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North Bay-born James Franklin had huge impact on Canadian mining industry

Distinguished geoscientist, who advanced mineral sector’s knowledge base, dies at 81
James Franklin (Canadian Mining Hall of Fame photo)

James (‘Jim’) Franklin, an iconic figure in the Canadian mining industry and a trailblazing geologist, died on June 19. He was 81.

Born in North Bay in November 1942, Franklin was an educator, author, lecturer. geological consultant, and industry ambassador.

Known as a prospector-minded geoscientist, Franklin had a huge impact on the mining industry, particularly the junior mining sector.

Franklin spent much of his career documenting the complexity of the Canadian Shield and its inherent mineral wealth. His approach and groundbreaking contributions helped develop new criteria for finding ore deposits in Canada and worldwide.

An expert in finding Precambrian ore deposits, Franklin was considered a pioneer in the development of models and techniques to guide exploration for volcanogenic massive sulphide (VMS) deposits.

Over his career, he received numerous awards, including the Penrose Gold Medal from the Society of Economic Geologists, the Logan Gold Medal from the Geological Association of Canada, was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada as well as a member of the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame.

Franklin began his postsecondary studies as an electrical engineer before developing a passion for geology.

In his tribute video, upon being inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame in 2019, Franklin said: “It was the age of Sputnik and I thought this was a pretty cool thing to do. And I met a guy in residence who was a geologist and spent his summers out in canoes and things, and it sounded much more fun than sitting in an office wearing a tie, so I moved into geology and never regretted it.”

Franklin completed his first year of geology at Sudbury’s Laurentian University before continuing his studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, earning his bachelor's and master’s degrees in science in 1964 and 1967, respectively.

Thesis work for his PhD at the University of Western Ontario took him to northwestern Ontario to study mineral deposits of the Proterozoic rocks along the north shore of Lake Superior. 

Franklin became Lakehead University’s first professor of economic geology. He stayed in Thunder Bay for six years training many future geologists. While consulting for Noranda, he was instrumental in discovering a deposit in the Sturgeon Lake area, northeast of Ignace.

The Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) hired him and created his dream job as the regional metallogenist for the Southern Canadian Shield. It offered him plenty of autonomy to pursue his interests.

His work at the GSC brought him to the ocean depths in the 1980s, aboard the deep-sea submersible Alvin. He became one of the first geologists to search for ‘black smoker’ systems to better understand how VMS deposits are formed in geologically active areas on the ocean floor. 

After retiring as GSC’s chief scientist in 1998, Franklin stayed active and continued to give back to the industry as a board member with various industry organizations, and in academia as an adjunct professor with many universities, including Laurentian University’s Harquail School of Earth Sciences. 

He also established his own consulting company, Franklin Geosciences, lending his expertise to many exploration companies, including Nuinsco Resources, where he had been a director since 2011. Nuinsco has a wide variety of mineral prospects in Franklin’s old stomping grounds around Marathon, Terrace Bay, Armstrong and Atikokan.

In a statement, Nuinsco CEO Paul Jones reflected on Franklin’s illustrious career.

“I first met Jim in 1982 as a student in one of his courses,” said Jones.

“Following his retirement from the GSC, I worked with him on exploration projects with several companies — his input was always pertinent, insightful, and valuable. Later, his participation in Nuinsco at the board level for more than a decade was of immense value to the company. As a teacher, mentor, colleague and friend, Jim was a pleasure to work with these nearly 30 years. Personally, I will miss him enormously. The mining industry has lost an invaluable resource and enthusiastic ambassador.”