May 2010

Historical Metallurgy

The beginnings of mineral processing research in Canada (Part 4)

By F. Habashi


The first volume of the Proceedings of the Second Empire Mining and Metallurgical Congress that was held in Canada in 1927

Canada and the Empire Congresses

At the 1921 annual dinner of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy (IMM), the institution’s president, Frank Merricks, advocated the need for closer co-operation between the IMM and the various mining institutions of the British Empire. It was Merricks’s vision to build a federation of such institutions so that the mining profession could exercise influence on matters affecting the mining industry. In 1922, the Joint Advisory Committee of the IMM and the Institution of Mining Engineers (IME) took the first step towards this goal by issuing a memorandum for the formation of an Empire Council of Mining and Metallurgical Institutions. The new body’s first congress was held in London, England, in 1924 to coincide with the British Empire Exhibition. The Canadian delegate to the congress was Robert C. Wallace (1881-1955), who was the president of the Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (CIM) from 1924 to 1925. Upon his return from the first congress, Wallace convinced the CIM Council to hold the second congress in Canada.

The Second Mining and Metallurgical Congress, held in Canada from August 22 to September 28, 1927, was a great success. More than 1,200 delegates attended the conference that opened in Montreal. After two days of technical sessions, special trains conveyed the party to Ottawa for a banquet that was attended by the Governor General of Canada and a representative of the Prime Minister. This was followed by two days of technical sessions in Toronto. Over the weekend, there were excursions to Hamilton, Niagara Falls and other points of interest.

The post-conference tours were as extensive and interesting as the congress itself. From Toronto, the congress trains proceeded to some of Ontario’s world-famous mining districts, including nickel-copper mines in Sudbury, silver mines in Cobalt, and gold mines in Kirkland Lake and Porcupine. After leaving the Porcupine area, the party–split into two groups, with one heading westward to tour the Pacific coast and the other proceeding eastward across Quebec and the Maritime Provinces to Newfoundland. Both groups visited the principal mining centres and metallurgical plants as well as some hydro-electric plants along the way. The approximately 12,500 kilometre-long westward tour included technical sessions held in Quebec City, Winnipeg, Jasper and Vancouver. The eastward tour covered some 9,000 kilometres and included technical sessions held in Quebec City and St. John’s, Newfoundland.

In addition to the papers presented at the technical sessions, a 270-page official program was issued. It detailed the conference arrangements and described the points of interest visited. Papers summarizing the particulars of the operations and plants inspected during the tours were also distributed. Proceedings of the congress were subsequently published in five volumes.

After World War II, many British Empire colonies won independence. This led to a reconfiguration of the mutual relationships between the United Kingdom and the now self-governing “dominions,” which were collectively coming to be known as the British Commonwealth of Nations. Reflecting these changes, in 1956 the word “Commonwealth” replaced the word “Empire” in the name of the Empire Council of Mining and Metallurgical Institutions. The body’s sixth congress, organized by the Mines Branch in Ottawa in 1957, saw the publication of a large comprehensive volume describing the mining industry in Canada. Later, even the word “Commonwealth” was done away with and the body acquired the name by which it continues to be known today — the Council of Mining and Metallurgical Institutions.

The impact of these conferences was enormous. Besides disseminating technical information about mining and metallurgy in Canada, they also provided the impetus for formal organization and association to mining industry professionals and academic researchers. The present-day successor of the conference, the Annual Canadian Mineral Processors Operators’ Conference, is held in Ottawa in January. The conference organizers charged themselves with updating the famed 1957 volume, The Milling of Canadian Ores. Undertaken in 1978 and 2000, these updates provide an authoritative review of the Canadian mineral industry and the state of research in this field.

Another important publication of the Mines Branch was the 1981 souvenir entitled A Canadian Research Heritage by A. Ignatieff, a historical account of 75 years of federal government research and development in minerals, metals and fuels at the Mines Branch. Covering the period from 1901 to 1976, the book, also made available in French, provided a wealth of information on government-funded scientific endeavours.

The Conference of Metallurgists and the CMQ

CIM’s Metallurgical Society was founded in 1945. In 1962, under its aegis and with the collaboration of the Mines Branch (then directed by John Convey), the Conference of Metallurgists was organized. Convey also played a key role in founding the Canadian Metallurgical Quarterly (CMQ) for the publication of original Canadian research.

Convey, who was born in County Durham in England, moved with his parents to Alberta in 1929. He obtained a PhD in atomic physics from the University of Toronto in 1940. During World War II, he served with the Royal Canadian Navy. He joined the Mines Branch in 1948.

Canada and the IMPC

In 1952, the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy devoted one of its conferences to mineral processing. Held at the Royal School of Mines in London, England, this event was repeated approximately every two years. Eventually, it evolved into an organization in its own right that became known as International Mineral Processing Congress (IMPC). In 1982, the president of CIM and the director of the Mines Branch jointly invited the Congress to convene in Toronto. The conference was held from October 12 to 23 of that year and was attended by over 600 delegates from 43 countries. Its proceedings were published in six pre-print volumes in English with abstracts in English, French, German and Russian.

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