August 2011

Women in Mining

From quinine to quartz

By Heather Ednie

How a would-be nurse found her calling in mining

 Women in mining team

Since 2007, a team representing the Women in Mining Toronto Branch has participated in the Weekend to End Breast Cancer (more recently called the Weekend to End Women’s Cancers), raising over $350,000 for the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation. The WIM team during the two-day, 60-kilometre walk in September 2010 (left to right): Cathy Fletcher, Birgit Rameseder, Jane Werniuk, Kate Armstrong, Rosario Astuvilca and Stephanie Thomas. Missing: Catharine Shaw | Photo Credit: Weekend to End Women’s Cancers

When it comes to a career in the mining industry, the opportunities are endless. A single skill set can take you in many different directions; being open to the plethora of options can lead to an interesting and unique path and, perhaps, a few wild rides along the way.

Jane Werniuk’s career certainly falls under the category of unique. Agnico-Eagle’s senior geologist (technical reporting) began her professional life on a completely different page – in nursing. But, she discovered that this was not what life had in store for her. “After two years of doing well in the classroom, I got into the hospital setting and was the worst failure they’d ever seen,” she admits candidly. “They told me to find something else to do – preferably something not involving people. So, having been in nursing classes for two years, I decided to find a field with guys in it.”

Her desire to get out of a female-dominated sector, coupled with a life-long interest in going to the North and an ongoing curiosity about the rocks in the Mazinaw Lake region of southern Ontario, propelled her to study geology at Queen’s University. “The 300-foot cliff in Bon Echo Provincial Park was a really interesting geological formation near my grandparent’s cottage,” she explains. “I always wanted to understand it. I still don’t, fully, but I have written about it.”

Once she graduated from Queen’s in 1977, Werniuk got a series of short-term field and office contracts, but no long-term work was available. In 1979, she had her eye on a summer field contract with the Geological Survey of Canada, for which she needed to prove she was a student. “I applied to Carleton University for a master’s program in the spring. When I returned at the end of the summer, I was incensed to find out that Carleton had rejected me, but I fought it and promised to write a geology department newsletter, so they let me in,” she says. Thus began the Geobull weekly newsletter at Carleton.

Life-changing experiences

While pursuing her master’s degree, Werniuk worked as a summer field geologist for Anaconda Canada in the Yukon. But an uncomfortable encounter with a brown bear put an end to her field work and contributed to her decision to find a safer type of work. At that point, her long-term goal was to work for a museum or in science broadcasting.

After completing her degree in 1982, Werniuk moved to St. John’s, Newfoundland, to work in scientific editing for the Mines Branch – a job she loved. “I would have carried on there, but I met a guy from Toronto [who would become her husband, George Werniuk] and moved there to be with him,” she says. On the first day of their honeymoon, she interviewed for a job at the Canadian Mining Journal (CMJ) – which she got – while George waited outside in the parking lot. Werniuk ended up working at CMJ from 1986 to 1990, and returned (after having two children) as editor from 1997 to 2008.

“I was always careful to promote good environmental and safety practices,” she says of her years publishing with CMJ. “I tried to go as far as I could to warn mining companies about the consequences of their actions.”

In 2007, Werniuk was part of Women in Mining’s Toronto team participating in the Weekend to End Breast Cancer. “A couple of us threw caution to the wind to raise a scary amount in donations; we wrote letters, we cajoled people, we published about it,” she recalls. “Supporting our team became the cool thing to do. During the final three weeks before the event, people were calling us up asking, ‘Is it too late to donate?’ For the record, it’s never too late.”

The nine-person team was the top fund-raiser that year, raising more than $200,000 in the $17.3-million event, and Werniuk says it was a life lesson for her. “It taught me that anyone can do anything, if they put their mind to it. You can do anything that makes sense if you choose to not put on the brakes. It’s what made me think I could become a geologist again.”

The next leg of the race

Werniuk joined Agnico-Eagle Mines Limited (AEM) in June 2009. “I was hired to compile NI 43-101 reports that must be filed whenever there’s an increase in reserves or we find a substantial new deposit,” she explains. “My editing and geological background makes me a good fit.”

To date, Werniuk is pleased with AEM, which is high praise for the company’s performance records. “I’m a skeptic,” she explains. “I’m the guy trying to make sure we’re doing all we say we do, the right way. And so far, my conclusion is that AEM is an honest company that tries to do the right thing with communications, environment and safety. I’m working here because I feel it’s a good company that is honest and open, but I keep my eyes open, and if I see something that shouldn’t be happening, I’ll be the first one complaining.”

From her early career days of being dubbed a “field camp girl” and being told that her presence underground was something the men felt was bad luck, through to recent years with the WIM Toronto Branch demonstrating the powerful impact women can have, Werniuk has not only witnessed the incredible amount of opportunities available in this industry, she has lived them.

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