Mining builds communities across Ontario — Red Lake

This article was provided by the Ontario Mining Association (OMA), an organization that was established in 1920 to represent the mining industry of the province.

Red Lake was the world’s first fly-in, fly-out mining camp.  In 1925, what is billed as the last great gold rush in North America began in Red Lake.  Travel by dog team and canoe soon gave way to bush plane prospecting and in the mid-1930s Red Lake was one of the busiest airports in the world.  Up to the end of 2011, the historic gold production from the Red Lake area was almost 27 million ounces.

“Red Lake in 1925 was founded as a fly-in, fly-out camp and if it wasn’t for dog sleds and airplanes at that time, we might not be here,” said Phil Vinet, Mayor of Red Lake.  “The long and short of it is that we are a mining town and we can’t lose sight of that.”  The city’s largest annual event, the Norseman Festival, celebrates the role of this historic Canadian-made float plane. 

The largest workforce in the community is Goldcorp’s Red Lake operations, which has 1,000 employees and 500 contractors.  “You can’t find a better corporate citizen than Goldcorp,” said Mr. Vinet.  Along with Goldcorp’s bullion production, the company is undergoing a major expansion and two advanced exploration projects — Rubicon’s Phoenix Project and Claude Resources Madsen Project – are also fuelling mine employment and community development.

Bill Greenway, Economic Development Officer for the municipality, points out that Red Lake hosts a sizeable mine supply and service cluster, which supports several hundred jobs.  OMA members such as diamond driller and manufacturer Boart Longyear, mine contractor Redpath and mine equipment supplier Atlas Copco all have operations in Red Lake.  Assay laboratories, government offices related to mining and other specialized contractors can also be found in Red Lake.

While mining helped bring infrastructure to this entire section of northwestern Ontario, forestry and tourism also are important components of the regional economy.  More than 100 fishing and hunting camps are in the area.  While headframes remind residents of their town’s industrial foundation, many Red Lake citizens feel like they are living in a national park.

Several construction projects are taking place in the community and commercial development is expanding.  Tim Horton’s has arrived in Red Lake and major hotel chains are setting up shop.  The city also serves as a major transportation hub.  The new airport terminal is great addition to the community.  “The new airport terminal is an asset and a business development tool,” adds Mr. Greenway.  “It provides the first impression for people entering town and the last impression when they leave – it is critical to the lifeblood of the community.”

Also, several First Nations, many of which are isolated, are in the area and have a combined population of about 10,000.  Mayor Vinet reminds us that Red Lake is the major service point for access to Woodland Caribou Provincial Park, which has caught the attention of UNESCO World Heritage designators.  The Red Lake Regional Heritage Centre shows that people from 45 different nations have built up a unique level of cultural diversity in the community.

The city in some ways is a partial victim of its own success in having to deal with glitches caused by growth.  Mayor Vinet points out the shortage of serviceable land and a tight housing market in Red Lake.  “We would benefit from greater density but Red Lake has all the underlaying values that build a solid community,” he said.  “Education, recreation, medical facilities, cultural amenities, all the pieces of the mosaic can be found here.”  Recreation facilities include what is billed as the northernmost 18-hole golf course in Ontario, which has tee blocks shaped like mine headframes to remind everyone of the community’s roots.

“I would like more certainty to provide a better ability to plan and make my community as sustainable as possible,” said Mayor Vinet.  All forces seem to indicate more people and economic growth for this community over the next several decades. 

While natural gas will be available to customers in Red Lake this Fall for the first time, there are concerns about the future electricity supplies.  Municipal government officials, mining people and local residents are all talking about the need for an expanded and more reliable electricity transmission and distribution systems to accommodate planned mine developments and ensuing population increases. 

The current population of the Red Lake area, which is in the Central Time Zone, in northwestern Ontario is about 5,200.  It is comprised of the communities of Red Lake, Balmertown, Cochenour, McKenzie Island, Madsen and Starratt-Olsen.  Red Lake, which at the 51st parallel of latitude, is 1,927 kilometres north and west from Toronto.  To put geography in a little perspective, Toronto is 1,983 kilometres north of Miami, Florida.
Check out road maps for orientation.  You are sure to be hearing more positive news about Red Lake in the future.

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