Sudbury – The Republic of Nickel (Part 4 of 4) – Stan Sudol

The summer of 1969 was the beginning of the end of Sudbury’s commanding control of global nickel production. The labour disruptions that summer and fall would impact the industry for the next few decades. The Inco miners went on strike on July 10, 1969 with the Falconbridge workers joining them in the third week of August. They did not settle with until mid-November. The industrial economies of Britain and the U.S., both of which imported almost all of their nickel from Canada suffered greatly.

The London Times headlines screamed “The Nickel Crisis” and “Whitehall and CBI May Soon Declare Nickel Emergency.”  It was the most severe materials shortages both countries had experienced since World War Two. In the U.S. nickel stockpiles had to guarded by armed police to prevent theft. U.S. military production remained unaffected due to the government strategic stockpile.

It was the last time the “Sudbury nickel lion” roared. By bringing U.S. and British industry to their knees the Sudbury workers ensured that billions would be spent over the next few years to finally break their monopoly on this strategic metal.

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Sudbury – The Republic of Nickel (Part 3 of 4) – Stan Sudol

The decade ended with King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited the community in June 1939. It was the first time a reigning British monarch had ever visited Canada, let alone Sudbury. Precedence was broken by allowing the Queen, the first women ever to go underground at the Frood Mine. Traditionally miners thought women would bring bad luck if they were allowed underground. There were a few miners who probably thought the beginning of the Second World War was a result of her visit.

Second World War

Shortly after the second world war started, nickel was one of the first metals to require government allocation. Non-essential use of this strategic material was banned which included most of International Nickel’s civilian markets.

Labour shortages were a constant struggle requiring the company to hire women in its surface operations for the first time in history. Over 1,400 women were hired in production and maintenance jobs for the duration of the war at the Sudbury operations and the Port Colborne refinery.

The labour shortages also finally allowed a permanent union to be established. Inco’s nickel operations were well known to have an extensive system of anti-union spies who ensured any person discussing organization activities would be quickly fired.

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Sudbury – The Republic of Nickel (Part 2 of 4) – Stan Sudol

Thomas A. Edison the famous inventor came to Sudbury in 1901 searching for nickel. He was unsuccessful as he didn’t drill deep enough. Years later Falconbridge would develop a mine on this very claim.

The strategic military importance of nickel attracted major American corporations. In 1902 J.P. Morgan of U.S. Steel helped establish the International Nickel Company by combining the Orford Copper Company’s New Jersey refinery with the Canadian Copper Company’s Sudbury mines. Samuel Ritchie was ousted be his partners back in 1891 giving Robert M. Thompson control. Ambrose Monell, who came from U.S. Steel was the first president.

In 1905, Sudbury nickel production surpassed that of New Caladonia for the first time and would continue it stranglehold on the world’s largest supplies of nickel until the late 1970s.

The growing importance of Sudbury and all of northern Ontario was formally recognized by the provincial government of Premier James Whitney (1905-1914) by appointing Sudbury businessman and former mayor  Frank Cochrane as the province’s first northern cabinet minister. He served as the as the provincial minister of lands, forests and mines from 1905 to 1911. At the turn of the last century northern Ontario’s vast resources were supplying about 25 per cent of Queen’s Park revenues.

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Sudbury – The Republic of Nickel (Part 1 of 4) – Stan Sudol

Since the beginning of mankind, access to important mineral deposits for economic or military applications have changed the destinies of entire civilizations.

The rich gold mines of Thrace gave Alexander the Great the enormous wealth to bankrole a powerfull army and establish one of the greatest empires the world had ever seen. Ancient Chinese metalurgical expertise with iron and steel allowed the Middle Kingdom to become a powerful military and economic force during the prosperous Han dynasty.

For much of the twentieth century, the nickel mines of Sudbury were not only the principle source of this strategic metal, but also had a disproportionate impact on the industrial and military history of the world.
As with all good things, this story begins with a bang. Actually, it was one cosmic explosion and two smaller earth-bound blasts. The first happened about 1.8 billion years ago when a massive ten kilometer wide meteor, wider than Mount Everest, and traveling at about 75 km per second, collided with the earth at a site roughly 400 km north of present day Toronto. The impact, equal to the force of about 10 billion atomic bombs, melted the crust and concentrated the nickel-copper mineralization already at the site.

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