A visit to the world’s largest operating salt mine – by John M. Smith (Inside Belleville – June 26, 2015)


My wife and I recently spent a couple of days in the picturesque town of Goderich, which is located in western Ontario, north of Grand Bend and south of Kincardine on the shore of Lake Huron. We were drawn to this destination by its having the world’s largest operating salt mine. We soon found that it was, indeed, quite a sight to simply view the humungous surface storage silos and the blue elevator shafts that decorate much of Goderich’s harbour area.

However, we didn’t find any mounds of salt, for the operation actually occurs far underground, at a depth of about 1800 feet, and the Sifto Canada mine, which is now a part of the American-owned Compass Minerals Company, apparently extends for more than two miles into Lake Huron and averages a width of more than a mile. To put this into perspective, the salt mine is about as deep as the CN Tower is high, and massive trucks carry the blasted rock salt through a series of large underground tunnels into crushing and screening operations before it’s then hoisted to the surface via customized skiffs.

I hoped to get an up close and personal guided underground tour of the operation, but that was not to be. In fact, there are no tours available to the public, for the work continues non-stop, 24 hours every day, except when the lake freezes and shipments by the massive freighters become impossible. There’s, of course, a real concern with work stoppages and with liability, so the Compass Mineral Company doesn’t seem very anxious to get into the touring business.

I talked with James Cox, Goderich’s Economic Development/Tourism Coordinator, and with tourism board member Kim Burgsma, and both agreed that even more should be done to celebrate the town’s renowned salt mine, and there are plans to initiate a “Salt Festival” in the future.

There’s already a small piece of rock salt available as a memento, and it’s attached to a piece of cardboard that explains the importance of the salt mine to the community, for this mine produces “more than 45 per cent of all the rock salt mined in Canada”. I even suggested that they might also consider having some kind of salt statue, just as Sudbury has its well-known “Big Nickel” statue to recognize its nickel mining.

I learned that Goderich’s salt was actually discovered purely by accident, for a local flour mill owner, Sam Platt, had begun to drill for oil in 1866, and what he actually found instead was an immense salt bed, North America’s first recorded one. Once the word got out, there was a salt rush in this area, and by 1867 there were 12 independent salt wells that dotted the Maitland River Valley.

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