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Women in Mining
Women working in the mining sector in northwestern Ontario are giving back to the community, while simultaneously striving to change the perception of mining as a dirty industry.
Thunder Bay is now home to the newest chapter of Women in Mining, an international organization that promotes the professional development of women working in the mining and metals sectors and advocates for the industry.
Formed in 2007, the organization has more than 700 women registered around the globe, and includes chapters in Toronto, Saskatchewan, Vancouver, Manitoba, Montreal and Winnipeg.
Barb Courte, owner of Northstar Drilling Inc. and Cobra Drilling Inc., was inspired to form the northwestern Ontario chapter after attending a Women in Mining function in Vancouver. Proceeds from a silent auction hosted by the group were being set aside for children’s breakfast programs in the area.
It’s that kind of positive contribution to the community that Courte believes can go a long way to change the reputation of mining, which is often less than rosy.
“People will say, ‘I don’t like the oil sands in Alberta,’ but yet they drive a car,” she said. “People will say, ‘I don’t like the destruction that mining does,’ but yet they have a cell phone. So they don’t realize. We need to make people realize how important mining is.”
If Ontario and Canada are to survive economically, she argued, everybody must support the raw material and mining industry.
Women in Mining, whose members are miners, executives and miners’ wives, also serves as an industry support group.
As one who has encountered her fair share of challenges because of her gender, Courte believes this kind of organization can provide invaluable support.
“Industry veterans like myself, we’re here to help the younger ones coming up,” she said. “We’re working in a man’s world and it’s not easy. It’s good to have women that have gone through it that are there to be a support.”
During her time in the industry, Courte has made it part of her personal mandate to mentor youth, often speaking to high school students about the mining sector, and her companies regularly donate to the women’s shelter in Greenstone, with the full support of her workers.
Five years ago, she teamed up with Prodigy Gold, which operates the Magino Gold and Hercules Gold properties northeast of Thunder Bay, to build a playground for children in the area with funds donated by the drillers and geologists.
The nascent Mining in Women group has yet to form a board or draw up its mandate, but Courte would like to see the organization take on community outreach, helping out families in need.
Her motivation comes from a recent visit to Dominican Republic where she encountered a trio of sisters who were in need of food, clothes and educational supplies.
Courte’s ability to help them was limited, but she recognized that she could make a difference to children in a similar situation at home.
“We have that (need) in our community, and I just want to see us getting involved in the Thunder Bay region,” she said.
When Courte arrived in the city five years ago, she immediately felt a strong responsibility to give back to the community, and focused on hiring locally and supporting local initiatives.
Now, through this regional chapter, Courte and her peers will be able to reach out to the community on a whole new level.
“Doing it because you have to do it and doing it because you want to do it, because it’s the right thing to do, are two different things,” she said.