Canada is one of the most productive areas on earth for the discovery of economic mineral deposits. Its large land mass covers the entire spectrum of geological formations. These have been laid down and formed over the past four billion years.
Man has supplemented the bounty of nature’s contribution. Canada is fortunate to have individuals who have developed an infrastructure of financial capacity, educational facilities and scientific expertise that is a rich mix of human expertise and resources equal to or better than anywhere else in the world. These people have created Canada’s wealth through the careful exploitation of her mineral resources.
Prior to the beginning of the twentieth century, large-scale, economic, producing mines were largely nonexistent in Canada. Any prospecting that was undertaken was carried out by native groups, early settlers and fur traders. These early searchers for minerals were successful mainly by chance.
Gradually such hit and miss exploration was replaced by the advent of newcomers — single-minded, strong-willed European immigrants — who began to fan out across the country. These men were attracted to the outdoor life and the freedom that prospecting offered, and they made use of emerging knowledge of logically directed, systematic mineral exploration.
A growing market for resources around the world accelerated demand, first for Canada’s
vast timber resources, and then for her abundant mineral wealth. Gold was a glamour metal and became a touchstone for an explosion in mineral exploration. The lustrous yellow metal was aggressively sought after the price per ounce rose to $20 U.S. early in the new century. Silver, copper and nickel mines also came into prominence, mainly through the carving of new railways across the continent, but gold was still the prize that spurred prospectors. When President Franklin Roosevelt fixed the price of gold at $35 U.S. in 1933 during the lost years of the great Depression, it was a blessing to Canadian prospectors and miners.
This forward-thinking move was supplemented during World War II by a huge demand for strategic metals. During the war, and for close to thirty years, the Canadian government further strengthened the industry by subsidizing gold mines with the Emergency Gold Mining Assistance Act or EGMA. Demand drove the price of gold higher until, in 1972, President Richard Nixon allowed the price of gold to float unfettered and to be governed by market demand. By January 2008 gold commanded above $860 U.S. an ounce and exploration for the
metal increased dramatically.
Before World War II mineral production in Canada came mainly from Ontario and Quebec, due to the highly productive, early Precambrian Abitibi greenstone belt. Through its east-west length of 500 kilometres, this metal-rich zone has supplied the bulk of Canada’s economic minerals, including no less than 150 million troy ounces of gold.
Since then, over the past sixty years, the nation’s mineral exploration efforts have resulted in the development of many new mineral deposits throughout Canada. There has been new and continual mining of earlier discoveries containing gold, silver, copper and nickel, as well as new production from zinc, lead, uranium, potash, iron, antimony, tungsten, diamonds and the platinum group metals. There have been other lesser by-product commodities and the new base-metal-dominant deposits have taken over as the largest revenue producers, augmented by income from precious metals.
Some insight into several contributing factors is necessary to document the successes of the past sixty years of exploration for hard rock minerals in Canada. So it is that six chapters of this
volume explore evolving trends in exploration. Created mainly by Canadians, these trends have placed the country in the forefront of successful explorationists and developers throughout the world. Evidence of this is seen in the large number of both junior and senior mining companies headquartered in Canada and the huge sums they expend.
More Than Free Gold is dedicated to the explorationists and their efforts over the past six decades, but it only covers a narrow spectrum of the hard rock industry and its producing mines during this period. The interest here in this work is in the metals, uranium and diamonds.
There is another purpose to More Than Free Gold besides the documentation of mining trends and new mine production over the past sixty years. The first forty of those years — 1946 to 1986 — was a period of an enormous increase of new mines coming on stream, coupled with
the development of new exploration technology. The last twenty years, however, has experienced a downturn in this good news story. There has been a decrease in the development of new mines, especially in the base metals area. This has caused potential shortages in concentrates and raw feed from Canada for our smelters. Many mines have closed.
The responsibility for this ‘black out’ period in Canadian exploration may be laid at the door of huge decreases in government funding for supportive field mapping programs and severe downsizing by the major exploration players. Those in the exploration field of the industry
have survived this black out period through tax-related government flow-through incentives. A bright light on the horizon is the recent advancement in mineral commodity prices which, if sustained, will offer Canada a chance to grow its mining industry once again. Declining
mine revenues may then be reversed and the north country restored to a level of productivity that will support further growth.
Strong commodity prices have provided the economic success needed to give Canada the impetus and the capital for the discovery of new ore reserves. This work offers a graphic illustration of the contribution of Canada’s hard rock mining industry to the gross national product (GNP) since World War II. The increase in demand for space-age metals, nuclear
fuel and other industrial requirements maps the way for the future of Canada’s mineral resource industries.
This country can supply raw materials in abundance, in a cost-efficient, environmentally-benign fashion that will meet the demands of a fast-growing world population. Any the support and encouragement that Canadians in all walks of life can give to mineral exploration and the mining industry as a whole will be returned many fold in lasting benefits to our widespread people.
Michael Barnes is a published Canadian author who has written extensively on Northern Ontario. [email protected]
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