Teck Cominco’s Polaris base metal mine closed in August 2002. It was the most northerly base metal mine in the world
Teck Cominco’s Polaris base metal mine closed in August 2002. It was the most northerly base metal mine in the world, which meant dealing with permafrost and the Arctic. Life on site was unique. Here are the recollections of Donna Cragg, paymaster accounting assistant. More tributes to Polaris can be found at www.teckcominco.com and in the latest Orbit magazine.
When the Polaris lead/zinc mine on Little Cornwallis Island in Canada’s high arctic was being planned, commissioned and started up in the late 1970s and early ’80s, I had no idea how important a role the mine would play for me. Now, as operations wind down, I can’t imagine what life would have been like without the opportunity to work and live here in the north.
I often imagine back three decades, when Bechtel was working with Cominco on the design and conceptualization of Polaris. A barge topped with a building the size of a football field was outfitted with a complete processing plant in Trois-Rivires, Que., towed to the mine site north of 76 latitude and anchored to the arctic island shore.
Landfilling, an adjacent deep-sea dock and construction of an accommodation complex were completed in the winter of 1980-81, despite demanding deadlines and even harsher elements. This was an astonishing engineering feat for its day, made possible only by human co-operation and resourcefulness.
This adaptability was epitomized by the first mine manager, the late Sam Luciani, who had an indelible effect on all who knew him and many who didn’t. One story that illustrates his influence has to do with personnel turnover, initially expected to pass 60% in the first year of operation. Sam is credited with preventing this costly manpower drain, for he engendered a powerful level of loyalty and dedication well beyond expectation.
People at Polaris were willing to put so much into their work that often the lines between work time and personal time blurred. When the mine winds to a close, many individuals will be leaving after 15 to 20 years of service. Their loyalty and wealth of experience have been fundamental to the operation’s success.
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