In the dog days of summer in 1916, directors of the International Nickel Co. — or Inco — met to discuss the acquisition of land in Port Colborne, with its abundance of access to hydroelectricity and transportation, as the site for the company’s first Canadian nickel refinery.
With that the die was cast and Port Colborne, then a sleepy little village at the entrance to the Welland Canal, would never be the same. “It changed the whole of Port Colborne; it refined and defined Port Colborne,” said Port Colborne Historical and Marine Museum assistant co-ordinator Michelle Mason.
With a $4.5-million construction budget, the refinery on 140 hectares of land in the city’s east end used six million bricks and 50 tonnes of concrete. Mason explained how when the plant opened on Sept. 15, 1918, the number of workers moving to the area pushed Port Colborne from village to town. Since then, Inco, now Vale, has been intrinsically woven into the history of the city.
“It was the heartbeat of the city at one point,” said Mason. At its peak in the 1960s the nickel and cobalt plant employed 2,500 workers, producing 10 million pounds of electrolytic nickel a month, alongside six-million pounds of utility nickel.