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Geologist John Mason reflects back on a gratifying 40-year career in mining

As he looks forward to retirement, John shares about his life's work in Northwestern Ontario

John Mason, a well-known face in Ontario's mining industry, will be retiring in March. He credits his over four-decade career, which contributed to advancing mining projects in northwestern Ontario, to his love of the outdoors.

With a father who worked for a major forestry company, Mason spent a lot of his youth in the woods, hunting and fishing.  "I really found a love for that type of exposure; being in the fresh air, being outdoors," he said.  He admired his dad's career, but after a day-tour of Lakehead University in Grade 11, he was inspired to pursue a different path.

"The short story is, I opted for the rocks instead of the trees…and I still found an opportunity to be outdoors quite a bit," he said.

He enrolled in Lakehead Universities' geology program and has since had a long, successful career in the mining industry.  For 36 years, he worked for the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines as the Manager of Northwestern Ontario, Resident Geologist Program.

"The role was to monitor and stimulate mineral exploration in Northwestern Ontario, through databases and through expert field presence," he explained.  But in the summer of 2011, he took an early retirement to join the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission as the project manager for mining services. A position created to maximize opportunities in the mineral and mining sectors, especially in Thunder Bay.

Northwestern Ontario, an area the size of France, is currently covered with many advanced mining projects, he said. A decade ago, there were less than 200 Thunder Bay companies in the exploration and mining supply and services, including those capable of building mines and mills. Now, there are well over 400.  Mason brings his expertise to assist mine general managers, HR coordinators, procurement managers and company presidents on their exploration projects or mines. As a geologist, he also engages in the exploration and engineering side of projects.

Reflecting on his time in the industry, Mason said it has been exciting to see projects that were in their infancy when he started in the sector now become producing mines.

As a young geologist in the 1980s, he worked with industry geologists on the Greenstone Project, when companies were exploring the mining claims as an early exploration gold property. Today, this is the exact location where Equinox is building the Greenstone Mine following significant discoveries made by Premier Gold Mines in the last decade. Mason is now involved with the same project as it's setting up to be the third-largest gold mine in Canada.

"There's a lot of energy, sweat and tears that go into projects," he said. "To see them from my days with the province and now with my new position, to actually see them mature and some of them become producers. That's pretty exciting."

He added that projects like Greenstone help bring in mineral wealth that creates GDP and good-paying jobs in Ontario and Canada.

"By 2026, we'll be producing 1.6 million ounces of gold in the Northwest annually," he said. "That is about 22 to 26 per cent of Canada's total gold production, depending on what happens elsewhere in Canada, within that four-year timeframe."

He's also excited about lithium deposits in Northwestern Ontario being developed soon, which will lead to battery chemical facilities built in Ontario for electric vehicles.

March 4th will mark Mason's last day in the industry. He and his wife, both life-long Thunder Bay residents, are moving to Muskoka to be closer to family.  However, he still plans to have his fingers in the mineral business even after retiring.

"I enjoy the work; I enjoy the colleagues. It is very much a people business. I get inspired by the discoveries and the path forward as we all work collectively on these world-class deposits that better society and better the environment and our economy at the same time," he said.

Going full circle to where his interest began, in 2013, Lakehead University awarded him an honorary doctorate, and he chairs the University's Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Mining and Exploration.  His passion for the industry has not waned over the decades, and he noted that if he were 20 years old and starting again, geology would still be his choice.

"I'd have to say I was inspired every day to go to work. Not everybody's pleased with their job. But I'll tell you what, it was a fantastic job and still is," he said.