Brass, produced by colouring copper with the zinc mineral calamine, was in use 3000 years ago. Zinc was recognized as a metal in the late 14th century in India. It was identified as a separate metal in Europe in 1546. Zinc was introduced to China from India in the 17th century. European production began in 1743 at Bristol, England. Production in Canada began in 1916 at TRAIL, BC, when Cominco Ltd (now Teck Cominco) opened a small electrolytic plant, using ore from the Sullivan Mine. Production was hampered because the complex lead-zinc-iron ore was difficult to treat. In 1920 the differential flotation method was successfully used to separate out lead and zinc concentrates, marking the beginning of substantial zinc production in Canada.
Zinc mines are currently operating in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Québec, Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut. As well as the original Sullivan mine, Teck Cominco operates the Polaris mine on Little Cornwallis Island, Nunavut, the world's northernmost base metal mine. Other Canadian zinc producers include Noranda, in British Columbia and Québec; Breakwater in Québec and Nunavut; Agnico-Eagle Mines Ltd in Québec; Falconbridge in Ontario; Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting in Manitoba and Saskatchewan; and Boliden in British Columbia.
All primary zinc metal production in Canada is carried out by the electrolytic process, which yields a product that is more than 99% pure. Solution purification, electrowinning and casting are preceded by either conventional roasting and leaching or by the zinc pressure leach hydrometallurgical process (see METALLURGY).
Canada is the world's largest zinc producer. Preliminary estimates for production in 2001 indicate that Canada produced 1 009 571 tonnes of zinc, worth an estimated $1.4 billion. About 90% of production is exported as refined metal or concentrates; major customers are the US and Taiwan for metal, and Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy and the Republic of Korea for concentrates. Zinc is used principally to galvanize steel as a protection against corrosion. The next most important use is in the creation of alloys such as brass and bronze, followed by use in die-cast products, eg, small electrical appliances, tools, toys, automobile door and window handles and carburetors. Rolled zinc metal is used in dry-cell batteries and for roofing; zinc oxide is used in paints and as a catalyst in rubber manufacture. Zinc is also the primary ingredient in sunscreen.
Author M.J. GAUVIN and PHILLIP WRIGHT Revised: PATRICK CHEVALIER
Links to Other Sites
Archived Falconbridge Limited files from the website for Xstrata, a company that acquired Falconbridge in 2006.
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.
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.
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.