoric age, when people began to dig for stones to make weapons and pigments and tools. They collected loose pieces of native copper, gold, silver and gemstones from streams or the ground. Quarrying was widely practised when Stonehenge and the Pyramids were built.
Advances in technology and civilization, indicated by the terms "Stone Age,""Copper Age,""Bronze Age" and "Iron Age," required quantities of materials obtainable only by mining. To retrieve the materials they needed, people had to dig trenches, caves and pits; operations later extended to the excavation of shafts, tunnels and underground chambers. Ancient operations were restricted by the TECHNOLOGY available and by dependence on human labour as the main energy source. The difficulty of removing water prevented deep mining in wet places, and hard ores could be broken only by hammering or wedging, or by heating and dousing with water.
By the Middle Ages (c 1000-1453), advances had been made in mining and METALLURGY, although they remained highly labour-intensive. The use of explosives in mining, which began around 1627, eliminated much of the arduous work needed to break rocks. Steam was first applied for industrial power around 1700 in Cornwall, England, for working mine pumps. The invention of steam railway locomotives and mine hoists followed a few years later.
In the western hemisphere, no underground hard-rock mining was done before the arrival of the Spanish. Mining had been limited to placer work, chiefly for gold and silver, and to quarrying building stones and digging native copper, flints and obsidian from outcrops. The search for gold was a principal objective of the voyages of many explorers and of the campaigns of the conquistadors. The plundering of the natives' collections was followed by placer mining (retrieval of particles from stream beds), then by mining of lode deposits of gold, silver, tin, lead, mercury and copper, often using forced labour.
In North America, Master Simon, a mining engineer with Samuel de CHAMPLAIN, reported the discovery of silver and iron in Acadia in 1604. Early sailors and settlers were aware of coal outcrops along the shores of Cape Breton Island. In 1643 a shipment of coal was reported to have been sent from Grand Lake, NB, to New England. In 1672 Nicolas DENYS prepared a report on the coal resources of the Maritimes for Louis XIV.
Mining and metallurgical operations began in eastern North America as settlement proceeded. Small ore bodies of lead (for bullets) and of copper were opened; iron deposits were also mined. By the early 1700s, several iron foundries were in operation in the eastern states and at FORGES SAINT-MAURICE at Trois-Rivières, Qué.
As the fur traders moved west, they noted that copper ornaments and small tools were widely traded by natives of the Lake Superior district. This copper was obtained from loose pieces and surface outcrops of rocks containing native metal. Traders sought the sources of the metal but did not establish productive mines. Samuel HEARNE journeyed to the Coppermine River (1771) hoping to locate the source of copper carried by northern Indians, but found only small amounts of ore. The first significant mines in northern North America were opened about 1845 to exploit the Michigan copper ore bodies near Lake Superior.
The discovery of placer gold near Sacramento in 1848 triggered the 1849 California Gold Rush. The flow of miners to the goldfields spilled over into other parts of the western US and north into Canada, leading to the discovery of many other mineral deposits and the subsequent opening of important mines in BC. The discovery of placer gold in the Fraser River in 1858 caused a GOLD RUSH in interior BC. In 1896, gold was discovered in the Yukon Territory, setting off the exciting and turbulent KLONDIKE GOLD RUSH.
When BC joined Confederation, a transcontinental railway connection was promised. In 1883, during the construction of the CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY, nickel-copper ore was discovered near SUDBURY, Ont. Prospectors flocking to the district soon staked many of the deposits there. Shortly after the turn of the century, the discovery of the rich silver veins at COBALT, Ont, marked the real beginnings of mining in Canada. This mining camp provided the financing and incentive for the discovery and development of the gold veins of the Porcupine and KIRKLAND LAKE areas. PROSPECTING continued into Québec, leading to the discovery of copper and lead-zinc ore bodies of ROUYN-NORANDA and Val-d'Or.
Coal has been mined in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick since the early days of settlement. In western Canada, although coal was first noted at Drumheller, Alta, in 1793, coal mining didn't begin until the 1830s, when the Vancouver Island coal seams were opened near Nanaimo to serve coastal trade. As railways brought settlers into the Prairies, plains coal seams were mined to provide fuel for local use, and foothill and mountain seams were opened to serve both railways and settlers. Petroleum development (1947-60) caused severe losses of coal markets, forcing many western mines to close. However, recent growth in export markets, particularly in Japan, and in the use of coal for ELECTRIC-POWER GENERATION have revived the industry. It now comprises fewer but larger mines, with over 90% of production from surface operations.
Mining takes place in all Canadian provinces and territories. Canada's mining industry produces about 60 mineral commodities, including 26 metals, 22 nonmetals and 5 industrial mineral commodities, from some 250 mines and 3000 stone, sand and gravel operations. Canada is the world's largest producer of zinc and uranium and a world leader in the production of many other mineral commodities, including potash, uranium, cadmium, elemental sulphur and nickel; it ranks third in aluminum (primary metal), titanium concentrates, cobalt, molybdenum, gold and lead.
Canada has an established and effective metal recycling industry comprising over 1000 companies employing approximately 20 000 people. Additionally, mined products are often used to protect the earth. Lime is used to treat industrial wastewater and control air pollution. Water is purified by manganese and activated carbon. Canada is the world's largest exporter of peat, which is used to condition soil. Our efforts at reclaiming mined-out areas include a veritable Eden of roses, orchids, tomatoes and a variety of trees in a depleted zine-copper mine 365 m underground in Manitoba.
In the Yukon Territory, placer mining still contributes significantly to the territorial economy. The Dawson City district, where placer gold mines have operated since the late 1800s, is the Yukon's major mining centre. The principal minerals and metals produced in the Yukon are gold, zinc, lead, silver and sand and gravel.
In the Northwest Territories the famous ELDORADO mine, beside Great Bear Lake, was operating by 1933 for the silver and radium in its ores. Operations were suspended in 1940, then resumed in 1942 to meet wartime demands for uranium. It was closed in 1960 and reopened in 1964 as a silver mine, finally closing in 1981.
The first major gold discovery in the Northwest Territories was in 1935 at the Con-Rycon mine. This ore deposit, on the west side of Yellowknife Bay, is still the site of an operating mine. The discovery of diamonds in the Northwest Territories by Dia Met Minerals Ltd in 1991 started one of the largest staking rushes in recent Canadian history. Canada's first diamond mine, the Ekati mine near Lac de Gras, began production in October 1998. Most of the diamond production is exported, but a small percentage is reserved for cutting in Canada. Annual production began at 5 million carats per year.
The Polaris lead-zinc mine on Little Cornwallis Island, over 1000 km inside the Arctic Circle, is the most northerly base-metal mine in the world. The Lupin mine on Contwoyto Lake, about 89 km south of the Arctic Circle, is the most northerly gold mine in the world, outside of Russia. It mills approximately one million tonnes of ore each year at a grade of 12% zinc and 3.5% lead.
BC is a major producer of base and precious metals, coal and industrial minerals. Copper and molybdenum ores are obtained from several big open-pit mines, the largest being the Highland Valley operation near Kamloops. The underground Sullivan lead-zinc-silver mine at Kimberley, in production since 1909, has been one of the world's largest producers. The Eskay Creek mine, which opened in 1995, is one of the highest-grade gold and silver deposits in North America. Coal is mined from large open pits in the Crowsnest and Tumbler Ridge areas.
Coal and bituminous sand are the principal outputs of mines in Alberta, and nearly half of Canada's coal production is mined in the province. Except for one small underground mine, the coal is produced from about 7 large strip mines in the plains and 5 open pit mines in the foothills west of Edmonton. The bituminous sand is mined from 2 huge surface mines in the Fort McMurry area of northeastern Alberta. Other products include limestone, clay, and sand and gravel.
Saskatchewan is the world's largest producer of uranium. Key Lake is the world's largest high-grade uranium milling operation, with an annual production capacity of approximately 8.2 million kg. Rabbit Lake is the world's second largest milling operation, with a capacity of about 5.5 million kg. Although Cluff Lake was expected to close in 2000, operations were extended through 2001. The McClean Lake and McArthur River mines began production in 1999. McArthur River is the world's largest high-grade uranium deposit, with proven and probable reserves greater than 215 million kg. A mine at Cigar Lake is expected to begin production in 2005 and should have a production life of 30-40 years. Canada is the world's largest producer of potash and Saskatchewan is Canada's largest producer. Deep mines in the central part of the province produce about 30% of the world's potash. Coal mining, which started in the province before 1900, is one of Saskatchewan's oldest industries. Today, coal is produced by strip-mining at several mines in the southern part of the province, chiefly for use in power generation.
Large-scale mining began in Manitoba in 1930 when a copper-zinc mine at Flin Flon on the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border went into production. Since then, Thompson, Lynn Lake, The Pas and Leaf Rapids have become major mining centres for copper, zinc, nickel and precious metals. Nickel from the huge Thompson nickel belt, where production began in 1960, accounts for nearly 40% of the value of Manitoba's mineral production, with copper and zinc each accounting for 18%.
In New Brunswick, the principal minerals and metals produced are zinc, potash, silver, lead, peat, copper and coal. The major areas of mineral production are Bathurst, Sussex, Minto and the North Shore. The Bathurst mining camp recorded mineral production as early as 1837, although most production from the area has resulted from the opening of the Heath Steele mine in the late 1950s and the Brunswick No. 6 and Brunswick No. 12 mines in the 1960s. The Brunswick No. 12 is one of the largest base-metal deposits in the world. With its 2 potash mines, New Brunswick ranks as the world's sixth-largest potash producer.
Coal mining has been an important industry on Cape Breton Island for over 200 years. Two underground mines, extending under the ocean, produce about 2.6 million tonnes per year. In a mining museum at GLACE BAY, visitors can descend into part of an old coal mine. The Cape Breton Coal Research Laboratory, located in Sydney, was created by the Canadian government in 1981. Working closely with industry, the laboratory carries out research and investigates ways of improving the health and safety of underground miners. In addition to coal, gypsum, salt, mineral aggregates, crude petroleum and cement are important mineral commodities in the province.
Prince Edward Island
Sand and gravel production makes a significant contribution to PEI's economy. Peat and natural gas are also important resources.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Iron ore production from open pits in Labrador makes up the majority of the province's mineral production. The province accounts for about 57% of Canada's iron ore production. Other important mineral products are nonmetals and structural materials such as slate, cement, asbestos, stone and clay products. The Hope Brook mine on the southwest coast of the province is a major gold producer. In 1994, Labrador was the site of the Voisey Bay discovery, the richest nickel-copper-cobalt deposit in the world. After Diamond Fields Resources Inc announced the find in November 1994, a staking rush ensued, with nearly 250 000 claims being registered in the vicinity of the discovery.
Mining's Economic Importance
Mining is the major source of economic activity in over 115 Canadian communities. Mining tends to be in areas of the country where other economic activities are less well developed. Every job in the mining industry indirectly creates more than one other job in the Canadian economy. Because of Canada's relatively small population, almost 80% of Canada's mineral production is exported.
Author T.H. PATCHING
Links to Other Sites
Archived Falconbridge Limited files from the website for Xstrata, a company that acquired Falconbridge in 2006.
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
History of the Mining Industry
Scroll down to the bottom of the page for link to "Keydates," a timeline of the history of mining in Québec. From the Government of Québec.
Dig into this extensive online resource about minerals and the mining industry. Features the latest news and information about Canadian and international mining companies, mineral commodities, mining properties, and much more. Check the "Dictionary" link at the bottom of the page.
The Colonial Despatches
View digitized copies of correspondence (dated 1846 - 1859) between the British Colonial Office and the "colonies" of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. Search or browse this site for references to specific individuals, communities, companies, or industries in the province. Also includes digitized images of maps of various locations. From the website for the University of Victoria.
Cariboo Gold Rush
This online collection of personal diaries, journals, letters, memoirs, and other primary sources highlights the hazardous adventures of the hardy folks who participated in the Cariboo Gold Rush. From the B.C. Heritage Branch, Province of British Columbia.
NRCan: Firsts and Fascinating Facts from its Illustrious Past
Historical milestones for the Geological Survey of Canada and Natural Resources Canada.
Prospectors' Hall of Fame
This website pays tribute to prospectors who discovered major mineral deposits in the Yukon. From the Yukon Prospectors' Association.
The Edge of the World: BC's Early Years
Watch a series of short films about the events, people, and places that shaped British Columbia's early history. Features a wealth of archival photographs. From knowledge.ca.
Mineral Deposits of Canada
An overview of the economic and geological contexts of Canada's major mineral deposit types. Scroll down the page for various tables and geological maps of Canada. From Natural Resources Canada.
Institute of Northern Ontario Research and Development
This Laurentian University institute specializes in Northern Ontario economic and social issues.
Canadian Mining Hall of Fame
The website for the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame, which honours notable leaders, prospectors, and pioneers who made significant contributions to the mining industry in Canada.
Men of the Deeps
Discover the music of Cape Breton's Men of the Deeps, North America’s only coal miner’s choir. Their website features a concert calendar, reviews, discography, and audio clips from their recordings.
Life of a Rock Star
This site tells the story of an extraordinary group of scientists who tramped, paddled and rolled across Canada in the nineteenth century to study the geology of Canada's varied terrain.
The B.C. Museum of Mining
This online collection of old newsletters and photographs provides a glimpse into local mining operations and community life. Also offers an extensive teacher’s resource guide and a summary of lingering environmental issues related to past mining activity.
Cape Breton Miners' Museum
Dig into the history of Cape Breton coal mining at the Miners' Museum website. Features an extensive glossary, great photographs, and notes about the geological development of Cape Breton's coal field. The acclaimed "Men of the Deeps" choir performs at the museum during the summer season.
An extensive information source about the geological history, human settlement patterns, earth and water resources, and natural hazards found in locations across the country. Click on the red symbols on the interactive map of Canada to explore aerial landscapes, maps, photos, colourful online posters, and more. A Geoscape Canada website from Natural Resources Canada.
A History of Mining and Mineral Exploration in Canada
Click on the cover image to view an online copy of a comprehensive report that traces the emergence of Canada's mineral industry. From Natural Resources Canada.
The Beautiful Minerals Poster Series
A great site for photographs of Canadian mineral samples and online illustrated articles from the magazine "Elements." Every issue explores a theme of broad and current interest in the mineral sciences. From the Mineralogical Association of Canada.
The Gateway to Northwestern Ontario History
Click on the “Silver Islet” button at the bottom of this page to view a remarkable collection of photographs depicting the old Silver Islet Mine. Part of the Resource and Archival Library for Northwestern Ontario.
Mining in Manitoba
Scroll down to “The Flin Flon Mine” section to learn about the origin of the name “Flin Flon” and the accidental geological discovery that led to the establishment of the Flin Flon mine. This article also digs into the history of other Manitoba mining sites. From the Manitoba Historical Society.
This site chronicles the growth and regulation of mineral exploration and the mining industry in the Province of Ontario. From Library and Archives Canada.
When Coal Was King
The multimedia website “When Coal was King: Coal Mining in Western Canada” explores the history of Alberta’s coal mining industry. Check out the glossary and educational activities. From the Alberta Online Encyclopedia.
A visitor’s guide to Stewart, a BC community located adjacent to the Alaska panhandle. Features travel information, a virtual tour, maps, and a photo gallery of spectacular mountain landscapes. From the Stewart, British Columbia and Hyder, Alaska International Chamber of Commerce.
Sudbury Area Mining Railways
A nicely illustrated site about the history of mining and railway development in the Sudbury area. From the “Old Time Trains” website.
N.W.T. Mining Heritage Society
The N.W.T. Mining Heritage Society is dedicated to preserving and promoting the mining heritage of the Northwest Territories. Their illustrated website explores the rich history of mining in the Yellowknife region.
Towards a Collection of Coal-Mining Songs in Canada
A survey of songs about Canada's coal mines and the miners who work there. Categories include songs about mine disasters or tragedies, union, strike songs, and more. Majority of songs composed by or contributed by Canadian song writers, singers, or collectors. From the “Canadian Journal for Traditional Music.”
The website for the historic town of Cobalt, Ontario. Check out the "Heritage Silver Trail" and other links to local museums and cultural attractions.
Face to Face: The Canadian Personalities Hall
"Face to Face" features outstanding Canadians whose ideas and contributions have transformed this country. Click on the photos in "Meet the Personalities" to see their biographies. From the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
Men in the Mines
Brief historical accounts of mining calamities that occured in Nova Scotia, 1720-1992. Also check out the extensive collection of mining related artifacts. From the Province of Nova Scotia.
Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada
The website for the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, a national association representing the interests of the mineral exploration and development industry. Check out the "Mining Matters" section for learning activities about mining and minerals.
Miners at Work
An informative site about the life and times of the miners seeking their fortune in British Columbia in the gold rushes of 1858 through the 1860's. A Government of British Columbia website.
Glossary: Rock'n Metal
A bilingual glossary of terms related to mining and metalurgy. From the website for the Virtual Museum of Canada.
Glossary: Uranium Mining
Uranium Miner's Glossary of uranium mining and general mining terms.
A glossary of terms related to the mining industry. From the website for The Northern Miner.
Manitoba’s Resource Towns: The Twentieth Century Frontier
A history of the development of Manitoba resource towns and related industries. Also examines related policies and regulations implemented by various government agencies.
Bell Island Mining History
An illustrated history of the rough and tumble mining industry on Bell Island. From the Virtual Museum of Canada.
The Submarine Miner
View selected issues of the "Submarine Miner," a monthly publication of the Dominion Wabana Ore Ltd. From the bellisland.net website.
A well-illustrated visitor's guide for the Sandon Museum, an internationally renowned historic site located in what was once the dynamic centre of a thriving silver mining industry in BC's Slocan Valley. Find out about the region's colourful history and cast of characters who built the community and did the dangerous work of extracting ore from nearby mine sites.
Mining Operations for Gold, Coal, etc. in the Province of British Columbia
This 1886 report offers summaries of prospecting activity, the locations of new claims, transportation issues, and production levels at various mining sites in British Columbia. A Government of British Columbia website.
Growth in mining sector reshaping Québec economy
An article about the economic impact of an expanding mining sector in the province of Québec. From resourceintelligence.net.
Heart of a mountain, soul of a town
Read an online copy a book about the history of Algoma Ore and the town of Wawa, Ontario. See images of the local landscape, buildings, and workers. Also provides interior shots of the mine. From the Our Roots/Nos Racines website.