Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

An Inventory of Abandoned Mining Exploration Sites in Nunavik, Canada

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

An Inventory of Abandoned Mining Exploration Sites in Nunavik, Canada

Article excerpt

Cet article dresse, pour la premiere fois dans la litterature, un inventaire des sites abandonnes d'exploration miniere au Nunavik, c'est-a-dire des sites qui contiennent des produits qui peuvent representer un danger pour l'environnement et la sante humaine afin de jeter les bases d'une operation prioritaire de nettoyage. Nous traitons en premier lieu du contexte historique de l'exploration miniere au Canada formant la toile de fond du probleme de recherche. La section methodologique examine differentes techniques qui ont ete testees au cours d'un projet-pilote qui avait pour but de determiner la faisabilite du projet au moinare cout. La derniere section presente un inventaire des sites abandonnes et amorce une discussion initiale concernant les impacts potentiels associes d ces sites et quelques actions prioritaires qui mitigeraient ces impacts.

Historical Context

Since Arctic expeditions at the turn of the seventeenth century, development of mineralogical knowledge of the territory coincided with exploration of the Canadian North. Over the following decades, explorers searching for the Northwest Passage continued to add to the mineralogical description of the territories that they were exploring. However, prior to the 1870s and 1880s, the discovery of important mineral deposits in Canada occurred merely by chance, since their discoverers were not looking for them but were instead concentrating on other goals such as the fur trade or spreading the gospel to Native people. It was only in the early twentieth century, when gold became a highly prized metal, that the mining industry began to systematically explore Crown lands. Fluctuations in gold prices subsequently influenced the intensity of mining exploration from 1920 to 1939, until nonprecious base metals became the focus of growing world demand and revitalised exploration activities (Nassichuk 1987; Cranstone 2002). Several factors have influenced exploration decisions, including increased exploration costs, assurance of the potential of discovering metals in certain regions and variations in metal prices (Dubuc 1979). Added to these factors today are the fiscal aspect and the high costs of development work.

In Canada, the mining industry has long been regulated by the 'free-entry' system, which has contributed to the development of an attitude closely linked to the idea of the 'right to explore' Crown lands; mineral resources such as iron, coal, gold and nickel were at that time considered as being a public good (McPherson 2003). At the turn of the 1950s, mining companies were filled with hope. '[B]elief in the yet undiscovered mineral wealth in the Canadian frontier was a powerful magnet. The laws of the provinces and territories provided a legal framework for exploration that was open, straightforward, democratic, and encouraging' (McPherson 2003). Rooted in the spirit of the 'free-entry' system, the regulatory framework allowed mining companies to go anywhere, in secret if necessary, to explore Crown lands (McPherson 2003). The general view at that time was that access to, and exploration and development of, mineral resources would lead to a better world and result in the eradication of poverty. The most optimistic projections thus encouraged governments, together with the mining industry, to re-engineer policies based on a future devoted to technological development, production and mass consumption (The Northern Miner, 7 March 1968, quoted in McPherson 2003). During the 1950s, major mining exploration projects were carried out in northern Quebec, in the territory north of the 55th parallel. The discovery of large deposits in the Ungava Trough and Labrador Trough led to intensive exploration works. From 1940 to 1960, more than twenty companies were actively involved in the search for deposits in the Labrador Trough (Paquette 2000). A few large companies established facilities there between 1942 and 1953 and obtained extensive exploration leases covering various sections of the Labrador Trough. …

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