Carolyn Gruske - 01 May 2022
New CIM president Anne Marie Toutant takes the lead at a time of transformation
by Carolyn Gruske
Mining engineer and new CIM President Anne Marie Toutant has had a wide-ranging and varied career. She got her start at the Cardinal River Coal mine in Alberta. Then, following a merger between Luscar (one of Cardinal Rivers co-owners) and Manalta, Toutant became a mine manager – first at Gregg River mine in Alberta, and then in Saskatchewan at the Boundary Dam mine, subsequently becoming general manager of the Boundary Dam and Bienfait mines and the Bienfait charcoal plant. Toutant returned to Alberta in 2004, but this time she headed into Fort McMurray’s oil sands as a vice-president at Suncor, where she remained until early 2020, when she retired from full-time executive duties to create space for non-executive director work, family and continuing to contribute to the industry she loves.
CIM: How did you get involved in the mining industry?
Toutant: Unlike many colleagues, mining didn’t run in my family. My mom’s a registered nurse, my dad's a mathematician who worked in the Armed Forces and later in HR. I grew up in urban communities and lived all over Canada. It was much later in life that I learned my maternal grandfather, Matthias Grollmuss, had been a machinist in lignite coal mines in Slovakia. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to tour him around one of my operations when he was 89 years old.
I went into engineering at the University of Alberta because a friend of mine in high school said he was going into engineering. I was good in math and science but I’m afraid to have my own blood taken, so medicine was out, and engineering seemed the right choice, although I didn’t know any engineers or what they really did.
I’m not sure this is the best way to pick a career, but after first year, I selected mining because the mineral group threw the best parties and I got to know some of the people in that program. There were 13 in my class, three women and 10 men. We had a small, but really, a diverse class for that era.
CIM: How has mining met your goals and how has it challenged you?
Toutant: The sense of community has completely exceeded my expectations. The industry is one where you get introduced to people and everybody is quite generous with their time [and] their advice. It’s quite common to establish lifelong professional relationships with people and that’s quite rewarding.
I also really like mining because it incorporates multiple disciplines of engineering. You learn a little bit about mechanical, and a little bit about fluid mechanics, and a little bit about metallurgy and a lot about being part of the community where you operate. And today in the universities, students are learning so much more about risk management and safety and ESG – things I’ve had to learn on the job. Overall, I’d say mining is a very people-centric business, providing what society needs.
I graduated in ’86 and the impact of the early ’80s recession was still evident. There were no jobs. I headed off to Europe after giving my dad a stack of resumés so he could apply for jobs that he saw in the newspapers. I came back from Europe when my dad told me that he had three interviews lined up for me. I could go into gold, I could go into oil sands, or I could go into coal, because I had an interview with Cardinal River Coals Ltd. in Hinton, Alberta. I moved to Hinton and spent the first year of my career doing long-range mine-plan designs. I designed like 15 pits in 12 months.
I remember my first day at work so clearly. Ken Holmes was our geologist, and he had an active drilling program under way. He asked me to transfer his downhole log information from the previous day onto Mylar cross sections, so I was working on a light table with a scale and I helped update the cross sections so he could re-interpret the coal seam with the information from the last day’s drill program.
I worked at Cardinal River for 11 years. I did a number of jobs in the engineering department. I went out to operations at least two or three times, first as a shift supervisor in the pit, and after a chief engineering role (and a first baby), I went returned to operations as a drill blast supervisor. My last ops job was as assistant mine-manager, learning the business from a very seasoned gentleman named Rocky Morin, from whom I was potentially going to take over the mine when he retired. He was very hands on, and many people were intimidated by him. Today people would say he’s old school. But what I learned from Rocky was that he genuinely respected and cared about the people who worked in his operation (even co-signed a bank loan or two). He challenged them to deliver their best and their personal safety was constantly on his mind. Establishing a strong foundation in safety practices and principles early in my career at this site remains with me to this day.
You asked how mining challenged me. I felt most challenged, even defeated, when someone, whose name I remember to this day and family I think of often, died in my operations in 2007. Working through the findings and implementing improvements with a talented team of people afterwards only strengthened my resolve to improve safety in all roles I undertake.
CIM: Was it difficult to switch from coal to oil sands?
Toutant: No, only the scale was daunting. They’re much more similar than you’d think, and my prior experiences gave me the foundation required. Working in the oil sands brought together the truck-shovel knowledge from the mountain metallurgical mines at Gregg River and Cardinal River Coals with the knowledge of unconsolidated overburden characteristics of the prairie mines in Saskatchewan. The breadth of experience gained from working at smaller operations ensured that I understood the systems of mining, allowing me to lead a much larger site. And for my family, McMurray was a large city of 60,000 with lots to offer and a truly diverse culture with people coming from all over the world to work there. It even had its own regional airport with commercial service!
CIM: What did you take away from your career at Suncor? What did you learn there that you want to continue sharing with the mining industry?
Toutant: Many things, but what stands out for me is that Suncor does some very innovative work with Indigenous communities and First Nations in the region, including ownership sharing of the east tank-farm business. I learned so much while in Fort McMurray with Suncor about Indigenous culture, reconciliation and incorporating traditional land use into reclamation for example.
One of the things that I attribute to my career success is my career-long involvement with CIM. I got involved with CIM as a student initially, and over the years, I was sometimes intensely involved with CIM. I worked with Dr. Tim Joseph (my first summer student by the way) putting together a coal and oil sands conference in Jasper one time. I was also less intensely involved with CIM as my career and family commitments took priority during periods of time, but CIM was always there for me at whatever level I could participate. My local branches provided opportunity for technical talks and exchanges with colleagues at other operations in the local area. It has been through CIM that I made early introductions (like with Ian Read who was the Cardinal River account manager for R Angus later Finning, Jim Popowich, Bruce Knight, and many others) that have become career long relationships – people who could advise, advocate/reference for me, and be role models.
As a mining executive, participating in the annual CIM Convention was valuable, and I participated for years with Michelle Darling, my supply chain partner at Suncor. In two days, we could meet with industry colleagues and key suppliers, pulling together a broad view of the state of the industry, which we then used to help inform the strategic direction for the mine. The convention gave us that moment-in-time snapshot of where everything’s at that we didn’t get other places or throughout the year. I think a lot of people have that experience at CIM.
CIM: Besides CIM, you’ve also been involved with other industry organizations, including as chair of the Mining Association of Canada. What can you say about your time with MAC?
Toutant: I see MAC and CIM being compatible organizations. The Mining Association of Canada has a strong advocacy role for example that they fulfill for the industry with government, and CIM, as a technical institute, supports MAC’s efforts. The organizations have complementary mandates that work well together. I really appreciate the Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) work that MAC developed and am so proud as a Canadian miner to see the international uptake. Working together with other associations, both within Canada and internationally, through the Global Mineral Professionals Alliance (GMPA) ensures that CIM is working efficiently and aligned with our ecosystem.
CIM: What is your vision for CIM in the year that you’re president and beyond?
Toutant: There’s a tremendous opportunity for the industry as critical participants in the search for solutions for the global challenges that society is facing, including having adequate food, clean water, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, transitioning the world’s energy requirements. But with that comes a responsibility that as explorers, producers and refiners, we need to reduce our own carbon footprint aggressively, and technology is going to play a huge role in this transformation. I see that as a big opportunity for our industry and CIM.
Everybody talks about talent and shortage of talent. People will choose to work where their personal values match the values of the company or the industry, and where they’re able to be their own selves and contribute meaningfully, with recognition, in workplaces that are truly inclusive and where they’re well paid with an opportunity to grow and advance. Mining needs to continually rise to this challenge and CIM plays a part with our professional development and mentorship programs, collaborations with organizations such as Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) and CIM student chapters.
There’s a huge opportunity for CIM to do what it does best as a technical institute as we head into CIM’s 125th anniversary in 2023: to foster connections across the breadth of our industry and importantly beyond what we traditionally viewed as our industry. Working together we will develop new expertise, drive innovation and curate the knowledge needed to answer the urgent challenges we face both in the industry and as a society.