Since 1915, the Northern Miner weekly newspaper has chronicled Canada’s globally significant mining sector.
He knows gold, believes in it and did something about it – especially for Pamour Porcupine Mines (which he heads) and for the entire Timmins-Porcupine district. It is, in part, for this reason that we have chosen Noranda’s senior vice-president – mines. Donald E. G. Schmitt as our Man-of-the-Year.
But his contributions to the mining industry are being felt far beyond the confines of the rejuvenated Timmins camp and include education, mine safety and C.I.M. work.
A dedicated mining engineer who has won his spurs as a hardrock miner, he has played a key role in building up and strengthening Noranda’s far flung mining empire to its present world status.
“He had provided solid leadership for our organization,” says Noranda’s chairman and president, Alfred Powis.
“He basically loves mining, has spent a lifetime at it, and has done one hell of a job at it,” was the panegyric comment of William James, Noranda’s executive vice-president and president of Kerr Addison Mines and long-time business associate.
Other comments heard by the Northern Miners in the sprawling halls of the 45th floor of Toronto’s Commerce Court West Tower, which is the very heart of the Noranda organization: “a good administrator”, “probably the strongest operating man in the organization”, “highly principled”, “hard working, very productive”, “has class”, “success hasn’t changed him”, etc., etc.
Fact is, our Man-of-the-Year has had an unusually broad and intimate involvement in the Noranda picture as it exists today.
Born in Kitchener, Ontario, he graduated from the University of Toronto with a B.A.Sc. degree in mining engineering in 1937 (same class as the writer). Like the rest of that class in those none-too-prosperous years, he worked at any mine where a job could be found including the Sherritt Gordon, Bralorne, Kerr Addison and Preston East Dome mines before enlisting in the Royal Canadian Engineers.
He joined the Noranda Group in 1950 as mine superintendent at the Pamour, becoming mine manager there in 1953. Noranda’s brass was quick to see that they had a winner in young Schmitt, as the result of which his climb was rapid. He became assistant manager of Horne Mines in 1956, assistant general manager of Noranda Mines in “62, general manager in ’65, vice-president – mines in ’66, was president of Orchan Mines and Central Canada Potash Co., until their amalgamation with Noranda Mines and Noranda Metal Industries respectively in 1978.
He is now responsible for operations of Mines Gaspe, Central Canada Potash, Noranda’s Geco division at Manitouwadge, all of Noranda’s mining projects in Northwest Quebec except Mattagami Lake, Alberta Sulphate, potash reserves in New Mexico and until its recent sale to Amax for Heath Steele Mines, managed Noranda’s phosphate property in Florida. (The Northern Miner has called that swap Noranda’s deal-of-the decade.)
Pamour his baby
But it was the Pamour that was always his first love – his mine. Anyone sles in his position might have closed that operation. But with determination and compassion for the miners and their community, he hung on. But what a struggle. And now what a change in fortune.
But well before the turnaround came, he showed unusual foresight in acquiring other dormant mines and properties for miles around (when the price was right) that will provide his pet with mill feed for years to come.
Despite the fact that Pamour is the lowest grade underground gold operation in all the world, it is prospering today as never before. And it is in the healthiest shape in its history, which dates back to 1935.
Now milling 6,000 tons of ore daily (largest rate for any gold mine in Canada), Pamour is drawing mill feed from no less than nine separate sources ranging as far west as 70 miles and 110 miles to the east of the central operation. Indeed, this is a bold and unique custom mill trucking concept which he fathered and which will likely soon be emulated by others.
Furthermore, he has made Pamour a good place to work with a profit sharing plan (which he initiated) the envy of the industry. Conscious of the fact that an operation such as this depends heavily on loyal employees working as an efficient production team, he set up what is known as the PEP Plan. (Pamour Employee Profit Sharing Plan) the first in the Noranda Group. Accepted for registration in Ottawa, it is similar to an RRSP and entitles all employees to share in the profits of the company on a generous scale. But in this case, all contributions are made by the company – on a scale substantially in excess of the minimum required by tax regulations.
Started in 1979 and paid into quarterly, the PEP fund receives 5% on the first $1million of profits, rising steadily by 1% in increments of $500,000 to 15%. Furthermore, the employee trustees of this fund have invested it wisely, including purchase of shares in Pamour itself. In 1979 Pamour put $1.8 million into the fund, and it will likely be more this year, so employees already have quite a stake. Little wonder, then, that this ‘Schmitt baby’ has been described as a “dramatic piece of business.”
Our Man-of-the-Year is also ‘people conscious’ in other respects – a great community man as Pamour’s 1,250 employees will attest. His involvements include hospitals, school boards, boy scouts, junior hockey, education, mine safety, etc.
“Any community where he has ever worked has come out a better place than when he went in,” says H. Vince Thomson, Noranda’s assistant vice-president – corporate relations, adding that “he makes, the winters shorter.”
Long on education
A bug on education, Mr. Schmitt has devoted a great deal of time to what is known as the Canadian Mineral Industry Education Foundation. Started in 1966 and funded by some 45 mining companies and the J.P. Bickel Foundation who became concerned about the quality and quantity of young people entering the mineral industry at Canadian universities, its initial undertaking was the establishment of post graduate mining engineering scholarships at McGill University. But this soon blossomed into a nationwide program in all degree-granting mining schools and has now spread to undergraduate support. Donald Schmitt has been a director of this Education Foundation since November, 1971 and was its chairman from 1973 to June of 1979.
“With his enthusiasm this has become the most prestigious scholarship program in Canada,” T.R. Rudnicki, the Foundation’s secretary and Noranda’s manager of technical employment told The Northern Miner, adding that “Donald Schmitt was the most dynamic chairman we ever had.”
With the first-hand knowledge of the growing need for engineers in this country, Mr. Schmitt is now the driving force out to revive mining engineering as a faculty at the University of Toronto.
An active member of the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario, Mr. Schmitt is a past president of the Quebec Metal Mining Association, a past chairman of the Ontario Mining Association, a past chairman of the Toronto Branch, C.I.M., chairman of the C.I.M.’s Ryan trophies Safety Committee from 1968-79, director and vice-president of The Gold Institute and a member of the board of governors of Queen Elizabeth Hospital. In addition to all these chores, he is currently president of the Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, a technical organization with over 10,000 members representing every mining district in Canada.
Now approaching retirement age, D. E. G. Schmitt “will be hard to replace,” J. Malcolm Slack, Pamour’s vice-president and general manager says, adding that “he is, without doubt, the strongest character in the mining industry today.”