September 2013

Hide and go geocaching

Technology and history intersect for students at CIM’s Harricana Branch event

By Mark Cardwell

As its name suggests, Val-d’Or has always been inextricably linked to mining. So it is fitting that an annual CIM geocaching event held there, which aims to raise awareness of career opportunities in the industry among local high school students, is proving to be worth its weight in gold.

Held the first week of May, the geocaching competition – part global positioning system (GPS)-led scavenger hunt, part quiz game – has been a part of Quebec’s Mining Week for the last five years. This year, a record 290 Secondary IV students – the equivalent of Grade 10 in most other provinces – from three area high schools participated in the event, which is held on the site of the past-producing gold mine that gave Val-d’Or its name.

“The kids love it,” said Marcel Jolicoeur, director of business development with the Genivar office in Val-d’Or and chairman of CIM’s Harricana Branch. “It gives them a chance to learn about the mining industry and plants a seed in their minds as they plan for post-secondary education.”

After arriving in the morning by bus, teams of six to eight students fan out and search for 50 hidden caches using GPS technology. In addition to hosting the GPS coordinates for the next cache, each cache contains a short text on a subject related to mining – including anything from drilling, explosives and ventilation to prospecting, energy and geology – and a question based on information in the text.

“We set it up in a way that each team can find a half-dozen different caches in about 90 minutes,” said Annabelle Rioux, human resources consultant with Agnico Eagle Mines, who along with Jolicoeur and Deloitte’s Johanne Voyer, sits as an industry representative with teachers and suppliers on the event’s organizing committee.

After the search, the event moves indoors to a large conference room where students spend another 90 minutes trying to find answers to more questions at booths set up and staffed by representatives from 10 industry-related companies in the area. Quiz scores are then tabulated, and the winning teams are awarded with prizes. Students are also given a mine rescue and firefighting demonstration, before boarding their buses for the return trip to school.

According to Jolicoeur, the half-day event takes eight months of planning and costs about $5,000 to stage – excluding the use of 42 GPS units worth $15,000 that were bought with funds raised by the organizing committee. But he says the time and money invested are small compared to the dividends for students, the mining industry, and the mining-intensive Abitibi-Témiscamingue and Rouyn-Noranda regions.

“More than 80 per cent of our economy depends on mining,” he said. “But few kids here get a chance to see and understand what mining is really all about and the great jobs it offers. Many have negative images of [the industry] and leave to find jobs in other fields.”

Geocaching, he added, is a fun and educational activity that provides students entering their final year of high school with an opportunity to “learn the truth about mining and maybe make them think about becoming a geologist or a mining engineer or a heavy equipment operator. And we’ve heard that several kids have done exactly that.”

Born from a brainstorming session of the Harricana branch’s Mining Week committee, geocaching was developed as CIM’s contribution to the myriad public events that have been put on by the mining community in the region for more than 20 years.

First held at Carrefour High School in Val-d’Or, in 2009, the event, restricted to the gym, attracted roughly 100 Secondary IV students and featured only a handful of booths. The next year, the caches were spread throughout the school. The move to the old gold mine site (now a local tourist attraction called La Cité de l’Or) in 2011 has helped the event grow in size and popularity among students and teachers. This year’s edition included students from two regional high schools: Le Tremplin in Malartic and La Concorde in Senneterre. “It is extremely successful and people want more of it,” said Jolicoeur.

According to CIM’s executive director Jean Vavrek, five or six other CIM branches across Quebec are now looking seriously at organizing geocaching events in their regions: “And it’s not just Quebec. I can see this going across Canada, even becoming a nationwide contest,” said Vavrek. “In fact, this is something we can take worldwide to show people how complex and interesting it is to find and extract minerals from the ground.”

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