What's old is new again.
For decades, the Rainy River district
in northwestern Ontario had no operating mines even though the Fort
Frances area held a rich legacy of gold mining dating back to the
With 27 past-producing mines on the
books, more than half of Ontario's gold production came from here
between 1890 and 1910.
Small wonder as gold prices have shot
up that the district has become an exploration hot bed.
Now a new generation is learning all
over again what the mining industry is about.
“It's a forgotten industry for a lot
of people here because pulp and paper, and logging have ruled the
economic paradigm here for several decades,” said Kyle Stanfield,
director of environmental sustainability with Rainy River Resources.
His company is advancing toward
production of its flagship Rainy River Gold project, located in
Chapple Township, 65 km northeast of Fort Frances.
Part of the company's outreach is
teaching the locals how the mining cycle works.
“We have to start helping the public
understand what mining is all about, because it's fairly new to the
district. There hasn't been much mining for 50 years other than the
old Steep Rock iron mine in Atikokan.”
Last year, the company held a Mining
Matters workshop, run through the Prospectors and Developers
Association of Canada, which attracted 45 kids, teens and adults. In
August, Stanfield was expecting 70.
PDAC educators arrive for classroom
sessions at Confederation College's Fort Frances campus, before the
company takes them out to view the company's drill rigs and about 700
km of core amassed since 2004.
Stanfield said many attending last
year's workshops were fascinated by the detective work that goes on
to find a gold deposit. The participants are walked through the
various stages of the cycle from grassroots discovery, to
environmental assessment, permitting and eventual mine construction.
Many are surprised that a myriad of
functions are remote-controlled, computer-based, leading-edge
high-tech, and are much safer than decades ago.
“I think people are blown away by the
science behind it,” said Stanfield. “They see this is not a brute
force exercise. There is programming involved and modelling with all
kinds of computer graphics work.”
The underlying message is to wake
people up to the idea that industries like mining help sustain our
high-quality way of life.
“You see the lights go on in people's
eyes,” said Stanfield.
“Most people have no clue where all
this material that runs our daily life comes from. We just take it
for granted. And gold is very good value on the bullion side for
economic security, but it's also used in electronics, MRIs and the
Stanfield hopes it sparks young people
to pursue careers in engineering or geology.
Tannis Drysdale, economic development
officer with the Rainy River Future Development Corporation, said the
business community has certainly caught the mining bug as companies
like Rainy River Resources, Bayfield Ventures and Coventry Resources
ramp up their projects.
“We've had businesses start up to
service them and it's been a transition for some surplus labour and
equipment that's been involved in the forestry industry.”
Though optimistic that mines will
eventually open, Drysdale said the town of Fort Frances prefers being
cautious in planning for any massive influx of labour, at least until
the miners give development the green light.
“It would be awkward if we were
moving to open a subdivision because a mine is opening when that
hasn't happened yet.”
In Chapple Township, closer to the
exploration activity, that municipality is launching a study for
industrial and residential opportunities should a mine open.
“It makes good sense to be prepared,”
Stanfield said local supplies and
companies are regularly coming into their local office in Emo and the
corporate office in Thunder Bay.
“We're working with them to
understand what we're going to be needing in different phases;
everything from core boxes and stakes, to highly-machined parts for
There's also interest from
manufacturers and fabricators to the south in Minnesota and
About 30 resumés filter into the
office each week from tradespeople looking to transfer their skills
from forestry to mining.
“We have a lot of great people
willing to work for us and happy to come on with us when we get this
built,” said Stanfield.
Vincent Sheppard, mayor of Emo
Township, said finding space for people to build homes shouldn't be a
The municipality of 1,000 has 70
residential lots on its west side and 28 estate lots to the north,
but the township's water and sewer capacity is maxed out. Emo is
applying for government funds for an $11-million lagoon and water
“With mining, it's hard to say just
what's going to happen, but we do need water and sewer anyway whether
they come or not,” said Sheppard.
He said the area has always been
attractive for mineral exploration, but has shown little by way of
promising results. Gold prices have brought the drill rigs back.
“It should be good if everything goes
as everyone is hoping.”