It took five days for Niagara Region elementary school teacher Chris Hoekstra to change her preconceived ideas about mining.
“I was thinking picks and shovels, that it was very intrusive, not environmentally friendly, it was eating up our land and why do we really need it,” she said.
After spending five packed days at the Canadian Ecology Centre's Mining Teachers' Tour in August – including an underground visit – her view has totally changed.
“I had a picture of going down into a timbered shaft,” Hoekstra said. “But the technology that is used has really impressed me and I didn't anticipate that. I had no idea of the number of engineers and tradespeople that are required and how environmentally conscious they are to the point of having staff that are just dedicated to that.”
The third mining tour was held Aug. 6 to Aug. 10 at the Mattawa facility housed in Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park. The program is free to teachers and receives support from the Ontario Mining Association (OMA) and several of its member companies, the Canadian Institute of Mining's (CIM) Underground Mining Society, the Sudbury and North Bay branches of the CIM, the Sudbury and Area Mining Supply and Service Association (SAMSSA) and Ed Geo, an organization of the Canadian Federation of Earth Sciences that supports workshops for teachers.
Thirty-five teachers took part, mostly from Ontario, but also two from Nunavut. A school board trustee and two observers from the Ministry of Education also participated.
The tour included surface and underground visits of Xstrata's Nickel Rim South Mine, Vale's Sudbury refinery, Atlas Copco in North Bay and a staking lesson with prospector Don Fudge in North Bay.
A Mining Matters workshop for teachers, presented by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), is held and includes a variety of resources, such as rocks, they can use in the classroom.
“What we are offering is a greater understanding of what modern mining is,” said Heather Dabrowski, education manager of the ecology centre. “The teachers are the ones who are going to tell the children of the future about jobs and careers and right now mining is big in Ontario.”
By experiencing the different facets of mining, organizers want the teachers to have a better understanding of the industry.
“We are not here to change minds but to open them,” she said. “As far as I know, it is the only such tour for teachers offered and it is unique.”
Ottawa-area teacher Rob Millard is attending the tour for the second year to fill in the gaps from the “massive amount of information” he received last year.
“I heard and saw a lot last year but I still wanted more,” said the Grade 12 teacher. “I have a passion for earth and space science and I am always looking for ideas. And besides, this week is a heck of a lot of fun. More teachers have to come here since what we learn relates to more than just science. It applies to everything, like social sciences.”
The tour includes presentations from mining representatives and this year, the teachers heard from George Flumerfelt, president of J.S. Redpath; Chris Hodgson, president of the OMA; Joshua DeBenedet, Stantec; Roy Slack, president of Cementation; Tom Palangio, president of WipWare; Laurentian University professors Garaham Spiers and Peter Beckett; and Ziad Saab, of Mining Industry Human Resources.
Bill Steer, general manager of the Canadian Ecology Centre, said the sponsors would like to see two tours offered each year.
“Over the working life of a teacher, thousands of students are impacted so it is important to ensure they know about the industry and its impact on the province and Canada,” he said. “You can even talk about the use of minerals in Grade 1.
“There is a lot of talk about the labour shortage in the industry and we have the Ring of Fire, Detour Gold Mine and a new smelter in Sudbury. Teachers who come here are exposed to modern mining and they see the technology, the health and safety and the environmental aspects and the jobs required. But in the end, they decide and form their own views.”
For teacher Paola Ciocio, mining always seemed so far removed from the GTA, where she steps into a classroom for the first time in September.
“Coming here has made me realize it is not so very far from us,” she said. “And now I realize we use all these materials in our everyday life. For us to say mining doesn't matter, well, it does.”