Canadian Geographic
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Mining in the Shield

At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century the Shield was transformed from a largely undeveloped territory into a resource hinterland for Central Canada.

New processes to refine complex ores (both separating copper and nickel and separating out gold), new techniques of producing hydroelectric power, demand for minerals in the growing industrial economies of Central Canada and the United States, and the discovery of silver-and gold-bearing veins of rock produced a mining boom in northern Ontario.

In the late 19th century settlement around small-scale mining operations was unplanned and growth was haphazard. When later resource developments required large-scale capital investment, companies increasingly built their own towns. The layout of these town sites created spatial segregation based on job status at the workplace. In Kapuskasing, the first community on the Shield where a provincial government became involved in planning, curvilinear streets, attention to topography, and other aspects of contemporary British garden-city planning were adopted.

Resource communities on the Shield, like Copper Cliff, depended on a single industry and attracted immigrant labour. Sudbury initially developed as a service centre for the surrounding mining communities and its work-force and ethnic composition were more diversified.

With the discoveries at Porcupine (1909) and Kirkland Lake (1911) Ontario replaced the Yukon as Canada’s foremost gold-producing region. Unlike the Yukon where placer gold accounted for almost all of the region’s gold production, in the Shield gold was extracted from gold-quartz and base-metal ores and required heavy capitalization. The developments in northwestern Quebec, northwestern Ontario, and Manitoba which had begun by the late 1920s would expand dramatically in the 1930s.

Gold played the strongest role in the exceptional recovery of the mining industry after the collapse of world trade in 1929. The price of gold was stable in the downswing and increased between 1933 and 1934; a ready market in the United States resulted in a steep rise in output and new mining developments on the Shield. Nickel and copper, used in producer goods, suffered in the downswing but recovered strongly with the revitalization of industrial activity in the United Kingdom and the United States.


This series of 4 graphs contains information on gold and other mining in the Canadian Shield between 1892 and 1939. The first two are bar graphs indicating value of gold production in the Porcupine and Kirkland Lake areas, respectively, by mine and year. The third indicates the total value of copper and nickel smelting in Sudbury by year. The fourth is a line graph illustrating total value of gold production during the boom by area and year. Users can navigate the graphs using the controls above or buttons below the image space, and can explore portions of each graph by clicking to zoom in and out, and dragging to pan around it.


On the next page:

Post-1945 mining

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