Two billion years ago, a massive meteor slammed into the Earth, leaving behind a crater that would later be known as the Sudbury Basin. For over a century, this broad valley has hosted a plethora of mines along its rim, making Sudbury the largest integrated mining complex in the world and famous for its abundance of nickel.
The first hint at Sudbury’s rich deposits came in 1856, when land surveyor Albert Salter noted a deflection on his compass needle and, suspecting mineral deposits, contacted Alexander Murray, a geologist with the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC). Murray found copper, iron and nickel, but at the time, the area was too remote to warrant much interest.
This would change in 1883 when the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) came through the area on its long trek across the country. CPR would make its mark before even arriving – one of its construction engineers named the site “Sudbury” after his wife’s birthplace in England, trumping the name that the Jesuit mission established that same year: Sainte-Anne-des-Pins.
CPR construction camps were full of men who knew a thing or two about prospecting. In the spring of 1883, CPR doctor William Howey came across copper-stained rocks while part of a search party. Howey had the samples sent to the director of the GSC, Alfred Selwyn, who pronounced the samples worthless.
Howey had lost out, but Selwyn would get a chance to redeem himself. Later that year, Thomas Flanagan, a blacksmith for a CPR construction crew, came across more copper sulphides on a hillside. Selwyn took samples when CPR cut through the site in 1884 and this time, accurately assessed the value of the ore. The land was purchased for a mere dollar an acre by the Murray brothers and their partners; the Murray Mine would eventually be purchased by Inco in 1925.
It was yet another CPR employee – Thomas Frood, a timekeeper for a CPR construction crew – who made what was perhaps the area’s most important discovery. In the spring of 1884, Frood set off into the woods after being tipped off by a trapper about a possible mineral outcropping. Both he and his partner, A. J. Cockburn, staked a claim and then sold their titles.
American entrepreneur Samuel Ritchie eventually took ownership of the Frood land and, in 1886, established the Canadian Copper Company (CCC) and opened the Copper Cliff Mine. It was only after CCC began processing its first Copper Cliff ore at a smelting plant in New Jersey that they realized the extent of nickel in the ore. Nickel was not in high demand at the time, but that would change with World War I, when it would become an essential part of the war industry.
In 1902, CCC was absorbed into the International Nickel Company (Inco). Two years earlier, CCC opened two additional mines: Creighton and Stobie. Both mines had a difficult start, but when a larger ore body was found at Creighton in 1914, the company grew. In 1924, Inco discovered an additional 90 million tonnes of ore on their Frood property.
Inco’s nearest competition was the Mond Nickel Company, which was operating on a property known as the Frood Extension. In 1926, the two companies discovered that the Frood and Frood Extension ores were one continuous ore body. This was a serious problem.
They knew that separately they would only inhibit one another’s production, with wasted ore left between their two operations and wasted resources through duplicated processing facilities. The presidents of both companies got together and agreed on a merger. On January 1, 1929, Mond was integrated within Inco. Soon after, Inco discovered additional extensions of the Frood ore.
It was around this time that Falconbridge began mining in the area, and the two companies of Inco (now Vale Inco) and Falconbridge (now Xstrata Nickel) would lead mining production into the next century.