Harold Morrow: ‘Mr. Potash’ knew where to look for Saskatchewan’s new buried treasure – by Nora Ryell (Globe and Mail – February 08, 2011)

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Working for the government and as a consultant, he helped big players develop a new industry

Harold Morrow’s involvement in early mining exploration first led him to the gold mines of Northern Ontario, but it was in the Devonian layers of sedimentary rock found in Saskatchewan that he discovered a real find.

As he would later write to a colleague: “The Saskatchewan potash deposit is the most valuable single ore body ever found in Canada. … The Texas Gulf Kidd Creek ore body (in Timmins, Ont.), although a great one, will be gone and forgotten centuries before the demise of the Saskatchewan potash deposits.”

An area once entirely under ancient seas was uniquely rich in deposits of potassium chloride – or potash, as it is now commonly called, which is used almost exclusively in fertilizers. What started out as the “gold bug” quickly became the “potash bug,” and Morrow became a leading consultant in how to find it.

He was so successful at discovering deposits that in 1966 he was named “Mr. Potash” by the editor of the Northern Miner newspaper.

Morrow died of natural causes on Nov. 12, 2010, at age 96 while he was recovering from a hip replacement.

Harold Francis Morrow was born on Dec. 18, 1913, one of four children, in the small town of Lumsden in southern Saskatchewan, to Reginald and Lillian Morrow.

His father fought at Passchendaele. When he returned to Saskatchewan, he became a salesman and was often on the road.

Morrow attended university in Saskatchewan during the early years of the Depression. And while studying for his bachelor of science degree in geology, he found work with the Geological Survey of Canada doing field mapping in Ontario.

He continued his interest in mineral exploration, and in 1937 decided to enroll at Queen’s University in Kingston for a master’s in geology. The following summer he worked underground as a mine geologist for Little Long Lac Gold Mines in Geraldton, Ont. An often hazardous job in a rough mining camp, Morrow’s task was to map the rock face after drilling and blasting had taken place. The unsecured rock face could have collapsed at any moment, and Morrow had a few close calls.

After completing his master’s in 1939, he entered the PhD program at McGill under the supervision of James Edward Gill, the famous explorer and geologist who, along with William R. James Sr., discovered the huge iron ore deposits in Quebec and Labrador. Morrow returned to the Geraldton area to gather material for his doctoral thesis at the MacLeod-Cockshutt Gold Mine, first as a mine geologist and then as chief geologist. Then he volunteered for service in 1942.

He joined the Canadian Naval Intelligence Group as a lieutenant and was immediately posted to the Harbour Grace Special Wireless Telegraphy Station, where wireless operators monitored the messages and movements of German submarines. It was a forlorn little station with no running water and few amenities. The men were billeted in cheap lodgings some three miles from the base. But during his time off, Morrow, who was an avid tennis player, managed to get in a few games. More importantly, he found a superb tennis partner named Claudia Watts. They married on March 24, 1944.

When the war ended, the couple moved back to the Geraldton area and Morrow resumed his position at MacLeod-Cockshutt and consulted for other gold mines in the area. He also finished his doctorate. In 1945, son David was born, followed by daughter Wendy in 1951.

In 1950, Morrow became the first chief geologist for the Province of Saskatchewan in the Department of Natural Resources and quickly became familiar with the sedimentary geology of Western Canada and, in particular, the huge potash deposits in southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Pockets of potash had been discovered in the early 1940s during oil and gas exploration, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that a tool was developed that could accurately detect radioactive elements below ground in sedimentary rock. As potassium is naturally radioactive, the gamma ray spectrometer made it possible to pinpont potash and determine the viability of mining it.

In a talk given at the Saskatchewan Potash Proceedings in 1965, Morrow recounted the importance of this new technology. “I became acquainted with the important fact that potash beds were clearly outlined on gamma logs.

“It was possible to establish the thickness, approximate the grade, the depth from surface and certain mining conditions. … Fortunately, the oil companies, at that time, were only interested in oil and gas. Consequently, they were most generous in releasing the gamma log information.”

Morrow changed his focus to potash exploration and mine development, and in 1952 he left the government to form a consulting firm that became Gardiner, Low and Morrow. The firm’s clients included some of the most well-known names in the potash industry – Duval Corp., International Minerals and Chemical and the Potash Company of America.

In the late 1970s, the major companies initiated several court proceedings challenging the constitutional right of premier Allan Blakeney’s government to control production of potash for export and impose taxes. In one of the proceedings, Central Canada Potash Corporation, v. Government of Saskatchewan, Morrow was called as an expert witness and provided key testimony as to the extent of known or proven potash reserves and Saskatchewan’s ability to provide enough potash for world demand.

For the rest of this obituary, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://v1.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20110208.OBMORROWATL/BDAStory/BDA/deaths