A year after Vale ceded a portion of its aggregate licence for the Willisville Mountain, following a campaign by local citizens, the mining giant has embarked on a unique collaboration with one of that campaign’s strongest advocates.
Vale was a major sponsor of photographer Jon Butler’s exhibit La Cloche Spirit: The Equivalent Light, a series of 26 photographs taken amongst the La Cloche Mountains, which include Willisville Mountain and are located between Manitoulin Island and Espanola on the north shore of Lake Huron. The exhibit, also sponsored by the Ontario Arts Council, was part of the CONTACT Photography Festival, the largest of its kind, which took place at various locations in Toronto throughout the month of May.
The alliance is surprising because just last year Butler led a contingent of residents who lobbied Vale to commit to leaving the Willisville Mountain in its pristine state by ceding portions of its aggregate licence for its Lawson Quarry to the Ministry of Natural Resources.
Suggesting it had more than enough resources in the quarry for its purposes for the next 80 years, Vale agreed, ensuring that no future mining or quarrying activity would take place on the site. Acknowledging the collaboration as an “unlikely partnership,” Angie Robson, manager of corporate affairs for Vale’s Ontario operations, said Butler spoke with company representatives last fall about using the south lobby of the Royal Bank Building in Toronto, which is home to Vale’s global base metals operations, to host the exhibit.
“We think a lot of Jon Butler; he’s a great advocate for the community and really worked with us in a very constructive way through the process, in terms of amending our aggregate licence to exclude the area,” Robson said.
“It was a very positive exchange between the community, through Jon, and Vale, and so when Jon approached us and informed us of this exhibit, it just felt like the right thing to do to support him.”
Vale additionally agreed to sponsor the May 14 opening reception, which was attended by Algoma- Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha, Ontario Mining Association president Chris Hodgson and Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci.
“I think generally people really got behind this exhibit because Jon’s work is incredible and he’s a fantastic artist, but it also just happens to have a very positive story associated with it,” Robson said. Butler, a former newspaper executive who lives in Willisville, said he wanted to ensure Vale “gets the credit they deserve” for preserving an area that is enjoyed by hundreds of people every year who hike, photograph and paint the ancient mountain range, which boasts striking outcrops of white quartzite. “We hear about all of these quarry issues in southern Ontario that continue to go on year after year, with no real resolution yet,” Butler said. “I thought we should let more people know about a successful resolution that happened in Northern Ontario where Vale has surrendered a good portion of their licence. (The mountain) is now going to be there for generations to enjoy and it was a very good news story.”
It took a mere eight months for Vale and Willisville residents to come to an agreement, Butler noted. By comparison, a similar scenario in the 1980s involving Falconbridge and the North Channel Preservation Society, which sought to protect the popular sailing area Baie Fine, took eight years to resolve.
The La Cloche Mountains are best known for their appearance in work by members of the Group of Seven, in particular Franklin Carmichael, who frequented the area to capture on canvas its windswept pines, clear lakes and sweeping vistas.
For Butler, the show is a success on a number of fronts. His work has been showcased through the festival, a successful partnership has been highlighted and a new generation of admirers is being exposed to the La Cloche Mountain range.
“People are just amazed it exists in Ontario,” he said. “They’ve heard of Killarney Park, they’ve heard of Espanola and Sudbury, but they had no idea that we have this ancient mountain range with all this beautiful white quartzite rock, and especially in Ontario.”
Butler’s exhibit closed in Toronto on May 26, but is showing at the Gore Bay Museum Heritage Centre from June 10 to August 6.