Northern Ontario’s mining memorials tell a tale of hard-fought labour protections – by Bill Steer (Bay Today – January 19, 2022)

Back Roads Bill Steer is the founder and remains the GM of the Canadian Ecology Centre. He teaches part-time at Nipissing University (Schulich School of Education) and Canadore College. His features can be found across Village Media’s Northern Ontario sites.

With the help of the region’s scholars, Back Roads Bill recounts the struggles and horrific working conditions endured by early miners and the reason we should all remember them

It is part of a history lesson we know little about, so perhaps we need a little schooling. Envision hard rock miners, once toiling far underground in dark, cramped and dangerous conditions; it was arduous and risky work.

They emerged tired and dirty at the end of their shifts, walking back to small wood-sided homes and their immigrant families. Mining, along with forestry, created what was then called ‘New Ontario,’ — what we know as Northern Ontario.

Indigenous mining in the north began after the last period of glaciations, people of the Plano culture moved into the area and began quarrying quartzite at Sheguiandah on Manitoulin Island. Mining is an important economic activity in Northern Ontario. It has been since the first copper mines at Bruce Mines in 1846 and Silver Islet in 1868.

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Serpent River First Nation (SRFN) acid plant still an environmental issue after 64 years – by Leslie Knibbs (Sudbury Star – October 28, 2021)

In 1957, the Cutler acid plant opened in Serpent River First Nation (SRFN) after the Canadian government negotiated a 99-year lease with mining company Noranda Mines, which was at the time involved in the uranium mining industry in Elliot Lake. The plant was established to process uranium from Elliot Lake’s mines.

SRFN member, Lianne Leddy documented the story of the effects of the acid plant in her book, ‘Serpent River Resurgence.’

Lianne Leddy, a member of SRFN and professor from Wilfred Laurier University said in a recent interview, “When the plant was in operation, the fumes caused deforestation in the area, damage to roofs, community gardens, cars and even holes in the laundry drying out on the line.

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Funding approved to install final statue in Elliot Lake’s Miner’s Memorial Park – by Colleen Romaniuk (Sudbury Star – June 19, 2020)

Almost 20 years after Laura Brown Breetvelt was commissioned by Elliot Lake to design and produce the Miner’s Monument, the city is gearing up to install the final statue in the installation.

In a special session held on June 15, City Council approved a payment of $27,000 to Beamish Construction to install the statue at the site located on Highway 108 beside Horne Lake.

The final piece in what the Merrickville, Ont.-based sculptor calls “a trilogy” is a full-sized metal statue of a uranium prospector that pays homage to Elliot Lake’s former role as Canada’s uranium mining capital.

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From mining town to retirement destination—the transformation of Elliot Lake – by Erik White (CBC News Sudbury – July 8, 2018)

Elliot Lake was on the brink of becoming of ghost town when the mines closed in the early 1990s.

Four seniors from southern Ontario are quietly sitting in the back of a mini-van as it whizzes up and down the hilly, curvy streets of Elliot Lake. In the driver’s seat, Retirement Living tour guide Linda McKay is far from quiet.

“You’re going to feel like you’re going in circles all the time, and you’re going to get dizzy, but you’ll never get lost,” McKay tells them. She tells the visitors, who were put up in a hotel in the town last night, about everything from the transit service to where they might spot some wild foxes.

McKay drives past the vacant lot where the mall that “collapsed on us” used to stand, referring to the Algo Centre Mall disaster that killed two women in 2012. “Tired yet?” she asks.

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Ontario Mine Rescue gathers some history in Elliot Lake – by Kevin McSheffrey (Elliot Lake Standard – January 17, 2018)

With 2019 being the 90th anniversary of Ontario Mine Rescue, two members of the organization were in Elliot Lake recently to gather some of its history in preparation for next year’s event.

Ted Hanley, Ontario Mine Rescue general manager at its head office in Sudbury, and a student researcher Justin Konrad, were scanning and photographing many of the exhibits in Elliot Lake’s Mine Rescue Collection at the Elliot Lake and Nuclear Mining Museum on Jan. 10.

Ken Pierce, Elliot Lake’s local historian and the former regional mine rescue instructor based in the community when the mines were operating, was assisting them. Hanley says he first came to the Elliot Lake and Nuclear Mining Museum two years ago and viewed the Mine Rescue Collection, on Pierce’s invitation.

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No One Wants To Talk About Ontario’s Disappearing Blue-Collar Communities – by Robert Waite (Huffington Post – October 16, 2017)

A lot can happen to a city or town in 35 years. Take Toronto — in 1982 the city still sported nicknames like “Toronto the Good” and “Hog Town.”  Visitors from New York and Montreal had another word for it: “Boring.”

Several decades (and several million more people) later, Toronto has transformed into one of the world’s most vibrant and diverse cities.

But this story isn’t about Toronto. It is about a town in Northern Ontario, Kapuskasing, located a good 10-hour drive (about 800 kilometres) away. It is about the fact that even in an age of global warming, life in Canada north of 45 degrees latitude (49.4, to be exact) can be precarious.

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Ontario Mining History: The Elliot Lake story – by Dit Holt (Northern Miner – January 8, 2001)

Global mining news

The evolution of Elliot Lake, Ont. — from a logging and fur-trapping centre in the early 1900s to the uranium capital of the world in the 1950s and 1960s, and then to its present status as one of most successful retirement communities in Canada — is unique. And few people know that history better than M.E. (Dit) Holt, a mining engineer who began his career by taking part in the staking rush that transformed a remote wilderness north of Lake Huron into a mining boom town.

In the next few months, Holt will bring that history back to life through a series of columns featuring the men (in those days, mining was a man’s game) who found, financed and developed a total of 11 mines in the district.

To set the stage, we’ll go back to 1948, when Aim Breton and Karl Gunterman discovered radioactive rock in Long Twp., east of Blind River. However, significant deposits of the radioactive element were not found, and Breton and Gunterman let their claims lapse. In 1952, prospector Franc Joubin (1911-1997), backed by financier Joseph Hirshhorn (1900-1981), restaked the lapsed claims and set out to determine exactly what was exciting his geiger counter.

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Barrick’s Munk Heads Top Ten Most Important Mining Men in Canadian History – by Stan Sudol

Melanie and Peter Munk
Melanie and Peter Munk

An edited version of this list was published in the February/March issue of the Canadian Mining Journal.

Four Americans Made the List!

A few months ago, my dear colleague Joe Martin, who is the Director of the Canadian Business & Financial History Initiative at Rotman and President Emeritus of Canada’s History Society, asked me a very simple question: who would be considered the most important individual in Canadian mining?

Considering Canada’s lengthy and exceptional expertise in the mineral sector, it was not an easy answer and I decided to research and create a top ten list of the most important mining men in Canadian history.

The lack of women on this list simply reflects the fact that for much of our history most women were not given the educational or social opportunities to excel in business, especially in a rough and male-dominated sector like mining. Times have changed, women are playing key roles in mining today and will definitely be included on this list in the future.

However, a few qualifiers need to be established. This is basically a list of mine builders not mine finders.  Building a company through takeovers and discoveries is one way but I am also focusing on individuals who have built corporate empires and/or who have developed isolated regions of the country with the necessary infrastructure for mines to flourish and create multi-generational jobs, shareholder wealth and great economic impact.

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ELLIOT LAKE’S GLAMOROUS RISE AND BITTER FALL – by McKenzie Porter (MACLEAN’S Magazine – July 16, 1960)

This is a candid portrait of the hundred-million-dollar boom town that was built on uranium—the mineral with sex appeal— and of the mesmerized thousands who learned the hard way that it was just another mining camp after all

ELLIOT LAKE IS the most elaborate mining camp ever built, and until recently it was the luckiest. Although it is buried in the northern Ontario bush, half way between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, it looks like a metropolitan suburb.

Moose, bears and wolves peep nervously down from majestic heights of rock and pine upon a hundred million dollars’ worth of fluorescent lights, crescent streets, split-level homes, three – story apartment blocks, cantilevered shopping plazas, breeze-way schools, wide-screen movie theatres, picture-window hotels, functional churches, a lakeshore community centre and the finest hospital north of Lake Huron.

Ed Gibbons, a former editor of the Elliot Lake Standard, once described the town as “a frontier monument to the architectural theories of Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright,” and he spoke more in wonder than in jest.

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How Joe Hirshhorn Hit the Uranium Jackpot – by David MacDonald (MACLEAN’S Magazine – October 29, 1955)

Even when geologists said there couldn’t be uranium at Blind River this brash and bouncy little financial wizard tossed in $30,000 and struck a spectacular bonanza. He wasn’t surprised. “Making money comes easy to me,” he says, “ — like breathing”

ALONG Toronto’s Bay Street, the frenetic mining capital of North America, veteran prospector and minemaker Gilbert A. LaBine had long been acknowledged—until recently—as the uranium king of Canada. The reason was obvious. It was LaBine who had found the continent’s first pitchblende, at Great Bear Lake, in 1930; LaBine whose Eldorado mine helped usher in the atomic age over Hiroshima; and LaBine who, in the northern wilds of Saskatchewan, came up with Gunnar, Canada’s first truly big uranium strike.

Today—for reasons equally obvious—the top man in uranium is no longer LaBine, a conservative grey-haired elder of the industry, but Joseph H. Hirshhorn, a flashy fast-talking little mining promoter from the borough of Brooklyn, N.Y., whose exploits on Bay and Wall Streets have won him millions of dollars and a gambler’s reputation for playing long shots.

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Franc Joubin – The Father of Elliot Lake – by Dit Holt (Northern Miner – March 19, 2001)

Without the foresight, initiative and leadership of Franc Joubin (1911-1997), the mines of Elliot Lake, Ont., might never have come about. Joubin was one of the most outstanding explorers in North America, if not the world. His achievements, awards, degrees and world-wide experience speak for themselves.

I first met Joubin back in 1949 at a gathering in Toronto to kick off the Beaverlodge uranium campaign. A young geologist who knew him turned to me and asked if I had met the man before. When I said no, he said “mark my work words: he’ll set the world on fire.” How prophetic that turned out to be.

Joubin inspired and affected our lives dramatically. With his natural wit and warmth, this quiet-spoken man was a born leader. “Knowledge is power,” he would often say, and he was living proof.

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History of Elliot Lake – Life of an Elliot Lake miner at work – by Kevin McSheffrey (Elliot Lake Standard – December 30, 2015)

Elliot Lake has been in existence since 1955, and grew out of the wilderness following geologist Franc Joubin’s uranium discovery earlier that decade.

Joubin’s discovery resulted in a dozen uranium mines in the area, 11 around Elliot Lake and one on the North Shore. Two mining companies were involved: Rio Algom, headed up by Joseph Hirshhorn and Denison Mines, headed by Stephen Roman.

The discovery attracted mine workers from across the province, the country and around the world.

However, the boom was followed by a bust in the early 1960s when the United States government cancelled its contracts with the two mining companies.

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The strike that saved lives [Elliot Lake] – by Alexandra Lopez-Pacheco (CIM Magazine – June-July 2014)

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Elliot Lake wildcat walkout

Ontario government representatives 40 years ago presented research linking radiation to lung cancer at a conference in Paris, France. In the audience were several members of the United Steelworkers of America (USW), whose organization had been fighting the mining industry and the Ontario government for improved health and safety at the Denison and Rio Algom uranium mines in Elliot Lake, Ontario. In addition to a high incidence of injuries, hundreds of miners were ill or dying from silicosis and lung cancer, which the union believed was caused by silica dust.

The union representatives were shocked to discover the government had found there was another cause behind the high rates of lung cancer – radiation – and had not bothered to inform miners or to take any action to protect them. The USW members shared the news with their co-workers back in Elliot Lake, and this proved to be the last straw. On April 18, 1974, about 1,000 miners from Denison went on a three-week wildcat strike.

“I think the conference, combined with the general dissatisfaction with the occupational health and safety regulations and laws in the province at that time, caused the strike,” says Fergus Kerr, now vice-president of operations at Global Atomic Fuels Corp., who joined Denison in 1977 and became its general manager a decade later.

The strike drew the attention of the media, the public and Ontario’s politicians. Mining health and safety suddenly became a hot-button issue.

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Elliot Lake marks National Day of Mourning – by Kevin McSheffrey (Elliot Lake Standard – April 30, 2014)

The National Day of Mourning is aimed at remembering those workers who died on the job or as a result of a workplace accidents or illnesses. Sue Girard, a representative from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, was the master of ceremonies at the event.

She reminded the crowd gathered at the Miners’ Memorial that the Day of Mourning was created 30 years ago by the labour movement to increase awareness of on-the-job injuries and fatal workplace accidents.

The following year, 1985, it was recognized by the Canadian Labour Congress. Eight years later, the federal government also recognized the day. Girard added that the Day of Mourning is recognized on more than 80 countries.

She continued by saying that Canada has some of the best occupational health and safety laws in the world. However, workplace deaths continue to rise in Canada. “In 2012, (a total of) 977 workplace deaths were reported in Canada, a six per cent increase over 2011,” Girard said.

“Statistics published by the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada for 1993 to 2013 show that during this 20-year period, more than 18,039 people died as a result of workplace accidents.”

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