Sudbury Looks to the Future – By Leslie Roberts (MacLean’s March 15, 1931) Part 2

A Vast Corporation

Smelter expansion is perhaps the key to the developments which have taken place in post-war years and of the company’s plans for even greater expansion in the days to come. When Mond merged with International Nickel, it was reported falsely, as it turned out that Coniston’s fires would be drawn and that all future smelting operations would be transferred to the mammoth new plant than projected for Copper Cliff and since built.

Wiseacres in brokers’ board rooms declared that there would be nothing left for Coniston to do, but instead it has been enlarged into a more important production unit than before, despite the construction of the new Copper Cliff plant, plans for which were greatly enlarged during the construction stage. The two smelters combined have the capacity for treating more than 8,000 tons of ore a day, though running well below capacity at the present time as the result of low prices prevailing for nickel and copper.

In addition to its operations in mines and smelters, this vast corporation that is Sudbury owns refineries at Port Colbourne, at Clydach in Wales and at Acton in England, and is par owner of the immense new plant of Ontario Refineries, recently completed in Copper Cliff. Rolling mills for nickel in Birmingham, England, and at Huntingdon, West Virginia, collieries in Wales, a huge foundry in Bayonne, New Jersey, research bureaus and laboratories in such far-flung map locations as Birmingham, Bayonne, Paris, and Frankfort-on-Main, hydro-electric plants in Ontario, here are nickel owned ramifications to establish the corporation as one of the greatest commercial organizations know to man.

And Sudbury is the heart which pours the bloodstream of production through its veins. Who can wonder if the townsfolk of this busy Northern Ontario community believe in the kingdom of prosperity which lied just around the corner?

Consider the production sheets of the camp and you will see something of the greatness of this industry. A smelted output extracted from 314,000 tons of ore in 1923, leanest of the post-war seasons, increased steadily until 1929, when the peak was touched as more than 2,000,000 tons of Sudbury ore clattered into the converters of Coniston and Copper Cliff to reappear as matte, ready for shipment to the refinery.

Subsequent smelter construction paves the way for production in excess of 8,000,000 tons per annum, clear demonstration that the management of the Nickel Trust has abiding faith in the future. Until the close of 1929, ore to a value of $575,000,000 had been extracted from the mineral deposits of the Sudbury district, and this before the amazing Frood mine had been brought to the full-production stage. Nickel of course, is the principal metal, but copper is close behind, while gold, silver and members of the platinum group rate high in value, gold alone totaling 4,420 ounces in 1929, while the silver output of the camp is the greatest in Ontario, defenders of the Cobalt country to the contrary.

An Underground Treasure Store

The Frood is the mining man’s idea of heaven and offers complete circumstantial proof of the existence of Santa Clause and good fairies. Formerly a two-mine property but now joined into one great underground treasure house by the marriage of Mond and International Nickel, its workings are equipped with the latest mining devices known to science. Its hoisting equipment is the most powerful in the district and the greatest in capacity. Underground operations are conducted on a gigantic scale and with the well-marshalled precision which befits this aristocrat among mines. In the words of my friend Brooke, the engineer, with whom I sojourned in Chibougamau two years ago but who at present, is a Food shift boss:

“There isn’t another mine like it in the world. You can almost feel the richness of it just by touching it with your hands. No mining man in Canada can call his experience complete unless he has worked in the Frood, for it’s the biggest picture gallery of them all. Once you have seen this, everything else became puny by comparison. And it’s only the beginning. Nobody has any idea how big it will be before it reaches the peak.”

The Frood, like its fellow mines in the field, spins the wheels of progress more slowly than usual today, giving the men above ground opportunity to solve marketing problems and the scientist’s time in which to develop new uses for its precious nickel. Underground strength totals 1,400 men as this is written, as against an employment roll of 2,200 when times were prosperous, base metal prices higher and share quotations pushing at the market’s lid. It is the mark-time policy seen in the Frood, in the Creighton and in the smelters, which brings about the converting of jails into house of refuge and the other phases of public relief described by Mayor Fenton. The two conditions march hand in hand and are the root of the camp policy to keep plodding along until times change and the business barometer begins t rise toward fair.

The policy of retrenchment is visible throughout the field. At the Creighton, second only to the Frood among the world’s nickel mines, working strengths have been reduced and ore is broken underground only five days a week. In order to provide as great a spread of employment as possible. At the Murray, formerly financed through the British Admiralty with a view to developing a source of armor-plating metal but since the war absorbed by International, large scale drilling programs underground have been discontinued.

Two levels in the Levack which had been opened and prepared for stopeing have been closed again. Meanwhile the town and the company combine to aid the out-of-work citizen, the former by carrying out public works, while the latter’s building program, in preparation for the great expansion to come in the future, absorbs jobless men in their scores.

Realizing that the output of the district’s great producing mines has been curtailed for the duration of the slump, it follows as a natural corollary that the search for new mines on the outskirts of the Sudbury field and the task of carrying out early exploration work on promising properties is practically at a standstill.

The condition is not peculiar to the nickel country. It obtains in Rouyn and in the West. Even in the prosperous gold camps of Northern Ontario there is little development activity, compared with the bustle which prevailed two years ago. Accurate reflection of the nation-wide condition is more readily seen in Sudbury than in other mineral regions, however, for here the great diamond drilling contract companies have established their principal bases, whence in better times drills were shipped to the ultimate ends of the Dominion at the behest of promoters and development organizations to test the riches of new discoveries and mines-in-the-making.

A Veteran’s Opinion

Conversation with President Stanley J. Fitzgerald of the Sudbury Diamond Drilling Company, one of the real veterans of the prospector’s North, reveals the condition of stagnation which has been visited on the mineral hunter in recent months and confirms the existence of certain basic causes already pointed out in these articles. In 1929, the Fitzgerald organization pulled forty-one miles of drill core in mining camps from Eastern Nova Scotia to the shores of Lake Athabasca, employing an average of 332 men to operate equipment under contract to mining companies, principally in the earlier stages of development. Today, most of the company’s drills are idle and the drilling crews dispersed.

“There doesn’t seem to be much use in looking for new mines when the producers are running on part time and some are closed down,” Fitzgerald told me.

“You mean the game is finished?” I asked.

The drill company president swung in his chair and eyed me as thought I must have taken leave of such senses as Nature gave me.

“I don’t mean anything of the kind,” he answered. “What I’m getting at is this; you can’t find investment money to go and look for such metals as copper and zinc with prices as they are. When world markets improve and prices move upwards you will see that Canada won’t be very long in getting to active exploration.”

“The pendulum will swing again,” he concluded philosophically, “and all the troubles of the past will be forgotten. You can’t beat history, and that is mining history everywhere. All any grown up person asks in this game is a square deal, and it looks as though the chances for square deals are getting better.”

Opportunities for Expansion

Taken by and large, the position of the Sudbury field corresponds to that of every other great producing area where base metals predominate.

But there is a factor present in the nickel country which does not accept the general common denominator. Sudbury has mines, smelters and a copper refinery. In the future it is possible that nickel will also be refined on the ground, instead of being shipped away from the camp for final treatment elsewhere. Even the smoke from the smelter stacks is recaptured for conversion into sulphuric acid and nitre cake, to be utilized in the latter form in the nickel-refining processes of Port Colborne. The presence of diverse ores makes the district the logical centre for establishment of supplemental metallurgical works, grouped principally about its nickel or nickel-copper combinations to swell the tempo of production, no matter whether commercial conditions improve or not.

Sudbury, is the estimation of experts, offer more positive opportunities for industrial expansion than any other corner of the Dominion today. Cheap power, radiation of shipping routes, abundance of raw materials, and a continually growing number of plants, utilized to convert the raw rock into the finished metal, place the camp in an unassailable position.

That is why the nickel country looks to the future with high optimism. In Mayor Fenton’s words, it seems as though Sudbury can’t miss.


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