August 2007

The Canadian mining industry

In need of engineers

By S. Théophile Yaméogo

The history of human development is closely linked to minerals and mining. The Stone Age, Copper Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age, as taught by historians and archaeologists, demonstrate the prime role the discovery and use of minerals played in the evolution of the first people. The extractive resources later became the motor of economic and social development for most civilizations, with riches derived from mining operations.

Canada’s history is tightly interwoven with the exploration and mining of resources. In the last decade of the 19th century, the numerous foundries and smelters in Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia turned Canada into a newly industrialized country. Colonization of the western provinces relied heavily on the production of iron (rails and wagons for the railways) and coal (as fuel for locomotives and foundries) in the Maritimes, Quebec, and Ontario. This economic prosperity had social repercussions, as it led to well-paid jobs in the mining sector and to the proliferation of mining towns and villages created by an exodus of the population.

In Canada, the mining industry, often referred to as the minerals and mining sector, includes mineral exploration, metal, non-metal, and coal mines, quarries, sand and gravel pits, oil sands operations, foundries for non-ferrous metals, metal refineries, and steel plants. How important is today’s mining industry for Canada?

The Canadian mining industry

Canada has extraordinarily rich basement rocks; many mines can be found throughout the country [see illustration, right] and can be classified as follows:

  • With the Saskatchewan mines, Canada was first in the world production of potash and uranium in 2005.
  • Canada ranks second as world producer of nickel (mines in the Sudbury Basin, Ontario, and the Raglan Mine in Québec) and magnesium.
  •  Canada is third in the production of titanium concentrate, aluminium, cobalt, and metals of the platinum group.
  • Diamond extraction in the Northwest Territories represents 12.3 per cent of the world production, placing Canada after Botswana and Russia.With the planned opening of new mines, Canadian production will attain 20 per cent of the world production.
  • Canadian production of zinc, cadmium, asbestos, and gypsum is in fourth rank in the world.
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