Sudbury is the richest mining district in North America and among the top ten most important globally. The region accounts for roughly half the mining production in the province of Ontario, the largest mineral producer in Canada. This prolific mining camp has been in continuous production for almost 130 years and many industry experts predict up to another century and a half of production.
The principal metal in the Sudbury region is nickel, an extraordinary substance that helped transform industrial society. Today nickel is essential to all facets of industrial manufacturing, primarily through stainless steel which uses about 70% of global production. The metal is found in over 300,000 products ranging from heart stents used in bypass surgery, to hybrid automobile batteries, jet engines and of course the kitchen sink.
Nickel’s unique properties include a combination of strength, hardness, ductility, resistance to corrosion and the ability to maintain strength under high heat. It can transfer these properties to other metals, making nickel absolutely essential for a wide variety of both civilian and military uses.
Yet, it was nickel’s critical role in military uses that thrust the Sudbury Basin mines into the geo-political spotlight, ensuring that the community’s history would be anything but dull.
During the war years (1939-45), International Nickel Co. of Canada, as it was known back then, and its employees in Sudbury and Port Colborne supplied 95% of all Allied demands for nickel–a vital raw material critical for the Allies’ final victory.
In fact, for much of the past century the key location for this essential metal was the legendary Sudbury Basin, with the South Pacific island of New Caledonia coming a distant second. During certain periods up to the mid-1970s, Sudbury supplied up to 90% of world demand.
Beginning this week I will be posting a few historic articles on the Sudbury nickel mines that were published by Macleans – often called the Canadian version of Time magazine. The writing is exceptional, and more importantly they give a great historical snapshot of how highly this community was thought of during those time periods.
In addition, later this week I will be introducing a Sudbury historian who has researched and written many columns on the community’s vibrant and exciting past.