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Sudbury mining supply guild honours long-time mine builder

Cementation’s Roy Slack entered into SAMSSA Hall of Fame
Roy Slack, president at Cementation Canada, was honoured by the Sudbury Area Mining Service and Supply Association (SAMSSA) on Dec. 10 for his more than 30 years of work in the industry. (Karen McKinley photo)

In his more than three decades in the mining industry, Roy Slack has led countless mine builds across the country, yet even today, he’s still left enthralled by the massive amount of engineering that goes into constructing a mine.

“Every time I drive by a headframe, every time I take a trip down a mine, I’m in awe,” said Slack, president at Cementation Canada. “I still haven’t quite figured out how it all gets done.”

Slack has been integral in shaping how mines have been built over the last 30 years. For his dedication to the industry, he was recognized by the Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association (SAMSSA) on Dec. 10, earning a place in the organization’s Hall of Fame.

Eric Kohtakangas, Cementation’s executive vice-president of growth and acquisitions, praised his boss for his unwavering commitment to driving fundamental changes that have made mine construction safer and more collaborative.

“Roy has made a difference; he has changed the way mine contracting is carried out, and he has impacted many lives along the way, with his wisdom, spirit, kindness, generosity, integrity, trust and, of course, his dry sense of humour,” Kohtakangas said of the man he calls a friend, confidant and visionary.

“He has made an impact to the mining industry as a whole, and I am very grateful to him for the opportunities he has given me and many others along the way.”

Born and raised in Kingston, Ont., Slack was on track to earn a psychology degree before changing his major to mining engineering. And he never looked back.

Early in his career with Redpath, Slack worked on varied, interesting mine projects – Mines Seleine on the Magdalen Islands, Que., the Dome #8 Shaft in Timmins, Vale’s Birchtree Mine in Thompson, Man., and Craig Mine in Sudbury among them.

In 1989, Slack partnered with two other Sudbury mining visionaries – Risto Laamanen and Stan Bharti – to form BLM Mining Services, where he was tapped to run the company, and he remained there until 1995.

“I didn’t know much about running a company, but that certainly didn’t slow us down,” he said. “There were lots of what I call ‘Maalox moments.’”

At one point, when a client went bankrupt, Slack had to visit several of BLM’s suppliers, asking for their patience as the company sorted the situation out. They agreed, and that lesson in generosity has stayed with Slack through his career.

“That’s the Sudbury mining supply community,” Slack said. “That’s the people within SAMSSA, and I’ll always be grateful to them for that.”

After moving on from BLM, Slack spent another two years at Redpath followed by a stint with his own consulting business.

In 1998, he was approached by Cementation to re-establish a North American presence, and so Slack, Kohtakangas and three others founded Cementation Canada with a clear vision of what a mine builder should be.

“What a lot of people don’t know is how unique the company is,” Slack said. “It was founded on the principle that profit was an enabler, not the end goal.”

The small, but eager group established a three-pronged approach to business that has assured their longevity: make the work safe, return to the design-build method of mine construction, and eliminate adversarial relationships between the company and its clients.

Cementation made its people the focus of the company, retaining staff even during downturns when its contemporaries were laying people off. Slack knew that treating their people well came first, and success would follow.

“We were the new kids on the block,” Kohtakangas said. “But under Roy’s leadership and vision, we took a new, emerging underground mining contractor from zero to half-a-billion in revenue in 10 years.”

This year, Cementation Canada is celebrating its 20th year in business.

Slack has been recognized for his work by Professional Engineers Ontario, the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM), and Nipissing University, and he has tirelessly volunteered his time on numerous boards and committees focused on workplace safety. In 2019, he’ll start in his new role as president at the CIM.

The respected mine builder believes sharing his knowledge with worthy organizations is one way to continue to evolve safety practices in the industry, and he called on his peers to do the same.

“Volunteer, with the CIM, PDAC (Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada), SAMSSA – any organization that you think has a value system that aligns with your own and where you think you can help make a difference.”