Mapping the Economic Potential of Canada’s North – Chapter 3: Metal and Non-Metallic Mineral Mining

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The metal and non-metallic mineral mining industry has a long history of providing wealth and employment to Canadians. From the Klondike gold rush in the late 1800s, to the large-scale development and production of potash in Saskatchewan, to diamonds in the Northwest Territories, the industry has maintained its lustre on the global stage.

The industry has endured many boom-bust cycles in its history. In the 1960s, metal and non-metallic mineral mining directly accounted for over 2 per cent of the Canadian economy; by 2009, the industry’s share had shrunk to 0.5 per cent. But the situation is expected to turn around in the coming years as mining continues to be developed— particularly in Canada’s North.

The metal and non-metallic mineral mining industry
has a long history of providing wealth and employment
to Canadians.

Even in 2009—the worst year for mining in recent history—the industry contributed $6.5 billion to the
Canadian economy (in real terms) and continued to export a diverse variety of resources. There are many
spin-off benefits not included in the $6.5 billion: construction, transportation, utilities, warehousing, and
communications are some of the other industries that benefit directly from the development and production
of a single mine.

Mining is not a short-term activity. It takes years of
exploration and development to bring a mine to production.
Meanwhile, entire industries are built to support mining,
such as construction, communications, transportation,
and utilities; and services such as legal, environmental,
and financial are used in the development and operation
of a mine. Restaurants and hotels in the area benefit from
increased traffic to the area. Entire communities can be
established because of a mineral deposit. The Sudbury
Basin has remained a long-term mining community—
in existence for over 100 years.

Over 45,000 people work directly for the Canadian
metal and non-metallic mineral mining industry.1
Labour income from this employment benefits local
businesses and communities, and the income tax
contributes to government coffers. The industry is
also a large employer of Aboriginal people. In 2006,
Aboriginal people accounted for 7.5 per cent of the
mining workforce, while representing only less than
4 per cent of the general Canadian population.2

The Metal and Non-Metallic Mineral
Mining Industry in Canada’s North

The metal and non-metallic mineral mining industry
is an important contributor to Northern economies and
creates jobs in many Northern communities. There are
several well-developed and emerging mining regions
in the North. Currently, there are three large, successful
diamond mines in the Northwest Territories, which have
created a billion dollar industry; and the Sudbury region
in Northern Ontario has provided the province with a lot
of wealth and employment since the development of a
mining settlement in the late 1800s. In the future, we
expect Yukon, Nunavut, Northern Ontario, Northern
British Columbia, and Northern Saskatchewan to see
substantial growth in their metal and non-metallic mineral
mining industries. They all hold large untapped
resources that will experience high global demand
over the long term.

Mines operating in Northern and remote areas in Canada
face a different host of challenges. Our definition of
Canada’s North includes remote areas that are largely
underexplored as well as some well-established mining
clusters. The latter environments, such as Ontario’s
Sudbury Basin, generally have access to essential infra-
structure such as energy grids and transportation networks.
The former areas, such as regions in Nunavut, have to find
ways to supply all their own energy and transportation, as
well as skilled labour. Therefore, the costs of developing
and operating a mine in remote areas of the North are
much more costly and logistically challenging.

Opening a single mine in a very remote area of the North
has a major impact on local economies and people,
compared with opening a mine in a more established
mining region. Economic growth in Nunavut is expected
to experience double-digit growth this year, thanks to
the opening of the territory’s only mine, Meadowbank.3
Industries that support mining development and operations,
including construction, utilities, transportation,
communications, and lodging, are either developing or
expanding. The local communities—Baker Lake in particular—
will continue to experience strong economic and
employment growth which can lead to an improvement
in the quality of life for residents.

The metal and non-metallic mineral mining industry is an
important contributor to Northern economies, and creates
jobs in many Northern communities.

Interest in precious metals4 has been reaching remote areas
of Canada’s North. Nunavut has an abundance of various
minerals, including its share of precious metals, ferrous
metals,5 uranium, and diamonds. Northern Ontario holds
the promising “Ring of Fire” deposit; this deposit has
chromite diamonds, in addition to base metals6 and
precious metals. A single hole drilled in 2007 set off a
staking rush to the area.7 British Columbia hosts a large
deposit of base and precious metals in the Northwest.
Meanwhile, Northern Saskatchewan is developing
several uranium mines, which will begin production
in the coming years.

Economic Potential for Metal
and Non-Metallic Mineral Mining
in the North

There is strong potential in the Northern regions to
further develop the mining industries. Indeed, private
companies have spent billions of dollars exploring and
appraising the North, and several regions have garnered
considerable excitement from exploration companies
and local communities alike. The indicators we have—
economic output and exploration expenditures—all point
to a strong mining future for the North. More indicators
describing employment in the North would be extremely
helpful in assessing supply factors.


The size of the metal and non-metallic mineral mining
industries varies from region to region. Exhibit 3 shows
the size of real metal and non-metallic mineral mining
output in 2008 in each of the provinces, not just Northern
regions (in 2002 $). This indicator gives us a sense of
how established the industry is in each region. Ontario has
the largest Canadian mining industry, worth $2.5 billion
in 2008. This is a well-established and highly developed
industry in the province, especially in the Sudbury Basin.
Ontario hosts a wide variety of metals, and reserves are
still abundant. Copper, nickel, and zinc are plentiful and
will continue to experience a healthy demand from
industrializing nations. Silver and gold are also abundant
in Ontario. Northern Ontario also began producing
diamonds in 2008, and there has been exploration for
more diamonds.

Saskatchewan has the second-largest amount of mining
output, but the large majority of that output is potash
mined in the Southern region. Metal mining, which
consists primarily of gold and uranium, is mined in the
Northern region. Until 2009, Saskatchewan was the
largest producer of uranium in the world. Currently,
Canada and Kazakhstan together account for half of
the world’s uranium production.8
The Northwest Territories has the next-largest mining
industry. Except for one tungsten mine, which is in
the process of closing down, mining in the Northwest
Territories consists entirely of diamonds. Diamond
mining is a relatively new industry for Canada, and
it has expanded rapidly over the past 10 years in the
Northwest Territories. There are currently three diamond
mines in production: Snap Lake, Diavik, and
Ekati. Together with Ontario’s new Victor mine, the
diamond mines in Canada produced 13 per cent of
the world’s diamond gemstones in 2009. This places
Canada behind only Botswana and Russia in terms of
diamond gemstone production.9

Private companies have spent billions of dollars exploring
and appraising the North, and several regions have garnered
interest locally and from exploration companies.

Newfoundland and Labrador has a mining industry similar
in size to that in the Northwest Territories, although
it consists mostly of metal mining. There is a cluster of
iron mines close to Labrador City and a large nickel mine
near Voisey’s Bay, Labrador. Gold deposits are found
in Newfoundland, which is considered part of Southern
Canada in this analysis.

Quebec has a large mining industry, and mining production
is split between the Northern and Southern regions of
the province. The province has a long history of mining
and mines a diverse array of metals: copper, gold, nickel,
zinc, silver, uranium, lead, and more. The Fraser Institute
has ranked Quebec in the top 10 jurisdictions since 2001
for overall policy attractiveness.10

The Fraser Institute conducts an annual survey of mining
companies to create a policy potential index that measures
the effect government policies have on mineral exploration.
The survey covers mining jurisdictions on every
continent except Antarctica. While Quebec has been in
the top 10 for almost 10 years, other provinces and territories
have ranked well, especially in recent years. In the
latest survey, the 2010 mid-year update, five provinces
and territories made the top 10 out of 51 mining jurisdictions:
Alberta (1), Quebec (3), Yukon (4), Saskatchewan
(5), and Newfoundland and Labrador (7).11

British Columbia has an established mining industry.
The Southern region has numerous non-metallic
mineral mines, such as limestone and gypsum. The
Northern region consists of a variety of metal mines:
molybdenum, gold, silver, copper, and zinc. Northern
Manitoba also has a notable mining industry; production
includes gold, zinc, copper, silver, and nickel.

Exploration and deposit appraisal expenditures are
forward looking indicators.12 An increasing amount of
exploration and deposit appraisal money has flowed into
Canada over the past 10 years.13 (See Chart 1.) This type of
expenditure is an indicator of future mine development.
It can loosely be viewed as a measure of investment that
mining companies will hope to benefit from when their
findings result in commercial production. The size of the
“$” symbol in Exhibit 4 represents the exploration and
deposit appraisal spending intentions this year (2010) at
the provincial and territorial level.14 The clear squares
show Canada’s top 100 exploration projects based on
the amount of money spent on exploration and deposit
appraisal. Note that the large majority of these projects
are located in the North.

The exploration spending intentions show that Ontario will
get the lion’s share of exploration and deposit appraisal
expenditures, which are expected to hit $825 million this
year (up from $536 million in 2009). A key mining area
going forward will be the Ring of Fire in the North, which
has a world-class deposit of chromite. Chromite can be
used in the production of stainless steel, heating units, and
other appliances, as well as cars. The province also added
Canada’s first diamond mine outside the Northwest
Territories in 2008, and there is further exploration
activity to increase diamond mining in the province.

In Ontario, a key mining area in the Northern part of the
province, going forward, will be the “Ring of Fire,” which
has a world-class deposit of chromite.

Quebec will see large amounts of exploration expenditures
flow in ($556 million, up from $379 in 2009). These funds
will flow mostly to the Abitibi Belt region. The Canadian
Malarctic Project Belt will produce a large quantity of
gold once it begins production in the near future. Close
by, IAMGOLD’s Westwood project has begun construction
to get it ready for production. Lithium is gaining a lot
of attention as the metal of the future; if electric vehicles
gain in popularity, the section from James Bay to Val d’Or
will be full of explorers and producers of the metal.
The Quebec Lithium Project has a pre-feasibility study
out and could be producing lithium as early as 2012.
Furthermore, several nickel and uranium deposits are
being explored in the North.

British Columbia will benefit from an estimated $353 million
in exploration expenditures this year; this is higher
than the $217 million the province saw last year, but still
not back to pre-recessionary spending levels. Thirteen
out of Canada’s top 100 exploration projects are found
in the Northern region of the province. There is a huge
potential to develop copper, silver, and gold mines in the
Northwestern region of the province. A large factor in
the development of more resources is the lack of energy
infrastructure. The viability of many of these mines relies
on access to a (currently non-existent) transmission line.
The province and the mining companies have had to
work together to commit to building a transmission line
to bring power to the region. The proposed $400-million
transmission line is currently undergoing an environmental
assessment, and construction is anticipated in the coming
months.15 Metal mining output in British Columbia is
expected to double if all the proposed mining projects in
the Northwestern region proceed with their development.

It is unlikely the cluster of mining projects in the region
will be economically viable without such infrastructure.
(See Chapter 6 for more details.)

Exploration expenditures in Saskatchewan will top
$301 million, down slightly from the $311 million
spent in 2009. Potash exploration in the South will
get the bulk of the funds, but several uranium projects
in the North are being explored. A new uranium mine—
Cameco’s Cigar Lake—is expected to open in the
next three years. In fact, nine out of Natural Resources
Canada’s top 100 exploration projects in Canada are
uranium properties in Northern Saskatchewan.16

About $281 million will be spent on exploration in
Nunavut in 2010 (up from $188 million in 2009). The ter-
ritory’s only producing mine, Meadowbank, just achieved
commercial production in March 2010, beginning what
appears to be a promising future for Nunavut’s mining
industry. Eight of the 100 top exploration projects are in
the territory. The minerals being explored are quite diverse
and include gold, diamonds, uranium, copper, and zinc.
The Meliadine (gold) project may be the next mine to go
into production, with its positive preliminary assessment;
it has the advantage of being close to Rankin Inlet on
Hudson Bay, making transportation feasible.

Nunavut’s only producing mine, Meadowbank, achieved
commercial production in March 2010, beginning what
appears to be a promising future for the mining industry.

Yukon’s estimated exploration expenditures will top
$157 million this year, up from $91 million in 2009.
Several mines are due to begin production over the
medium term, including Wolverine (copper and zinc),
Carmacks (copper), and Victoria Gold (gold). These
projects would contribute significantly to Yukon’s
mining industry. Furthermore, several other exploration
projects are located throughout the territory that could
help contribute to Yukon’s mining industry going forward.

This year, $99 million is expected to be spent exploring
in the Northwest Territories, up from only $44 million in
2009. Exploration expenditures have fluctuated tremendously
over recent years, peaking at $194 million in 2007.
No new diamond mines are on the immediate horizon
until the Gahcho Kue project puts out a feasibility study.
Output at the Diavik mine is expected to fluctuate as the
underground mine is opened and the open pit is closed.
Meanwhile, Snap Lake’s output will increase, making up
for temporary closures during the economic downturn.
There is some good news on the metals front. The life of
the Cantung tungsten mine has been extended into 2014.
Fortune Mineral’s NICO Gold-Cobalt-Bismuth-Copper
Project is advancing and will likely begin production
before Cantung exhausts its reserves.

Demand for metal and non-metallic minerals will vary,
depending on the type of mineral produced.

Manitoba is expected to see $86 million flow into the
province in exploration expenditures this year, down
slightly from $98 million in 2009. The industry is
expected to see gold production increase with production
at Snow Lake, and the Lalor mine will begin producing
gold, silver, copper, and zinc in the next couple of years.
Newfoundland and Labrador will see $72 million in
exploration expenditures this year, about half the amount
experienced in 2008. Several iron ore mines are planning
to boost production in the near future, including Labrador
City operations and the Wabush mine. New Millennium
Capital and Tata Steel are opening an iron mine in
Schefferville, Labrador.


Demand for metal and non-metallic minerals will vary
depending on the type of mineral produced. Therefore,
not all Northern regions will benefit equally from
increasing global demand. Generally, the Conference
Board expects demand and prices for metals—especially
those associated with industrial activity—to climb over
the medium term. Copper is used in piping, wiring, and
refrigeration; nickel is used in stainless steel, batteries,
and magnets; iron is used in the creation of alloyed steel
for non-residential construction; uranium generates
nuclear power. The expansion of the global economy—
particularly Brazil, Russia, India, and China (the BRIC
countries)—will create a strong demand for these metals
and others; the emerging middle class in these countries
will continue to purchase appliances and vehicles.

Future demand for gold is more difficult to predict—
given that demand can come from so many different
sources, some of which can fluctuate wildly: jewellery,
monetary exchange, investment, medicine, electrical
wiring, and more. Current demand for gold is at an
unprecedented high, with little seen recently to believe
that prices will not remain high over the short term.

There is healthy demand for Canadian diamonds.
Canadian diamonds are typically exported to European
countries to be sorted and sold through Antwerp and
London. Exports of Canadian diamonds topped $1.9 billion
in 2009. Over 88 per cent of these exports went to the
United Kingdom or Belgium for cutting and polishing.17
(See Chart 2.)

Very little diamond cutting and polishing is currently
done in Canada. Also, while many of these Canadian
facilities operate in Southern Canada, this is changing.
The size of Sudbury’s Crossworks Manufacturing
recently doubled; before it doubled, the company was
polishing about 10 per cent of Victor mine diamonds
in Ontario.18 Since diamond exploration continues in
the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Ontario, Quebec,
and Saskatchewan, supply is expected to continue.
Developing and expanding more cutting and polishing
facilities in Northern Canada would create jobs and yield
an even higher value-added export product.


Supply constraints include skilled labour availability.
There is an aging workforce, along with a lack of young
miners and female miners. The Mining Industry Human
Resources Council found in its annual survey that over
50 per cent of employees working in the mining industry
are 45 years of age or older; the average age for retirement
in the industry is 59.5 years.19

Employment data are limited for the North. Statistics
Canada groups all primary sectors (agriculture, mining,
fishing, and forestry) together, so we cannot distinguish
how labour is spread among the primary sectors in the
Northern regions. For the country as a whole, the
industry employed 45,600 people in 2009: metal mining
employed 23,800 and non-metallic mineral mining
employed 21,800. Given the industry’s vulnerability to
large swings in commodity prices, it is not surprising
that output, and therefore employment, fluctuates in
response. (See Chart 3.)

It can be hard to attract new workers into the mining profession.
Due to the remoteness of some of the Northern
mines, workers live in camps away from friends and
family for weeks. In some places, such as Nunavut,
the industry is so new that very few residents have
been trained in any related skills, so labourers must be
attracted from elsewhere until the required skill sets can
be developed locally. Increased relationships between the
industry and educational institutions would help attract
workers and make sure they have the right skills.

It is a very high value-added sector and wages are quite
high in the industry: in 2008, average weekly wages
(including overtime) were $1,430 in metal mining and
$1,250 in non-metallic mineral mining. These wages
are among the highest of the goods-producing industries
(the average wage for all goods-producing industries was
$1,030). (See Chart 4.)

Aboriginal labourers are increasingly choosing the mining
industry to build their careers. According to the 2006 census,
7.5 per cent of all mining employees in Canada are
Aboriginal, up from 5.1 per cent in 2001.20 Saskatchewan
(20.7 per cent) and Ontario (17.2 per cent) had the highest
proportion of Aboriginal people. The relatively young
age of the Aboriginal population, along with the Northern
geographic location of many Aboriginal communities,
makes this group an attractive pool of labour to draw
from. Training programs will be essential for Aboriginal
participation in the skilled workforce. Nunavut Arctic
College now offers programs in mine training, exploration,
and construction trades. Several mining companies
operating in Aboriginal communities have agreements to
offer various skills training.

Many Northern regions have a strong history in mining and
are highly developed, while others offer underexplored
regions with significant potential for resources.

A second supply constraint is the number of years it takes
to bring a mine to full production. Skilled construction
workers can be hard to come by when other regions in
Canada are expanding. All the permitting, assessment,
and consultation work that goes along with bringing a
mine into production can add years to the process, particularly
if the project is located in more remote areas of
Canada. Developing mines in Nunavut and Northwestern
British Columbia, for example, is extremely costly. Often,
there are no roads, water, electricity, railroads, ports,
labour, or airstrips nearby. Everything has to be built from
the ground up. In the case of British Columbia, governments
came together to support a transmission line, which
could allow a number of mines to come to production.

Environmental assessments and other licences (such
as water licences) are a necessary challenge for the
industry. These assessments take a significant amount
of time and effort and can cause a lot of confusion for
all parties involved due to overlapping and inefficient
processes in place. These inefficiencies can deter investors.
This investment environment is in contrast to other
mining countries, where sometimes the environmental
assessment process is not as stringent or comprehensive.
The challenge for Canada is to create a competitive
investment environment that does not compromise its
environmental obligations.

The devolution of responsibilities for land and resources
has been a hot topic for the three territories. Yukon is the
only territory that has completed the transfer of responsibilities
for land, water, and resource management. The
Northwest Territories has come close to completing the
devolution process, but has had some setbacks. Nunavut
has not yet begun its process.

The North has an abundance of metal and non-metallic
minerals. Many of the regions in the North have a strong
history in mining and are highly developed, while others
offer underexplored regions with significant potential for
resources. The continuing global economic expansion and
Canada’s politically stable environment are key strengths
that should help strong demand for Canadian minerals to
continue in the future.


Global demand for Canada’s metal and non-metallic
minerals is expected to be strong over the medium term.
The global economic recovery is putting upward pressure
on commodity prices, suddenly making mines in remote
Northern areas viable.

A few hot mining spots will emerge in the North. The
Ring of Fire in Northern Ontario will become a big player
in chromite mining. Northern Saskatchewan will start
producing several gold and uranium mines in the near
future. The three territories’ metal mining industries have
begun an expansion; a number of mines are expected to
begin production in the next 10 years. Northern British
Columbia will benefit from a new transmission line to its
Northwestern corner, which will enable several mines to
begin production. Northern Manitoba will host at least
two new metal mines in the near future; Labrador will
see a boost in iron ore production from several mines.

The remoteness of some mines will pose a challenge.
The viability of many mines in Nunavut depends directly
on transportation infrastructure. Mineral development
projects in the territory usually include building roads,
railways, airstrips, and/or ports; these substantial costs
can keep a resource deposit in the ground. In Northern
British Columbia, the infrastructure concerns are primarily
energy-related. The viability of large resource
deposits in the Northwest is dependent on ample, competitively
priced power.

Global economic recovery is putting upward pressure
on commodity prices, making mines in remote Northern
areas viable.

Development of mining resources in any area can be difficult,
and Canada’s Northern regions are no exception.
There is much work required from both project proponents
and the respective governing agencies in each region to
ensure that mine development takes place in a manner
that is environmentally responsible and provides economic
rewards to residents, benefits to local governments, and
also monetary benefits to project proponents. Northern
Canada’s mining future is buoyed by the existence of a
stable political environment and the existence of large
resource deposits and potential. This, coupled with strong
global demand and high mineral prices, will result in a
strong mining future for Northern Canada.

1 Statistics Canada, “Survey of Employment, Payrolls and Hours.”
2 Statistics Canada, 2006 Census of Canada.
3 The Conference Board of Canada, Territorial Outlook July 2010.
4 Precious metals include gold, silver, and platinum.
5 Ferrous metals include steel, pig iron, and alloys of iron with
other metals.
6 Base metals include copper, lead, nickel, and zinc.
7 Reynolds, Northern Ontario’s “Ring of Fire.”
8 World Nuclear Association, “Uranium Production Figures.”
9 U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries 2010, 63.
10 Cervantes and McMahon, Survey of Mining Companies
11 Cervantes and McMahon, Survey of Mining Companies, 2010
Mid-Year Update.
12 All exploration and deposit appraisal figures are from Natural
Resources Canada’s federal-provincial-territorial Survey of
Mineral Exploration, completed in September 2010.
13 Except for a dip in spending during the recent recession when
money was tight in the industry.
14 Data for the Northern regions, as we have defined them, are
not available.
15 British Columbia Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources,
NTL Agreements Will Create Jobs, Power B.C.’s Northwest.
16 National Resources Canada, Map of Top 100.
17 Industry Canada, “Trade Data Online.”
18 “Diamond Manufacturing Plant Doubles in Size.”
19 Mining Industry Human Resources Council, Canadian Mining
Industry Employment and Hiring Forecasts 2010.
20 Natural Resources Canada, “Aboriginal Participation.”


The authors wish to thank the members of the Centre for the North, the Council of Corporate Aboriginal
Relations, and the Group of Northern Advisors for their advice and guidance on the design, methodology,
and content of this project. We also wish to thank the external reviewers for their thoughtful comments.
The authors retain responsibility for any errors or omissions herein.

About The Centre for the North

The Centre for the North is a major, five-year research initiative of The Conference Board of Canada. The Centre brings together Aboriginal leaders and representatives of businesses, governments, and community organizations to change the conversation about Canada’s North—and, ultimately, to provide insights into how sustainable prosperity can be achieved in the North.

The Centre for the North is guided by the following founding principles:

The Centre is “North-centric.” It examines all issues from a Northern perspective, seeks to maximize Northern engagement, and prioritizes Northern interests.
The Centre takes a “holistic” and action-oriented approach. It explores the full range of Northern challenges
and opportunities, and offers strategies that will lead to action.
The Centre considers not just the territorial North, but also the Northern regions of the seven provinces with boundaries that stretch into the North.
The Centre takes a short- to long-term perspective, identifying immediate and future issues and actions.


The Conference Board of Canada is grateful to the investors and roundtable members of the Centre for the North that, through their membership, support the Centre’s research program.

Agnico-Eagle Mines Limited
Arctic Co-operatives Limited
Bell Canada
BHP Billiton Diamonds Inc.
BMO Financial Group
Canada Border Services Agency
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
Canadian Institutes of Health Research
Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency
De Beers Canada Inc.
Department of National Defence

Enbridge Inc.
First Air
G13 Universities
Galin Foundation
Golder Associates Ltd.
Government of the Northwest Territories
Health Canada
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada
Ministère des ressources naturelles et de la faune
du Québec

MTS Allstream Inc.
Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing
Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines
and Forestry
Privy Council Office
Province of Manitoba
Public Health Agency of Canada
RTL Robinson Enterprises Ltd.
Saskatchewan Ministry of First Nations and Métis Relations

Scotia Capital Inc.
SNC-Lavalin Inc.
TD Bank Financial Group
TD Securities Inc.
TransCanada PipeLines Limited
Transport Canada
Walter & Duncan Gordon Foundation
Yukon Economic Development

(Note: The findings and conclusions of this report are entirely those of The Conference Board of Canada, not of the Centre investors and roundtable members.)

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